Review by cantgetin
"I really wanted to like this game . . ."
First off let me start by saying I've been a long-time Square fan. I think they (used to be) one of the greatest RPG developers. However, they really dropped the ball on Secret of Mana. While I tried to like this game, there just wasn't much there that was even remotely likable. Let's take a look, shall we?
Overall, the graphics weren't bad for when this game was developed. The character sprites were smooth and fairly detailed, as were the magic effects and backgrounds. I felt that the colors and brightness of the entire package could've been toned down significantly. The first thing you'll notice is that you're probably going to have to turn down the brightness and/or contrast of your T.V. to avoid being blinded. The next thing you'll notice is that the world of Mana is quite the colorful place. While this works in some areas: plains, deserts, and some towns, it doesn't really work in others: dungeons, caves, etc. The graphics alone make this game seem like it was intended for preschoolers. The enemies are very hard to take seriously. Not that you should take any video game seriously, but in a game that's about killing foes with an arsenal of different weapons, I almost felt bad "whacking" a lot of the "monsters". The Vampire reminded me of something you'd find in Looney Tunes, which is not something I expect to think of when I hear the word "vampire".
The sound effects in this game get annoying very quickly. From the slashing and bashing of monsters to the annoying sound that occurred whenever someone/something leveled up, I seriously thought about turning the sound off several times. The music, although better than the sound effects, can also become annoying, especially after hearing the same theme over and over again at the beginning of the game. Although most RPGs have tunes that you'll be hearing over and over again (battle music, anyone?) at least with other Squaresoft games the music never becomes annoying. With some games I don't mind listening to the same thing every five minutes, but for some reason in Secret of Mana it bothered me. The music, like the graphics, is also very child-like. It just makes the game seem less of an adventure to save the world, and more like "let's get together and play with these various murder-tools".
Was there a plot in this game? You'll be hard-pressed to find anything a quarter as deep as any Final Fantasy game (even the original). The basic premise consists of some random kid (that's you) who randomly pulls out a sword that was randomly sitting on the bottom of some random waterfall. Why? Not because it had any significant purpose in itself, he needed something to cut the tall grass with! The entire quest starts because the kid was too much of a wuss to step through tall grass. Later, however, this same kid slays dragons and such, so I'm really not sure what's going on. After the kid gets his lawnmower, a spirit tells him that he just released all sorts of evil. So, what do you do when you unleash evil that's draining the world of it's lifesource (Mana, I guess)? You set out on an epic journey! The entire point of the game is to revive the sword you just pulled out by traveling to various temples and activating Mana Seeds located there. Then, once that is all done, you must slay the Beast and bring peace to the world. Ok, so it's a half-decent story of reviving and ancient sword and saving the world. However, at the same time there is an evil empire who is trying to control the world that has nothing to do with the Mana Beast being released. You have to stop them too. From the point you learn about this, it basically makes defeating the empire the primary objective, and gathering the Seeds a mere aside. This contradicts the entire point of starting the journey in the first place.
Character development is non-existent in this game. The only thing you know about the hero, even by the end of the game, is that he's some dumb kid with a sword. That's it. Throughout the entire game you know nothing more about him than when you first started, save for who his parents are. Along the way, you meet up with a girl and a Sprite, who are actually more developed than the hero, but not much. The reason these characters join your quest are not very in depth either. You save the girl from a pack of wolves, and you expose the Sprite as a heckler. That's it. Those are the reasons that the characters decide to put their lives on the line and travel the world over. The Sprite must've felt really bad for taking your money, or something like that. In addition to the playable characters, there's an ensemble of NPCs that are even more annoying than the heroes. Going back to the Story section, another thing that quirks me about the characters is how random the villains of this game are. The only thing you know about the empires generals is that they're (apparently) evil, and they want to hurt you. The only thing you know about the main villain of the entire game is that he's (apparently) evil, wants to hurt you, and that he's old so he needs a new body soon. Yup, that's it.
