Review by fduboo
"I could just sit here and cycle through the menus all day long..."
Secret of Mana is already a Square classic, one of their best games and maybe their most original outside of starting the Final Fantasy series. It concerns a young hero who pulls a rusty sword from a shallow pool at the outskirts of town. Unbeknownst to him, the sword was protecting Potos Village (his adopted home) from monster attacks, which have been on the rise lately. After a surprise attack, the villagers exile this young man, leaving him with only one option: to make sense of this whole mess!
Beautiful. The game translates many locations rather well using the SNES' hardware. The opening areas around Gaea's Navel are lush and green, and a later area is a forest in which each screen repsresents the four seasons! The Spring screen, with its surreal pink trees and warm environment was easily my favorite. The characters (you eventually control three) are each well detailed, although they were just a tad too small. The enemies are classic, from the hopping Rhobite to the Buzz Bees in Gaea's Navel. The bosses look good, although later on in the game some of the enemies and bosses are the same as before, but with a different name, strength, and color palette. It kind of reminded me of the NES. Uh oh...
The music in this game is exceptional. Certain areas, such as the ice stage, sound perfect and help to accentuate the mood. There are many weapons to wield in this game, and effects like a whip cracking or the drawing of a bow are excellent. This may be Mana's strongest feature (although the Flammie's Flying music got on my nerves personally).
The game controls well, with an intuitive way of switching the character that you manually control (the Select button- it's nice to see companies really get use out of it, isn't it?). You can set how aggressive you want the other two characters to be while you are controlling the third, and the computer does a decent job of having them help you out. The circle menus that make up the subscreen are the most easily manipulated subscreens that I have experienced in an RPG. They must be experienced to be believed and they make this complex game easy to figure out.
Basically, you guide your three characters around the world, and you attempt to sort out what is happening to the world. Along the way, you and your two companions learn healing and attack magic (eight different elmentals for each) and you gain eight different weapons, which can each be levelled up eight (and in some special cases nine) times. This is pretty deep for an adventure game, and you can also level up the skill of your magic and weapon proficiency by fighting a lot of enemies. This is somewhat necessary to progress through the game, and it can get tedious, but it isn't grossly bad. The game moves fast and can be quite tough for RPG vets to adjust to, but it is well thought out and translates well in the action.
The story is all-encompassing and vintage Square. It is completely separate from the FF series and stands very well on its own right. There isn't a ton of dialogue, but the game draws you in and makes you really want to see the plot to its unpredictable resolution.
Well, not much, although you can always try to beat the game using different (read: weaker) weapons like the Gloves or Javelin rather than the Spear, Sword, and Axe.
Average (8/10)...Secret of Mana is a well-thought out game, and its originality and successful mix of gameplay elements cannot be stressed enough. When this game was released, it was nearly revolutionary, and few could capture its magic. Oh yeah, and you have to love those circle menus...
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/11/00, Updated 02/11/00
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