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Legend of Mana Aaron (Reader) Impression
I would be more than happy to share what I know.
First off, the graphics. Incredible. The entire game is beautiful. Colorfully detailed down to the last sprite. Special effects for magic and "death moves" (the name had the kanji for "kill" in it so I decided to call them death moves) look somewhat like those in Final Fantasy Tactics (one of my favorite games of all time) when a boss morphs into a monster via a stone. There aren't many FMV scenes, save for the intro one. The intro FMV is impressive; it shows off some of the most amazing visuals in the game.
In the beginning you choose between two characters, a man and a woman. I chose the woman, because the guy looked a little weird (not that it really matters). After you choose the character you choose the character's main weapon. I chose the spear. I don't know why. Other options included dual short swords (like Hawkeye's from Seiken Densetsu 3), a medium 1-handed sword, a huge 2-handed sword (like Duran's, also from SD3), a bow and arrow, nunchucks, gloves, hammer, axe, etc. The character's appearance changes based on the weapon you choose. After you decide on the weapon you choose a name. There were the standard Romaji (English characters), and Hiragana and Katakana (Japanese syllabaries) input tables. What surprised me, though, is that there was a Kanji input option. That might not mean much to many people, but this was a first for me. I don't think I've ever seen a video game let you put Kanji in a name. In case anyone cares, I chose the name Shizuka, after a friend of mine. (BTW, the default name is YOU, so you non-creative people are screwed on the names.) After name-choosing you decide on a chunk of the world map to use. I don't think it really matters what area you choose. They're all pretty much the same. Also, once you choose your little spot you can't change it or ever see the rest of the world again. But that doesn't matter since nothing exists in the game until you put it there.
First order of business: place the "Post." The post is an "artifact," an item that you place on the world map. Once you place it there's a funky little animation of the artifact morphing into a place. Each artifact is unique and will always give you the same place. Once you place an artifact you cannot pick it up or move it and it disappears from your artifact inventory.
You start in your room. In your room you can save, change to 2 player mode, or look at one of the many books. Books in this game catalogue information about the following: People you have met, Artifacts you have gotten, Places you have been to, Monsters you have defeated (or at least battled), Skills you have learned, Death moves you have learned, etc. Since I have limited Japanese skills these books have been of little help to me. However I don't think it's necessary to look at any of these books even once.
There is a downstairs and a side room to your house. Nothing much goes on in the house, though maybe that's just because I haven't played all of the game. Outside the house there's a Kusabito (literally "grass-person") who will give you your second artifact. Also in/around your house: another house where you can eventually make musical instruments and weapons/armor (I'm not sure about the armor, but positive about the weapons), a pasture with farmhouse where you can keep your captured monster babies (they later grow into adults and you can have them join your party), and a grassland where eventually a giant talking tree will grow.
Once you've looked around you can leave for the overworld map. Here you can place the artifact you've just recieved. Mine was Domina City, and I think everyone get's Domina City. There's some measure of randomness to the game so sometimes things are different depending on where you put stuff, what you do, etc. In Domina you can: buy items, meet characters that appear throughout the game but never join your party, recruit one of two (they refuse to be in your party at the same time) characters to your party, and get information on gameplay and the world from the church guy. You can also go to a small pasture and try to capture a monster baby. I caught a baby chocobo. The immediately recruitable characters are: Nikita (I think this is the reincarnation of the cat Nikita in SD3, who in turn was a reincarnation of Neko from SD2, but the new Nikita looks more like a fat rabbit) and some other guy who's name I forget (he was clearly human, and seemed to have a rather cold personality). I recruited the other guy, though Nikita is a good choice too.
A note about town navigation: there's a town map screen that you can walk around on (you have to respect natural boundaries, like no walking across rivers unless there's a bridge). On the town map absolutely nothing at all happens except: you can actually enter a section of the town, or you can return to the overworld map. No random battles, no nothing other than those two things.
