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LONG BLOG

SNES REVIEWS: Secret of Mana

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For those reading one of my SNES review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:

"While the SNES was a constant presence in my childhood, I never had a large collection of games for it. In fact, many of the games I played I still don't know the names of. It wasn't until I say the uproar over Breath of Fire 6 that I knew I played Breath of Fire 1 in the SNES.

After reading the excellent top 100 SNES games list by IGN:

http://www.ign.com/top/snes-games

I decided to go back and play those 100 games and review them. Well, as I looked closer at the list, I realized that there are many genres that did not age well from the SNES (racing, sports) and many other genres that I am simply not good at (shmups, arcade shooters) and others that I need other players to play against for an accurate representation (fighters). Also, I played many of the more well known games such as Final Fantasy and Super Metroid."

We finished with the legacy reviews, so we are beginning with the reviews after my hiatus. Please feel free to give me advise on my reviews, as I always look for improvement.


Also, here are a number of extra rules for Destructoid:
-If you have any suggestion of a game that is not in the IGN list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.

Without further ado, here is:

11- Secret of Mana:
Year: 1993.
Genre: Action RPG.
Publisher: Squaresoft.
Developer: Squaresoft.
 

First things first, I am changing my rating system to better rate different genres according to their own rules. It will still be from 50 quality points, but every title will start from 25 and earn/lose points according to criteria important to the titles and genres themselves.

In the early days of console gaming, RPGs were synonymous with the sudden ripping off the game scree, and the transportation to a more action packed realm for the battle. The screen would tear, break, or simply transform. The music changes, and the rules of the game change as well.

Secret of Mana was an active attempt to change the rules of the genre. Instead of turn-based battles and a different map, Secret of Mana puts all the action in the same map, and ends up being one of the major innovators in the Action-RPG sub-genre.

However, being an innovator is not a mark of excellence in of itself. For Squaresoft, they wanted to innovate while giving us their usual known quality in the SNES.

"Darkness sweeps the troubled land as Mana fades..."

While Secret of Mana aims early to go against RPG gameplay cliches, it embraces storyline cliches openly. The tale is simply of a dying world, a chosen hero, and an irredeemable villain. With such simple formula, one would hope greater effort would then be put into the characterization of the world. Unfortunately, neither playable characters or NPCs offer anything of interest to the player.

Despite the amount of time I spent in SoMs world, I couldn't bring myself to care much about what happens to it. Yet, while the overarching narrative is non-interesting, the world itself is fun to walk around in. With distinctive locales, and some humor along the way, going from dungeon to dungeon is driven by the desire to see more of it. More so because of the unique way the world's locations are interconnected with each other.

Rather than having an overworld map, the entire game is connected as if one huge dungeon. This might lead some to feel that might limit travel. However, fast travel through Cannon blast points (you literally get blasted from a cannon) and a later game traveling companion addresses the fact.

Ultimately, SoM is not a game you would play for its story, nor even for its admittedly vibrant world. True, the plot gives you enough incentive to plow forward, but the real incentive will depend in your appreciation of its stronger qualities.

Poor Generic Story -4
Interesting world +2
Boring Main Characters: -1

Main characters can be a little undercooked


"You must become a hero worthy of the sword"

The first thing you will notice when you start the game is the weird camera angle; its not centered on your character, but tethered somewhere at the edge of the screen. This means that you need to push near the edge of the screen to move it, which starts as really annoying once the gameplay incentive to do so becomes apparent.

In SoM, all the action happens in the regular map space, which is shown in top-down Zelda-like space. But besides the main character, you also have two allies, a girl and a sprite. All these characters need to be in the screen at the same time, which explains the camera angle. So while it starts as an annoying eccentricity, the camera angle shows itself as majorly useful once you have a full party.

With all three characters in view, battles will often be against a couple of monsters or a single boss. In battle, you control one character while the AI controls the other two. While in control, you can walk around freely and press the action button to attack, or issue commands to the magic users. There is a catch though; attacks are nearly useless if the Stamina gauge is depleted, and it depletes withe every attack and takes about 10 seconds to recharge. Hence, you have to attack, wait a little bit, and then attack again.

