Secret of Mana - Reader Re-Retroview  

The Sword in the Stone
by Jeremy Michael Gallen

Less than 20 Hours
+ Solid single/multiplayer experience.
+ Sounds good, looks better.
- Somewhat glitchy.
- Stingy save system.
- Superficial plot.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Once upon a time, Nintendo was in talks with Sony to develop a CD-based add-on for the Super NES, although said talks were ultimately for naught, and Nintendo stuck with cartridges for its systems for about another decade or so. Among the intended launch titles for their aborted add-on was a sequel to the Gameboy title Seiken Densetsu (localized to North America as Final Fantasy Adventure), which consequently had to be revamped for the Super NES, and was hastily localized to North America as Secret of Mana, with some glitches from the revamp sadly plaguing the game, although it still remains a solid single or multiplayer romp.

   Like its predecessor, the second Seiken title is an action RPG and naturally features real-time combat, with the protagonist ultimately gaining two allies that the A.I or two additional players can control; the player can switch the active character and manually control said allies, as well. The player obtains a vast arsenal of weapons each character can equip to slay the enemy; after a character uses his/her weapon, a command gauge refills after about two seconds to 100%, in which case the weapon's strength will be normal. The player *can* button-mash to fight enemies, although doing so is a terrible idea, because if characters don't wait for their gauges to fill up to 100% first, their attacks will be much weaker.

   Killing enemies rewards experience, money, an occasional item, and experience for equipped weapons, which have a level cap that the player can increase by obtaining special weapon orbs from defeating bosses and occasionally treasure chests, and paying a fee to Watts the blacksmith. If a character has increased a weapon's level to at least one, he/she can "charge" the weapon after their attack gauge fills to 100% to a maximum amount based on that weapon's current level, and afterward execute a more powerful physical attack. Given the glitchy nature of combat and the possibility of allies getting stuck in walls after using charge attacks, however, relying upon charge attacks usually isn't a good idea.

Jeff Foxworthy, village guard You might be a redneck if you get kicked out of your village for pulling a forbidden sword from its stone

   The protagonist's allies, furthermore, eventually gain the ability to use MP-consuming magic, with their arsenal increasing as the player gains the eight elemental spirits that to some extent drive the game's plot. As with weapons, each elemental spirit has levels that the player can build after repeated magic use, with a cap on said levels depending upon how many of the eight Mana Seeds the protagonist has sealed throughout the game. Magic can be surprisingly useful, and sometimes the difference between victory and defeat against bosses, especially if the player exploits their elemental weaknesses (with scan magic mercifully becoming available).

   As mentioned, the general glitchy nature of the game can somewhat hamper combat, with weapon damage often fluctuating as well, and weapon hit direction sometimes being poor, too. The A.I., moreover, can be incompetent, with allies often getting stuck against edges or walls, and more rarely, in the walls themselves, sometimes requiring a soft reset and resulting in lost progress. Still, the battle system does have many enjoyable aspects, such as weapon and magic building, the latter of which can especially make the game easier. The game also wisely limits the number of enemies on the screen to three, deterring visual slowdown. All in all, combat, whether the player plays alone or with friends, has much going for it, despite its flaws.

   The game's glitches also affect interaction, with the aforementioned possibility of allies getting stuck in walls sometimes resulting in lost progress, alongside the stingy save system, where the player can only save at inns and a select few other places, with no opportunities to do so in most dungeons. Secret of Mana also introduces the fabled ring menu system, which can be somewhat clumsy to those used to traditional text menus, but aren't a terrible detriment.

   Fortunately, unlike its predecessor, the sequel does a half-decent job pointing players in the right direction, and inventory space is much less of a problem; though consumable items stack up to four each (which in effect adds some balance to the battle system), finding one of these items from treasure chests with a maxed amount of that item will just result in said item automatically being discarded. Overall, interaction, given the glitches, stingy save system, and somewhat clumsy menus, could have easily been better.

Their children shall be mushroom-dragons...or dragon-mushrooms...or whatever Interspecies relationships aren't frowned upon in this game's world

   For a sequel, Secret of Mana demonstrates superb creativity, with its battle system being vastly different than its predecessors' and distinct even today, except maybe for the occasional use of weapons to advance through certain areas as in the prequel. The second Seiken also derives various cosmetic elements from its predecessors like certain monsters, Mana, and such, yet was still in its time a distinct title, one few future action RPGs, even within the Mana franchise, have since imitated.

   Secret of Mana took thirty days to translate, and while the dialogue doesn't have too many glaring errors or anomalies, much of the original script was cut out because of space restrictions, with English sadly taking up more room than Japanese. As such, much of the original story was lost during the localization, with a bit of censorship, too, as demonstrated by the game's reluctance to directly mention death and use of the word "finished" instead. The plot itself is half-decent, if somewhat superficial, given the lack of any real insight to the antagonists or the allegedly-evil Empire. Overall, even if the story was good "for its time," it still suffers from the typical brevity most RPG plots did then, with the deleted script being a main detriment.

   Hiroki Kikuta provided the game soundtrack, which has many solid tracks such as the title screen theme, many of the dungeon tracks, and so forth, although some pieces, such as the town themes and maybe the boss battle music, are a bit of a developed taste, given the slightly inconsistent nature of the soundtrack's instrumentation. The sound effects, though, are more than adequate for a 16-bit title and very believable, and ultimately, the sequel is a decent-sounding title.

   Secret of Mana was originally intended for a CD-based system, and it shows. While certainly not the last Super NES RPG, today it's still one of the best-looking, with vibrant colors, reasonably-anatomical character sprites, decent monster designs, believable environments, and so forth. Some of the human sprites do look a little odd at times, and there are many palette-swapped enemies, but even so, the graphics are the game's strongest suit.

   Finally, the second Seiken Densetsu title is about a fifteen-hour game, depending upon the player's skill, with few sidequests of which to speak, and only weapon and magic-building extending playing time beyond that range. All in all, Secret of Mana, in spite of flaws such as its glitches, stingy save system, and superficial plot, is still a reasonably solid title, given strong suits such as its gameplay, enjoyable whether alone or with friends, music, and visuals. Despite its shortcomings, it's easily better than more contemporary Mana titles, and would make a perfect port (if Square-Enix actually chose to fix its flaws) to the Nintendo DS.

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