Square Enix is continuing its series of PS1 remasters with Legend of Mana. We thoroughly enjoyed the modernized port of Saga Frontier that came out in April, and this release is keeping the good times rolling (or getting them rolling for the first time in Europe, which missed out on it back in 1999). This entry in the Mana series is a bit unusual in its openendedness, and similarly to Saga Frontier, it can seem a bit aimless at times. However, gameplay that was frustrating when I was young is charming when so many modern games rely on waypoints and objective lists to lead players along.
This isn’t a straight port, though it is a bit limited in its additions. The two big things here are a newly orchestrated version of the game’s soundtrack and the redrawing of backgrounds to fit the 16:9 ratio of modern TVs. Unfortunately, it does skip some obvious improvements that could have addressed some complaints fans had about the original release, which seems like a shame after all the work that went into the graphics and music.
Legend of the setpieces
Unlike other entries in the Mana series, Legend of Mana doesn’t follow a linear story. Instead, there are three main quest arcs, a multitude of side quests, and a final quest arc. What makes this game confusing is that only one of the main quest arcs has to be completed to start the finale.
It’s easy for those who are playing without a guide to accidentally lock themselves out of swathes of content, which is immensely frustrating. Despite this, it does encourage exploration and multiple playthroughs, and there are enough guides that completionists should have no issues finding the optimum way to experience 100% of what Legend of Mana has to offer.
The unique feature Legend of Mana has is the Land Make system. Players can use “Artifacts” obtained in the course of the game to spawn new locations on the map. There are also weapons and armor forging, farming, pets, item crafting, and the ability to build golems to enjoy. Additionally, this remaster marks the first time you can play the PocketStation mini-game Ring Ring Land outside of Japan to raise pet stats.
Ironically, the 2D sprites that were criticized on the game’s launch in 1999 have given it an endearing style that makes it more timeless than its early 3D peers. The new backgrounds are gorgeous and look handpainted, as do the new character portraits, but they enhance the detail of the original instead of making changes, so even purists should be satisfied.
Strangely, despite being able to change between the original and new orchestrated soundtrack, there’s no switching between old and remastered backgrounds. Additionally, the sprites themselves seem just to be blown-up versions of the original. They’re still gorgeous, but they do look out of place on the crisp backgrounds at times. As much as I love the original graphics, this would have been a great occasion to offer both the ability to use the PS1 backgrounds and to use remastered sprites.
The remaster would have been an excellent opportunity to throw in some other quality of life additions as well. In particular, it’s almost impossible to experience all the game has to offer without a guide. It would have been nice to include more information to point players in the right direction and figure out some of the more obscure systems in the game.
Legend of Mana Remaster Review: The final verdict
It’s great to see Square Enix give some of its overlooked classics a fresh coat of paint and a new life on modern consoles. Unfortunately, as time goes on, it gets harder and harder to find original copies, and dusting off a PS3 and a PSP or Vita to get the PS Classics version is a pain as well. The new 16:9 backgrounds and orchestrated soundtrack are amazing, and the only real absence I felt was the ability to switch the sprites to a remastered form and to change the backgrounds back to their original 4:3 versions.
It might be a bit obtuse, but Any fan of 2D JRPGs must experience Legend of Mana. It was released when they were at their zenith, a time when it seemed like every month Square Enix was dropping a new banger. Hopefully, if these continue to do well, we’ll see games like Threads of Fate and (dare I say it) Chrono Chross get another chance to shine. These remasters are a way to go back to one of the golden ages of gaming, and they can keep them coming.