Welcome to my first review in what I hope to be a semi-regular review series. "Ahead of It's Time" will focus on games that were criticized in their era for some of the popular mechanics of today's games. Or just games that did things differently within their era. I currently have a mere 3 reviews in this series planned for your pleasure. Legend of Mana, SaGa Frontier, and Gunstar Heroes.
Legend of Mana's apparent flaw is in it's immense openness and lack of direction. These days, people frequently like their RPGs to be less linear, and enjoy having a large number of sidequests. Legend manages to convey this feeling of freedom without an open-world, which is a feat in itself. Gone is the traditional continent-by-continent world map structure of most SNES/PS1 era RPGs. This feeling of freedom is present from the moment you start the game. You choose your character between a boy and girl, and their starting weapon...And then, something unique happens. You are shown a giant map...And are asked to pick which section of it to have your game world take place in. The only limit being that you need a few spots of water. For the pirate ship, duh!
The game is still eye candy.
The map system of Legend is rather inventive, really. You see, you build the world around you. Towns and dungeons have been turned into artifacts, which you get through conversations and quests. Getting a new artifact will make you positively giddy to see what you've unlocked. That's right. I used the word giddy. At the start of the game, you place your house in any spot on the chosen grid. After, your world unfurls from there. You can only place new artifacts next to old ones, and the enemies are tougher the further away the location is away from home, leading to a very nice difficulty curve that expands with your map.
The world map. Not shown: Pirate Ship, Giant Dragon Thing
Legend is not a game driven by it's main narrative. In fact, I wasn't even sure there WAS a main narrative. If you can overlook that, and just dive into the game as it is, you'll be pleased. The game has many different questlines, with many different characters. Many of these questlines are deep enough in narrative, that you may confuse them for the main quest. The goals of quests can run from a dungeon romp, to dragon slaying, to getting students to go back to class, to learning a silly language to try and sell lamps to giant teddy bears in order to help a a man get laid, to tracking down a serial killing thief, to wandering through a graveyard of abandoned toys, to stopping two kid mages from taking over a town with pumpkins, to going to the underworld to help reunite a pair of street performers, to saving penguin pirates and their walrus cap'n from being turned to stone. That's merely a handful of the memorable quests this game offers. This game has everything you'll need. I could easily write a full-on essay on the quests of this game. From humor to drama, from the ridiculous to the serious. You're bound to enjoy one of the questlines immensely...Just be sure to return home and talk to your pet baby cactus after each quest. When you leave, he'll scribble down his naive thoughts on your adventures in his diary. Always worth a laugh! The game isn't shy or melodramatic about death, either. The serial killer questline is the largest narrative in the game, full of twists and great characters. One could consider that the main questline, in a way.
Now we come to Legend's combat. It's real time, and plays a bit like an old school brawler, but is so much more. You have many weapons to choose from. Swords, Axes, Two-Handed Swords, Two-Handed Axes, Knives, fucking nun-chucks, fisticuffs (gloves), spears, and staffs. Each of these has a very large list of skills that can be discovered, as Legend has an unusual skill learning system. You use  and X for basic attacks...But /\ and O are where the game starts to show it's depth. You start with basic moves like lunging and jumping, and as you use them, they'll combine into other skills. For example, using Crouch and Jump will result in you learning High Jump. And it builds from there. Using High Jump with Retreat (a backdash), will result in learning a Back Flip. Using these moves and a weapon will result in learning a skill. Using a spear and Lunge will result in a powerful forward strike, basically. It's rather well done, and results in combat building itself around your playstyle. Magic and skills are assigned to the shoulder buttons. Magic works by holding down the button to play an instrument imbued with a spirit. Charge it for a wider area of effect and more power. There are many unique shapes to these, so magic, while infinite, must be used strategically. It's a fun little system, easy for anyone to pick up and play. No random battles, either.
Yes, that's a chocobo. Yes, it is your pet.
The customization in Legend...You'll spend a lot of time at home if you want to get most out of the game. You can forge weapons, plus make your own magic instruments...and golems. You can make robots. You can make AI routines by hand. You can dye them different colors by using fruit from your giant, and incredibly well animated for the PS1, talking tree. This fruit can even be used to temper weapons, making them stronger. Or you can buy some metals and just forge a new blade. Sadly, you can't ever change the appearance of the main character. But the pet raising...Onto this great little feature. Nearly every enemy in the game can be your ally. All you have to do is be willing to put the time in to get the egg. After doing a fun little minigame where you distract the cute little half-hatched monster egg with fruit and then ambush it, you'll return home. The egg will hatch into one of a handful of critters, depending on the type of egg. If you try hard enough, you can even get dragons as pets. They'll help in combat, and even if the AI is dodgy (PS1 game, you see), standing next to them will usually trigger a helpful effect.
What if I told you I was a telepath? What then?!
Co-op fans will be pleased to know that you can import other main characters from other save datas for a friend to play as via a semi-secret house in Domina, or just set it so that your friend controls your current AI partner at any save point. Good fun with friends, in my experience.
That's about all I can say about this game. When it was released, it's open-ended nature was considered a negative. In today's gaming world, I believe this would have been received much better. The game received, and still continues to receive, a lot of hate from more traditional JRPG fans. For me, this ended up my second favorite game ever. It's unique, and not too hard to find used for a decent price on the 'net. But the Playstation Store release is incoming.
Those looking for a more serious, epic narrative should stay away. Those longing for the thrill of exploration, and a large number of short, but memorable, quests...Check this out. The game will be arriving on the Playstation Store within a few months. But if you can get the original disc for a reasonable price and still have a decent PS1 collection, do it. The game could read and interact with the save datas for Final Fantasy 8, SaGa Frontier 2, and Chocobo Racing to unlock a few neat things. Like the Chocobo pet with FF8.
I'm still new to Dtoid's BBcode, and this review was transferred over from my review on The Escapist, so I had to remove a lot of the code that didn't work, and I don't know Dtoid's equivalent code.