Review by jojoshabadoo
"A review from someone who didn't play this game in their childhood."
Let me start off by saying that the only RPGs I played as a kid back on the SNES were Earthbound and Chrono Trigger, which I loved like they were my children. About a year ago, my brother, who played tons of RPGs back then, recommended me a few: Final Fantasy VI, Illusion of Gaia, and Secret of Mana. The latter was quite the disappointment...
Graphics - 8/10
The graphics, for a '93 game, are very smooth. Colorful, vibrant, you name it. A few animations could be better but nothing major. My only main complaint I guess would be the same sprites appearing here and there. The elder from the beginning or your friend in the opening appear in other towns, which I find kind of cheap. I wouldn't mind re-using default ones like the townsperson or shopkeeper, but re-using story characters is just lazy.
Sound - 6/10
Some sound effects sound good, such as the cutting of grass, climbing up stairs, opening doors, those are all fine. Other get annoying, such as hitting someone with your weapon for example. Other sounds will just plain piss you off, like the sound of your health being drained or getting "moogled" or turning tiny by a boss. Being pissed off is mostly helped by the actual effect though.
Music - 6/10
I heard of many people praising the soundtrack before, and when I booted up the game, the opening music sounded okay. After walking into the forest, I heard a very eerie, calm sounding song. I was impressed, until I heard it again, and again, and again and again and again. Over and over and over. They recycle the song for almost every cave/dungeon. Other songs are just plain ANNOYING after a while and will cause you to turn the volume down (Gaia's Navel, Water Palace) while some are just kind of obnoxious after hearing it for twenty times (the boss fights in particular.) And the song that plays in the forest isn't the only one to be repeated. All of the Mana Palaces (the main dungeons) have the same song. It's all very lazy. Still, some songs are decent or better, so I can't just criticize it.
Story - 3/10
Not much to see here. I'm not rating it based on the same teenage kid saving the world thing...I'm rating it based on the plot and character development as you progress through the game, or should I say lack of. You start off playing with your friends on some log bridge, and the main character slips and falls, into an area where a ghost calls out his name, telling him to pick up a sword. He does so (claiming that it's to cut the grass blocking the path back home) and unknowingly releases some Mana seal that lets monsters roam and such.
Soon enough, your village realizes that it's your fault monsters are attacking and the elder banishes you. Harsh. Too bad your character seems unaffected. Get used to it. There is absolutely NO character development in this game whatsoever. You meet two other characters who join your party. A rebellious princess, and a child sprite who lost his memory and is trying to find out about his past. The princess ran away to be with her soldier boyfriend, who spends the whole game possessed anyways, and the sprite spends the first half saying "I don't remember" and then suddenly out of nowhere, he claims "I got my memory back! I remember! Let's go to the north forest!" as a way of advancing the story.
Too bad you never find out about his past, or anyone's for that matter. You don't learn about the history of the relationship between the princess' father and herself, or her boyfriend, of her friend Phanna who arbitrarily advances the plot as well. You don't learn why the sprite was separated from his land, conning people out of 100G by crying and saying he wants to go back home. Nope. None of that. You remember learning about Frog's past? Kefka's intentions? Ness' destiny? None of that is in this game. You want a good story? Read a book.
Gameplay - 6/10
Okay here's the part where the game has ups and downs. Basically, it's an RPG with adventure elements. You fight what you see, no random battles, no battle menu. You and your two companions run around and fight the creatures on the screen. You have the choice between 8 weapons: a spear, sword, whip, etc. Ranged weapons are included as well such as a bow and arrow or boomerang. Each has their own level and orb, which you collect at the end of each dungeon or chests "hidden" in a dungeon. Each orb makes it stronger in attack, and let's you charge it up. That's a plus to me seeing as how each person has their own preference, and should be content with at least one choice.
Your two party members can also use magic, which you control. The magic is fine, you gain it little by little. Each spirit you save (out of 8) progressively through the game gives both party members 3 spells each. It ranges from casting a thunderbolt to scanning an enemy for his weaknesses. But instead of making the character's magic power stronger after each level up, they decided to make each spell have it's own level. It's very very tedious to level each up, seeing as how it takes a long while and chances are you won't use each spell a lot. It's much easier to just hack and slash.
