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Secret of Mana (Super Nintendo) Review

Review for Secret of Mana on Super Nintendo - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Early in the lifetime of the Super Nintendo, Squaresoft (now Square Enix), who had as close a tie with Nintendo back then as Nintendo and Rare once had, were busy working exclusively on yet another game – this time an innovative three-player Action-RPG by the name of Seiken Densetsu 2 or Secret of Mana to you and I. Well over a decade later the game is back in Europe, this time in Virtual Console format for a fraction of the original price.

The first thing to mention right from the off is players should not expect much in the way of character development. Secret of Mana is more about a group of anonymous folk being thrown into an adventure of a lifetime, with the ultimate goal of 'saving the world' being the order of the day. Therefore, the game throws players right into the mix, taking control of a young, nameless boy (yes, you have to name him - go crazy!) and eventually meet up with the female lead and sprite (again both of which have name's extracted from your imagination). Sadly the background of the three is never really divulged, with any explanation being somewhat lacking and not done to a satisfactory degree when compared to the lengthy yarns spun in the Final Fantasy series. So, the gamer jumps into the role of 'Raz' (for example), a young, care-free lad who is merely enjoying playing a juvenile game with his friends. As is the case when youths partake in such folly, a mishap befalls him and lo-and-behold off the edge of the nearby log-bridge he tumbles, down, down into the treacherous depths of what his friends deem to be an endless abyss...possibly. Whatever the case they subsequently high-tail it from the scene, most likely ready to claim plausible deniability, like all good friends do in moments of sheer crisis, and the scenario continues, leaving the player now in total control of jolly ol' Raz as he clambers back up, shakes himself down and wanders towards the only visible area of interest: an ominous-looking rock with an enticing sword lodged firmly within its heart.

Upon investigating further, a ghostly voice suddenly resonates around him, and, as if we never saw this coming, he grasps the hilt of the sword, gives it a firm yank and out it slides, like a knife through butter. And so the adventure commences, with Raz able to wield the sword and slash away at the surrounding environmental features that were preventing exit from the area, such as the peripheral, previously inpenetrable bushes. Once done, it is time to head back to his home village, where peace and quiet await him...or so he thinks. There is a strange occurrence, though, in that on the way back Raz has several encounters with unusual creatures that attempt to harm him. Perplexed, but with no other option but to proceed ahead as planned, whilst picking up sword proficiency with the greatest of ease, Raz begins hacking away at anything and everything in his path in order to get home. Eventually he arrives in the village and is informed that the elders request an audience with him (ah, those pesky friends - no denial in sight, but a heavy does of finger pointing instead!). The elders speak of an essence called Mana and its resounding strength had been what had held the sword in place for many years. It seems that by extracting said sword from its place of rest it has managed to upset the balance provided by Mana, and therefore the plight falls upon Raz's head as he is the sole cause of the destruction being caused by the enemies that have now appeared. This leads to banishment from the village in an extremely prompt manner - leave and never return are the orders. As he dejectedly skulks out, though, it transpires that one of the so-called 'friends' is in danger from one of these horrific beasts set to plague the land. Thus into the first in-game battle you are thrown; a rather rudimentary affair, yet still a main battle that can result in death if not approached with care and heed. Once victory is assured, an eclectic-looking fellow requests you to meet him in a temple not far from the village, and as a result of the impending threat he consequently bequeaths you with the mission to restore the power of Mana and the bring back the true balance between good and evil!

Screenshot for Secret of Mana on Super Nintendo - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Already with the basic-looking Mystic Quest and average-looking Final Fantasy II (or IV as it was known in Japan) under its belt, Squaresoft upped the ante with the follow-up to the little known Game Boy game, Seiken Densetsu (which was eventually released in the West as 'Final Fantasy Adventures: Mystic Quest'). Sparkling sheen on the flowing water, gentle green grass that waved as wind blew over it and parted as your characters passed through it, inventive design of both friendly and enemy characters as well as some gorgeous dungeons and castles and devastatingly delicious-looking spells – almost everything was exemplary. At the time of its original release, this game indeed did have it all. After witnessing many other games on the SNES, even just a few years after, though, it is clear that the content present here is nowhere near as perfect as first imagined. The character sprites are extremely flat and their animation lacks certain vital frames (enemies barely have any animation, whilst others are merely alternatively coloured iterations of earlier foes), meaning that they seem to jerk from position to position at times. Additionally, the colour-palette used does not compliment the power of the console either, with some areas of the game appearing washed-out. But the positives far out-weigh the downsides, and the game still manages to pull itself ahead of numerous other SNES titles, showing up their developers considerably. Currently, out of all the SNES games on offer on the Virtual Console, this is definitely one of the most attractive, outside of the likes of Super Mario RPG, Super Metroid and Donkey Kong Country. In the unlikely event that Chrono Trigger, Dragon Quest VI, Bahamut Lagoon, Seiken Densetsu 3, Treasure Hunter G and Tales of Phantasia hit the service, Secret of Mana will be well and truly shown up for what it is - quite an early SNES release.

