Square Enix methodology for remastering Mana Legend is an awesome one, retaining much of what made the original game special – even where it won’t hold up well in 2021.
Of all the companies with catalogs of classics that are lavish to use and abuse, Square Enix seems to be one of the most confident dives into his old work. We’ve seen boneless ports of the PS2 Kingdom Hearts games, previously non-localized Japanese versions like Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age, and of course electrifying, earth-shattering remakes like Final Fantasy 7. But contenders for the best remastering style, for nostalgia. the most excited will probably be featured in the new HD Remaster PS1 classic Legend of Mana.
Legend of Mana has always been the obvious next Mana series, as its direct predecessors, Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana, have both been remade as 3D games. Legend of Mana takes a different approach – retaining the original malevolent-based visuals to maintain the exact recreation that fans remember – or at least, in part.
The more ‘active’ characters, monsters and other elements of the game world are sprites that are beautiful, unfiltered, and unashamed of their pixel nature. Meanwhile, the more static elements like the background have been given a high definition makeover where everything looks a little… more subtle. It sounds like a description that makes the alarm bells ring – we saw a lot of horrible Vaseline filters in classic games – but this element looks good, with little or no detail missing. Most importantly, the parts of the game that you focus on the most retain their original appearance.
It’s a combination that I don’t always think is great on paper – but in practice, it works very well. The two styles do not clash; and while it may feel a little strange at first, the two quickly become intertwined and cease to feel like two separate art styles – the two complement each other. The background painting undoubtedly looks better on a modern look than the original PS1 version in its original presentation, while the sprites ‘pop’ in the background thanks to their pixelated nature. It works, and it looks really good.
Better than the visual splendor is the audio, which has also undergone significant improvements. The original soundtrack from Street Fighter and Kingdom Hearts composer Yoko Shimomura has been lovingly remastered – and the arrangements are, well, slapstick. There’s no other way to say it. Those who are in it for the experience as they remember it have the option to revert to the original version of the PS1 track if they wish.
Then there are games. Legend of Mana is a great classic Japanese RPG – but also shamelessly for its time, a game that arguably was released before the developer’s desire to streamline, simplify, and declutter the genre took hold. Everything holds up fairly well – but with the same caveats and understanding, one has to admit it was in 1999. There are some very welcome quality-of-life changes – but the more frustrating aspects of gameplay that were polarized on release remain in this re-release, for better or worse. If it’s changed more, it’s not Legend of Mana.
The combat is the same action-driven action the Mana series is known for, albeit in a slightly slower tempo and slightly stiffer form. It’s simple enough to understand and instantly fun, but it’s also undeniably rich in complexity and depth, especially when you dive deep into the minutiae of character growth and development.
The narrative is delivered with the same sensitivity. It’s a story of a broken world, with the protagonist essentially rebuilding and recreating the world as you progress through the game. The progression is not linear, with a good level of player choice in what you do and when. It’s quirky and effective, but contributes to the overall feeling that sometimes this title is a little too blunt for its own good.
Perhaps the most damning thing I can say about this aspect of the game is this: if you are a finisher, you will almost certainly not be able to do everything you want to do in this game without consulting guides, many of which will be decades old, back from the original release. The original was released just as games like this were starting to become unacceptable – and it hasn’t been significantly improved for this re-release.
However, I like some of the quality of life changes. The ability to turn off enemy encounters basically allows you to make the process of groping around the world for your next move easier, for example. Saving can be done anywhere, which feels fairer and cooler, and especially more suited to the Switch version.
For certain types of players, Legend of Mana tends to be considered the perfect remaster. It touches the visuals, but not by too much. It makes a quality-of-life change, but retains the original design and difficulties – warts and all. Some might find preservation to be a disservice, with this twenty-year-old game showing its age – but it also makes this the definitive new way to experience the classic.
The review code is provided by the publisher. Tested on Switch (Main) and PC.