Bear in mind I have little to no experience in writing game reviews. Don't expect this to be the most fluent and articulate review you've ever read.
First of all, I'd like to say this is one of the best games I have ever played. Even today, with all the new technology, I am just as impressed with this game as I was years ago when it first came out.
Let's begin with the first thing that will always capture your attention right away - The graphics! I still think this is one of the most impressive-looking games I've ever seen. The characters and backgrounds are all drawn very large and with a lot of detail. I think this game has the best use of color layering I've ever seen. In some areas, it's used to create mists or fog, like the Haunted Forest and Ruins. In other areas, it's used to create shadows. For example, in the desert, shadows of overhead clouds pass by along the ground. The animation of the main characters is very good and entertaining. Especially when they use different weapons or spells. And speaking of spells, many of the effects created by them are dazzling! It's fun to cast spells just to watch the different effects of each one. In fact, this game has received some criticism in the past about being more about eye candy than gameplay. The detail and variety of the backgrounds really brings each world to life. The ice world is filled with sparkling frosty trees, and the houses have little stained-glass windows. There's a sea of moons and stars in the desert that really looks spectacular. You'll also visit castles, forests, towns, caves, temples, ruins, and the sparkling Mana Fortress. The enemies are well-animated and fun to watch, too. They have lots of personality, and they're all drawn very well. Oh, how I miss these hand-drawn graphics...I can't really think of too many complaints with them. The only other adventure/RPG game for the SNES that is on the same level as this game is in the graphics department is Chrono Trigger.
GRAPHICS SCORE: 9.5
Okay, I totally don't get where people are coming from when they say this game has a poor soundtrack. They must not have played too many games to compare it too. I think this game has one of the best soundtracks I've ever heard. The music is more lighthearted than that of Final Fantasy, but I think it fits the theme and mood of this game perfectly. The songs are very well composed. Some songs are very emotional, and some are more catchy and lighthearted, while others can sound dark or scary. This game also has possibly the best final battle music I've ever heard. However, the best and most captivating music has to be the opening title theme. It will draw you into this game right away. In fact, I think the music will catch your attention faster than the graphics in this game. The sound effects are equally as good. However, I do have a few complaints. First of all, the Upper Land Forest music gets annoying after awhile, and you might spend quite a bit of time in that area. (But remember, that's just one area.) My only other complaint is that the ending music seems a little flat. Other than that, this soundtrack is just phenomenal. There's no other game that sounds quite like it.
SOUND SCORE: 9.5
The play control in this game is pretty good. The characters are very east to move around and the weapons are easy to use. Although some weapons are easier to use than others. Control for all three characters is practically the same, and you can switch between them at any time. It can be a little tricky at first to use the menu rings, and I still find myself pushing X when I want Y and vice versa, but it's no big deal, and it doesn't slow you down. You can hold the A button down to make your characters dash for a short while, if they still move too slow for you! Although I think they walk at a very decent pace. Waiting for the weaponm to recharge after swinging it can be a bit of a pain, though. You can also hold down the attack button to build up power for a bigger attack. There's only one small problem with this. It takes awhile to build up power, and if you don't aim exactly right, when you let go of the button, you'll miss your target. Once the character launches into the powered-up attack, he or she will go through a short animation sequence and you can't control him/her until he/she stops. I think he/she is invincible to attack while this is going on, but it is kind of a pain to waste all that time building up power only to miss every time. That's why I don't use this feature too much. This is really a petty gripe, though. You won't have any real trouble controlling the characters in this game.
PLAY CONTROL SCORE: 8.5
Okay, here's where things get interesting. The basic story is this: One day a young boy (your character) pulls a sword from a stone near his village, which brings about disaster. The sword had been protecting the village, and without it, monsters have appeared everywhere. The youth is banished from his home town, because the villagers fear monsters will attack it looking for the sword. Before he leaves, he is told by a knight, Jema, that the Evil Empire is attempting to break the seals of the world's elemental palaces. These palaces contain special seeds from the Mana Tree, that have kept the Mana Fortress, the ultimate weapon of power, locked away for years. If the seals on the seeds are broken, the Empire can revive the fortress and use it to take over the world. The seals can only be restored by the Mana Sword. There is also another catch to this: The Mana Fortress eats up the world's Mana Power when activated. In order to stop this, the Mana Beast will come to destroy the fortress. If the Mana Beast attacks the Fortress, the ensuing explosion could bring about the end of the world. Actually, in the story, it is told that these events all actually happened once before, and now it is a matter of history repeating itself. So, now the boy must find a way to restore the sword's power and stop the evil Empire before it is too late. Along the way, he will meet a girl, who is searching for her lost love, Dyluck, and a Sprite, who is searching for his home. There are many surprise twists and turns in the plot, and some downright hilarious scenes! Overall, this is one of the best, and most interesting stories the SNES world has to offer! It can be easy to get a little lost at times, though. I actually played through it twice before I got everything. Also, it's not quite as complex as later epics, such as Chrono Trigger and FF3(6j), but at the time of its release, it was probably the best there was.
STORY SCORE: 9.0
Here's where this game drops off a bit. Certainly, this game is very long and involving, and really won't disappoint in that respect. But, in all honesty, I think this game is a little too easy. Unless you absolutely do not build up your weapon, magic, and experience levels, I don't think there's anything in this game that'll give you a really tough time. Most bosses can be beaten by quick and repeated use of a spell they're weak against. Or even a spell they're not necessarily weak against, but works well, anyway. In alot of areas, you can just run or push your way past enemies, without having to really fight all that much. The mazes and puzzles are very simplistic. Don't expect the complex areas of Zelda: A Link to the Past. One dungeon in Zelda could take you over an hour to completely solve and conquer. One area in Mana might take you 15 minutes to a half hour at the most. Basically, it plays more like an RPG than an adventure game in that respect. There's not alot of puzzles to slow you down, but the enemies really aren't too tough. In fact, there's never more than three enemies on the screen at one time. (Odd. I almost feel these are the same complaints many people have about Zelda 64..) If your levels are too low, the final boss can be a real pain to beat, though. That's about the most challenging part of the game. However, the game is very long. It'll still probably take you about a week or so to finish it. This is NO overnighter!
CHALLENGE SCORE: 7.0
Basically, I sort of already explained this in the challenge section. This game is made very well. It's long, has an intense story, detailed backdrops, absorbing music, excellent play control, fun battles, and large areas. However, it could've used a little more in the puzzle and challenge department. I still regard this game very highly, though. It will never fail to entertain. The game is also fairly linear, although there are a few areas where you can branch off. For example, there are two different ways to get the girl to join your party. Also, exploring out of the way areas can help you find secret items, like the Moogle Belt. There is alot to see and do in this game. And let's not forget the best part: Flammie! Yes, you can fly around the world on a White Dragon, rather than the traditional airship, in a spectaclar Mode 7 view! It makes traveling very quick and easy, but it's also easy to get lost at first, until you're used to it. Luckily, you have an in-game map. The battle system and control is very good, although magic can make the boss fights a little easy. There's a ton of different weapons, of varying strength and effectiveness, to use, for variety. The bottom line is, there's very little in this game I don't like.
GAME DESIGN SCORE: 9.0
Overall, if you're a fan of RPGs or Adventure games or both, this is one of the very best out there. Few surpass it, or even come close to it.