Review by PizzaDude371

"Not quite up to Square's usual quality"

-Intro-

Welcome! Come in, sit down. Yes, right over there is fine. Today I will be discussing the popular RPG Secret of Mana. This was a Super Nintendo game released in 1993 and is actually the second part of the Seiken Densetsu series. It contrasted with other Square RPGs at the time because it was action-oriented instead of turn-based. This game was groundbreaking for Squaresoft and was one of the first games to truly merge the action and RPG genres. SoM was where most players today were introduced to the series, and it is usually considered among the best of the series. It had quite a few innovations to the Seiken Densetsu series, such as the ring menu and the weapon skill levels. It will go down in history as a classic…but…

I see this game in a different light. This game was a disappointment to me in far too many levels. It is still a decent game, but I do believe it was one of the more overrated games on the system. I will try to back up these claims in the review, so don't kill me just yet.

-Gameplay-

First let me get into the battle system. Characters will draw out their weapons when in a dungeon and the game plays out like a Zelda game. It uses a top-down view which many games used during this era. Now, this game takes a twist from typical action RPGs as it uses endurance-based combat. Instead of being able to button mash your way to victory, you have to wait until your meter at the bottom of the screen fills up to 100%, or else you will do pitiful damage. I suppose this was a good idea in theory, but in practice, it really does not help the gameplay at all. The only thing that this system manages to do effectively is slow down the battles and make it repetitive. It makes fighting enemies take more time than they should. Many people seem to like the fact that you can't mindlessly button mash and they also believe that it adds more strategy to the fighting. I still disliked it and thought it made fighting slower and more of a chore than anything. Also, when you are hit by an enemy, there is a wait during which your character recovers. During this time, the enemy can continue to attack you which means you can be hit multiple times before you are even able to do anything about it. This creates some needless frustrations.

Another acclaimed feature of Secret of Mana was the weapons system. In this game, you will be given weapons as you progress through the story and you can upgrade these weapons by exchanging orbs that you will gain after defeating bosses. There are a total of eight different weapons you can use, each with their own special techs. You gain techs by gaining skill levels in that particular weapon, and you gain skill levels by using that weapon a certain amount of times. The weapon system in this game was pretty cool, I'll admit, as there was a lot of variety and customization. Want an archer, a swordsman, and a lancer? No problem! Yes, I liked the weapon system in this game for the most part. I say “for the most part” because to use the weapons techs you have to charge up by holding the attack button. This can become a big problem as the later level techs will take around 15 seconds to activate slowing down the battle system even more.

The magic system of SoM is one of its weaker aspects. You gain spells by merely progressing through the game's story, and you gain MP at level ups. You can level up these spells by using them over and over again. This is where the system is flawed. Leveling up your spells is very tedious and repetitive work that was unoriginal as well.

Possibly the most unique aspect of Secret of Mana is its multi-player capabilities. Yes, you can finally play an RPG with one or two friends. However, I saw this as more of a novelty as anything, as RPGs aren't the genre that I particular play with other people. This game relies too much on playing with another person, and thus one player mode suffers because of it.

One more complaint with this game I had was the bosses. There are a total of 40 bosses in this game. No, that's not a typo. This is way too many bosses. That is possibly the most of any RPG I have ever played. The bosses are not even fun to fight because many of them will not take damage from regular attacks and you will have to resort to charging up your weapon for 20 seconds before you can damage it.

The control in this game is solid with little problems. In order to improve upon the menu system, Square implemented the Ring Menus in which you scroll through your weapons, items, and other things that are in a “ring” of each other. Sort of hard to explain, but it's really quite simple and a nice menu system. However, it can be confusing to equip your characters if you're not used to it. The AI can be controlled by the action grid, which determines their strategy. Sometimes the AI will run into a wall and lag behind quite a bit, but overall the AI is solid.

So, what you're left with is a mixed bag. The weapon system and control very tasty, while the attack meter, bosses, and magic system leave a very bitter aftertaste. There are some moments of fun, but unfortunately there aren't enough of these moments.

-Story-

To be frank, the storyline bored me to tears. Seriously, it is hard to believe that a story like this came from the masterminds at Squaresoft. The story centers around three characters (whom all have no official name) and their quest to find the mana seeds and thwart the empire from harnessing the mana power. You can't say that the storyline is original, with the cliches being thrown everywhere. There are many times in the game when you don't even know why you're fighting through a dungeon, which makes the game feel like an archaic dungeon crawler. I usually don't care about storyline too much in games, but this is just inexcusable.

The characters are, like the story, boring, generic, and uninteresting. There is hardly any character interaction at all, and thus there is no memorable dialogue at all. The character development is laughable. Overall, the story and characters were very disappointing.

-Music and Sound Effects-

The music in Secret of Mana is decent yet not wonderful. The soundtrack does not seem up to Squaresoft quality. Many people tend to claim that this game's soundtrack is one of the best on the SNES, and I just can't see why. Many of the songs rely heavily and drums and flutes and they work well during the game, but hardly any of them are good to listen to on their own. However, there are a few great songs, and a few that come to mind being the forest theme and the mana fortress theme.

The sound effects are fitting and are generally well done. There is a distinct sound for each weapon and spell, which will create a large amount of sounds. It may be worth noting that the sound made when you kill certain enemies was impressive. Overall, the sound effects were solid.

-Graphics-

Secret of Mana looks far different than any other SNES game I've played. The game relies on very colorful sprites and backgrounds, which ends up creating a cartoony feel. Considering the time the game was released, the graphics look very nice. Of course there are better looking SNES games, but none have the same style as Secret of Mana's. The enemy designs were fairly creative, although you'll find that you're fighting the same enemies over and over again, just with palette swaps. Ah well, it's a common occurrence in RPGs.

While battling, the characters have animations for attacking with each weapon, dodging attacks, executing techs, and casting spells. The techs were surprisingly impressive and the spells were done well too. In short, the animation was done well.

-Challenge, Length, and Replay-

Secret of Mana is a challenging game, no doubt. Most of the bosses are not pushovers, and since there is a total of 40 bosses, this creates a lot of challenge throughout the game. Also, a lot of the dungeons are fairly tough to get through, particularly at the end. The pure land has over three bosses in a row that are all very challenging.

It's somewhat difficult to gauge the length of the game, as the game does not count the time played. I would say that the length is average for an SNES game, meaning you will probably get around 20 hours out of it. A satisfying length for most people, including myself.

The replay value is slightly below average, as there are no side quests and not a whole lot of character customization. Of course, you could use different weapons on your next playthrough, but that doesn't change a whole lot. There's no alternate endings or a New Game +, so there's not really a whole lot of motivation to play through it again.

-Summary-

Gameplay – 7/10………..above average
Story – 4/10……………...below average
Musics/Sound – 6/10…fair
Graphics – 8/10……....good
Overall – 7/10………...above average

-Final Words-

In essence, Secret of Mana is a game than is fun yet flawed. I would recommend playing this game, as it is a SNES classic that many people play and enjoy. You may have to shell out around $20 if you want to play the cartridge. Just don't raise your expectations too much, as you may get let down.

I wanted to like this game. I did. And I did in some parts. However, there were many annoyances with the gameplay that didn't make it nearly as fun as it could've been. The storyline and music were also pretty disappointing. It seems clear to me that nostalgia and the multi-player aspect really help boost this game's reputation, as it obviously lacks many key aspects to make a good RPG. Secret of Mana was a groundbreaking game that was important for the development of the Seiken Densetsu series, but there are too many flaws with gameplay and story to consider this to be one of the all-time greats.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 07/19/07


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