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Legend Of Mana

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: June 24, 2021


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Switch Review - 'Legend of Mana: Remastered'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 25, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Legend of Mana is a remastered version of PlayStation JRPG classic, receiving a host of new upgrades, including optimized visuals and gameplay, for long-time fans and new players to get excited about.

Buy Legend of Mana: Remastered

Legend of Mana: Remastered is set in the ruined world of Fa'Diel. Many years ago, the life-giving Mana Tree burned to the ground, and the remaining races of the world engaged in a horrible war that devastated the land. Centuries passed, and the Mana Tree slowly regrew. Players control a nameless protagonist with no history who is tasked with rebuilding the world. They must use magical artifacts that contain the memories and history of the world to slowly replenish the land and bring back people and the mystic power of Mana to the world.

The core problem with The Legend of Mana's plot is that there isn't really one. There are several potential core plots, but they're disconnected vignettes that occasionally overlap. More often than not, you'll do something incredibly basic, and that's it. There's interesting world-building hidden throughout, but it depends on you to unlock some of the quests. Mostly, the narrative is an excuse to have smaller character interactions and engage with gameplay mechanics. There's some fun material , but do not play Legend of Mana for the plot.

Like the other games in the franchise, Legend of Mana is a by-the-numbers action brawler. You can have two party members and a pet, but you only control one party member. The other is either an NPC or can be controlled by a second player. Combat boils down to repeatedly attacking the enemy and occasionally using special moves. You can equip multiple weapon types that change the available moves, and you'll gradually learn new attacks and defensive moves over the course of the game. You're not limited to any one style and can swap weapons at any time, but your overall stats are determined by the weapon you had equipped when you leveled up.

Mana's combat system is fun, if unexceptional. It can be a bit messy in the way old-school action-RPGs can be, but that doesn't really detract from how it plays. It has the simple satisfaction of beating up enemies and watching numbers pop out. If you enjoyed the previous Mana titles, then this is the element of Legend of Mana that is probably the most familiar. It isn't quite as in-depth as something like Trials of Mana, but it still has plenty to enjoy, and there are some pretty cool interactions between skills.

One of the biggest systems in Legend of Mana involves the world map. When you start the game, you choose a region of the world that functions as your overworld map. The area is entirely barren when you start off, and you need to fill it out with artifacts, which are items that you get from completing missions and quests in the game. Your first artifact is your home base, and from there, you create towns and dungeons. The further away from your home you place the artifact, the stronger the enemies — and the more valuable the materials. Depending on where you place artifacts, you can also change the mana levels of the adjacent regions they create, which in turn influences the available enemies, items and quests.

In essence, you're building your own world map. What is a low-level area in one game might be a late-game area in another, depending on the quests you do, the order you do them in, and how you place your artifacts. It's a pretty cool feature that adds a nice sense of non-linearity to the core gameplay. The only problem it has — and be prepared to hear this a lot — is that it's not a particularly transparent system. Figuring out optimal placement without a guide basically involves playing the game over and over and experimenting until you find the right combinations.

The biggest barrier to enjoying Legend of Mana is that every single part of it is almost painfully obtuse. Just about every element, from the plot to the weapon crafting, involves digging through a lot of barely explained mechanics. The obvious intent is for you to play the game multiple times and slowly puzzle things out, but that requires being willing to sit through one or more playthroughs or read a lot of comprehensive guides written for the PS1 version. Otherwise, you're going to miss a lot of content, some of which can be permanently missed. Even if you don't mind that, trying to puzzle out the blacksmithing system alone is enough to give you a tremendous headache.

This also means that your enjoyment of the game directly corresponds to how much you enjoy poking at obtuse, poorly explained systems, and lots of trial and error. It also depends on how much you enjoy having various guides open in browser tabs while you play. I remembered enough from the PS1 days that I was able to mostly relax and enjoy the game, but that isn't going to be true for a lot of players. Don't mistake this for Secret of Mana or Trials of Mana; while it may share a name, it has a lot more in common with SaGa than the other Mana titles.

The Remastered part of the title is not as exciting as SaGa Frontier Remastered because the additions are fairly minor. The aspect ratio is changed for larger screens. There's a new Remastered soundtrack option in addition to the original music, both of which are quite enjoyable. You can toggle random encounters on and off in the menu and save anywhere, both of which cut down on some tedium. It's standard stuff. The only thing that really stands out is the inclusion of Ring Ring Land, which was a mini-boardgame for the PlayStation Pocket, the weird Tamagotchi-like device that was only available in Japan. Ring Ring Land is a simple minigame that you can play that rewards you with rare items in the main game. It's not very fun on its own merits, but it can be a nice diversion from standard grinding for materials.

The updated visuals in Legend of Mana are a bit frustrating. The backgrounds have been redrawn and smoothed out, and for the most part, they look quite nice. Sometimes they look overly smooth, but the amount of detail it brings out makes up for it. The downside is that the sprites look almost unchanged, which means you have PS1-era pixel sprites on incredibly smooth backgrounds. One or the other would look significantly better, instead of having the strange in-between. To their credit, the PS1 sprites were among the best-looking on the system, but the disparity detracts from that. Thankfully, the music is still top-notch, with both remastered and original scores available.

Legend of Mana: Remastered is a difficult game to love. It's opaque, the plot needs to be pried from its hiding place, and it makes you struggle to enjoy it. If that works for you, it'll work extremely well. There's a lot of depth and replay value buried deep within the cloudy depths. You must want to dig, instead of the more instantly accessible and enjoyable gameplay of Trials of Mana or Collection of Mana. If you're looking to get a feel for the franchise, you should start with one of those other games instead. I'm fond of Legend of Mana, but that fondness is born of nostalgia for the PS1 era. Newcomers need to be willing to put up with all of its flaws and foibles to see the delicious treats beneath.

Score: 7.5/10

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