Legend of Mana is a 1999 action role-playing game developed and published by Square (now Square Enix) for the PlayStation. It is the fourth game in the Mana series, following 1995’s Trials of Mana. Set in a high fantasy universe, the game follows an unnamed hero as they restore the land of Fa’Diel by creating the world around them and completing a number of interrelated quests in order to restore the Tree of Mana.
While incorporating action role-playing elements from the prior games in the series, such as real-time battles, Legend of Mana has its own distinct style of gameplay. Most notably, it gives the player the ability to shape the world’s structure through the Land Make system, generating regions and quests in a non-linear gameplay system rather than a strong main plotline. Legend of Mana was directed by series creator Koichi Ishii, designed by Akihiko Matsui, and produced by veteran Square director and producer Akitoshi Kawazu.
The game had high sales, selling 400,000 copies in its first week of release and 700,000 by the end of 1999. Reviews were less positive than for prior games in the series. Critics gave considerable acclaim to its vibrant and colorful hand-drawn graphics and soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura, but were critical of the lack of a clear main storyline, stating that it left the game feeling disjointed. The game was re-released as a part of both the PlayStation’s and Square Enix’s best-sellers lines. It was released as a PSOne Classic in Japan and North America.
A remastered version was released on June 24, 2021 for Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4.
Like previous games in the Mana series, Legend of Mana displays an angled top-down perspective, in which the player characters navigate the terrain and fight off hostile creatures. The player controls the unnamed main character, and is assisted by up to two companions. One of these companions is an optional support character, which depends on what quest the player is performing, while another companion can be chosen by the player out of a roster of monsters, pets, and golems. Both companions are typically controlled by the game’s AI, though a second player can take control of the support character, or load in their own character from a different save file, if present. The main character and companions each have their own set of numerical attributes including hit points and strength, which represent the amount of damage the player can take or cause. These stats grow whenever the player advances a level, after gaining enough experience points from battle with enemies.
Battles occur when the player character encounters an enemy while traversing the world. Combat takes place in real-time, and in the location the player found the enemy rather than a separate battle screen. The main character can equip a variety of weapons, armors, and accessories. Weapons let the player perform abilities in combat. Referred to as Special Techs, these abilities are powerful attacks by the main characters and support characters that can be used when the special move meter is full. This meter fills as the player damages enemies. Each weapon, such as a sword or spear, has a set number of special attacks to learn, which can hit single or multiple targets and can be assigned to different buttons on the controller.
Legend of Mana, unlike previous games in the Mana series, does not feature a set journey through a fixed world. Instead, it features a unique “Land Make” system where the player generates the structure of the game world by placing objects, named Artifacts, on empty square plots on a map. This map takes the form of a grid of spaces presented in an isometric viewpoint on a map screen. When an Artifact is placed in a space on the map, it creates a Land, and the player can enter that Land by selecting the position on the map. Adjacent Lands are not connected; to move from one land to another the player must first return to the map screen. Different Lands are generated from different Artifacts, each containing a quest which upon completion usually gives the player another Artifact to place. Lands can also contain additional quests. Each Land is ranked from 0 (no presence) to 3 (strong presence) in its strength in each Spirit of Mana; this in turn causes magic of that element to be stronger in that Land. The strength of the rankings is dependent on the Artifact, its position on the Map, and the rankings of adjacent Lands. Many locations have non-player characters who give quests and information or sell equipment. Other areas feature enemies and bosses with which the player can battle.
In addition to the main game, after certain quests are completed Legend of Mana gives the player the option to delve into optional gameplay aspects centered around the hero or heroine’s house. The player can forge or improve weapons and armor using raw materials found throughout the game, or combine equipment with items to change their power or add special effects. They can grow different types of fruit in the orchard, raise pets to use as adventuring companions, create items, and build golems. Pets can also be raised with the Japan-only PocketStation peripheral, and two players can battle each other in an arena.