Legend of Mana Remaster Review
I barely remember Legend of Mana at the time it came out. Looking back, I think I played it during the slower time between my completions of the fantastic Front Mission 3 and the criminally underrated cult classic Vagrant Story. Twenty one years later, I get to actually finish said game as Legend of Mana Remaster, the latest “Mana” release from Square Enix, following the fantastic Trials of Mana remake.
I remember bits and pieces: the utilization of artifacts to make way to new levels, a soothing soundtrack Square was known for, and finally the heartbreaking story of Elazul and Pearl.
Legend of Mana Remaster adds a new opening movie detailing the individual stories of the characters you meet as well as the overall story that encompasses this title. The Mana Tree has been destroyed and its sproutlings have been scattered through the world. Now it is up to you to restore the tree while encountering other adventurers who will grant you artifacts to continue your quest.
At first glance, Legend of Mana Remaster looks and feels like the same game that I’ve played back in 2000. The graphics have been preserved in how it most likely looked on a CRT screen, and the new arrangement of the music certainly brings back memories. Has it withstood the test of time, also known as four console generations, since it last came out?
Blast from the past
The Legend of Mana Remaster visuals have been improved to emulate the experience of the PlayStation One era, exhibiting beautifully drawn static backgrounds and the classic 2D sprites reminiscent of the time. You may also listen to the music as it was originally meant to be listened to, as you could change it from the arranged version to the original version in the options.
Quality of life improvements have been added as well, such as language options if you wish to read it in another language that’s not English, along with the capability to save the game almost anywhere in your journey as long as it is not in the middle of combat.
Much of the gameplay and the rest of the minigames have been preserved in Legend of Mana Remaster, including breeding new monsters and having workshops where you can utilize your hard earned loot to create powerful new tools to aid you in your quest to restore the Mana Tree. Yet the biggest attribute that makes the game unique is the ability to set up your map with artifacts collected throughout your journey, allowing better access to other maps and opening up story options with the many events you encounter featuring some memorable characters.
However, this is where the game somehow loses traction. Combat, while reminiscent of the old Mana control set, reminds me more of Star Ocean or Tales games. Unlike the ARPG loop of classic Mana games, Legend of Mana Remaster utilizes “random” encounters, which basically thrusts you into battle once you run into enemies, quite a relic of the past. You may switch encounters off in your options screen, but levelling up can be quite a chore if you don’t engage in these encounters. It creates a drag in momentum, which you could be running around in circles once you’ve exhausted all your event options and have ran out of artifacts to utilize.
Another frustrating thing about how Legend of Mana Remaster treats combat is how there is a momentary delay when you combo your quick attacks to your strong attacks. Blocking can also experience such delay that should’ve been addressed as a remaster. Games such as Cyber Shadow has the aesthetic of a retro game, but the control scheme of the contemporary game. I think that even as a remaster, there are some things like this that really needs to be addressed to match the times. I understand the old-school appeal, but at least put in options to choose from.
Monster farming adds to the already stacked to-do list alongside the endless farming of materials and the unfriendly means of progression by following a non-linear form of storytelling. During its original launch decades ago, it would’ve been novel, but right now with RPGs having a more sophisticated way of motivating players to get to the next sequence, but starting this game has been a chore and has left myself highly unmotivated.
This would’ve been forgivable if the story was compelling, which for the most part, it wasn’t. Even my favorite sequence that included the jewel thief didn’t exactly withstand the test of time, as better stories have been told with this theme (see Odin’s Sphere). The other stories weren’t exactly memorable during my play through in the past, they were just as forgettable in this current play through.
The good news is that the Legend of Mana Remaster isn’t too difficult and could be completed in less than 20 hours depending on how many endings you wish to view. If you decide to be a completionist for this game, there’s much to explore within the content, from monster ranching to material collecting, that would add to the time spend.
Playing this game 21 years ago, I was charmed by the cutesy graphics and was intrigued by the non-linear playthrough. However, so many games have improved on the JRPG genre that came out after this game with better characters, better plotlines, and better gameplay loops. I highly recommend Legend of Mana Remaster as a portable game if you really need to get it as it is something you can play on the go with minimal stakes. Otherwise, it wasn’t exactly the Mana game for the PSOne generation that I remember it as.
What we liked:
- Friendly starting price point.
- Enjoy the music with the new arrangement or with the classic sound.
- Great as a portable retro experience.
What we didn’t like:
- Aspects of the game feel very dated.
- Frustrating introductory sequences, exacerbated by control delay.
- A mediocre experience that hasn’t had any new updates since it launched.
Verdict: Wait for it.
It is clear that Legend of Mana Remaster has been released for fans of retro JRPGs that would not mind what condition it came out in. The good news is that the game is preserved as best as it is, sprites and all, however everything that also was frustrating about this type of game also carried over including some control delay, dated gameplay and unengaging story.
Last year I wrote an opinion piece regarding the oversaturation of remakes and remasters. Legend of Mana Remaster is a great example to what I was pertaining to. If a remaster or remake does great job at it, such as Final Fantasy VII Remake and Resident Evil 2 for example, then more power to that game because they have succeeded in bringing us something new while preserving the core values of what made the game fun in the first place.
Legend of Mana Remaster unfortunately has hit a two-for-two of being overshadowed in both the remake process and being late in the localization process back in 2000; overtaken by better games like Front Mission 3, Vagrant Story, and Chrono Cross. In recent memory, there have also been some great remasters like the masterful Tony Hawk 1+2 Pro Skater, which is a far better indication of how a remaster should have been done.
Overall, Legend of Mana Remaster could have used a bit more love, but if you’re a fan of preserving a classic and replaying them with some slight upgrades, then this release is something that should catch your fancy.
*Legend of Mana Remaster has been reviewed on a PS5 using a review code from the publisher.