Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest introduced the world to turn-based RPGs on the NES. When the Super Nintendo came out, RPGs began branching out into a wider variety of genres. The turn-based RPGs stuck around as the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series continued, and new ones were created. However, more fast-paced action RPGs began to emerge as a sharp contrast to the typical turn-based RPG. Secret of Mana takes the best of both and makes a game that feels like a unique experience.
The Role You Play
You start the game as Randi, an orphan living in Potos Village. He is called out to by the Mana sword and told to pull it from its resting place in a stone just outside the village. After that, he is sent on a quest to restore the sword’s power at eight different temples.
He is later joined by Primm, the martial artist princess of Pandora dead set on rescuing her boyfriend, Dyluck. You are also joined by the sprite child Popoi who has lost a lot of his memory and wants to learn about where he came from.
The three of them can fight with a wide variety of weapons, use multiple items and make use of a wide selection of magic that is learned by Primm and Popoi later in the game.
The events of the game are set in motion when Randi pulls the Mana sword from it’s resting place. A bunch of monsters are discovered soon after and it is believed that pulling the sword is what caused it. However, Randi soon learns otherwise. He learns that the Mana sword has lost its power and needs to be recharged. He must go on a quest to the eight (8) mana temples to recharge the sword and prevent the return of the mana fortress that nearly destroyed the world once before.
The combat is a bit of a hybrid between turn-based combat and action RPG combat. Whenever you attack, your power meter resets and takes a couple of seconds to recharge. You can’t attack with full strength until your power meter has finished recharging.
There is a bit of complexity thrown into the combat as well. Some enemies are better at evading than others. Different weapons are better at hitting enemies at different elevations or enemies that are floating. Some enemies are completely resistant to all weapons and need to be hit with magic. There are a lot of situations where you have to adapt to the needs of combat and it happens throughout the game.
There is a lot of fun to be had with the combat and exploring the world. There is also a lot of temptation to level up the magic and weapons for every character. You might get stuck on a particular boss, or you might realize that there is an area that you just want to spend a bit more time in because it’s nice to be in. Regardless of the reason, Secret of Mana will take roughly 15 hours to complete.
I can say without question that Secret of Mana has one of the most phenomenal soundtracks of the entire SNES library. The game takes you to every local possible and the music matches the environments. What makes it so transcendent is the tone. There are enough tracks to capture the correct tone of the adventure, while still matching the background of the environment.
For example, there is a song that plays when you’re in the ice country that’s very soft and somber and calm, but when you arrive at the ice palace, there is a different track that’s slightly more ominous.
Secret of Mana was the first RPG of its kind to be cooperative. You can have a second player join in and control another character. They have all of the functionality that the first player has and it makes the adventure much more fun and enjoyable. If you’re playing on a Super Nintendo and you had a Super Multitap, it was also possible to play with a third player as well.
The Talking Parts
There are a lot of dialogue scenes. The main characters will discuss with each other where to go and what to do. They will also have discussions with the people they meet. Because each character has a different motivation for being on the adventure, they will always contribute something different. Randi is the hero and wants to defeat the villains. Primm wants to rescue Dyluck and gets very worried about him when he slips out of her grasp. Popoi wants to protect the Mana of the world and he’s very immature and childish. they all build off of each other and they also occasionally act like the others In extreme cases, They lead to heated moments where one of the main characters will just straight-up attack someone with whatever weapon they’re carrying.
Z…We’ve Reached the End. Anything Else?
While the game is full of new ideas and concepts, it feels like a lot of them are not as polished as they could’ve been there are a few issues that add up over time. The AI characters are constantly getting stuck on things, and you have to backtrack to get them unstuck. A couple of the weapon orbs are just straight-up missing from the game. The most frustrating part is the hit detection. There is nothing worse than charging up a powerful attack only for it to completely miss for no good reason. While there is an argument to be made that the attack was evaded, it just happens too often to be a coincidence.
Secret of Mana is a fantastic game. I will not pretend that it does not have its flaws, but it is such a wonderful game that I can look past the problems it has and enjoy it for what it is. It has brought me countless amounts of joy and I highly recommend it.
Final Score: 9/10
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