Review by Black Rabite

"We need a PETA for rabites..."

I still remember the first time I played Secret of Mana. It sticks out in my mind because I got lost right at the start. I wasn't even ten minutes into the game, and I was, for all I knew, stuck. So after wandering around the first few screens over and over again, I eventually gave up. I mean, how could a game so frustratingly hard at that juncture be any fun at all? Eventually a friend came over and decided to play the game, and took a path that I for some reason just didn't see. So, my first experience with Secret of Mana was anger. I didn't want to like the game.

After playing the game, I did eventually fall in love with it, or as close to love as a man can come to a chunk of plastic encasing someone else's work. The battle system in Secret of Mana hooked me right from the start. It's not groundbreaking, but the fact that every other game I'd purchased recently seemed to take the traditional combat route, I was thrilled to play something new. Battles are pretty simple to start. You have a sword, and you swing it. No waiting for a turn to end or a bar to fill up. Once you finish swinging, you can swing again. The second swing isn't going to do you much good, seeing as you just put all your strength into one swing, but the option is there. Instead, a percentage rises under your HP. When it reaches 100%, your character has recovered enough stamina to put all his strength behind his swing again. Alright, so there kind of is a bar you're waiting on to fill up, but it's still optional. You can mash the attack button and consistently do a pitiful amount of damage, or you scout an enemy, and make your move at precise times to maximize the output.

Of course, you get other weapons besides the sword. If you don't like how the usual hero of a game is always wielding a sword, switch him over to a whip. Don't want a melee weapon? Equip the bow. Each weapon has advantages, either during battle or navigating dungeons. For instance, the axe isn't much different than the sword in variety, but sometimes there's debris in your way. Swing the axe at the rocks or whatever and it's gone. Find a large gap that you can't cross, that your characters would Mega Man themselves if they tried a jump? Odds are there's a stake in the ground on the opposite side and you can use your whip as a rope.

As you progress through the game, you'll find weapon orbs. Each orb is associated with a specific weapon, and when obtained, allows you to train your characters to the next level with said weapon. With each level of experience, your characters are able to perform a stronger version of the charge attack. After you swing, if you hold down the button, a bar will start to fill up once the percentage reaches 100%. Once the bar fills up, you're able to unleash a powerful attack on unsuspecting enemies. Every time you level a weapon up, you can fill up an additional bar while charging. Every bar you fill will allow you to unleash a different attack, each weapon with their own set of moves, and the more bars you fill up, generally the stronger and more useful the attack will turn out to be. However, you have to use some type of strategy, because waiting for the bar to fill up eight times to unleash your strongest attack consumes a lot of time.

Also, when you find a new weapon orb, you can take it to a recurring character throughout the game named Watts, and he'll forge a stronger weapon out of what you already have. The weapon will remain in the same class, so the bow isn't going to magically turn into a Cow's Head, however you'll get a better bow at least. Keeping all your weapons up and training your characters to use them properly is the only way you'll get anywhere with physical damage.

Of course, with the exception of the hero, physical damage will be useful mainly to cut the random enemies to ribbons. Once you happen across a boss, you'll probably want to start turning out the magic. As you find weapon orbs throughout the game, you'll also uncover Mana Seeds and Elementals. Each Elemental you locate will give your supporting characters a new group of spells to cast. The girl will mainly have access to healing and support spells, whilst the sprite is going to be your elemental workhorse. In addition to getting a new set of spells when you find an Elemental, each time you find a Mana Seed, you're able to start working on leveling up your characters magic as well. You'll never get access to new spells via leveling up, but the damage will consistently increase.

Inventory in Secret of Mana is a relatively simple affair. Weapons are found are forged on their own, so you never have to manage new installments to your arsenal. Armor doesn't really differ from shop to shop, other than the increase in defense and the hit to your money. Also, there's isn't a whole lot of items to pack around outside of equipment either, but you'll want to keep a full stock at all times of pretty much every one. My favorite feature has nothing to do with the actual goods you can purchase, but the shopkeepers who you purchase them from. First, there are these guys who wear turbans, who I won't refer to as any specific nationality because it's taboo in this day and age to point out any difference from one race to another. They're the regular shopkeepers, and they do this neat little dance. Also, there's Neko, who's a cat. The wares you can get from Neko are nice, and he's sometimes a lot more accessible to where you currently are, but his prices are marked up.

