JRPG Review

Legend of Mana – Review | A Classic Remastered

Even though only one ‘Mana’ game was released in Europe – the Secret of Mana – it was enough to leave a lasting impression on my teeny-tiny Toasty brain. The music, the visuals, the gameplay – they were, at the time, out of this world. In 1999 Legend of Mana was released on the ol’ PSX, just not for us dirty Europeans. Thankfully, Square Enix, in celebration of Mana’s 30th Anniversary, has remastered this mysteriously absent title for Playstation, Switch, and PC – what a time to be alive, right?

Legend of Mana - House

Not Just Any JRPG

Well, that entirely depends on what you expect, and what you want, from Legend of Mana. When I booted it up, it became apparent, almost immediately, that this game is nothing like any Mana game or JRPG I had ever played. I’ll start with the simple stuff. You pick a gender (good luck figuring out which is which), a name, and a starting weapon. Your gender changes the occasional piece of dialogue, although not by much. Your name defaults as YOU, so changing that is pretty much a must. Finally, depending on your starting weapon, you will come equipped with a low-level starter beatstick and a Special Technique for good measure – more on those in a bit.

Once you have gruelled over these life-changing decisions, you have a fancy view of the world map. You plonk your cursor over the area of land you want to exist in, it zooms in, and you plonk down a letterbox. Bish, bash, bosh, you got yourself a house and you’re ready to play. But why are you playing? Surely there is a plot-like device driving you towards an end goal only you can reach? Well, kind of…but also not really.

A big tree known as the Mana Tree was once worshipped, then a big war happened, then it wasn’t worshipped, then it started to die. This process started to drain the world of Mana, which is bad. Not-Yggdrasil traps the entirety of the globe in inanimate objects known as Artifacts and calls on you to restore mana to the planet by believing places and people exist enough that they do. Or something like that. It’s not complicated, it’s just not that interesting and I forgot what I was doing, and why, fairly quickly.

Legend of Mana - Cult

The Journey, Not The Destination

This might seem like a negative, I mean, what is a JRPG without a compelling, multilayered tapestry of vague concepts and characters congealed into one amorphous mass? Legend of Mana throws away these preconceptions and instead demands that you pay attention to the journey – not the destination. Legend of Mana is more like a complexly interwoven collection of fairy tales filled with memorable characters, moments, and arcs that, if you let them, engross you in deeply personal turmoil and/or adventures. 

In a sense, Legend of Mana is built on sidequests and not much else. These sidequests, however, are fantastic. One moment you could be fighting bandits with a stingy Bunny merchant who insists on rewarding you with the privilege of purchasing overpriced goods from him. Next the village of Domina could be attacked by rejected child wizards and their army of pumpkins. How about a jewel thief who rips out the core of jewel people (basically their hearts), murdering a knight in mourning who recently lost his partner? All the while you are aiding a crazy dwarf-like detective in a village of mountain nuns. Oh, and there is also a subplot about a soulless brussel sprout with a sore tummy. 

There are 67 side quests in Legend of Mana, and each and every one of them is memorable. Most of these quests have recurring characters which help tie them together into mini-narratives, but Legend of Mana also has 3 distinct side-quest arcs which drive home the power of its storytelling. I won’t get into any of them, because I’ve already said too much. This is a game about discovery, and going in mostly blind is the best way to go.

Legend of Mana - Pumpkins

Freedom and Discovery

The sense of discovery is what sucked me into Legend of Mana. No two playthroughs will be the same, and not all side quests will be accessible your first time around. Many are missable, and without a guide, it’s unlikely you’ll find them all. Heck, you could theoretically beat the game in a few hours without even realizing it. What surprised me the most was the attention to detail. You can have a partner with you at all times, and based on your partner, and the situation, unique dialogue will occur. These are worth discovering for yourself, and I will not ruin them here. It helps greatly that the dialogue in Legend of Mana is top-notch stuff. This was originally released in a time where voice acting wasn’t the norm, but it is so well written that any and all emotions are conveyed perfectly.

This charm permeates throughout the experience, especially back at home. When you toddle back, you are privy to several side activities that are a mixture of quaint, interesting, and complex. Talking to your cactus after a quest will result in him writing a small diary about your exploits. These are fun to read, and I found myself going home frequently just to have a gander. Outside of your walking cactus buddy, you can raise monsters as pets, grow fruit and veg, craft musical instruments to woo the spirits, and unleash power magicks. You can even construct your own Golem which, honestly, I still don’t fully understand how to do. But it’s there, and it’s awesome.