To state what many will see as obvious, the more memorable a game’s soundtrack is, then clearly the better it must be (generally speaking). The point? Well, you will be hard pressed to find better music than the tunes found in this game's soundtrack. In fact there have been several CD adaptations of the score, from the original soundtrack disc to an orchestral reworking of many of the tracks. Your ears will wonder exactly what they have done to deserve such pleasure, and your brain will be unwilling to allow you to forget some of the sublime music featured. Light-hearted, mysterious and spine-chilling all in the correct and relevant places – everything fits into place perfectly. The score truly stands the test of time, with several tunes remaining lodged firmly in this reviewer's head and many that brought back such a warm, fuzzy feeling of nostalgia when hearing them again this time round. If you can still find the soundtrack somewhere like on eBay, then be sure to check it out...

Screenshot for Secret of Mana on Super Nintendo - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Secret of Mana is what many today would consider to be a standard Action Role-Playing Game, with the player starting the game with just the one basic, nameless character who, as previously mentioned, stumbles across the special Sword of Mana and begin your journey by levelling-up against little yellow creatures called Rabites, evil mushrooms and poisonous flowers that are dotted around the small initial forest area. What differentiates this from Monolith Soft’s Soma Bringer and Sonic Powered’s From the Abyss, though, is the way everything is pieced together with wonderfully varied locales and a fantastical storyline that starts in such a simple fashion, but eventually opens up into a tale of impending doom for the entire world. Soon after meeting the lead male protagonist players are introduced to a young tom-boy Princess and a Sprite (very tiny, hairy being) who become the finishing touches to the three-way team that is then set in stone for the rest of the adventure.

Once the team is complete, there is the option of having one or two other friends jump in and take control of the Princess and/or Sprite, or alternatively you can rely on the computer to move them around and attack when necessary. Ideally friends are required, since the crazy computer AI-driven route leads to the supporting characters taking the path less travelled and more often than not becoming stuck on the surrounding scenery leading to some back-tracking to allow them to catch up. However, this and the fact that you simply cannot avoid enemies’ spell attacks, are the only minor niggles to be found throughout and the gameplay on the whole is excellently refined to a level reaching 'almost perfection'. Players are even given the ability to change attacking and magic usage settings for their computer-controlled team-mates in order to tailor their traits to your specific liking.

Screenshot for Secret of Mana on Super Nintendo - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

During the main adventure, players obtain various weapons either from shop purchases or looting one of many treasure chests lying around or dropped by enemies. They can then choose from the selection, such as the initial sword to a deadly spear, wily whip and the ever-useful boomerang, to suit requirements (for instance, whips can be used for latching onto wooden posts and dragging characters across gaps, whilst other weapons are more useful against certain enemies). Each one gradually levels up the more it is used, just as your characters do as they beat more monsters, but rather than merely becoming strong, each level brings your weapon a new special attack. This can be accessed by holding down the attack button to make the bar underneath your character gradually fill up (fast at first, slower as the weapon’s level gets higher), eventually leading to a destructive move being unleashed. Reaching the elusive last level for each weapon on each character is one challenge that will certainly not be completed any time soon.

The pace of the game is also well-set, that is if you do not skimp on monster elimination duties. Making sure your levels are sufficiently high is not always enough, however. Secret of Mana is the sort of title that makes the player have to finely balance the amount of out-and-out weapon slashing with the use of offensive and defensive magic and items. After all this is no simple hack-and-slash affair…On top of this, the game makes players use their brains on many occasions. Sometimes they will wander round trying to figure out what to do next. Laziness is definitely not rewarded, as the key often lies within a conversation with one of the Non-Payable Characters found in caves, villages and various other locations. And players should avoid being lackadaisical when it comes to killing enemies. Since there are no random battles and the enemies moving around are easy to avoid, it means that it is very easy to skip past them without any bother in the hope of progressing quicker. Yet ‘bother’ is exactly what will be encountered when it comes to tackling the many gruesome bosses, as if character levels are not high enough then it is ‘goodbye, better luck next time’ – simple as that! Whilst not a behemoth in length, the challenge from the computer AI and the option of playing through with two of your friends tagging along definitely makes for an engaging adventure that was more than worth your money back when released in the early 1990s, but is a must-buy title now it only costs 800 Wii Points on the Virtual Console.

