Secret of Mana (Super Nintendo) Review

By Adam Riley 26.12.2008

Review for Secret of Mana on Super Nintendo

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

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

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

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

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

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…









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   


Comments are currently disabled

Subscribe to this topic Subscribe to this topic

If you are a registered member and logged in, you can also subscribe to topics by email.
Sign up today for blogs, games collections, reader reviews and much more
Site Feed
Who's Online?

There are 1 members online at the moment.