Released in 1999 as Seiken Densetsu: Legend of Mana and released the following year in the US as Legend of Mana, it’s the fourth game in the Final Fantasy spinoff series, the Mana series. Or if you’re a hardcore fan, the Seiken Densetsu series (Legend of the Sacred Sword). Even though it’s the fourth game in the series, it’s the third one to make its release in the US. Despite the SNES being a sort of “golden age” for RPG’s, it was the dark ages for non-Japanese fans because companies like Square and Enix released games whenever they felt like it, because they thought Americans would never sit through a 30 hour game, and fuck PAL regions, they got the even shorter end of the rope.
So while we got the first two games, Final Fantasy Adventure (Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden), and the highly influential Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2), they skipped out of localizing Seiken Densetsu 3. They claim it’s because they had technical difficulties translating it, and it wouldn’t fit in the American cartridges. Rumors are flying around that we also didn’t get it because we were getting a different Square game, the Secret of Evermore instead. Whether it’s true or not is left to speculation, but we’re getting off track here.
Breaking the cycle a bit this time by talking about the gameplay first, but with the setup of the game, it makes sense to talk about the gameplay first.
The gameplay is a bit sandbox style, which was a pretty drastic compared to most other JRPG’s, especially for its time. A big aspect of the game is the “land make” system. The world map is a blank slate, and throughout the game you collect items called artifacts. If you place an artifact on a spot on the map, it turns into a land region. So your first artifact contains the area where your home is, and then you collect later artifacts that can create the town of Domina, mines, etc. This is a great feature for those who find enjoyment in creating the layout of their world. With 36 artifacts to collect, there’s an endless possibility of customizing your world.
Along with creating your own world, you also get to focus on things you can do at your house. There’s an extensive crafting guide to forge your own weapons and armor, or enhance the ones you have. There’s also an orchard garden to grow your own fruits. These fruits go and help out with the monster corral which serve as your partners. You can raise various different creatures in the corral to assist you in battle.
The battle system is a bit like an action RPG, you fight on a horizontal plane, and you run around smacking your enemies with the sword in real time. In the early parts of the game, there isn’t much strategy, just mash the X button until the enemy dies. As the game goes along, you learn special moves, but to use them, you must build up your meter by attacking enough times. It’s almost like a limit break. Outside of boss battles, the battles themselves aren’t very difficult as you heal after every battle.
Unlike most JRPG’s, there isn’t an overarching story, it’s mostly consisting of just a bunch of random quests, about 67 total quests in total for the game, though you don’t even have to do all 67 to complete the game. There is some story in the game, and it consists of 3 different branches, but it’ll be a few hours before you even access the story, especially if you spend your time forging weapons and the like. Some quests have prerequisite quests to accomplish to even access them, but many of them can be started in any order.
Though this is where the game gets a bit tricky. There’s much of the game that pretty much requires you to need a guide. While some NPC’s that start the various quests give you a basic rundown for what to do for the quest, some of them can be either very vague, or just don’t tell you anything. Talking to an NPC that says “I can’t find my friend” will activate the quest, and there’s times where that’s all that is said. Tvtropes sums it up pretty well with how the guide is pretty much a requirement:
In Legend of Mana, obtaining the best weapon that can be obtained without crafting (which is itself a Guide Dang It) requires you to have a save file of SaGa Frontier 2 (another Square game), go to a save point, highlight the save file in the list, and then go to a particular location (whose purpose at this point is solely to get some fairly crappy pets) and fight a fairly difficult boss fight. The “highlight a save file from another game” mechanic? Never referenced anywhere, despite the fact that it is also used to obtain a particular pet early in the game, using a Final Fantasy VIII save file.
This file is a description of the tempering (Item Crafting) system in Legend of Mana. It’s 160 kilobytes in size, and you better hope your head doesn’t explode before you grasp the basics.
Aside from the exceptionally deep crafting system and pet raising, the game is a collection of 67 side quests. Some of these quests are dependent on the placement of artifacts on a carefully selected piece of the map, with a specific order, and the quests have to be done in the correct order. Some quests require that another quest is not completed or active. In other words, if you want to be able to do all 67 quests in one run, you’re going to need a guide. It’s next to impossible for a gamer to figure out a structure for the game without prior experience playing it and a lot of mathematics and brain wracking.
Possibly the worst example of this is the quest “Rachel”. It seems impossible to find a guide that knew for certain what the requirements for triggering this quest are.
Even figuring out how to complete some of the quests can be extremely frustrating without a walkthrough. Two of the three main story arcs don’t make it clear how to start a fair number of the component quests, and to advance in some of the optional quests you have to do things like enter a town area from a specific direction, go to a completely random different town to find a NPC you’re looking for (who isn’t generally known to be there), and repeatedly talking to the leader of a tribe of creatures who speak a one-word language until a nearby NPC happens to wander close enough that he’ll offer to translate.
Have fun pulling out your hair if you’re one of those who are big on not using a guide to play their games.
A big aspect of the game for keeping track of your quests is the Cactus Diaries. You have a cactus growing in your room, and you must talk to it after you complete a quest. If you miss your opportunity to talk to it, you’ll miss out forever until you do a New Game Plus. Tvtropes also talks about how silly this gets:
In one of your sidequests, your Cactus (who is responsible for Cactus Diary entries) runs off and you have to find him. If you finish any of your other sidequests in the meantime, they will not be recorded as complete in said Diary and you’ll have to wait for a New Game Plus to try again.
Hell, any of the Cactus Diary entries are Lost Forever if you fail to talk to Lil’ Cactus before finishing another event. This can be very irritating for first-time players due to abruptly-ending events (“Mana Orchards” springs to mind) causing the previous event’s entry to be lost, or even worse, the event “Lil’ Cactus”. Whatever you do, NEVER talk to Bud if you have a Diary entry waiting to be recorded. (Luckily, “Daddy’s Broom” does not cause this same thing: while the cactus leaves, he also comes back before the event ends. Once again, however, failing to talk to Bud LAST will screw you over: if you don’t, you’ll lose Bud when you go back into the house to talk to Lil’ Cactus, and he won’t come back until after the event.)
Unlike Square’s other RPG’s that went for 3D polygons on a 2D prerendered background, Legend of Mana uses 2D sprites instead on the same prerendered backgrounds. The characters and backgrounds almost look like they were hand drawn, which gives this a feeling of a children’s fantasy book you’ve probably read as a child. Even down to the colors, it looks almost like a pastel drawing. So whether or not you find the story to be a bitch to get through, you’ll at least be pleased with scenery porn with it’s beautifully drawn characters and scenery.
The music is also really good in this game. While some music matches other JRPG’s in sound, there’s diversity in there to make it stand out from the rest of the pack. So when you’re getting annoyed at where the hell you’re supposed to go, you’ll at least be looking at a nice background and hearing wonderful music. Just ignore the annoying ass theme song sung in Swedish.
Legend of Mana is a pretty decent game, with its gorgeous hand drawn graphics and awesome scenery, the in depth crafting guide, there’s plenty to enjoy in this game. It’ll probably turn off many for its large lack of a story, and many quests being vague. One of the biggest downfalls of the game is how much of the quests leave you very lost, or have very tricky ways of activating them. The pretty much required use of a guide makes this game much more of a pain than it really needs to be. While handholding can make a game feel watered down, making it too vague is also a problem. If only there was a certain midway for this, the game could have been executed much better.
Visuals (Or Graphics): 8/10.