Most of the game's miniquests consist of exploring an environment, clearing it of enemies, and defeating a boss at the end - fairly standard stuff. You can assign two abilities and four skills or spells to your character. Abilities include things such as jumping, dashing, grappling, and guarding. Skills are weapon-based attacks, and spells are magically learned from musical instruments. Repeated use of low-level abilities and skills will teach a character more powerful techniques. Somewhat surprisingly, battles shift from the traditional eight-way movement of the exploration mode to a 2.5D, Final Fight-style, side-scrolling engine. While the new battle techniques help keep things from becoming too boring, gamers familiar with previous titles in the series are sure to notice their degrees of freedom being stifled.
Despite all these quirks, Legend of Mana still has much to offer. The presentation is one of the greatest the PlayStation has seen, and Square's artists deserve high praise for their work. The storybook-art style is undeniably lush - full of vibrant color and an obsessive-compulsive level of detail. The 2D graphics are some of the most ornate ever put to screen. The music is also excellently orchestrated. It's full of authentic-sounding instruments and the tunes fit the various environments like a sonic glove. Gamers looking for the ultimate extension of SNES-style aesthetics will be pleased by Legend of Mana's ornate-yet-old-school style.
And Legend of Mana's greatest downfall - its schizophrenic and disjointed nature - is also its greatest strength. There's a lot to do in this game, all of it diverting and most of it fun. When you're not on one of the many miniquests, you can raise fruits in your garden, catch monsters to nurture as pets, forge your own weapons, play musical instruments to learn magic spells, seek out Elementals, build a helpful Golem, develop your characters' abilities and skills, and more. Gamers who are willing to explore the deepest crevices of the game's offerings and who can overlook the lack of a cohesive, overarching narrative will be suitably rewarded with a heck of a lot to do.
Legend of Mana has all the pieces of an enjoyable game, but there's still some assembly required. A string of miniquests without a cohesive core, Legend of Mana is likely to disappoint fans hoping for a new action RPG classic, but it will entertain those just looking for a good time.