Review by Hawk Eye
"Want to hear a Secret?"
Secret of Mana (or Seiken Densetsu 2 as it is known in Japan) was an amazing title when it was released, and it still has all the charm it did then as it does now. An entire world to be explored with realms of enemies and unknown continents to discover. It was more of an experience for me than it was a game. Secret of Mana opened new doors in terms of RPGs, and lured in those who were bored by the tedium of turn based fighting and random enemies.
Where to begin? Secret of Mana isn't just some slow-paced turn based affair; the game itself takes place on a real time platform. So, instead of encountering random enemies on a map, you physically find them in the various environments, and take them out as you see fit. Simple, but fun. Your characters gain levels in the typical RPG sense, but as does their weapons and magic skills, which adds more depth to the gameplay, as you can play entirely different focuses on your characters in two different adventures. Your party consists of three characters, with the CPU taking control of the two you aren't using. The AI is reasonable enough, although sometimes your allies may get caught on a corner or behind an obstacle, which can be a nightmare in some situations, or a simple to solve problem in others.
Battle itself takes place with you being in control of one of three characters; the Boy, the Girl or the Sprite. The other two go about bashing things, but still following in a close proximity to you whilst under the control of the CPU. It's possible with the multi-tap adapter to have a maximum of three human players fighting simultaneously, but most people will find they can only muster up the resources for a two player co-operative journey. As your adventure progresses, you obtain an array of weapons and magic to be utilised. Don't like the Sword? Then you can switch to one of the other 7 weapons as you see fit. You don't buy new weapons as such; you're basically granted each "type" of weapon (eg Bow and Arrows, Spear, Pole Dart etc) as a base, and then you forge them when you find Weapon Orbs to make them stronger (as well as giving the weapon a whole new look). Each weapon operates differently, and as you use it more and more, it's level will increase, along with the ability to use stronger moves with the respective weapon. Certain weapons are used for basic puzzle-systems, such as using the axe to break rocks, or the whip to cross chasms, but switching between items takes hardly any time at all if you don't find favor with the weapons necessary to further your travels.
Magic isn't quite as free-handed as weaponry, restricting the ability to summon the various Elementals to the Sprite and the Girl. Magic, like the weapons, can also be levelled up to increase its effectiveness. Furthermore, the majority of attack magic is left with the Sprite, and healing and assist magic is designated to the Girl. The Boy is left with squat, with the explanation that the Mana Sword will one day be more powerful than any magic. Absolute garbage. As most RPG fans will notice, it can be difficult for a game to find a good balance between weaponry and magic without making one more powerful than the other to the extent where the alternative is nullified. An easy to find glitch in Secret of Mana will exert such a problem, allowing you to not only chain magic attacks against an enemy until you hit the maximum damage of 999 HP, but to also freeze whatever enemy you are fighting in the process that removes all of the challenge when fighting bosses. The limit on MP isn't even enough to solve such a problem, given that the Sprite has access to a spell that will literally suck away enemy MP, and they often have a lot. The only way to fix this problem is to just refrain from the temptation of doing it.
Puzzles in the various dungeons play mainly in the form of solving the maze-like interiors whilst hitting a few switches along the way, but the battling is entertaining enough to keep those of you distracted from wanting a more complex dungeon system. Nothing too difficult to cope with, but the dungeon-style areas are long enough to give some depth to themselves. The design is probably the biggest challenge, navigating through the various palaces and forests as you search for your next destination. Some areas are exceptionally massive and will have you wandering about for a while, but the monsters will keep it from becoming too much of a bore on your third time around the giant circle of a map.
Enemies all have their own specific style of fighting, ranging from those that will dive in to do damage to you, even as far as exploding themselves in order to hurt you, right through to those that will sit back, content to summon weaker enemies whilst wearing you down with various physical ailments. Bosses can succumb easily to the chain magic effect, but if you play it fair, can be a fun challenge. It's a well known opinion that one of the earlier bosses in the game before you obtain magic is harder than anything left the game has to offer, so on later runs through, you might like to test yourself by having a minimal magic run, or something of the sort. The travelling isn't exceptionally non-linear, so if that is going to be a problem, you'll probably only find the fun playing through a single time.