This might feel simple enough, but boss battles will take the system to its most complicated (and most rewarding) conclusion. Besides attacking, you must also move around to dodge enemy attack. The AI can be issued a simple strategy, and switching characters is easily done on the fly. Additionally, you can keep pressing the attack button to charge up additionally powerful attacks, all the while try to use magic effectively.

For the usual attack (non-magic), you have a choice of one of eight different weapons, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. For instance, the trusty sword lacks range, but it hits in a wide arc sometimes sweeping foes left and right. In the other extreme, the whip doesn't lack range but only attacks in a straight line. Additionally, there are ranged weapons with their own different styles like the Bow and the Boomerang. And the more you use a weapon it levels up.

With its fast pace, and the constant rewards of battle (leveling up both yourself and your weapons), SoM starts feeling like an addictive dungeon crawler, which is not off the mark with the excellent design of the game's dungeons.

Admittedly, the battle system sometimes feels like it lacks some polish. Early on, charged attacks are nearly useless because they do not justify the opportunity cost of charging for them, especially when we consider the possibility of missing. Indeed, attacks that whiff frequently are the worst offenders of the battle system. With little feedback on when a miss happens, you are left scratching your head debating whether the attack was dodged or simply did not clip the hit-frame of the enemy. It happens frequently enough to slow down the pace with some enemies, but critical hits happen even more as often to offset this minor annoyance. And critical hits wackes the enemy with a satisfying sound that pushes you right back in the cycle of murder and grinding.

Finally, for those looking for a cooperative experience, SoM offers what is probably one of the rarest cooperative RPG experiences. Instead of the AI controlling the other two characters, up to two other players can do the honor (which makes the game easier overall).

Engaging Battle System: +5
Variety of Weapons: +3
When attacks miss: -2
COOP: +3

Bosses are fun to take down


"When Mana fades, kids lose their hopes and dreams"

Outside of its battle system, SoM plays nearly the same. By virtue of not operating the two in combat, traversing the world as well as solving its puzzles is through the same commands. Some weapons are necessary to move forward, with the axe breaking boulders while the whip acts like a gabbling hook of some sorts. Non of the game puzzles are particularly interesting as they boil down to use magic A instead of magic B, but world traversal is fun in of itself.

Particularly admiring is how little time the game wastes in its introduction. By the third hour you will have most of the weapons and all three characters ready to fight. Generally, the game isn't interested in complexity, as Items are very few and leveling up is straightforward.

Unfortunately, leveling up magic is not as fast or fun as regular leveling up. Similar to weapons, magic upgrades with usage. However unlike weapons which are used every time you attack, you will find less opportunity or need to use magic/ Especially since MP is not as easy to recover as HP. This causes a minor annoyance where you need to grind magic in order to level it up to a respectable degree.

Fast, Fluid, and Fun: +4
Magic Leveling Up: -2

If only Goombas were this freindly


"Pure evil seeks the seeds now"

Even with minimal grinding, the game's regular enemies rarely pose any threat outside of "gear switching times" (when you need to buy better equipment). It is no surprise then that you will be on auto-pilot for an extended period of time, which unfortunately under-utilizes the battle system. Here is where bosses come in. Simply put, bosses are the only time when you will need to carefully think about what you are doing.

While not the norm, a highlight boss fight will force you to either switch between ranged and melee weapons, or switching between two character who each has one of them. Normally though, the boss battles will involve using everything you have from magic to charge attacks. When all else fails, you will need to use some items. Thankfully, using items is not at all cheap, because you are only able to carry very little that you will need to think carefully before abusing them.

Yet, its in boss battles that the game's lack of feedback on misses that is most infuriating. Sometimes, the boss's huge frame deceptively signals where you can hit them. In such cases, the beginning of any fight involves experimenting with the best way to attack them to register a hit. Also in these fights is where magic is either used to its fullest potential, or found to be lacking because of lack of grinding.

Boss Battles: +4
Miss and Magic -2

Fly dragon, fly......


