Review by D-Boy

"But time flows like a river... and history repeats..."

For years, people have told me a game called ''Secret Of Mana'' (Seiken Densetsu II) was the epitome of all RPG's. Oh, how I yearned to play it. ''Better than Dragon Quest, you say?!'', ''Comparable to Chrono Trigger? Is that possible?!''. With everyone stressing to me how Godlike this game was, who could blame me? The only thing that kept me binded was the fact that the only copy I could find was about $30. Since I have slightly too much self respect to play a ROM of one of the most popular games ever created, I decided to spend the money once I had it. After all, with every person on the net giving it a score no lower than 8, I thought it would be impossible for it to be bad. What in God's name was I thinking?

Technical Content
Graphics
So, two years after Final Fantasy II, in 1993, after a long pause without any truly groundbreaking RPG's (Final Fantasy V never made a 16 bit appearance in the states), Secret Of Mana hit the shelves, and soon disappeared from them. You'd think in two years, after The Legend Of Zelda - A Link To The Past was released, that graphical achievements would begin to flourish. Well, you thought wrong.

You are greeted by a gorgeous display of graphical skill, the main character and his two allies standing idly underneath the enigmatic 'Mana Tree' as the memorable main theme begins to play. Your eyes nearly pop out of your skull as you see a flock of beautifully animated pink birds fly by. Alas, this is probably the finest moment your eyes will see in this game.

As the game starts, you'll notice that the character sprites are excessively colorful. They look extremely cartoonish, and little detail at all is placed into their framework. It gets worse, as your character falls and lands in a lake. As he stumbles to get back up, you'll notice that each frame of his animation is in a different location, making it look like they're having some sort of spasm. I prayed this wasn't a permanent effect, but was. Even simple things such as walking and attacking have their frames all over the place by at least an inch (game scale).

The graphics aren't all bad. There are some really nice effects, such as glowing buttons and turning gears (the Mana Fortress itself almost appears alive). And then there's a moment in the Mana Forest where you begin to drool as you look at how soft and pastel the trees and ledges are. Gorgeous streams with water cascading down them, and you wonder why the rest of the game's visuals weren't like this.

But this is such a superficial category. I think we should move on. My score;
**

Audio
The sound effects are a mixed bag. On one hand, you have extremely realistic sounds, such as swords cutting through thick grass, and feet scampering up stairs. But then you have annoying sounds, like strikes. Whenever you hit an enemy, it sounds like someone is stepping in a puddle of water.

But what annoys me the most isn't the sounds in the game, it's the sounds that aren't in the game. For one, enemies and characters alike have no cries or grunts whatsoever. They just explode in a big gush of a white liquid (gotta love Nintendo censorship..) or turn into a pile of bones. Even Zelda bosses had mild little grunts when they were struck.

Lacking some major features here, but this alone doesn't hinder the game's experience;
**

Music
Before I had played the game, I had downloaded an MP3 called ''Darkstar''. I must say, that sent chills up my spine. Then once again, when I played the game for the first time, I heard the opening theme (which I have been humming for the past three days). That's when I said, ''Man.. this is going to be great, I know it.'' What a terrible expectation.

The game's score consists primarily of soft-core, upbeat tracks that will hold a place in any four year old's heart; but if you have an attention span exceeding that of an ape, you will find this game's sound track to be dreadful. The theme played when the Hero falls off the log bridge in the beginning almost made me want to pull every hair out of my skull, one by one. Progressing further, I entered the woods, which actually had a very fitting, eerie theme. But then I lost any respect for it when it was played once again inside Gaia's Navel, and then about ten more times throughout the game.

When it comes time to fight a boss; TURN THE VOLUME DOWN. The developers try to impress you with a fast paced, ''horror'' themed battle groove. They were better off with the kiddy music. You'll also notice that all of the eight Mana Palaces (which a very large portion of your adventure revolves around) have the exact same music. If that is what makes a good soundtrack, my friend, please pull your head out of your ass, because you're obviously not listening to it at all.