You take control of Randi (or as far as the non-Japanese version is concerned; Boy) as he goes on a short walk one day with some "friends" of his from the village, on a search for treasure, no less. After a short encounter with a mysterious ghost, Randi discovers that the treasure is no more than an ancient sword. Withdrawing it to clear his path, he has no idea of the effects that will result from his actions. Basically, pulling out the sword upsets the balance of Mana, a life force imbued in pretty much everything, and so the world attempts to correct itself. In more obvious terms, an onslaught of monsters have popped up suddenly, and it's all because of Randi. One village banishment later, and Randi's off into the big world about him, fighting the many evils and forces of darkness in an attempt to save the world and defeat the Empire by regenerating his Rusty Sword which will one day become the ultimate weapon: the Mana Sword.
Pretty standard RPG plot from its beginnings, but there's enough to keep it from feeling like "Just another RPG" and like its own fairy tale. There are several pivotal twists that will send your jaw dropping, and the dialogue is decent enough. There are some sections that whilst may not be "laugh till you choke" quality, are still entertaining enough. The main characters (both the protagonists and antagonists) are all pretty much defined as the Good vs Evil from the start. However, it's important not to just take in the plot, but also how it is told. Secret of Mana serves pretty well in keeping you filled in when you need to be, with dialogue not feeling too much like a poor translation as other games have suffered from. Randi, the main Hero, doesn't have permanent laryngitis and
NPCs suffer from "Replay Syndrome", only offering a box of text in 99% of cases that won't ever change, regardless of how many times you talk to them, which practically all RPGs suffer from, so it's not too problematic. At certain points, it may feel a little odd for performing specific tasks with no apparent reason, but rest assured, everything will fall into place in the end.
Colourful and bright is the order of the day. At the outset, the sheer "good nature" feeling may be a little too much if you are that strongly into gaming cosmetics of a serious nature. However, it isn't too long before you are plunged into abandoned ruins, haunted forests and fathomless dungeons. The game doesn't quite provide graphical excellence as such, but it is certainly of a high caliber. Everything looks just like a fairy tale, which is exactly as it should.
Character sprites are all detailed, but with a considerable amount of villagers being recycled in each village with a different tone. The same applies for certain enemies, and come the end of the game, you will find that the enemies, whilst differ in name, strength and weakness, appear relatively the same physically with the exception of the change in colour. It isn't just restricted to common enemies though; even bosses get the rehash, sometimes appearing more than two times in a single run through the game. Still, bosses (and most enemies) look amazing enough to rectify the situation to some degree.
From the opening track of Angels on the Shore, right down to Prayer of the Arctic Circle in the final battle, you will be weeping with happiness. The music is perfect, capturing the emotion of the scenes and story with a series of memorable tunes. There are quite a few upbeat pieces, but Secret of Mana also provides numerous darker tracks and delicate orchestrals that will keep your ears interested.
Sound effects serve exactly as they are supposed to, ranging from the cracking of the whip to the earth shattering explosions. Certainly nothing below what one would expect from the SNES, but then again, it isn't breaking any boundaries by itself. The music is really the saving grace here.
+ Near perfect battle system with the potential to have 3 players working together.
- Almost single handedly destroyed by the easy-to-abuse magic system.
+ Several good twists and a lengthy plot will keep your attention.
- A bit predictable and cliched at times.
+ Bright, detailed and pleasant.
- Not quite the crop of the SNES, along with a few obvious animation and enemy flaws.
+ Some awesome tracks will strike at your heart years after completing the game.
- The music is far too good. It is likely to spoil players and ruin a lot of other game soundtracks purely by comparison.
If you can find a copy, I suggest purchasing it right away. Nothing quite beats owning the original thing, and Secret of Mana is no exception. It certainly has a few flaws, but the gameplay and soundtrack certainly do compensate for such problems. Almost perfect, but not quite. If you like real time RPGs, or action/adventure titles, then give Secret of Mana a try.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/18/05
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