Even with a bad storyline, forgettable characters, annoying sound effects, and childish graphics, a game can still overcome all these shortcomings with great gameplay. Unfortunately, Secret of Mana's gameplay is even worse than any of it's other downfalls. The battle system plays similarly to something like The Legend of Zelda. Fights occur in real time. However, the similarities end there. If you liked The Legend of Zelda (and you should if you even remotely like video games) there's a good chance you won't like Secret of Mana. When attacking enemies, you can see the amount of damage that occurs, which I actually liked. After killing a certain amounts of enemies, you leveled up. OK, that's pretty cool too. Also, after using a certain weapon for so many battles, the weapon levels up too. Sounds cool, right? It's not. Leveling up weapons itself isn't bad, they level up at a reasonable rate proportional to how many bad guys you kill. It's what the level-ups do that is the problem. For each level you gain, you can charge your weapon to another level by holding down the button, and unleash more powerful attacks based on how many levels you've charged. This makes battling extremely slow towards the end of the game, where you must charge to 6+ levels to do any significant damage to enemies. Considering any given screen has between 1 and 10 enemies, that's a lot of time spent charging your weapon. This leads me to my next point: evade rate. The enemies (and you) seem to evade attacks more than they're hit. Some enemies have extremely high evade rates and are hit by maybe one out of every ten attacks. This means that all the time you spent charging for that attack is now wasted, which made me wonder if it was even worth charging for the attack in the first place. OK, so you can't hit your enemy with a weapon, let's try to use some magic. Magic is used from menus: the girl uses healing magic and the Sprite typically has death-dealing spells. Spells, like weapons, level up the more they're used. This gets very, very tedious. Each character gets seven elementals, each of which is leveled up individually. So to get the best magic, you must level up 14 different spell sets. This wouldn't be so bad, but the limited amount of MP your characters have (until say, level 50) means in order to level up at any sort of decent rate requires you to be near an inn. Power leveling is boring. It's something that should be required in RPGs only if you WANT to make your characters powerful, not if you NEED to. Considering the high evade rate of monsters (and bosses), you're going to NEED to level. Bosses. With weapons, they're actually pretty tough. In the amount of time it takes you to charge your weapon, the boss can unleash all sorts of powerful attacks that will mess you up. However, leveled up magic puts the serious hurt on bosses. In fact, with leveled magic, weapons become obsolete, which makes you wonder why you bothered leveling them in the first place. Also, once you figure out the rhythm to casting magic, you can literally pin down a boss with magic. Yup, the boss won't even get a single attack off as you pummel it with magic until it dies. Cheap? Yes, but against some bosses it's pretty much the only way to win.
Now for several of the annoying factors that the gameplay includes. I'll start off with the one that irked me the most. Your companions can not walk through walls of over gaps. Why is that a problem, you ask? They shouldn't be able to do that anyway. Allow me to explain. You're not allowed to advance on the screen unless all three of your characters are together. Often times (and I mean OFTEN) one or more characters will get "caught" behind a rock, or sharp corner. The A.I. is very limited when it comes to getting around corners. This means you must constantly backtrack and try to get your teammates around whatever obstacle is in their way. Would it have been too much to ask to just make them walk through the object if you're trying to advance? Another annoying thing is how weapons can be used to advance through a screen. For example, ax cuts down rocks, sword cuts down grass, and whip can be used to clear small gaps. This is actually a good idea when first starting out: it can be used to create shortcuts that are inaccessible until you've obtained the weapon. However, there are often whip gaps that occur in the middle of dungeons and other areas that is absolutely unnecessary. It's just tedious to be switching weapons back and forth every 10 seconds. The last main annoying factor (although there are small ones, such as the magic menu) is how you can be "juggled". Once an enemy hits you, you fly back a short distance, and then must get back up. However, if another enemy comes and hits you while you're down, as soon as you get up you're knocked back again. Also, once you've been knocked down, you can not access the menu until you get up. So any chance you would have of saving yourself by casting a magic spell are now gone. Quite a few times throughout the course of the game, I died because the enemy juggled me for a good ten to twelve hits and there was nothing I could do about it. Don't even get me started on unconsciousness.
Yeah, this game is pretty bad. One of the major disappointments is that this game definitely had the potential to be something great. However, it's major flaws and minor annoyances kept it from being one of the Squaresoft classics. Overrated. Skip it.
Reviewer's Rating: 1.5 - Bad
Originally Posted: 05/11/07
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