One of the Super Nintendo era's most revered RPGs, Secret of Mana (seiken densetsu 2 for all the haters) was first published by Square in 1993 to much critical acclaim. Mana is the sequel to the Final Fantasy off-shoot Final Fantasy Adventure on the Gameboy and retains many aspects of that game including various enemies and improves upon that game's real time action based battle system while ditching many of the Final Fantasy elements that the original contained. Secret of Mana has been one of my favorite games for many years. I first played the game in the waiting room of my Mom's dentist office. When I came back a second time months later I realized that nothing had changed since my last save and obviously no one else was interested in this game. I stole it. Over the next three or four years my attention span for the game fluctuated as I moved onto bigger and better things like the N64. I never actually got around to beating the game. That is, until recently when SoM was re-released on the Virtual Console for Wii.
Having finally defeated the mana beast I can see through some of the things that enamored me with the game so much during childhood. The story for one is insane. Apparently the translation for the original release was rushed and the games dialog had to be cut as much as ninety percent. I have only the faintest idea of what this game is about and why I am on this "quest" to save the world. The lack of dialog makes all the characters seem like simpletons as well. I know we're talking about a magical world with dragons and monsters but I can only suspend my logic so far. Contemporaries like Final Fantasy III ( VI ) blow Secret of Mana completely out of the water as far as story telling.
the game has amazing music.
But where Final Fantasy may have the upper hand on story ( although I'm not sure I'm arguing that its anymore coherent ) Secret of Mana makes up in charm. The sprites are cheery and fun, the colors are bright, and the music is, if I may, off the chain. Very indicative of its time, the soundtrack sounds suspiciously New Order influenced, which is great. I could have sworn that the music playing in the last dungeon was from the song 1963. Where other RPG's are overly self serious SoM manages to be playful and fun without being overly cutesy. Although, now that I think of it, the art on "Flammie," the character's pet dragon/air ship, is a little embarrassing. Even the sparse dialog is tolerable when juxtaposed against the rest of the game.
meet "Flammie" your pet dragon...
The boss battles are fun, as is the weapons system which relies on finding orbs in dungeons or as prizes for battles to level up weapons. In addition to leveling up the weapons via orbs your characters weapon skill level improves over time with each weapon, allowing for more powerful charged up attacks. The battle system I should also describe; with each attack you must wait for your weapon to recharge to 100%, in essence enforcing an almost turn-based system.
The battle system in this game serves as an obvious predecessor to future Square releases such as Final Fantasy 12 and 13, although there are definitely more resemblances to 12. Your two other party members are controlled by AI which you can program with a battle grid, which gives a visual cue to the reactions your party may have, whether that be to attack, avoid, approach, or guard. Unfortunately there is no way to program a response to enemies that include spells. However that does inspire more player interaction. It is definitely interesting to see how much Secret of Mana serves as a relative to these most recent games in the FF series.
I should also mention that there is a multi-player option where a second or third friend can take charge of a character instead of AI. Unfortunately I have not been able to experience the game in this way since none of my friends are massive nerds like I am. Anyway, this is a great game, a definite classic. While it may not hold the depth of other Square releases on the Snes it is well worth the play time.