Legend of Mana - Pretty Visuals

But nothing compares to the sheer beauty of Legend of Mana’s visuals. Large, beautifully detailed, expressive, and animated sprites make up the denizens of the world, but the world itself – golly gosh. Every landscape, dungeon, forest, and village is a gorgeous hand-painted canvas that kept me in awe throughout my playtime. Legend of Mana is truly staggering in terms of its presentation, even 20+ years later. Bearing in mind this was released around the same time as games like Final Fantasy 7. It’s a visual treat like no other.

One Of The All-Time Great Soundtracks

Let’s not forget the soundtrack, however, which is one of the best soundtracks I have ever had the pleasure to listen to. Beautifully evocative, serene jingles permeate the peaceful locales in a way that brings the already lively paintings to life. Attention to detail, such as the music becoming slightly subdued upon entering a shop or house, builds a sense of calm when pottering. Combat areas don’t have battle music, instead, that zone’s music continues uninterrupted, and fits perfectly. Then we have the boss’ music – which is fantastic. A riff-roaring power metalesque track that slaps harder than Tyson. The remake lets you pick between the PSX original score or the new orchestral score, and both are fantastic. There is no wrong choice here.

Unremarkable Combat

You may have noticed I have left one key element out of this review (until now) – the combat. Legend of Mana is a game that has a lot of perfectly functional combat and RPG mechanics that work – sure, but it’s nothing special. Legend of Mana is essentially a side-scrolling beat ’em up similar in a lot of ways to games like Double Dragon or Streets of Rage. You run up to an enemy on a vaguely defined lane, bop them a few times on the dome and move on. The depth of combat comes from its combo systems, special techniques, and abilities.

Hitting the attack button in the right rhythm, and ending with an ability or a power attack, allows you to deal more damage and cancel out lengthy recovery frames. Different weapons have different combos adding a bit of variety if you want to expand your repertoire a tad. Special Techniques are powerful meter-based finishers that can decimate an entire group of enemies. Abilities range from faster healing, to dodge rolls, to powerful infinite-combo-creating grapples. It’s all fine. It all works, and it all works well. There’s just a lot of it, and it’s very easy. You could ignore most of these systems and you’d waltz through the game without much resistance. Bosses are not better, although they are a visual treat, often taking up half the screen. If combat gets too boring, you can even turn it off, although I never got to that point admittedly.

Grab A Buddy

What saves the combat is the ability to play in Co-op. As I touched upon earlier, you often have an AI-controlled partner. Legend of Mana allows a mate to jump in and play as that character, which makes everything a bit more fun. Heck, it even becomes more tactical as you can better utilize the Synchro abilities of your characters which only become accessible when you are standing close enough.

Tricky Issues

One thing I disliked about the combat system was the rewards. When you kill a mook, they drop either a bag of loot or crystals and money. Crystals grant EXP and bags of loot contain…loot. The problem is, these items disappear after about five seconds, meaning you have to make a mad dash to pick it all up mid-combat. EXP is also not shared between characters from what I could tell. Oh, and the menu is massively over-designed and it’s quite difficult to tell at a glance what stats are, what they do, and which ones are getting bigger.

Finally, as beautiful as the world is, exploring it can be a bit tricky. It is not always clear where you can go, and where doors are. On more than one occasion I was stuck on a quest because I didn’t know a door was there. It was blocked by gorgeous artwork, which was a tad aggravating. Dungeons are also a bit of a pain as they are pretty big, filled with multiple looping, interwoven paths and there’s no map. Getting lost, especially later on, became rather common.


Legend of Mana was a game that took a little while for me to truly understand. I went in expecting something, and it gave me something completely different. Heck, so different I can’t recall any game quite like it. It is captivating enough to play for hours on end, but it’s also bite-sized enough that short pick up and play sessions are ideal (hurray for Switch players). 

If deep mechanics and JRPG systems are what you want, Legend of Mana will disappoint. If a string of wonderfully crafted fairy tales set in a phenomenally realized world with secrets hidden around every syllable is your cup of tea, then Legend of Mana is an easy recommendation. 


Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC

Want to see more JRPGs? How about checking out our review of Persona 5 Royal? Or our look at Final Fantasy VII EPISODE INTERmission?

Many thanks go to Square Enix for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.

If you’d like to see more articles from us, please remember to follow us on Twitter🐦 and consider turning notifications on. Or type in your E-mail address and click the button for free email updates. You can also come chat with us on Discord.

Support High-Quality And Detailed Coverage

Want to support the cost of us bringing you these articles or just buy us a coffee for a job well done? Click the Ko-fi button below. You can even find some digital goodies in our shop~!