Chances are, if you actually claim to adore this game's soundtrack, you're just trying to fit in the Mana-Loving crowd. Aside from Darkstar, Mana Fortress, and the Opening Theme, it bites.
*

Gameplay
The gameplay is rather unique. But originality doesn't make things great. This, as you may know, is an overhead action/RPG, like Zelda. However, it's a bit more on the RPG side, since you gain levels and have experience points and such.

The weapon system is somewhat quirky and annoying. Rather than just scattering hidden weapons about in the playing field, you find ''Orbs'' to upgrade your weapons. Unfortunately, the only person who can upgrade your weapons is a dwarf named ''Watts'', and he's usually in a town. Although an original and interesting concept, it turns out it's totally useless, since you'll need stronger weapons to defeat bosses. What's the point of finding weapons in dungeons if you can't use them until you're in a town?

Your weapons, like your characters, have experience points. When they level up, you'll be able to charge them (think; Mega Man). Each weapon can have up to six levels of charging, and even the weakest weapon can do 400+ damage when fully charged. This system is made almost entirely useless however, since the level resets every time you upgrade your weapon. So you're actually better off not even upgrading your weapons until much later, because a fully charged, weak sword does a lot more damage than a plain attack from a stronger sword.

Even magic has it's own level up system. Once again, this is pretty much useless because most bosses are immune to magic, or it will do a menial amount (even elements that they're weak against). Magic takes forever to level up, as well. You have seven different types for each character (excluding the hero, who cannot use magic at all), and each type holds three spells. Each spell levels up on it's own account. This is incredibly tedious, and isn't worth the effort since no spell does more damage than charged weapons. The only real use spells hold in this game is unlocking passageways that are sealed by magical orbs which are activated by certain elements.

Almost every feature of the gameplay is ruined by uselessness. You're better off just hacking and slashing.
*

Battle System
You have three characters, whom act based on their placement in the ''Action Grid''. They can either guard you, or attack enemies on their own. You can also adjust whether they keep away from enemies, or if they hunt them down.

Although your allies will attack maybe once during an entire area while they're keeping away from enemies, it's much better than hunting them down. When characters are on the prowl, they're usually off fighting an enemy that isn't worth your time, while you're trying to progress. And you can't progress after your characters wander a certain distance from you.

This is extremely annoying on it's own, but sometimes it can cost you greatly, since there might be a chest just off screen and you wont be able to reach it. And if you let the chest get off screen (yes, chests walk around in this game..), it will be gone forever. It sounds cruel, but sometimes you'll actually be better off by purposely letting your allies die.

A great concept, which you never see in RPG's, is the multiplayer system. Up to two friends can join you and independently control their own characters. This is great fun, but does nothing to increase the game's overall value. And besides, if you have friends like mine, it wont be worth the mess you'll have to pick up afterward..
*

Control
It's very hard to screw up something as simple as game controls. Somehow, Secret Of Mana manages to do that very well. First is the annoying menu system. Rather than being smart, and giving you a normal RPG menu, they give you this queer ''rotating'' wheel that has icons on it. It moves too fast, and is usually located in an awkward area (usually behind a dialogue box, when you're buying something).

The in game controls are mediocre at best. You seem to attack well enough, but sometimes when you're charging, for some reason, your attack wont be unleashed when you release the attack button.

You can run, but it uses up your attack meter for some reason, and you can only run straight. If you want to make a turn, you'll have to stop, turn, and then wait for the attack meter to fill up again. This is irritating, since the average walk is rather slow.

Sluggish field control and annoying menus. A well deserved score;
**

Challenge
Unlike most sensible RPG's, you wont be using any strategy during major fights. Most boss situations just involve the enemy teleporting or getting away in time to avoid a certain attack. But basically, it's more of a shoot out. No matter what elemental attacks/defenses you have, what it all comes down to is who hits fastest, and hardest.

One thing that bothers me is that most enemies will collapse when you strike them once. While they're out cold, they will be invincible, and you'll have to actually wait for the enemy to get back up before you can hit it again. This is incredibly tedious (have you noticed I've said ''tedious'' about five times already?), and you'll be better off just KOing an enemy and moving on.

