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Legend of Mana

3 Ratings: 4.0
A video game for the Playstation

   Legend of Mana, known in Japan as Seiken Densetsu: Legend of Mana (聖剣伝説 LEGEND OF MANA?, lit. "Holy Sword Legend: Legend of Mana"), is the fourth game in the Mana series. The game was released for the PlayStation in Japan on July … see full wiki

Tags: Video Games
Console: Playstation 1
Genre: RPG
Release Date: June 7, 2000
1 review about Legend of Mana

"Legendary" Isn't the Right Word

  • Mar 15, 2010
In 1993, Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) released a game called Secret of Mana that became a big hit for them.  It introduced what we came to know as the Mana series in America (in Japan it is referred to as Seiken Denetsu).  There are a couple of games in the Mana series, but the only one that seemed to make a big dent in America was Secret of Mana.  Yet there was a follow up released in 2000 in America (there was a sequel in Japan that never made it out).  It was called Legend of Mana.  It doesn't actually have much of anything in common with Secret of Mana at all.  Likewise, having knowledge of secret of Mana doesn't actually give you any sort of edge over someone who hs never played Secret of Mana.  You'll recognize monsters and the spirits but that's about it.  Legend of Mana seems to only carry the name Mana.

Normally at this point I'd talk about story, but with Legend of Mana it's hard.  In order to really dive into the story, one has to understand how Legend of Mana plays.  You'll begin the game by choosing to be a male or a female character and then choose a region of Fa-Diel that you'd like to develop.  Once you do so, you'll have place artifacts across the map to develop the land.  Artifacts are items that you'll get and place on the overworld map.  Each land you put on the map has its own mana and will influence the amount of mana on the lands next to it.  And yes, mana has an influence, though not nearly as much as you think.

Once you create places to go, Legend of Mana becomes a constant dungeon crawl more so than anything else.  Talking to specific characters or visiting certain areas for the very first time will trigger certain events.  Many times they're nothing more than miniature stories.  There are over 60 events to play through with Legend of Mana, and there's no specific order that you'll tackle the events in.  In some events they're as simple as performing or helping certain denizens with specific tasks.  Sometimes characters will ask you to go to certain places (giving you an artifiact to do so in some cases so you can get there) and defeat certain enemies.  They're simple dungeon crawlers.

There are events, however, that chain together and open up other events that eventually tell a story.  This is where Legend of Mana gets a big cast.  The main character is by no means developed at all, but there are three major stories in Legend of Mana that you can play through.  The first centers on the Jumi, a race that is slowly going extinct and they have a jewel for a heart that a jewel hunter goes around stealing.  It centers on two characters in particular: Pearl, a Jumi Guardian and Elazul, a Jumi Knight tasked with protecting the guardian.  Sandra roaming around and stealing all those jewels is actually part of a plot that could potentially destroy the world.

The second story focuses on four friends named Daena, Escad, Irwin and Matilda.  Irwin is a demon while Matilda is a childhood friend he loved.  Daena and Escad were also their friends.  Although now that they are beyond being children it occurs to Escad that Irwin was in a quest to get a hold of Matilda's elemental powers.  And he does, which causes her to age faster.  Irwin, being a demon, is hell bent on bringing about the extinction of the human race.  His friend Escad (who never liked Irwin much in the first place) wants to stop him from abusing those powers and destroying the world while Daena believes there's a happy medium.  You, getting involved in this have to stop Irwin before he destroys the world.

The third major story arc focuses on Larc and his sister Sierra.  Larc serves Drakonis who wants to get out of the underworld... but the dragons and their dragoons stand in the way.  Larc asks for your help in getting rid of the dragons.  In helping him you meet Sierra who knows that Drakonis is simply manipulating Larc... but she doen't want to do anything to harm her brother.  As with the other two the plot unravels in such a way that it leads to saving the world.

Those are three major story arcs and you can complete all three of them, if you wish.  To open up Legend of Mana's final event, however, you only have to complete one of those three major stories.  And they are good stories, but it begs the question as to what Legend of Mana is REALLY about.  Your character plays a big role in those three stories, but it is quite clear that Legend of Mana is about much more than this.  Unfortunately while those three stories are great... there's no MAIN story to speak of in Legend of Mana.  And while there are memorable characters such as Elazul, Pearl, Daena, Escad, Matilda, Irwin etc., there just isn't much point in playing through many of the events.  They don't unfold a story at all.  Most dungeon crawlers are this way, but Legend of Mana is special in the sense that it doesn't even give you an illusion that there is a main story.  Just those three smaller stories and a few sub stories.  And while it's great that there are all these stories (they don't overlap either... they don't have to) when you complete the Final Event which finishes the game--aptly titled "Legend of Mana"--it is a wonder as to how the story of the Elazul, Pearl and the Jumi people or Irwin's ambitions to purge the world of humans or Drakonis's ambition to rule the world fit into that in any way, shape or form.  When you come to the Final Event it's hard to wonder, "What was the story that actually got us here in the first place?"  