Screenshot for Secret of Mana on Super Nintendo- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Gameplay

Well-balanced, and extremely fun – the controls are intuitive and the action absorbing. But there are still a few niggles that should have been ironed out. Thankfully they do not impact greatly on the overall enjoyment factor of the adventure.

Graphics

Despite looking attractive at its time of release, in hindsight, whilst pretty, the 2D characters and missing animation frames definitely compare poorly with later SNES games. Yet this still manages to remain one of the prettier SNES releases all these years later!

Sound

Absolutely magnificent! The folk over at Squaresoft have a true talent in this department, and this title is no exception. It is like there is a party going on in your ears…Thoroughly recommended to listen to this through a decent sound system for full effect.

Value

Play through the game on your own, or with two friends tagging along. Whichever way, players will have fun for a long time with Secret of Mana, and at this new cheap price it must not be overlooked.

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

About this score
Rated 9 out of 10

Squaresoft proved yet again that it is indeed one of the world’s master RPG makers. Sadly by the time the European release rolled around, anyone that had been interested in it had already imported from the US. Thankfully the game now has another chance to shine via the Virtual Console. Following the releases of Sword of Mana on GBA, plus spin-offs Children of Mana and Heroes of Mana on DS, be sure to go back to the series’ roots and find out why many still deem Secret of Mana one of the best RPGs in history…

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26.12.2008

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Developer

Squaresoft

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (8 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Reader comments - add yours today Comments on this Review

There are no replies to this review yet. Why not be the first?

NULL.

( Edited 26.12.2008 15:03 by jesusraz )

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

NULL.

( Edited 26.12.2008 15:03 by jesusraz )

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Thought I'd take the opportunity to re-write this review after having so much fun with Secret of Mana on VC today! Thoroughly recommend picking this up...

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

This game is just the best. I would buy it from the shop channel if i didnt go out and buy the cartridge. Sorry, but nothing beats the cartridge Smilie

Bowser. You Booz, you lose.

love this game Smilie

This game is so Awesome, great review, and well deserved score! If only SE hadn't misused and milked this franchise and made an epic game out of this...
Smilie

Got it on SNES with a multi tap I bought off ebay, nothing beats playing this game with friends.

Apparently the story is quite deep but much of it was lost in translation when it came from Japan. I've heard figures up to 60% of the story was removed.

Boy would I love to see a proper VC release of Seiken Densetsu 3 with an official translation and multiplayer support. It could even be greater than Secret of Mana!

Awesome in MP

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Kangaroo_Kid said:
Apparently the story is quite deep but much of it was lost in translation when it came from Japan. I've heard figures up to 60% of the story was removed.

Really? Wow, never knew that. I knew the likes of FFIII (NES) had story elements cut out, but that was for the actual Japanese release, but didn't realise SoM had been tinkered with for its Western release!

Boy would I love to see a proper VC release of Seiken Densetsu 3 with an official translation and multiplayer support. It could even be greater than Secret of Mana!

SD3's fantastic. There's a review I did on here somewhere, although I'm not sure if it's corrupt now after all these years and C3 crashes (missing images, bits of text randomly deleted).

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

hmm I was really let down with children of mana, but you liked that as well didn't you? Smilie

But I've heard secret of mana is one of the best RPGs ever Smilie I'm not sure I want to try it after Children of Mana though... Smilie

Avoid Games Like the Plague, productivity++
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

I liked Children of Mana for completely different reasons though. CoM was a dungeon-crawler, whereas this is an Action RPG similar to Zelda, except with a three-party team. SoM has aged very well indeed, much better than you'd imagine for a game initially released in 1993.

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

Children of Mana is nothing like SoM. Most of the other Mana games are quite crap, the only other ones I liked were Seiken Densetsu 3 and I thought Sword of Mana was pretty good.

