Review by jdrega
"One of the great classics in action RPG gaming"
This is a game widely loved and despised. A lot of people believe that it is overrated and a waste, while a great many also love the game. I fall into the former category as you can tell by the tagline. So let's get on to the review.
Well the graphics are the standard 16-bit sprites that Square Enix (Squaresoft at the time) used for their RPGs. The worlds are colorful, and diverse. There are a decent amount of different NPC designs. The enemies and bosses look pretty impressive as well. The only real draw back is the colorful scheme makes the game "look childish" as many say, but its not really something that ever bothered me.
Not the strongest story line right off the bat. It starts off with a boy and his two friends looking for some treasure when the boy falls and finds a rusty sword in a stream. He pulls it free and accidently releases monsters into his world. He gets banished from home and ventures on a quest to re seal the monsters, which can only be done by reviving the rusty sword into the famous Mana Sword, the sword of legend. Well what starts as a rather rudimentary quest turns into a decent epic involving an evil empire, the mana fortress, a baby dragon named Flammie, and two other playable characters that join the boy on his journey. It is not as deep as some of the FF games but I enjoyed the twists and found it a rather engaging story.
There are three playable characters in the game. The boy is the one you start with and he is soon joined by a woman looking for her boyfriend Dyluck and a young sprite who lost his memory. These two characters come with their own weapons (the girl a glove for martial arts attacks and the sprite a boomerang) but can use any of the other 8 weapons you get through the game. There are plenty of NPCs that you will meet including a traveling purple cat merchant named Neko, shopmasters, a knight named Jema, and plenty of townspeople and even Santa and Rudolph! There are a plethora of bosses as well that although you run into a couple repeats, are very creative. There are several elemental Gigas' or giants, a massive Ant, evil Walls, Vampires, Tigers with spikes on their backs, giant birds and plants, dragon toads, and dragons. All the bosses are massive in size and while most are easily defeated by magic attacks the final boss is a pain.
The game is an action RPG, which is my preference to turn based games. It is also the only RPG three people can play together, using a multi tap of course. I never really found it to be fun to play with others, but I do like using select to switch between the three on the fly, which is helpful on certain bosses, like Spiky Tiger where having one person equipped with the bow helps when he jumps on the high towers you can't reach him on otherwise. You will slash your way through a variety of regular enemies from Rabites, which are like yellow blobs with bunny faces and ears and became the mascot for the series, and goblins, to zombies and magical books. All enemies are distinct and attack certain ways unique to their species. You will encounter pallet swaps of them as well but that is standard from the era. When you encounter a boss you will resort to magic, when you get it, and it is just a matter of finding the right spell, which is not hard because you get a spell to identify enemy stats and weaknesses and it is usually the last elemental group you acquired. There are a total of eight elementals with between three to four spells for each the sprite and the woman. The woman gets healing and defensive magic while the sprite gets all the attack spells, for the most part. The boy doesn't get magic so he sits out for the most part on boss fights. Using magic in battles is simple, just use Y to scroll through the menu of the appropriate character and get to the spell.You can even multi cast rapidly to prevent the monster from attacking and gaining maximum damage of 999. Usually three or four of the spell if it is leveled up will be sufficint. The level of the magic depends on the amount of seeds you have sealed in the quest. There are eight seeds in all so there are nine levels of magic. (0-8) Now the boy may sit out in boss battles but during regular fights he is the forefront of power. He has the strongest attack power, and best defense.
While you control one character the other two will behave with a set pattern that you set. You can have them focus on defense and staying away from enemies, fighting only when cornered. Or you can set them to run in swinging. You can also detrermine if they use their weapon techniques (levels 0-8) or just slash. This is an idea I liked because it is a simple grid pattern and the characters rarely deviate from it which allows you to set the pace. And since all characters share EXP it doesn't harm them to keep them out of fights.
The weapon attacks are pretty interesting and the battle system works well. It was carried over in Secret of Evermore as well. You have a little bar under your character's icon and health meter that when you attack it quickly shows a precentage rise from 0-100. Once the bar is at 100 and you hear a beep sound you can attack again at full power. Attacking while the bar is charging results in minimal damage being done to the enemy. Also as you increase your weapon abilities, done by killing enemies with a certain weapon, you will gain techniques. You use these techniques by holding the attack button and you will see a bar fill up to the desired level 1-8 and then release and watch the technique do more damage than a regular attack. The techniques start simple, like a jumping slash, and get pretty cool to watch. There are 8 weapons in all: sword, axe, spear, pole arm, boomerang, bow, whip, glove. All these have orbs that must be found and then taken to the blacksmith in order to be broken and advanced. As the weapons increase they will get stronger and develop some neat abilites, like paralyzing enemies, or being super effective on bird enemies. While you won't use all the weapons it is cool to try out different ones and see what you like.
There are a decent amount of different scores in the game and I realy like the music in it. It is atmospheric and sounds nice. While there was nothing about the music or sound that really blew me away I do find it enjoyable. The sound effects are pretty decent and varied. There are bite sounds and slashes galore. All bosses share the same theme music and many towns share music as well. Not outstanding but good. Although I really enjoy Salamando's theme for the short time it plays.
The only real drawbackis the lack of difficulty that most of the game possesses and limited inventory. Only being able to carry four of any one item is a pain and can really hurt later on in the game like the Forgotten Land and Mana Fortress. The game could have been made slightly more challenging. These are the only two drawbacks that affect the game and kept it from a score of ten. I really feel these drawbacks are minor and should not keep anyone from playing and enjoying the game.
A great 16 bit game and great action RPG. Getting a cartridge can cost between 40-50 dollars today but it is cheaper than the new games. You probably can find roms of it (LEGALLY of course I do not condone illegal downloading) for free and if you haven't played it I suggest you give it a try. It is one of my favorite games of all times
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/22/08
Game Release: Secret of Mana (US, 10/31/93)
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