Secret of Mana - Retroview

Mana From Heaven... Errr... Square

By: Red Raven

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 6
   Music/Sound 10
   Originality 9
   Plot 5
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 5
   Difficulty Easy
   Time to Complete

15-20 hours


Title Screen

   Every RPGamer has to start somewhere, and I must dutifully admit right here in the opening sentence that I started my role-playing gaming career with Secret of Mana. It is probably no coincidence that I also believe that it is one of the best games Squaresoft has ever produced. It will be difficult to do, but I hope to give a somewhat unbiased review of the game. Impossible . . . yes . . . but I shall try nonetheless.

   The most difficult thing is ignoring some of the most innovative features that have ever graced a console RPG. One such feature is real-time combat in an RPG, a thing that has yet to be perfected until a much later Star Ocean 2. SoM also features the ability to have two friends join you by playing the other two characters in your party. If no friends are present, just leave the controls up to the astoundingly competent computer AI, a first of its time. While some of these features are present in the newest wave of PS2 RPGs, the fact remains that all this innovation was present in a game that is almost 8 years old now.

Quite A Few Weapons, Really
Quite A Few Weapons, Really 

   For its time, and really to this day, the battle system remains brilliant; being both simple and incredibly fun. The player controls one of three possible party members and traverses the landscape, encountering enemies on the fly. The system looks similar to Zelda: A Link to the Past, in so far as the player has a weapon that they attack enemies with and battles are not really separated from the surrounding area. Players may charge up their weapons by holding the button down; these charged up attack are really a powerful combo maneuver and do much more damage than normal attacks. There are many different types of weapons throughout the game, ranging from swords to arrows to spears, and the character gain proficiency points the longer they use each particular weapon. As expected, the more levels you have in a particular weapon the more powerful it is, and the more combo moves that available.

   Another big innovation is seen outside (and even inside) battle: the ring menus. Instead of having a big separate menu come up each time you want to use an item or equip armor and other such frequent tasks, the game is paused and a ring of commands appears. Simply scroll to the left or right to select, or press up or down to get to the other menus. This non-invasive system really stands out to the normal "big blue screen" that the FF series and just about every other RPG in existence employs. Granted, there really isn't anything too complicated in this game to warrant an entirely different screen except checking stats and programming the AI, nonetheless it is a smooth and intelligent system to use on a fairly uncomplicated game.

Real-Time Battles Over 7 Years Ago...
Real-Time Battles Over 7 Years Ago... 

   While the plot itself is not exactly comparable to other titles released at a similar time (FF6), it remains decent with its own share of surprises and suspense. The tone is light throughout the game except for a few scenes of sorrow that were very well done; these are in contrast by scenes of over-cuteness, such as when the characters meets Santa Clause. While it shows some age in the plot department compared to the average story of an RPG today, for its time it was adequate.

   However, the biggest thing in Secret of Mana's favor is truly timeless: the music. Words and descriptions cannot begin to define just how good this music is, so I'm not even going to try. It is enough to just realize that the musical director is a genius, and probably the best in the industry. Even though the graphics might have completely average, the music is what grips you by the seat of your pants and throws you into the game world.

Can You Imagine The Tree House?
Can You Imagine The Tree House? 

   Okay, okay, so maybe I was not able to restrain myself completely in reviewing this game; that is the power of nostalgia. But with the "rose-colored glasses" granted, I still stand by this description of the game. Look around: there still isn't an RPG anywhere that has as much innovation as this little SNES gem did, and its not likely to be any in the future. Even the released Legend of Mana pales in comparison to this masterpiece. So if you own this game, or are in a position to replay it, by all means do so. If you've never played it and come across it in a . . . *shudder* . . . bargain bin someplace, and are willing to play it with an open mind for the timeline of when it was release, go for it. In either case:

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