I'm not going to lie, I have always been a fan of the Mana series. Secret of Mana is my favorite game and this game is a very close second. Everything about this game is superb. The music is great, the combat is simple and fun, and the story while a little light fits with the series.
Let me get started with the music. This game has a very simple soundtrack but each track fits with what is going on. It is often that you will find yourself in very intense moment in the game and the music will match it. It can be light when it needs to be or make your blood rush when wanted.
The key thing I like about this game is the gameplay and especially the combat. Being able to use so many different weapons helps keep the game fresh. Find a weapon type you like, keep with that type and just upgrade your equipment as you need. The game allows you to strengthen your weapons using a smithing system. Although I never understood what a lot of the effects that you would get from the system, I would play around with it for hours.
The combat also rewards you by giving you all sorts of abilities ranging from a quick backstep to a high flying moonsault. These are not only important because they help you get around on the battle field and avoid damage but they also can be combined at times. For instance, if you equipped certain abilities, you could learn new special attacks for the weapon you were using or even a new ability.
While fighting, you can make your own combos and unleash some very awesome looking moves. The special attacks are awesome and each one feels unique. Each of the weapons plays a little bit differently and if you want to play around with them, you can. But one of my favorite features is having a pet or golem come with you into battle.
Pets are monsters that you grow in the monster ranch. They can come on your adventure and many of them have some great abilities. If you stay close to your allies, they will give you a link ability. My favorite being the spring ball monster, which when you are touching him you are invincible. Comes in handy in some difficult fights.
Golems are creatures that you essentially create an AI for using leftover equipment and you equip the golem with these things like a Tetris puzzle. You only have a certain amount of space to put in attacks and abilities for the golem to use. They can be very powerful allies if you give them the correct equipment.
Monsters and Golems aren't the only things that can join you in battle. Throughout the story, you will get access to certain characters that are important to the story. They range from a magical child with a frying pan to a legendary gem knight. The story branches off at times and a lot of the side stories are great. It can sometimes be a little hard to figure out what to do in a particular story quest but I made it through the whole game without looking at a guide.
There are a few flaws that I feel I can't overlook though. First, monsters only get experience if they touch the EXP crystals when an enemy dies. This can lead to some very underleveled monsters and make them useless at times. I have fond memories of me fighting a boss over and over just to get my Rabite some experience, trying to push him into the crystals.
The other major flaw is the fact that you can lock yourself out of several areas and quests because finding or completing them is incredibly esoteric. If took me 5 playthroughs just to find out how to get to the legendary jewel city that I forget the name of now. Some side-stories can be completely missed and may be hard to trigger at times.
Looking back at this game, this was the first game I played through more than twice. I loved every minute of this game. I trained every monster I could get. I mastered every weapon I could. Sure there are times where I was completely lost but the game is just so beautiful and fun that I overlooked it. If you have a chance, play this game. Yes, it is not as good as Secret of Mana and many claim it is not as good as the Japan only Seiken Densetsu 3 but it is a great game. Sadly, this is the climax of the series. The games that followed this game sullied the series to the point of it being reduced to a mobile game at this point in time. Would I love to see a game like this again? Of course. Will I ever see another game like this? A game with so much lore and beautiful artwork? I hope so but not likely with Square Enix in the state it is in. Which is just a heartbreaking thought.