"It's like a dream... can we really be here"

We have seen how the many elements of SoM show both greatness and mediocrity. Yet, the game's artistic and audio design is simply brilliant. Not only does it add tons of personality to the game, but it also acts as its own incentive to move forward. When a game's soundtrack is so good that just stopping and listening to it is its own reward, you know that its a damn good soundtrack.

Starting with the graphical design, its neither very unique nor is it groundbreaking. It is however constantly good, with varied locales and beautiful vistas, it brilliantly showcases the world of SoM. With a colorful visual styles, the graphics convey the natural power of Mana, as opposed to the less vibrant metallic style of the technology that uses nature.

Highlighting the visual style are the sprites themselves, which are expressive, unique, and well animated. From the main characters whose movements land weight to the combat, to the random storeguy NPC whose dancing signals his willingness to sell. As usual, the stars of the show are the bosses whose massive frame showcases the highest level of detail.

As for the soundtrack, little can be said about this squaresoft masterpiece other than that; its a masterpiece. I often say that a go0d soundtrack adds another dimension to videogames, which is even more important in the earlier games of the SNES. Hiroki Kikuta does just that in one of the best SNES soundtracks.

Besides being consistently brilliant, SoMs soundtrack also has a considerable number of great tracks. To focus on a few, "Into the thick of it" highlights the game's nature theme as well as serve as great adventure them. "The Mana Fortress" is epic, serious, and showcases the danger much more than any graphical pre-CGI scene could ever do.

That such a track is rarely talked about in the conversation of best SNES soundtracks is frankly baffling, because Mr/ Kikuta not only composed greater musical pieces, but also a unique musical style. With folklore music, as well as 80 techno as influences, this fusion stands proud among SNES soundtracks.

Graphical Style: +3
Music: +6

I could listen to the soundtrack forever


In Conclusion:

I am not going to pretend that Secret of Mana is a constantly brilliant game. Despite enjoying it most of the time, too much of it was on autopilot because of the non-intresting story. And while the music always demanded some attention, the game didn't need much of it when not fighting a boss.

In many ways, the game is similar to its battle system. The frequent misses are noticeable, as well as frustrating. Yet, the critical hits are frequent as well, and it sure feels great when you get one.

Final: 44/50

*****************************************************************


"Tips"

1- More expensive gear is always better.
2- Try and grind your magic every now and then.
3- If you are getting easily decimated, you probably need to buy better gear.
4- After level 5 for any weapon, start specializing each character with a number of weapon instead of upgrading all the weapons.
5- Use Stat boosting magic.
6- Don't neglect charge attacks, especially late in the game.
7- If you miss too much, try changing weapons.

"Next Game"

Secret of Mana is one of the great Squaresoft RPGs of the SNES, and its opens up the list here. However, there is a lesser know Square title that is a spiritual sequel in a way. Secret of Evermore might not be in the IGN list, but I heard too much about it to ignore, and I have my own personal reason to play it.

Here is hoping for a good time.

Stay Tuned


For Previous SNES game Reviews:

The List

For More Screenshots:

http://www.mobygames.com/game/snes/earthbound/screenshots

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About Lord Spencerone of us since 5:57 PM on 01.12.2014

Hello all, I am Lord Spencer, your friendly neighborhood royalty. Yes, the ancient bloodlines are letting absolutely anyone in these days.

Being the lurker that I am, I have been following Destructoid for more than four years. Well, its 3 AM where I live now, and I just plunged in getting HUGE in the way.

Here is hoping for a fun time.

Oh yes, here is a little more info about me that is probably not as interesting as I think it is:

-I owned and played about 1000+ games.
-I owned and read about 2000+ books (I counted comic books I read as a kid so this is not as impressive as it sounds).
-I absolutely love Legos.

Out of all the games I played, I only regret playing a few. I am a big fan of gaming, and thus I really like most of what I play.

Thanks to the excellent work of community member Dango, now I have a cool infographic of my top 20 games. This list is not my final one, but what I thought off at the moment. If you notice, they are presented in chronological order:





Oh, and here is a link to my blogs:
My Blogs