Some bosses are just cheap. And I mean cheap like an SNK boss. The most annoying enemy in the game, a Naga called ''Hexus'', attacks only in a set pattern. The rest of the time, all it does is cast a Pigmy spell that makes your character tiny and useless. And it doesn't use this once in a while, it uses it EVERY ROUND. If you don't have the Midge Mallet, you'll finally find out what the inside of your game controller looks like..
**

Conversion
Okay conversion for the most part, but the Japanese version seems to have a lot more accuracy, and it's slightly faster. Even the UK version for PAL is less sluggish.
***

Innovation
All right, I have to give them some credit here. The upgrading system, the magic system, the charging system, and the two player system. Innovative? Yes. Useful? No.
***

Storyline Content

Plot
Supposedly, this game has a very deep, enthralling plot. Well, if there was one, I missed it. Forgive me. The plot, as with many of this game's features, is as if it were ripped out of a child's storybook.

Millennia ago, a powerful civilization used the forces of nature (referred to as ''Mana'') to construct the ultimate weapon: The Mana Fortress. However, the gods were displeased with the newfound independence of mankind, and sent the all-powerful Mana Beasts to rain terror on the earth.

Just when things looked bleak for the world, a great hero (yeah.. every game seems to have one of those legendary heroes destined to save something..) appeared with the supreme Mana Sword and ''smashed'' the fortress. Although the Mana Civilization was destroyed, peace reigned throughout the world once again, and Mana seemed to disappear. And then the narrator adds the chilling line: ''But time flows like a river... and history repeats...''

A gloomy and intriguing introductory, which had quite a lot of potential. That only makes the game more tragic, since such potential was wasted with the joke of a story in which I received. Many years later, an orphan (who's name is provided by the player) raised in a small village surrounded by dense woods stumbles upon an old, rusty sword.

That rusty old sword turns out to be the sword of the hero's ancestors, which brought doom to evil many generations ago (Zelda, anyone?). Of course, the hero doesn't realize this, nor does the townspeople, who believe an ancient curse will befall the village due to the sword's removal. Thus, the hero is banished.

With the guidance of a man named ''Jema'', the hero eventually reaches the Palace Of Water, where he meets a beautiful, albeit 200 year old priestess who tells him his new mission objectives; to find magical orbs to recharge the Mana Sword, seal the ancient Mana Seeds which keep the powers of nature in balance, and ''smash'' evil!

Decent story in the first 15 minutes, but it soon falls apart, for good. Throughout the game, there is very little story progress at all, and meeting your two allies seems less constructive for the story, just to be more beneficial to your offensive. Your character barely ever says a word, even though he isn't really a ''silent protagonist'' (a la Chrono Trigger, Breath Of Fire).

15 minutes of decency before it becomes almost non-existant.
*

Intrigue
Not much here. Being the storyline seems dormant from the time you leave Pandora until you get to Tasnica (about 60% of the game's length), any sensible human being who has all of his brain functions in tact wont be intrigued at all.

Even the points in the plot that are supposed to be intriguing are ruined by utter predictability. I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that the hero's father is the first hero who initially destroyed the Mana Fortress, because it just screams it out from the point the game starts.
*

Emotion
Every now and then you'll reach a point where the game tries to present an emotional moment, like when the princess confronts her friend, who is being brainwashed by Thanatos, the dialogue just seems so far off, and dull. It's so hard to show emotion for characters when you really don't care about them.

Other moments, like when the main character's mother passes away, are just totally ruined by the childish presentation and dialogue. Imagine trying to show emotion for Big Bird if he got shot in the skull with a blowdart. A four year old would be in tears, but anyone who graduated elementary school shouldn't feel anything, unless they have some sort of problems..
*

Dialogue
UGH. This is awful. Everyone in every country of the world speaks the same, in the same manner, and in the same style. There isn't any originality what so ever. Even if the dwarves in Gaia's Navel said dumb things like ''Hi-Ho!'', I would've been grateful for a hint of diversity. The game is just negligent to culture. The closest thing to diversity you'll encounter is *drumroll* Santa Claus. Yes. Santa himself is in this game. Isn't that just damn wonderful?
*

Translation
From what I've seen, the translation seems to be stellar. Square usually has success in it's translation, and this game seems no different.
****

Character Design
It's times like this that make me absolutely adore Yoshitaka Amano, who of course, had nothing to do with this game. Which is why the character design totally writhes in disgust. The main hero is an adolescent boy who wears pink and purple clothes (....), and has a hair style straight from the glorious 80's. The female character is just.. blonde. The sprite character is designed somewhat nice. Bushy red hair, pointy ears, and a cute button nose, but it's wearing.. what looks like sweat clothes.

