Legend Of Mana

a game by Square
Platform: Playstation
Genre: Adventure/RPG
Editor Rating: 7/10, based on 3 reviews
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The Seiken Densetsu (Holy Sword Legend) series is one of the most revered action/RPG sagas ever released in Japan. While chapter one was released in the U.S. as Final Fantasy Adventure for the Game Boy, Square released the Super NES sequel under a different moniker in the States--Secret of Mana. Later there was a second Super Famicom Mana game (Seiken Densetsu 3) that never made it to to the U.S., much to the chagrin of many SoM fans. Now, four years later, the fourth installment of the series--Seiken Densetsu: Legend of Mana--has finally arrived for the PlayStation, and this time it's headed for America as well. This time around, Square Soft has jettisoned the 3D pomp and circumstance of games like Final Fantasy VIII, instead opting to go with a gorgeous hand-drawn approach that invokes comparisons to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland books. Although stylistically different, this game most closely resembles Square's other recent Japanese hit sequel, SaGa Frontier 2.

After the dreamy opening sequence, which is supported by the beautiful Legend of Mana theme song (sung in Chinese, just like "Eyes on Me" from Final Fantasy VIII), you select either a male or a female lead character. It is up to you to choose his or her names, and once that's done, your character will wake up in their bedroom, at which point you start your adventure. A quick look around your house will let you familiarize yourself with the controls and the game's unique style, as well as introduce you to some of the game's most helpful NPCs.

In Legend of Mana, you are free to wander about the many towns that you not only encounter, but "build" as well. By building mana, you will slowly but surely unlock numerous towns and locales that you can place on compatible spaces on a blank map. This system is called "Landmake," and due to its customization qualities, it basically guarantees that every gamer will have his or her own unique LoM world. Once you've placed your first town, you can then begin travelling. As you travel, you will not only discover new items, but additional party members as well. Among the many characters you'll be able to find (and use) are Nikita the rabbit, Ruri the swordsman, Shinjuhimei the pearl princess and Escade the warrior.

Each town or area you build has tons of items for you to find, plenty of enemies to defeat and usually a large boss to kill. In this way, every locality in the game becomes a small episode, or short story, which, when complete, is documented by Saboten-kun ("Little Cactus"), a young cactus who lives in your bedroom (Milky has one of these...).

During the course of your explorations you will eventually come across egg-like creatures who can potentially become your pets. All sorts of "eggs" can be found walking around: Bird eggs, puppy eggs, kitten eggs, etc. In order to catch these eggs, you must first entice them with the proper offering.

Fruits, vegetables, meat and insects are among the delicacies on the menu. By dropping the proper food on the ground, you can tell whether or not it is the right food if the egg eats it or refuses it. If you don't have the right stuff, you ain't catchin' the egg. If you do catch it, a Pelican will come from the Post Office, pick up the egg and drop it off at your house for you. Once the animal is hatched, it can accompany you into battle. Not only can you take a pet into battle (which levels up just like everyone else) but a second gamer can participate as well. At certain designated spots in the game, you can "activate" a feature that lets someone pick up the 2P controller and fight alongside the main gamer and his computer-controlled pet. No, a third person cannot control the pet, but it's still a great feature to have in a game like this, since it allows more people to take part in what would normally be a very solitary game.

After you've found additional characters, you can freely switch between them at your house. Keeping this in mind, it makes sense to know each person's strengths and weaknesses before you head into unknown territory, since you'll be stuck with those people for the duration of your stay there.

The battle engine in Legend of Mana is similar to that of Secret of Mana, though there are some minor differences. Conducted in real time and resembling a side-scrolling free-for-all, LoM winds up being half action/RPG and half twitch game. Very cool indeed. The monsters you face range from bizarre animals to weird-looking vegetable creatures. All the creatures are sprite-based, so the level of detail is very high. Boss creatures can take up almost half the screen, they're so big. Animations for the characters are a little bit limited, but it's nothing terrible. Since there are no menus involved, battles remain fast-paced, with practically no loading time--unlike FFVIIPs long-ass battles. While most attacks revolve around a quick, weak attack and a slower, more powerful attack, there are also a number of magic spells you can cast. In the event that you're having difficulty with the battle system, you can always get some pointers from the in-game tutor. Duel. The game, however, is not just a bunch of short stories without purpose. Throughout your travels you will be seeking out seven magic lords of the land. Early on in the beginning you'll meet Trent, the wise old tree who lives near your home. Trent looks particularly cool due to a nice animation technique that integrates with the game graphics perfectly. When you encounter one of the big boys like Trent, whenever you talk to him, the background turns into a quick FMV that doesn't skip a beat, animating what had formerly been static and unmoving. The same effects were used sparingly in other Square RPGs like Final Fantasy VII. Other magic creatures are spread across the land for your hero (or heroine) to meet, like the large mountain that comes to life.

