Legend of Mana (PlayStation) review
"People are always complaining about the lack of originality in videogames. Playing what is essentially the same game over and over again seems almost impossible to avoid considering how few unique titles there truly are. Legend of Mana takes some stabs at originality, but the original features are what makes this game far less enjoyable than itís predecessor, Secret of Mana. Who says creativity is always a good thing? "
People are always complaining about the lack of originality in videogames. Playing what is essentially the same game over and over again seems almost impossible to avoid considering how few unique titles there truly are. Legend of Mana takes some stabs at originality, but the original features are what makes this game far less enjoyable than itís predecessor, Secret of Mana. Who says creativity is always a good thing?
The thing that sets Legend of Mana apart from other console action RPGs is the nonlinearity. After choosing to play as either a male or female character, you pick an empty space on the world map which is where the game will take place. At the start of the game there isnít a single town or dungeon. It's up to you to find in-game objects that can be used to create locations, which will ultimately restore the sacred Mana tree featured in previous titles. New locations and objects can be found at different times, so thereís really no ďcorrectĒ path to take.
This nonlinearity is an excellent idea, but the fractured narrative ends up doing more harm then good. Instead of a central quest there are over 60 miniquests which last an average of half an hour a piece. With no clear goal, completing the missions can become a bore. It doesnít help that most of the quests are silly. Accompanying a goofy merchant and chasing a cactus creature around the world isnít exactly compelling. There are a few sequences of dramatic quests, but the dialogue is so dull that itís hard to get involved in the storyline. Granted, Secret of Mana had a laughable plotline involving rescuing Santa Claus, but at least that was mildly engaging compared to anything here.
What manages to be more compelling than the narrative are the dazzling visuals. I didnít care at all what happened in each quest, but I loved seeing what each new area looked like. The lush, hand-drawn visuals look like something out of an imaginative childrenís book. The vibrant use of color and stunning backgrounds make Legend of Mana arguably the most visually impressive PSone game. Itís just too bad that the gameplay is so disappointing.
Another change from Secret of Mana is the combat. While that game had fighting somewhat similar to the Zelda series, Legend of Mana greatly diverges from that. Once again, the change isnít for the better. Instead of finding the right moment to strike and defend, all you need to do is hammer the attack button. This works when fighting puny little rabites or the presumably frightening final boss. Even with an abundance of different weapons and skills, the combat is still nothing more than button mashing. I got through the entire game without even bothering with magic. It was just so much more effective to simply stick to the melee attacks. The lack of challenge is alarming considering my health only dropped below the halfway mark a couple times and I only saw the game over screen once.
The repetitive hacking and slashing can be somewhat remedied with the cooperative mode. A second player can upload his own character or play as one of the NPCs and join the fray. While this multiplayer action isnít nearly as good as the three-person parties from Secret of Mana, itís still a welcome addition considering how the dull the combat is. Unfortunately, the game becomes even easier with an adequate friend to play with.
Even with a friend to play with, itís impossible to avoid the plentiful backtracking. The quests can be vague, so plenty of exploration is required, which leads to facing many of the same enemies over and over again. It doesnít help that the many dungeons are essentially mazes. Going through the same screen over and over again doesnít exactly make for a fun time when the combat is also so boring.
The many sidequests end up being more engaging than the 60-plus missions. At your home there is an abundance of rewarding endeavors to spend time with. Weapons and armor can be crafted at the workshop, as can a golem to accompany you in fights. The most rewarding sidequest was raising a pet. By growing the right vegetables and providing my creature with the proper diet, I created an effective fighting machine that made my adventuring even easier. Of course, interesting sidequests donít make up for the rest of the weak game.
If Legend of Mana was as fun to play as it is to look at, it would probably be a classic. Unfortunately, the gameplay and lack of an interesting storyline end up detracting from this game. Itís nice seeing some original ideas in a relatively tired genre, but whatís the point of having new things when they just donít work well? Just stick with Secret of Mana if youíre looking for a great time.
Community review by djskittles (January 29, 2006)
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