There are many towns/villages in this game, where you can stock up on items (even though you're limited to only be able to have 4 of each item in your inventory) and new armor. Basically, this game is a dungeon crawler no matter which way you see it. After beating a boss at the end of a dungeon for example, your party will say "Okay, now let's go to ___" and on the way there, there are creatures as well, so there's really no break in between. A small gripe I have is that after each boss, your HP is restored, and all creatures in the dungeon are gone. But your MP isn't restored, so you have to sleep at an inn. Small, but annoying nonetheless.
Overall, the gameplay is fun and somewhat addicting at times, but some things throw it back. For example, when you hit an enemy, there's an animation of them falling to the floor or getting stunned. You have to wait for them to recover for you to be able to hit them again. Also, you have to wait for the bar at the bottom to go back to 100% to inflict a fair amount of damage. It takes two seconds though so it doesn't really get in the way. What does get in the way however are the two computer-controlled party members. You'll wait for the enemy to recover so you can inflict 50 points of damage, and the stupid sprite will get in the way and do 6 damage, making you have to wait again for the enemy to recover. You can change via grid whether you want them to approach/stay away and attack/guard, but you'll constantly be switching these. During a boss fight, if you have it at approach/attack, they'll stand in front of the boss mindlessly. But if you tell them to stay away, they just run around with you, taking the hits and making you waste money and items reviving them so they get experience when the boss is finally dead. Basically it's easier to just let them die, kill the boss yourself, and revive them before the boss disappears from the screen. That is until you run into bosses with elemental weaknesses in which case you'll NEED their magic.
Speaking of bosses, get ready to see what a broken television screen looks like because there are times where the game will make you want to quit. There are rarely save points in dungeons, so if you die, you start over from the town. The bosses are, in one simple word, CHEAP! They will use magic spells that take 3 digit life from you, and it's UNAVOIDABLE. They will use a spell, acid rain for example, that stops your character's movements, and takes away your HP knocking you down. Very frustrating.
Also in this game is a ring menu, instead of the traditional menu found in most other RPGs. Basically you scroll to armor, weapons, magic, and status with up and down, left and right scroll through each option, and the X button switches over to the other characters. Each section has more options (status, weapon levels, etc.) It's all personal preference. I felt it was comfortable while others find it to be confusing.
If you can get past all the cons mentioned, the game should be a somewhat enjoyable experience.
Multiplayer - 5/10
A multiplayer section in an RPG? That's right. I'm sure you know that in this game, you can have a second player control one of the other members in your party. But it's really not that much fun. First of all, you obviously need someone who enjoys RPGs enough to spend 20 hours with you playing it, because it's not exactly a "Hey! Let's play Secret of Mana!" multiplayer type of game. The only point in playing it is to beat it beginning to end, not to play for one hour.
Second of all, it's not really co-op. I recently played with my brother, the same one who recommended it to me, and after 4 hours, he decided to quit, claiming the game is a POS and not what he remembered. There are no co-op elements because as said before, you must wait for the enemies to recover before hitting them, so the result is you and your friend standing next to the creature seeing who can hit him first. The magic, aside from the healing, is only used in boss battles and even then you can just use it yourself instead of watching someone do it.
The reason it gets a 5/10 is because sometimes it's enjoyable. You can laugh at a few things, there isn't always just ONE enemy on screen so you can take one each (although the game doesn't let you wander off to more than 3/4 of the screen) and assuming it's your first playthrough, you might actually enjoy it enough to finish it. I'll admit, the attention span of my brother and me has plummeted over the years, especially in regards to RPGs.
Overall - 6/10
The game is fun enough to play, but there are many better ones to spend your time on. You can go ahead and try it out. You might like it. There are other minor pros and cons not mentioned in this review, but it'd be better if you just go figure them out for yourself. Good luck.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 07/30/09
Game Release: Secret of Mana (US, 10/31/93)
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