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

The three main entries are definitely the best (think I prefer the original GB version of Seiken Densetsu, though, to its GBA remake)...Then it all went wrong with SD4 (Dawn of Mana in the US; it never got its planned Euro release due to bad reviews and sales).

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

Simon_ said:
hmm I was really let down with children of mana, but you liked that as well didn't you? Smilie

But I've heard secret of mana is one of the best RPGs ever Smilie I'm not sure I want to try it after Children of Mana though... Smilie

Dude, You'll love this if you love Zelda, except with 3 players. It's an excellent game, they should MAKE a 2D SoM sequel on Wiiware, with crisper graphics, multiplayer online perhaps? (2D can't lag! XD)

I would love a game that follows this game in style and have great artwork, who knows 3D effects? like for the Water, Trees, etc so a top down view like this game but with 3D effects just to give us a greater depth of field. HA! I'm on to something here!! XD

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

The idea of a spruced-up 2.5D version of this on WiiWare is too much to handle! Don't be putting such fantastic ideas in my head or else I just won't be able to sleep! Smilie Smilie

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

jesusraz said:
The idea of a spruced-up 2.5D version of this on WiiWare is too much to handle! Don't be putting such fantastic ideas in my head or else I just won't be able to sleep! Smilie Smilie

hahahahaha I know what you mean, when I get on to something I get so pumped about it! Just now I read this article on this very concrete theory behind Majora's Mask and I flipped over in excitement! Just makes me think even more of how awesome Shigsy really is!

Please S-E do it! also with the grass, make it so it reacts with the wind for example, in a cartoony 2D manner like Phantom Hourglass. In PH they also had 3D bomb explosions, that's what I mean, but also with like SMG water effects Smilie.

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

After hearing about how the DS games weren't so amazing, this completely slipped me by, but wow I hadn't realised this game was so acclaimed! Smilie

Gotta buy me ANOTHER Wii Points card then I guess Smilie

Twitter | C3 Writer/Moderator | Backloggery
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Seiken Densetsu I-III (this game is No.2) are all fantastic. Then I don't think sales of Legend of Mana on PSone were as good as expected (probably because it changed the formula a bit too much), so the series kind of dried up...

...Until it was hinted that S-E execs thought the Mana series should be as big as DQ and FF. Not too long after, the World of Mana project came to light and excitement was high to say the least.

Sadly it turned into a real disappointment for long-term fans, with the GBA remake of Seiken Densetsu ('Sword of Mana') being ported to Japanese mobile phones, the two DS spin-off titles (both good in their own right, but not true Mana games at all) and the woefully average 'proper' sequel 'Seiken Densetsu 4' (which was critically mauled and struggled to reach 300,000 sales on PS2, leading to its renaming in the US, 'Dawn of Mana', and eventual cancellation in Europe).

I still hope that Koichi Nishii has plans to take Mana back to its roots, even if it's in the form of a DS port of the Japanese-only Seiken Densetsu III.

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Yeah I've heard loads of acclaim about Seiken Densetsu III but I figured there would be no way to get it at the moment...

Twitter | C3 Writer/Moderator | Backloggery
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

The only way at the moment is to get the 100% fan-translated version on emulation (either on Wii, PSP using SNES9X or ZSNES on your PC). It\'s well worth playing...

The review\'s here, but just as I thought it\'s pretty buggered up Smilie Dunno if I\'ve still got the original on my PC somewhere to fix it...if not then I\'ll try and find the original page on one of those Web Archive sites when I have time.

EDIT: This is the original review in its archived format. Huzzah, my review\'s been saved! I\'ll have to update the current one this week Smilie

( Edited 05.01.2009 01:33 by jesusraz )

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Urge to emulate... rising...

No, must not break track record!

I'll wait for a port or remake methinks. S-E have gotta be aware of how popular it is now.

Twitter | C3 Writer/Moderator | Backloggery

SuperLink said:
Urge to emulate... rising...

No, must not break track record!

I'll wait for a port or remake methinks. S-E have gotta be aware of how popular it is now.

Superlink, resistance is futile. I hate to do it to, but we need to play these games that never come to our hands. Smilie

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

But it will, Chrono Trigger finally came to my hands Smilie

As have the original Star Ocean games.

Twitter | C3 Writer/Moderator | Backloggery
Senior ModeratorStaff Member

From what i remember, the characters had default names in the japanese version. The hero was Randee, the elf Popoi (gave his name to the notebook in Sword of Mana), and the girl i don't remember XD

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

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