User Rating: 8.7 | Seiken Densetsu: Legend of Mana (PSOne Books) PS
While I was at my parents' place in New York, I had the opportunity to play my sister's copy of LoM before Christmas. I quickly found myself much more involved in the game than I ever was with its first SNES predecessor, Secret of Mana. (Note: I've yet to find the time to play its later SNES predecessor, Seiken Densetsu 3.) The game is based on a mission system, wherein missions are more granular than the basic RPG plot design that features an overall plot line with smaller subplots branching off. Instead, LoM has you participate in threads of missions, which collectively build into the overall picture which brings you to endgame. It's these missions that make your character notable, and that introduces him or her to a role in the history of the world, rather than the old "extraordinary circumstances" plot leading him or her to a role in history, thus making him or her notable. The game's character development featured substantial depth (such that the encyclopedia features were not unwarranted), while at the same time restraining said versatility so that the scope of the game does not reach ridiculous breadth, as in Star Ocean: The Second Story. There is enough immediate character evolution that a player may take on one or more weapons or possibly magic. There is a forge wherein the player can forge new armor or weapons, or improve existing ones. There is a golem workshop where the player can create robotic companions out of items in the inventory. There is a creature pen, where fleshier companions can be focused on. All in all, there's plenty to be done outside the missions themselves, but not so much that a player feels daunted by the excess of it. The graphics are generally fantastic, featuring a wide variety of painted backgrounds and hand-drawn sprites - exceptions in an industry obsessed with pre-rendered and 3D settings. There was something strange about the ending however. The ending showed the victorious player the epilogue of the game as an FMV of the game engine at work, rather than showing them the scripted events in the engine itself. This yields unnecessary MPEG compression artifacts over what is potentially the most interesting sequence of the game. Aside from that anomaly, the graphics are impressive and majestic. The soundtrack is one of the most impressive videogame OSV's I've heard since Yasunori Mitsuda's fantastic Chrono Cross score. Yoko Shimomura's work on LoM is engaging and persistently good - after thirty hours of gameplay, none of the songs had worn on my nerves. There were a few songs that were used in more than one or two areas, however, and it would have been nicer if each area had its own unique music. Even still, the reused music does fit the areas, as they are each action areas, and the general tempo fits. In retrospect, I can see why my sister became so attached to the title. The overall feel and balance of the game is such that it ranks in the highest league of RPGs, near to Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. LoM wouldn't win in a head-to-head comparison, but it has its place in the same league.