After recruiting the other guy I got a new artifact from a girl he had been pestering for information or something. This artifact opened up a new place in which I could fight. It was a cave of some sort. The purpose must have been to find a girl who was lost in the cave.
About the battle system: the battle system resembles SD3 in when and where you fight. You walk around without drawn weapons until you encounter an enemy. When you do encounter an enemy everyone gets out their weapons and you fight. Unlike SD3, you can't leave the area at all until all the enemies are defeated. The button layout is the following: triangle=strong attack, circle=weak attack, x and square=you can choose from a list of abilities such as jump, guard, dash, speed healing (I'll explain healing later), etc. Strong attack is a powerful, slow move after which you pause for a second (I guess to regain your balance). Weak attack is a quick, light damage attack that you can repeat quickly. One benefit of weak attack is that if you press it a few times quickly you will do several attacks that damage the enemy more than a single strong attack. You can combine attacks. For instance, my favorite is jumping and hitting strong attack on the way down. This does the damage of a strong attack but you don't pause and the enemy probably won't hit you since you're jumping. I have used jump a lot so I learned hi-jump and double-jump (I assume ability gaining is based on frequency of use). When you attack an enemy a bar representing its life appears beneath it. An enemy with much hp will have several "layers" to its bar; dark red is the last layer, orange the second, then yellow, green, etc. You can only see the top layer and the layer immediately under it at any given time. When a layer has been "defeated" then the next one goes down when damage is taken. The same works for you, only on top of yours there is also a percentage of hp remaining. You do have a raw number of hp, but the only way to see it is throught the menu. When the last layer of hp has disappeared the enemy is defeated and a short dying animation (feathers flying up, or bones flying like from the other SD's). After that either experience, money (ruku, like in SD3), exp. and ruku, a bag, or a healing item appears. You must collect it/them before a certain period of time or it/they disappear(s). Yes, you must pick up your experience and money. Also, computer controlled players (NPC's) are very stupid and will almost never pick up anything. When all enemies have been defeated you will be told what was in the bag, if you picked one up, who got how much experience, and how much money you got. After battle everyone's hp is restored to 100%. During battle you can't use items. If someone dies then their life bar slowly (very slowly) climbs back up to 100% Once it reaches 100% the character is reanimated. This may seem stupid, but I have almost never been able to win a battle once I have died but the computer-controlled characters are still alive. During battle, damage is slowly healed, 1% at a time. You can equip a skill that hastens healing, but you are immobile while using it. Status effects exist, but things like poison are changed slightly; poison prevents healing, but doesn't actually deplete hp. One slightly irritating thing: you cannot attack downwards (not toward the ground, but towards the bottom of the screen) nor upwards. I don't know why this bothers me, but it does. Luckily, neither can enemies so it doesn't hinder you much.
About magic and "death moves:" Magic has been replaced with musical instruments and death moves. You learn weapon-specific death moves that you equip to the L/R buttons (meaning a maximum of 4 death moves/musical instruments can be equipped at one time). You can use a death move once the small bar under your hp becomes full. Different moves have different effects and ranges. The first one for the lance I got made my character jump and do a hard slash in one direction; it was hard to use properly because enemies can move during the nice animation that plays when you use a death move. The one I got after that made my character jump up and do a slash in the direction of the nearest enemy, making a projectile head in that direction and damage enemies in a blast radius. Others I've seen affected a certain radius around the character. Musical instruments can be used whenever you want and have effect areas that vary greatly. Some go in a line on either side of you, some use a radius around you, some choose random circular areas. I think it depends on the type of instrument (there are 4 kinds: drum, flute, harp, and a different kind of harp I think). When making instruments you must choose the kind of instrument, what the body will be made of, and what elemental will power it. You must have a spirit coin of that particular elemental to create the instrument.
I can't really think of much else to say (it's getting late here). If there are any specific questions, I'd be happy to answer them.
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