As for actual character development: ABSOLUTELY NONE. There is no character development in this game at all. I find that just horrifying. You never learn about either of your allies pasts. All you ever learn about the girl is that she's a rebellious princess (if I had a dime for ever one of those..) who runs away because she's fallen in love with a soldier, and you learn absolutely nothing about the sprite, whom just accompanies you after you leave Gaia's Navel, for what reason, I have no idea.

The characters barely exchange a word throughout the game. The sprite has about two lines of dialogue, and the only time the girl becomes vocal is when her loverboy soldier (Dyluck) or her brainwashed friend (Phanna) are involved, and even then, it's scarcely more than two or three lines.

Even the main character, the focus of the story, says few words throughout the game. I feel so totally unattached to these characters, because I never learn anything about them, and I never feel any sort of emotion for them. Torneko, Cecil, Rydia, Cain, these are characters that, over time, become so lovable and familiar. There are many more lovable characters, from Chrono Trigger, Tales Of Phantasia, Breath Of Fire II, Final Fantasy VI, and many other games in which the characters seem like friends to me, but I don't think it'd be fair to compare them to this one, since it predates them by a year or two.

Either way, I feel attached to many characters in the RPG universe, but you could put bullets between the eyes of all three of the numskulls in this game and I wouldn't care in the slightest.
*

Originality
A young boy finds a sword in the woods that turns out to be a legendary relic that thrusts him into adventure (Zelda), a rebellious princess tired of being controlled by her father who tags along with a hero (this has been in so many games, I can't even choose an example), and a wood sprite trying to save his (her?) species from extinction (umm.. Furn Gully?). My simple point is, it's been done to death. The producers of this game couldn't have been any less original if they tried, and I really don't think they did, since they didn't try with any of it's other features..
*

Ingenuity
Ingenuity.. hmmm. Now what's that mean? Skill, cleverness. Well gee, that requires thought, something the producers were lacking when they were making this game. I don't want to say they went as far as stealing ideas from better games of the years before, but they certainly used ideas that were concocted long before this game was made, and it just makes it seem horridly bland.
*

Direction
The game appears very unprofessional, like something from AMIX or Activision rather than such a highly praised publisher as Square. Cameo appearances by Moogles and even Santa Claus make it seem extremely tacky, and as if I didn't talk about the overly childish accent enough throughout this review, it makes the overly childish accent even worse. This doesn't feel like a Square game, at all.
*

Satisfaction
#$%@!!! After everything I went through beating this game, all the hell having to listen to the crappy storyline and uninteresting dialogue, they top it all off with one of the worst endings in video game history! I hate to spoil you people.. but, you might as well just turn the damn power off after you beat the Mana Beast, because you'll just find yourself staring at the sprite sitting in a tree after the credits roll. Congratu-freaking-lations.
*

Overall
The game that was supposed to be Godlike turned out to be pure crap. It's saved from a score of 1 or 2 because of the mildy amusing multiplayer feature and the fact you actually get to FLY A DRAGON. Whatever significance that holds, take it any way you want. My suggestion? Avoid this game, and don't give into the hype. I'm just telling it how it is, folks.

(Note: My review system is unique in that there's a score for everyone's taste. If you're into fun and gameplay quality, pay more attention to ''Overall For Fun'', but if intense storylines are your thing, check out ''Overall For Plot''. And if you like well balanced games, look no further than ''Overall'')
Secret Of Mana
Console: Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square
Release Year: 1993
Difficulty: Medium
Time To Complete: 10 - 20 Hours
Price I Paid: $28.49 (worth about $20 - $30)
Elusiveness: Very High
Other Ports: None
Overall For Fun: 3.8
Overall For Plot: 2.6
Overall: 3.2


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 11/09/01, Updated 11/11/01


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