Most of these "gods" will serve some purpose, thankfully. For example, after you meet Trent, he will help you cultivate produce to try to lure pets into your possession. He offers you use of an orchard where you can plant seeds he gives you. When they're ready to be harvested, you can cultivate them and add them to your inventory. Other awesome features include the Pet Cottage, where you can raise and train the pets you catch. There is also a weapon creation room, where you can create custom weapons and defensive items. You can also make magical instruments and ass-kicking Golems.

Scheduled for a domestic touchdown by Spring of next year--allowing time for the world to enjoy Final Fantasy VIII-Mana fanatics have a little bit of a wait in store. However, if the evidence displayed in the import version is any indication, a well-done localization will be worth the wait.

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Game Reviews

In October, we brought you the first details about the fourth installment of the popular Squaresoft Seiken Densetsu series, Legend of Mana. We now have a near-complete copy of the English version in our hands, and things are looking very nice. Here's a bit of a refresher preview before the game's highly anticipated release in June.

Legend of Mana is based around a "Landmake" system, which allows the player to place towns and other locations on the world map wherever they please. Proper placement of map locations requires you to pay attention to the Mana level of the land; placing a town on a patch of land with high Mana levels has an effect on what is created. The battle system is very similar to Secret of Mana, with up to three players (depending on who is in the main character's party at the time) joining in the real-time combat. The remarkably beautiful sprite-based artwork and sweeping, emotive musical score makes Legend of Mana the one to watch this summer, as part of Square's "Summer of Adventure" RPG fest.

People say:

7

Let me start by saying that Legend of Mana is a beautiful game. The 2D hand-drawn graphics are lovely (marred only by characters begging for more animation) and the music is wonderful (I bought the soundtrack). Because of this, I really wanted to love the game. Unfortunately, I didn't, and it was because of two fundamental areas: story and battle system. The big problem with the game's story is that, well, there really isn't one. Your main objective in LoM is to collect artifacts and place them in your world to create small lands to explore. This keeps the game very non-linear, but at the same time adds a feeling of fragmentation, as each area is isolated from the rest. And the same goes for the tasks LoM offers: You're basically given 70-odd quests to complete and nothing really unites them. This might be acceptable if there were decent battles to back them up, but unfortunately, LoM's are quite poor. Most are an exercise in mindless hacking, and seldom do they even present a challenge (especially since you are back at full health after each fight). And one element that is likely to displease Mana fans is the omission of a decent multiplayer option, a staple of the series thus far. Previous games featured great three-player support, and Legend only has a half-assed two-player game. If you're a giant fan of Square games you may want to look into this one, but otherwise I'd recommend holding off for Chrono Cross.

6

A feast for the senses, Legend of Mana boasts some of the most impressive 2D artwork ever seen on a console. Combine that with an excellent soundtrack and you have an audio/visual masterpiece. But when you examine the gameplay there are problems, the biggest of which is the lack of a strong plot-something to tie all the mini-quests together. Fans of non-linear RPGs will undoubtedly enjoy this aspect, but it doesn't seem right in the Mana series. The battle system could have been tweaked a bit more, as could the menu interface--what happened to the cool rings? Legend of Mana is a solid title, but I was expecting a bit more.

7

I loved Secret of Mana, so when I heard Legend was on its way I just about wet 'em. You can't imagine my disappointment. Sure the music is fantastic and most of the incredibly detailed 2D artwork looks great, but the animation is merely decent and I'm not a fan of the porcelain "Precious Moments"-style characters. I also don't like the fact that there's no one main quest, but my biggest beef is with combat: It's too repetitive, way too easy, and nowhere near as deep or fun (single or multiplayer) as in SoM. Separately the graphics, sound, and huge variety of abilities and other peripheral features are nice, but they never add up to anything special.

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