A few years into the life of the PlayStation, Square suddenly remembered all the great 16-bit franchises it had lying around the office. "Maybe we shouldn't let these flounder," thought one of Square's brighter executives, and several design teams were quickly assigned to resurrect old glories. Legend of Mana is the follow-up to Square's popular Seiken Densetsu series, released in the US as Final Fantasy Adventure and Secret of Mana. Yet despite its obvious mastery of presentation, Legend of Mana never delivers the level of gameplay needed to match its classic predecessors.
The heart of Legend of Mana's gameplay is the new "land creation system." You begin the game by choosing a male or female player, a starting weapon, and an initial location on the world map of Fa'Diel. From this point forward, the world is literally what you make of it: Artifacts placed on empty ground turn into fully formed, frequently populated environments. Towns, dungeons, forests, plains, oases, and more - everything in the world comes from the placement of artifacts. New environments mean new quests, and new quests mean even more new artifacts.
Unfortunately, the land creation system is responsible for Legend of Mana's greatest downfall: an overbearing sense of fragmentation and isolation. Since you place artifacts wherever you please, there's no sense of "world." Instead, you get a spattering of disconnected islands with little to unite the different environments. This fragmentation extends to the story itself - the game is divided into 60-odd miniquests to uncover and complete. When a quest begins, the name of the quest flashes on the screen; upon its completion, a unique splash screen declaring "The End" appears. Instead of being given a continuous narrative, you feel as though you've been thrust into a lurching ride of a storyline. The bizarre dialogue only adds to the effect - when little sprout children spout lines like, "We have no souls, you know," and "The cow isn't anywhere. He's inside my mind," forming a cohesive narrative is a herculean task indeed.
Legend of Mana also commits the cardinal sin against the Seiken Densetsu heritage - the omission of an adequate multiplayer mode. Previous titles are renowned for their fabulous three-player mode, yet Legend of Mana inexplicably jettisons this series tradition. Instead, the largest party you can have now consists of two characters and a pet monster. When present, the second character can be controlled by another player. "When present?" asks the perplexed reader. Unfortunately, secondary characters join and leave your party throughout the many miniquests, and many adventures are undertaken solo. With three-character parties present at times throughout the game, it would have been nice to see at least token multitap support.