Review by Zylo the wolf
"Santa Claus is in this game, how can anyone not love it?"
If you search for "Top 10 Snes games" on Youtube, chances are that you will find a lot of lists where there are plenty of RPGs. Chrono Trigger, The Final Fantasy games, Earthbound, Super Mario RPG, Breath of Fire and Lufia are all some examples of what many consider to be really good RPGs, and they all have one thing in common: none of them got released in Europe. I guess they thought that we prefer to play our games instead of read through them, because good RPGs weren't something that we europeans had a lot of, at least not those who had a SNES instead of Sega Mega Drive.
But there was one game from Squaresoft, who was considered to be the gods of RPG at the time, that made it over here. Unlike Final Fantasy IV you didn't have to choose a command in order to attack an enemy and there are no random encounters at all in this game. The plot also isn't the most deepest and instead more is focused on the game play. Since you are reading this review I'm sure that you have figured out that the game I'm talking about is of course Secret of Mana.
The plot begins that our hero the boy (which got no default name so I'm going to call him the boy in my review.) and two of his friends have left the village of Potos even if the Elder have forbid them to. They are searching for treasures just outside the village. When they are walking on a bridge, the boy falls into a waterfall. When he wakes up he realizes that he's just outside of his village but the hedges are to high so he needs to find something to cut them down with. He finds a sword, that can for some reason talk and it knows his name. (The "secret" of Mana is this but I won't spoil how a sword can talk)
When the boy gets back to his village, the village elder is just happy that both him and his friends are okay, until he sees that the boy have pulled out the legendary Mana sword. Only true heroes are supposed to be able to pull out that sword, yet a young boy have managed to pull it out. This is the reason why monsters have started to attack people and suddenly one big monster attacks the village. After that the boy have killed this monster, a knight named Jema tells him that he must go to the water temple to meet Luka. The village elder also banishes him from the village since all the villagers thinks it's the boy's fault that the monster attacked the village.
When he reaches the Water Temple and meets Luka, she tells him that in order to stop all the monsters and to save the world he must find all the eight mana seeds and revive the Mana Sword. He must however beware of the big Empire, which also searches for the eight mana seeds, except that they want to use the seed's power to take over the world. But thankfully the boy won't have to do this quest alone.
The order you get your two companions can be different depending on what you do in the beginning of the game but most people seems to get the girl first and the then the sprite (neither of them got a default name.) The girl joins the boy's quest because the Empire have kidnapped her boyfriend Dylcuck put a curse on the people in her town so they all act like zombies. She can learn supportive spells, but she isn't a good fighter like the boy. The sprite are with the other two because he wants to get back to his home, and he becomes such good friends with the other two that his stays for the whole adventure. The sprite is just like not as good as the boy when it comes to fighting, but the sprite can learn offensive magic.
What makes this RPG different from many other RPGs from Squaresoft is that instead having enemies pop up once in a while there are always a set of enemies in each place. In order to attack an enemy all you have to do is to get close enough and then press the attack button. To avoid to turn this game into a more hack n slash game, there's a power bar that reloads every time you attack something. Until the power bar is at 100%, the attacks will be much weaker. You can use this time to walk away from an enemy so it won't be able to attack you while you are recharging.
There are a total of eight different weapons that you will find in the game: the sword, the spear, the glove, the boomerang, the axe, the bow, the whip and the javelin. Some weapons do better damage than others (like the sword, the spear and the axe) while other got a much longer attack range (like the whip, the boomerang and the bow). The more a character use a weapon the better he or she will be at handle it, and if you hold the attack button you can do special moves, and the special moves gets better the better they can handle that weapon.
The same thing goes with magic. Every spell cost MP, and there are as far as I know only two ways to regain MP, you can either use an item that regains MP or you have to sleep at an inn. Just like with the weapons, the spells also gets better the more you use them. The girl should first of all focus to increase her spell that heals the party, while I recommend that you focus on two different type of magic with the sprite, since some enemies are strong at some magic. But since the game isn't that tough you won't have to waste much time into making the spells stronger.
Since the AI controls the other two character that you aren't there are a few ways to make them do what you want them to do. You can select in a menu if you want them to stay behind you, or run and attack an enemy. No matter what you are the leader of the group, and none of the characters can move outside of the screen. Another way is to simply plug in another controller and have another player to play with you (you can even play with two friends if you got a multitap.) and the final way is to press select and you now control another character. I guess the game is more fun if you play with two pals but it's also really fun if you play alone, even if the AI can be a pain sometimes.
Aside from this Secret of Mana is really similar to other RPGs. You can get to towns, you talk to people to get helpful hints, you buy better equipment, you gains level by defeating enemies e.t.c. What makes Secret of Mana such an excellent RPG is first of all it's unique battle system, the second is that two of your friends can enjoy this RPG with you, and finally it's charm that this game got. Talking mushrooms, cannon travelling, cute rabbites, Santa Claus and all that. I guess it can be tough to navigate once you can travel all over the world if you don't have a map, but I've seen much worse.
Some complain that the game is unfinished since it was supposed to be a release game for the Super Nes CD, but I don't see any flaws that you don't see in many other "classics" from the same time. Secret of Mana is masterpiece and a serious contender to the title of the best SNES game of all time. Us Europeans didn't get all the good RPGs the SNES had to offer, but we sure got one of the absolute best.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 06/26/09
Game Release: Secret of Mana (EU, 11/24/94)
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