RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Jun 23rd 2020 at 08:00:00 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under RPG, Squaresoft, playstation, action

By now the Mana series is one of the longest running, actively developed series in video gaming. This series has a few threads that bind each game together, but for the most part each game is its own, separate entity from the rest of them. However, like most works of media the series has had its ups, and then mostly downs. The first three games in the series, Sword of Mana, Secret of Mana, and Trials of Mana, all pushed the series further upwards in both quality and scope with each game release, with Trials adding multiple character points of view for a nonlinear narrative. In 1999 Squaresoft released the fourth game in the Mana series for the Playstation, Legend of Mana. A North American release would come the following year. Its not immediately obvious, but Legend of Mana is easily a candidate for the best game in this series, and it tends to be woefully overlooked.

What makes Legend of Mana an incredibly interesting game is how almost everything that it shows to the player has mechanics attached to it. Everything from picking your character's starting weapon, choosing the part of the map you start on, where you choose to place your home, all of this matters. The game however, makes little to no mention of any of these mechanics. There are a few reasons for this, one of which is that one of the main themes of the entire game is mystery. Unlike most other games which focus its themes solely on story and narrative, Legend of Mana permeates this theme of mystery throughout every aspect of the game. Because of this focus on mystery, Legend of Mana actually gives its players nearly unprecedented freedom for a Japanese developed role playing game. After the player's Home is placed down and explored the player should be given an item called an 'Artifact' for the town of Domina. These Artifacts are placed onto the world like placing pieces onto a board game, which unlocks new locations.

In all locations, including your own home, the player will find Events. These Events are how the story of Legend of Mana is told. The general flow is that an Event will give you an artifact either for starting it or for completing it, which can then be placed on the board game world map. Remember that everything the player can do has a mechanic attached to it. Where a player places Artifacts in the world has many effects attached to it, from which elemental mana spirit has strengths and weaknesses, to the strength of enemies, what treasure can be found, to the chance to spawn monster eggs that the player can catch and raise as a pet, and to the order Events can be unlocked. All of this is effected by where artifacts are placed in relation to the player's Home.

The combat style is rather basic at first. Its a real time action based system, and there are plenty of weapons to choose from. However, the attack options of each weapon are limited at first. Over time players do unlock different abilities that allow them to move and string together combos more effectively. Parties in the game number two characters, the main character and one picked out from a specific place in the world. A third member of the party can be added by taking a tamed monster out adventuring. The game's nonlinear nature makes it easy to replay as well. In fact, a replay might be necessary in order to get the full experience of the game. As deep as the crafting and monster raising mechanics can be they're relatively useless on a first playthrough. The entire game is just too easy. Beating the game unlocks New Game Plus, which keeps certain parts from the cleared save file and adds one massive item to the player's Library, The Forbidden Tome. This Tome lets the player change the game's difficulty, of which there are three options. The first is Normal Mode, which is the default player experience their first time through the game. The second is Nightmare mode, which adds a lot of levels to enemies in the game. The last is No Future mode, which makes all enemies in the game level 99. Choose wisely.

When it comes to the game's graphics, Legend of Mana is one of the best on the Playstation. Its a fully 2D game that features hand painted character sprites and backgrounds. Hand painted as in all these were actually painted on canvas and uploaded digitally before being compressed so the Playstation could actually play the game without bursting into flame. This bold and highly artistic style just has not aged. It is still absolutely gorgeous. The overall aesthetic for the game feels like a storybook, and the other aspects of the game's design reinforce this storybook feeling. The game's Events are analogous to the chapters of a book. The soundtrack, composed by Yoko Shimomura, also feeds into the storybook feel of the game. Its quite varied and ranges from a comforting theme for the player's Home to town and dungeon themes which fit in with the aesthetic and design choices of the area. And of course, the battle themes feel like epic battle themes.

Legend of Mana has always felt like the most overlooked game in the series. A lot of retro gamers go completely bananas over Secret of Mana, oftentimes ignoring anything that released afterwards. In Legend absolutely everything in the game ties together, it has one of the tightest design philosophies of any video game. However, being such a stickler to a rigid design philosophy and themes can lead to some weaknesses. The cryptic nature of the game is a bit of a double edged sword. Many Events that lead to world travel offer few clues as to where exactly to go. If a character in the game does give a hint they only give it once before moving back to default dialogue. Its original critical reception was lukewarm, with most of this criticism focusing on its deviation from Secret of Mana's straight faced and linear formula. Skipping over Trials of Mana and its more non-linear format to serve as a transition actually hurt Legend of Mana's reception among contemporary critics. Because of this initial critical perception, and its release proximity to Final Fantasy IX, Legend of Mana just seems to have fallen in between the cracks as an overlooked, and slightly flawed, masterpiece.

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This seems like a game that might have some replay value then, based on how you've described it. I've only played the 1st game in the series, but I like the idea of this game, as you've described it. I'll have to keep my eyes out for a copy. Good write-up!
I always intended to try this one again. Picked it up when it was fairly new but couldn't quite figure it out. Then again in those days I was busy with school and work and the eclectic design didn't lend itself to 4-hour sleep days. :p

Still, I always did enjoy the art style and music.  Might pop this one in soon thanks to your write-up.

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