Legend of Mana is a cute game with a racist bunny


The PlayStation 1999 game Legend of Mana, recently remastered for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC, is a bit of an acquired taste. It’s an aggressively weird fantasy game that also features half a dozen other games in one, and it’s not particularly good at everything it tries. Still, I only have a fondness for this weird little experience, because it’s incredibly charming throughout. Except when it comes to Niccolo, the rabbit seller. This is shit.

Niccolo is one of the first characters you can meet in Legend of Mana. He is a salesperson whose goal is to make all his customers smile with the value he brings to their lives. There is nothing true about it. He’s an accomplice bastard, and he’s also racist towards the Sproutlings, cabbage-looking little brothers who also inhabit the world. (There are humans in Legend of Mana, but also storybook creatures that all look like anthropomorphized flora and fauna.) I know he’s racist because, shortly after meeting him, he told me.

“I hate Sproutlings,” he told me. It was so brutal that I burst out laughing. Then I spoke to him again. “They are the scum of the Earth,” he repeated.

“Holy shit, I swore in front of my TV. What a little bitch!

Image: Square Enix

Amazed by this cheeky little fanatic, I decided to help him with a task (beat up bandits) because I just … really wanted to know where Legend of Mana would go with this guy. (This is my first time playing the game for more than a few hours, thanks to the HD remaster.)

It turns out that Niccolo’s incredibly brutal expressions of prejudice fit in perfectly with the rest of Legend of Mana; it is not a particularly nuanced or skillfully written game. Going on a quest with Niccolo is a whirlwind round of shameless scam. For example, he’ll ask you to make a stop so he can offer to sell someone a wheel for $ 50,000, and when they say they can’t afford it, the bunny will give it to you for free, just to make them feel bad not to go shakedown for its price.

As you read this, remember what Legend of Mana looks like. It looks like a storybook. It might as well be The little Prince. And here is Niccolo, that sublime little asshole, plotting his hateful little path through this joyful world full of sweet creatures who barely seem to register his buffoonery.

I want to see the rest of Niccolo’s story, but it’s been hard to follow. Legend of Mana we have the impression of playing a board game at the same time as building it; you build a map of the fantasy world, one location at a time, visiting each location once you find the artifact that adds it to your map. Due to this free-form structure, there is no overall story in Legend of Mana, just a large collection of shorts, some of which flow through multiple installments in a way that isn’t really apparent. The player just has to keep building their map and revisiting old places to see where the characters appear or run away. Some stories are enriching and add a new character to accompany you; others are hardly called stories. It is possible to come across the end of a story without ever seeing the beginning. It’s also possible to find yourself at a dead end, with entire questlines cut off from you. It’s a messy game!

A quick online search tells me that Niccolo’s story continues in the game, but I’m not sure when or how to continue it yet. In the meantime, I might get distracted by other distractions, like raising my own little baby monsters (something you can do in this game). Maybe Niccolo reforms himself and learns that germs are people too and greed is bad, which would be the end of a storybook. Or maybe he’s not learning anything. It would also be a storybook ending, as storybooks often involve good people learning to deal with people who are just plain bad.

Legend of Mana ‘ambition far exceeds its elegance; it’s a video game that forever seems minutes away from falling apart, but it’s also worth checking out. What’s funny about Niccolo isn’t his bigotry or callous exploitation, but the way the game world bends or doesn’t bend around his presence which makes it a bit more complex, a little more annoying. Legend of Mana Looks like a board game with all of its pieces scattered across the floor, that’s true – but it’s also a board game that does a very good job of convincing players that all of its pieces matter. In other words, I’m amazed that this 22-year-old video game has crossed time and space to present me with an adorable little bunny that I really want to punch in the face.

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