Thus, it's actually hard to judge Legend of Mana's story.  As I said, you have those three stories that are actually really good.  They've got memorable characters are incredibly well written and are filled with magic and great themes.  It's hard not to be sucked into those three main stories, but it's also hard not to question, "What was the point of them?" when you realize that none of them mean completing the game itself. 

Since Legend of Mana is a more self paced game... the structure of it works in such a way that it can take anywhere from a mere four hours to thirty to complete (depending on how long it takes you to unlock the final event, "Legend of Mana.").  There's a New Game+ feature, however and it works nicely.  Especially because you can change things up.  Legend of Mana is by no means linear.  You can do the events in just about any order you want.  It's possible to complete every event, but you have to be careful in the order that you do them in and some of the actions you take.  Since so much of Legend of Mana's events can be shaped by you it's possible that the actions taken in certain events can cause others to be unplayable.  Also, depending on the Mana in any particular area also has an impact.  If, for example, Domina doesn't have enough Shadow Mana, you can't actually partake in one of the games many events.  Yet it is pretty cool that you can shape so much of the game.  The game isn't very long, but there are little tweaks thrown in to make sure you can play it in different ways, or tackle the game differently.

We're only scratching the surface, however.  Digging deeper... how does the game play?  This is where Legend of Mana hits and misses.  Legend of Mana isn't hard to grasp the combat of at all.  It's an RPG, but there are no random battles to speak of.  In fact, much of how it plays makes you feel as though you're playing an Action/Advnture game.  You'll be roaming through a dungeon, stumble upon enemies and draw your weapon.  When in combat you can make a series of light strikes, a heavy strike or combine the two.  It's easy to think of Legend of Mana as a hack and slash.  And I won't lie, sometimes it feels like a button mashing affair.  There are abilities, at least, that you can set to two buttons.  You'll begin only with Jump and Defend but as you use abilities you can unlock more.  To be able to crouch, somersault, moon-sault... there's a lot to it.  Depending on the abilities and weapon you choose to equip also have an impact on the Special Abilities you can use as well.  For example, using Jump, Defend and a One Handed Sword allow you to learn the Special Technique: Lai Strike.  The WEAPON isn't important so much as the abilities.  You'll learn something completely different if you're using a Spear, for example.  Yet you won't learn all the abilities for every weapon just using Jump and Defend.  To learn other abilities you may need to combine High Jump and Crouch.  Or you may have to combine Moon Sault and Thrust.  There are a ton of Special Techniques to unlock across SEVERAL different weapons.  In short, there's a lot to Legend of Mana's customization, athough battling itself just isn't all that complext at all.  

Special techniques can't be used liberally, though.  Below your own life gauge is another bar that fills up the more you strike your enemies.  When it's full you can unlease a special technique, which drains the bar.  It's not hard to fill up, however, and the harder the strike the more it refills. 

There are two big problems with Legend of Mana's battle system, however.  The first is that it's just too easy to take advantage of Legend of Mana.  Your Special Techniques--even the weak ones--are just too powerful.  Using them in any battles--boss fights included--make any battle too easy.  You may not be able to use Special Techniques one right after the other, but with how fast the Special Tecnique gauge refills you'll be using them a ton in battle.  As I said, however, they're just too powerful.  Even weak ones are able to bring down more than half of a bosses health in one fell swoop.  There's just no challenge to Legend of Mana.  The experience system plays a part in this as well.  Rather than getting experience for killing things, Legend of Mana makes enemies drop blue crystals that you have to gather in order to level up.  It's actually an intersting way, but you'll find that when enemies drop experience (which happens often) they tend to drop a lot... even at low levels.  You'll be pushing on to level 70 before you know it.

The second really big problem with Legend of Mana is that you are forced to fight every battle you come into.  When you find enemies the screen stops scrolling until you either defeat the enemies or are defeated.  And even when you're defeated, choosing to continue merely puts you right back in the fight.  There's no way to run from battles or even to avoid them if you just don't feel like battling.  With Legend of Mana's emphasis on button mashing and the all too easy battles afoot, Legend of Mana can be very repetative to play.  Especially when dungeon crawling.  If Legend of Mana had done their dungeon crawling the same way that Secret of Mana had you progress through things, it would be more accepting.  It would mean the player wouldn't be forced to kill everything in the way.  There's nothing more annoying in Legend of Mana then accepting a quest to go and find someone in a jungle... only to realize that while they may be a mere two screens over you'll be forced to fight ten battles to get to them.  And if you leave and come back to an area the enemies respawn.  This means if you make a wrong turn and have to back track... you'll be forced to fight the bad guys you just defeated.  This wouldn't be a problem if you could avoid unwanted battles.  But you can't.  In the end, Legend of Mana CAN be fun to play, but it gets repetitive really fast.  And while there are tons of techniques to do in battle and lots of spoils and such to collect it's just a shame that much of it isn't meaningful.  Enemies will drop tons of items that you won't find much use for.  And with all the techniques being overpowered it makes much of Legend of Mana's battles seem more like speed bumps in completing the quests that you're sent on.  They are simply there to make sure that a quest which might only take five minutes to finish will take fifteen. 

