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Legend of Mana review for Nintendo Switch, PS4, PC


Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also On: PS4, PC
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: M2 / Square Enix
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: No
ESRB: T

While Legend of Mana might not be the most loved game in the long running Square Enix series, it’s certainly one of the more unique. Released in 1999/2000 for the original PlayStation, it was an extremely nice looking 2D game in an era that was mostly focused on 3D, polygonal characters and worlds. Legend of Mana instead focused on 2D character sprites, with vibrant colors, and gorgeous backdrops for the multiple locations featured throughout. The remastered version of Legend of Mana, dropping this week for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC, just helps to emphasize how good the game looks. The upscaled resolution loses none of the detail from the original game, the new 16×9 aspect ratio actually works out well, and a couple modern conveniences like a new Quick Save feature are certainly appreciated. M2, the developer behind this port, continues to impress with another excellent release of an older, but maybe not beloved, classic game. 

Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that there are people out there that absolutely love Legend of Mana, and if that person is you, then I’d just stop reading this review and go ahead and plan on picking this up when it drops this week. For everyone else, maybe read on a bit more before making that decision. 

While the Mana games that preceded this have mostly been straight forward action-RPG’s, Legend of Mana changes up the formula quite a bit. Yes, there are definite differences between say, Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana, but Legend of Mana really tries to do a lot of new things, while at the same time doing a poor job of explaining virtually anything to new players. And while this port is an excellent remaster, it’s not a remake, and doesn’t take great strides to onboard modern players. As such, it will likely be a frustrating experience at first, unless you’re willing to follow a guide, which I would certainly recommend. 

At the onset of Legend of Mana you’re given the option to choose between a male or female protagonist, a beginning weapon, and then you’re given a big map with which to plop down your starting location. From there you’re given an artifact, which is how you’ll unlock new areas to explore throughout the game. Each artifact represents a new land, and placing it on the map will unlock that land which can consist of small dungeon areas or new cities with NPC’s, shops, and so on. That aspect of the game is fairly easy to understand, but when it comes to how you actually progress forward or upgrade your character and equipment, that’s where I think Legend of Mana could do a better overall job of things. 

For quests you’ll mostly be exploring lands and talking to NPC’s. Not all NPC’s give quests, and there’s nothing to indicate which NPC will trigger any given quest. Each quest is virtually it’s own mini-story as well, and it can be difficult early on to understand how anything is connected, if they are connected at all. There are “main” quests and an overall ending in the game, but you’re more likely to stumble into those things if you’re not using a guide. On the plus side, there’s no real lack of content, there are a ton of optional quests and lands to unlock, so if you’re wanting to see 100% of what Legend of Mana has to offer, you’ll certainly be able to spend quite a few hours with the game. 

When you’ve started a quest, you will generally be pointed in the direction of the land you need to explore, but once there you may be a little aimless for a bit. This isn’t a huge problem, unless you’re stuck in a sprawling, repetitive location with multiple branching paths. There’s no map to reference in any given location, so you’ll either need to employ your memorization skills or mapmaking skills in order to keep track of which exit leads where. Also, you may encounter various puzzles, which again, can be a little difficult to suss out without some sort of guide.

While exploring these areas you’ll run into enemies on the map which will trigger battles. When engaged in combat, you’ll be able to freely control your main character, while any party members (which are usually temporary) will be controlled by the A.I. You can gain access to both melee and magic attacks, and you’ll be able to string together basic combos using normal and power attacks. Combat feels OK, but a little sluggish, and takes some slight adjusting to. When you finish a combo string your character is temporarily defenseless and stuck in place, so you’ll need to learn how to avoid enemy counter attacks, and more importantly, not get surrounded by multiple enemies. Most encounters are not hard provided you’re not underleveled for a fight, with boss fights providing the most challenge. 

Combat is important to engage in, despite a new option in the game to turn encounters off. You can gain crystals from defeated enemies which is how you’ll gain experience to level up. But also performing attacks with the same weapons, or utilizing sub-moves like lunge or crouch, will unlock additional abilities that are often more powerful than what you start with. So while most of the basic encounters are not the most exciting elements in Legend of Mana, it is still worth your time to engage in combat. 

So I know a lot of this review makes it sound like I’m sort of down on the game, but I actually mostly enjoy Legend of Mana. I just feel like it’s necessary to prepare players who have never played it to understand this is a game that doesn’t have a lot of modern conveniences found in most RPG’s today. But it is still a very charming, excellent looking world to explore, filled with oddball NPC’s and a bevy of quests, along with a whole host of systems to engage with like monster collecting, weapon forging, and more. 

And again, M2 did a fantastic job with this. In addition to the excellent port, we also get the Ring Ring Land mini-game that wasn’t present in the original western PS1 release, and there’s also an absolutely fantastic rearranged soundtrack provided by composer Yoko Shimomura (of Kingdom Hearts fame). So while I can’t wholeheartedly suggest Legend of Mana to everyone, I would say it’s worth a look if you’re willing to sink time into understanding the mechanics of the game and don’t mind a little aimless exploration. Or, if you’re like me and already knew what to expect going in, you can have a little peace of mind that Square Enix and M2 did a really solid job of bringing Legend of Mana back to life on modern hardware. 

Note: Square Enix provided us with a Legend of Mana Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: B