The Mana series from Square Enix has been getting a lot of love recently. After years of neglect in America, fans of the franchise are getting ways to enjoy the series the way they remembered it as well as anew. There's a collection on the Nintendo Switch that includes the first three games, called Collection of Mana. A remake of the second game in the franchise, Secret of Mana, is also out on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Windows PCs. One thing that's special, however, is that third game. Known as Seiken Densetsu 3 in Japan, it has never been released in the U.S., meaning that the aforementioned collection is the first time the game has been officially playable in the States. Square Enix is also going the extra mile and is remaking that third game as Trials of Mana later this year.
The Mana series can be broken up into roughly three groups. The first group is the first four games in the series, the second is the next four games that were collectively called the "World of Mana" games, and the third is the two recent mobile games. The first group is the part of the series that is most revered. Secret of Mana is the classic that everyone knows. Sword of Mana or Adventures of Mana is the first game that is known because it was originally released as a Final Fantasy game in the U.S.
Finally, the third Mana game, now called Trials of Mana, earned a reputation as the "lost" great game that never came out in the West. However, the fourth game is rarely brought up.
Legend of Mana was originally released on the original PlayStation in 2000. At face value, this game looks a lot like the other Mana games. Combat is similar to that in Secret of Mana, you have three characters in your party and you control one in real-time while the CPU controls the other two. Fights are in real-time, attacks can be charged and each character has their own individual strengths and weaknesses. Each character still levels up and improves as you play more. The game is still in its angled top-down 2-D perspective, just like the other games. The graphics are very much improved and have a stunning colorful look to them. It's a picturesque example of the quality of spritework being done in the 32-bit era.
However, this game is a departure from the rest of the series as it has branching storylines and a non-linear style. Rather than having this epic adventure that you go on, Legend of Mana has smaller more insular stories for you to help make right. This is helped by the artifact system which requires you to place down an artifact on the world map in order to progress. You place down an artifact to unlock a new section of the world. You then need to clear the main storyline connected to that particular place. Your second companion is actually the person who is required to do these quests as they serve as a chaperone. Placing artifacts in different places means you can go in any order. It's a really open-minded RPG, especially for the PSOne era.
Legend of Mana has never been remastered or remade. There was a port on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita via the PSOne classic. However, seeing as those are straight ports, that means Legend of Mana has never be re-created on any other platform. It's the black sheep of the series, possibly due to its progressive design. However, if you have access to any of the aforementioned platforms, check out Legend of Mana after you're done with the first three games. It's a beautiful game with an interesting gameplay hook that has lots of replay value due to its design.
Ahead of its time? Maybe. It is a testament to Square Enix during its prime when RPGs were the new Big Thing. It took that opportunity to experiment with the genre. We could talk about titles like SaGa Frontier, Xenogears and Vagrant Story too while we're at it, but that's for another time.