You don't have to go about each quest alone.  Often times characters will join you.  You'll meet two kids named Bud and Lisa who you can go to and take on quests at any time.  And each time you take on an event in one of the three major stories, someone from those stories--Pearl, Elazul, Escade, Larc etc.--will accompany you.  You can also go and find them if you like and just take them along for the hell of it, if you want to.  If a friend wants to join in, he can do so too.  While your partner can't move the quest forward, he can help you out in battle.  When you don't have a human partner, the computer takes control.  This is one of Legend of Mana's other faults, though.  Your AI controlled characters aren't that bright.  They often abuse their special techniques (even worse than you will, if you can believe it) and spend of a lot of time shuffling around an enemy before actually attacking.  They don't die often, though.  The only time they will is when they're dangerously underleveled for any particular event.  Yet if you do have a character underleveled they never go after the experience that an enemy drops.  If you have a favorite partner and you want him to grow stronger, it's painful to raise their levels because they're so busy not getting the experience you just have to hope you kill an enemy with them standing over you.  It doesn't matter much in the long run anyway as you can't pick the sidekicks abilities or special techniques anyway.

There's much more to Legend of Mana's gameplay.  While battling is certainly the biggest aspect, you'll also be able to raise pets if you capture monster eggs.  Final Fantasy fans will note that you could potentially have a pet Chocobo (if you have Final Fantasy VIII save data, you WILL get a Chocobo for your first pet).  You can take them into battle but the experience is often the same as with an AI partner.  Actually it's a bit worse because they will always begin at level one when they're hatched.

You can also make weapons and armor and temper existing weapons and armor with some of those items that enemies drop.  You'll need materials to make a weapon, but there is no specific item you need to temper.  With how easy Legend of Mana already is, however, there's no need to actually spend much time tempering weapons.  When a weapon with an attack of 26 can take down half a bosses life with just one Special Technique... making a weapon with an attack of anything higher than 40 is overkill.  40 isn't even high.  You can make weapons with attack stats all the way in the thousands!  All this customization seems great, but it's not stuff that will add much.  The pets are more or less third wheels on your quests while making and tempering weapons is mostly used as a means of making a game with a difficulty that is already paper thin... non-existent (although you CAN mess up when tempering and set a weapons attack number down).  In short much of Legend of Mana is a treat... it's just a shame the gameplay isn't one of those treats.  With well written stories, so much customization and great characters... it's a shame that Legend of Mana isn't more fun to play, in spite of all that it allows you to do.

Outside of all those things, however, Legend of Mana certainly has its own terms in charge of graphics.  It's not a game that uses a lot of power.  It doesn't look as good as other Playstation titles like Chrono Cross or Final Fantasy VIII but it does have charm in it's art style.  In short, Legend of Mana is still a beautiful game.  The 2D sprites and environments just have some incredible art direction.  It's like looking at an interactive painting.  Many of the portraits of characters are also good looking.  It's not a powerful game, but these things are what give Legend of Mana charm.  It's soundtrack, in some respects, is just as good.  The orchestral scores are the best in the game, although some of the music made within the dungeons or towns can be annoying.  This doesn't come from them being bad tunes so much as it comes from many being repetitive.  They're still memorable.  The boss fight themes are actually fun to listen to.

Legend of Mana isn't a bad game in the slightest.  It just has a thing or two that make it less memorable than other games.  It's three major stories are great, but the MAIN story is non-existent.  That won't really bother too many gamers.  What might bother gamers, however, is Legend of Mana's repetitive gameplay.  Many games have you doing the same thing over and over, but very few are as monotnous as Legend of Mana in doing so.  It's one of those games where just about everything shines about... except the gameplay.  Legend of Mana can certainly be fun, but the gameplay is so repetitive that it sometimes disrupts the fun you could be having.  If battles weren't forced upon the player the way they are... it would certainly be more fun to play.

That's no reason to pass the game up, however.  It's worth playing and checking out, especially to fans of the Mana series.  Just understand that the repetitive nature of the game keeps a good game from being a great one.

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March 17, 2010
Great review as always, Sean. How come this isn't in your community?
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