Review by: Jason Purdy
Published: July 10, 2000
No one doubted that Square had a hit on their hands when they released Secret of Mana. For a time, that hallowed gray cartridge had a permanent home in thousands of SNES’s across the country. Sure, they may have shot themselves in the foot by following it with the abysmal Secret of Evermore, but for the moment we’ll overlook that. SOM had an engrossing story, an incredible multiplayer component, and a combat/magic schematic that managed to simultaneously be fast, fun, and incredibly complex. Quite simply, they did everything right, which begs the question of why they waited so long to release its next-gen sequel, Legend of Mana, on the PSX. However, the answer becomes clear after an hour or so of game time. It seems that they spent their days transforming every visible aspect of the title until the end product was something that played almost, but not quite entirely unlike SOM. Is this a good thing? Well, let’s take a look.
The premise behind LOM is one of the most engrossing and original that I’ve seen in quite a while. You are cast as the hero, thrust into the barren wasteland of Fa’Diel. Once a flourishing, magical realm, Fa’Diel was filled with a variety of races, mostly living in harmony with one another. As we all know, though, Utopias make lousy settings for adventures, so everything basically went to Hell. This means that when you enter this paradise, you’ll be in the middle of an immense desert with only the clothes on your back and your flying mailbox. Your mailbox is the first artifact that you’ll come across. You’ll find others throughout your adventures, and captured within each are the memories of the peoples and lands of a certain region. When you set these artifacts down on the world map they blossom into towns, castles, dungeons and other exotic locales. You can then enter the areas and interact with their inhabitants, go on quests, collect new artifacts, open unexplored sections of the map, and slowly but surely unravel the secrets of Fa’Diel in your quest to revive the forces of magic in the world.
Since you have to collect and place artifacts to open up new areas of the world, you have the freedom to put the world together any way you feel is appropriate. As the adventure continues and your character matures, the world expands until, near the end, you are roaming a domain entirely of your own creation. Don’t think that you can just go tossing artifacts around anywhere you feel like it, though. The elemental spirits exert their influence in mysterious (i.e., random) ways, and their capriciousness is legendary. There are eight spirits for you to attempt to appease, named Undine, Salamander, Jinn, Gnome, Aura, Wisp, Dryad, and Shade. Their influence waxes and wanes, meaning that some powers will be more puissant in some areas than in others. Each land also affects the flow of mana in the lands around it, adding an interesting strategic note to your plans for urban renewal. For example, the haunted tower causes the power of Shade to increase in the lands around it, while volcanoes and other hot spots give Salamander the extra boost he needs. The strength of the mana in the lands is also dependant on the day of the week in the game world, along with a host of other factors that keeps you from ever being too sure how your powers will be working. The unpredictable, chaotic nature of these changes really keeps you on your toes if you toss a lot of spells. If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is, and I haven’t explained the half of it. You see, if you actually want to use any of these mystical powers you’ve so carefully cultivated, you need to use a magical musical instrument to summon up the individual spirit. They then cast a spell that is based on their sum magical power at the moment and the quality of your instrument.
These instruments can either be bought in stores, or you can forge them yourself in your workshop at home. You can combine any of the dozens of different materials in the creation of these instruments, and the materials you use determine the quality and elemental affiliation of the piece. Similar rules apply to the forging of armor, which you can also do in your workshops once certain quests are completed. Not only can you cobble together new pieces of armor and weapons, but you can also temper ones that you already have with new materials that you find in your adventures. For example, if you know you’re going to be spending some time in the ice fields, you can have an elemental coin of flame tempered into your blade so you’ll do that extra bit of damage against frigid foes. Your hero, obviously, is a real do-it-yourself kind of guy, as he can also grow a variety of fruits and vegetables in his orchard behind his house, and he can raise monsters and golems to fight by his side. The amount of time you end up spending at home, just forging armaments, feeding your monsters, and tending to your garden and golems ends up being a rather substantial portion of the gameplay.