The music in the game is tranquil. It's nothing all that special, as the musical range of the tracks are small, with each track seemingly able to be used at any point for any reason, and it would fit just as easily as what was originally there. I specifically remember the drums in the music more so than any other instrument. It just kind of flows. It's like listening to one of those “Sounds of the Rain Forest” CD's, but listening to it while you're actually walking through a real, live rain forest. Sound effects are what you would expect from a game of this genre. Slash, thud, smack, splat. The only sound effect that catches my ear is the shaking of treasure chests.

Graphics are quite colorful. Not Paladin's Quest colorful, but vibrant. The enemies are so colorful, that the designers decided to palette swap often during the game, especially in the case of bosses. There's three gigases, or whatever the plural is for gigas, three dragons, two vampires, two slimes, two tigers, two ants, two plants. You get the picture. The previous, as well as others, are just palette swaps. Animation is smooth enough. I particularly like how when evading, instead of the usual dodge animation, the hero decides to do a back flip. Rabites put their hands, or flippers, or whatever you call them, over their eyes when they get hit. That's only if you don't OHKO them.

There's nothing special about the story. Boy finds ancient sword. Boy receives quest to save world. Boy gets help. Boy eventually saves world. More specifically, while out playing with two friends, the hero finds himself showing off on a log that's spread out in front of a waterfall. Guess what? That's right, you fall down. Into pretty shallow water. However, as there are no enemies around to entice you into a fight, you don't take any damage. You proceed to find a sword in a stone, and a spirit speaks to you. It is you who is to retrieve this sword which has been lost for such a long time, yet it's only four or so screens away from the village you live in. You must use it to save the world. So, the boy with no battle experience whatsoever who just proved that he couldn't walk across a log without dying in a fall must embark on the holiest of quests. Other characters impose themselves into the story later, like Thanatos and Dyluck, but there are no plot twists that will catch you off your guard.

With the exception of a very few spots, Secret of Mana is quite easy. The bosses at the start, like in every rpg, are mainly there for you to get the feel of the game and learn what's going on, and because of the power of magic and the way you can cripple bosses with it, it will end up being a normal battle where you go through your Elementals until you find the appropriate spell the boss is weak to, and then spamming the hell out of it. The third boss was the only one that ever gave me any trouble, and I was stuck on him for about a month when the game first came out. This is before you have access to magic, and after you're familiar with combat. The final battle isn't so much difficult as it is cheap, but I'll let you find that out on your own.

Game controls fine. Arrows move your characters. You've got your attack button, and two buttons to bring up your inventory for your characters. One brings up the inventory rings for your current character, and the other cycles between the rings for the characters currently controlled by the AI. You can press select to change characters at any time. If you've got a friend, or two and a multitap, they can participate as well. This was another aspect of the game I liked, as rpgs are usually quite harsh on the casual observer.

You probably won't play through the game a second time. The story is flat, and sidequests are null. There's a few theories floating around about the game that no one can seem to fully squash, but an additional playthrough just to shut someone on the internet up is probably a bit much for you. If you enjoyed the battle system, you can always move on to Secret of Evermore or Seiken Densetsu 3. Seiken Densetsu 3 is the sequel to Secret of Mana, and Secret of Evermore is an American made game that feels much like a slightly inferior version of this game with a nice alchemy engine.

All in all, the game is an good play, but the SNES wasn't lacking in above average rpgs. When it comes to the adventure subgenre, Secret of Mana is arguably the best on the system, and if you don't like traditional combat in the vein of the Final Fantasy series, the more action oriented Secret of Mana may just be what you're looking for.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 02/14/05

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