Title  : Legend of Mana
Platforms  : Sony PlayStation
Publisher  : Square Electronic Arts L.L.C.
ESRB Rating  : Everyone
Game Rating  : 3.0
Review by  : Richard Rae

Squaresoft's "Legend of Mana", for Sony PlayStation, is a graphically pretty game, which immediately struck me as trying to fuse elements from old 8-bit RPGs, Grandia, and even Monster Farm into a "new generation" classic RPG. 

All the artwork and characters are presented in a very elaborately drawn 2D style reminiscent of a finely illustrated fantasy or children's book, with fanciful character designs. Anthropomorphic animal and plant characters populate this world just as freely as do elf-like humanoids, one of which you play: your choice male or female, as your decision has no effect on the game progression. In addition, later the game also lets the player hatch and train monsters from eggs he or she acquires during the game, then train the resulting monster until it has grown enough to join your party. Players also can acquire the ability to construct "Golems" in a special workshop, and you also can incorporate a Golem as a questing companion. 

Unlike typical RPGs, "Legend of Mana" offers a unique concept: you "build your own world" by placing the Mana Tree "artifacts" you acquire anywhere on the "continent" it's allowed, at your whim. These "artifacts" (blocks, etc) will morph into new locations and towns, some of which will be friendly, and others hostile. As you explore these areas you'll acquire more artifacts and meet more characters, acquire money, and — of course — battle all sorts of fanciful creatures. 

Notably, there's no voice acting, and all interaction with non-player characters is accomplished via standard dialogue boxes and menus you must step through to make your answer choices. Battles are easy enough to fight using simply two buttons, and the game has hundreds of items and weapons with which you can equip your player character as you find or buy them. Statistics and experience screens are of course present, as are a surprisingly large number of inventory screens and equipment utilization tools. 

But how is "Legend of Mana" as an RPG? To put it frankly, I was bored to tears. 

An opening OP cutscene shows the Mana Tree dying and spreading its death concentrically across the land of Fa'Diel, and the world falling apart to fragment into any number of artifacts which become scattered to the Four Winds. But after that, the game does nothing further to grab you at the start, nor does the story advance in anything remotely resembling a cinematic fashion. While the game does posit some nice philosophy at times, it moves excruciatingly slowly. 

Though this is a new game, you'd hardly know it to look at it. The game looks like nothing more than a much prettier version of an 8-bit or 16-bit 2D RPG, and has no 3D graphics or CGI renderings. The atmosphere, in fact, struck me as extremely "retro" and very old-fashioned. The game does little to excite the player graphics- or mechanics-wise. 

Most notably, its imaginative "design the game world as you'd like it" innovation also proves to be its downfall. There is no strong "linking story" to make what appears to be some sort of general accomplishment worthwhile. In fact, the player winds up going on a huge number of "mini-quests" (usually one or so within each newly placed location) with minor goals that sometimes don't even need to be completed to allow a player to simply "move on". Of course, the number of locations to visit are proportional to the number of "artifacts" or "mailboxes" you acquire and place. 

The game music is initially nicely done, but the endlessly repetitive tunes and fairyland sound of the music often becomes so cloying and irritating that you may want to turn the volume off. 

While the game does have a sizable number of characters, I found that none of those I encountered were the least bit compelling. Most of the male humans look female, and vice versa- except for the animal and plant critters, who look like they should be in a Beatrix Potter book. 

"Legend of Mana" overall comes across as very disjointed, unfocused, and more like a casual "software toy" to be played with and abandoned whenever the player wishes than an RPG. Underneath the initially clever "world creation" concept lies pretty much the "same old thing" with no real innovations in game play or new worlds to dazzle the player. 

I personally found my interest in the game waning considerably the more I played it. There was nothing compelling me to keep going back to it, I didn't care about the characters, I stopped caring whether I fought monsters or not, and didn't even care about building Golems or training monsters for my party. In other words, I wasn't having any fun nor was my imagination or sense of fantasy being engaged. 

"Legend of Mana" isn't a game I can recommend to the average player. While "Legend of Mana" may ultimately have its proponents among die-hard RPG players or fans of its ancient predecessor "Secret of Mana," I found nothing technologically to make this any different from "old school" elf/fairy quest RPGs of 10 years ago. It doesn't "wow" one as a PlayStation title should, let alone one from Squaresoft, and I imagine you'll have more fun leaving it on the shelf than investing your time into the fragmented world of Fa'Diel. 


This article is copyright (c) 2000, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Video Gaming Central (CompuServe), 07-Jul-00