Today is September 29, 2017. It marks the launch date of the wildly popular SNES Classic Edition. One of the 21 classic SNES games on that device is none other than Secret of Mana. Therefore, I can’t think of a better time than now to review this heralded SNES fan favorite. My brother adored Secret of Mana back in 1993 as did an entire generation of gamers. I didn’t care much for it back then as I wasn’t a big fan of the genre. But my tastes changed (I like to think they’ve matured) over the years and I finally played Secret of Mana nearly 20 years later in 2010. Did the game live up to its massive hype? Let’s take a look…
TIMES (AND TASTES) CHANGE
I went from hating RPGs without cause to loving the genre without abandon. Talk about a major switch. I guess you could say I matured as I grew older, or at least, my gaming tastes did. Right around 2003 was when the shift happened. I came to appreciate the “story telling” aspect of these games, as well as their ability to sweep you away to another land far away. I trekked my way through Terranigma in late 2010 and loved every second of it. There’s nothing like playing an (action) RPG during the cold chilly winter months. There’s just something magical about those early darkening afternoons and bitter cold nights that’s conducive to playing these adventures by a cozy fire. No other genre in my book is more enjoyable to play than the (action) RPG during the winter season. So after finishing Terranigma and being blown away by what a magnificent game it was, I knew my next game had to be the one and only Secret of Mana. Coming back to the Super Nintendo in early 2006 (January 17, 2006) allowed me an opportunity at gaming redemption. There were so many awesome SNES games I missed out on. One of the biggest games I had yet to play was Secret of Mana. The stage was set, then, for one epic adventure…
THE STORY GOES…
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
Timothy: Oh hey Steve. What’s up? Funny, we were just talking about you!
Steve: Oh yeah? What were you guys saying?
Elliot: Good things only, of course.
Timothy: WUH OH!
Elliott: I didn’t see that…
Timothy: Neither did I…
Elliott: LET’S GET OUTTA HERE!
Steve, fortunately enough, lands safely in the water. He yells for help but oddly enough, no sign of either Elliott or Timothy. Imagine that. Dazed and confused, Steve dusts himself off and crawls for land in the life-threatening thigh-high water.
Eat your heart out, King Arthur!
Unlike combat in most other action RPGs, you can’t attack repeatedly without suffering the ill effects. A meter keeps you honest.
After swinging your weapon, the meter will deplete and then charge back up to 100%. Any blows delivered before the bar is back at 100% results in reduced damage. This is awesome in theory. Unfortunately, it was mishandled a bit in execution. Even attacks at 95% aren’t much different from attacks made at 50%. If only the damage ratio was more accurate. Oh well.
The sword not only cuts down enemies, but overly long grass blades as well. Shame there are no treasures to be found here, though. A slight missed opportunity, if you ask me.
“Sup Pradeep. Got anything new for me?”
“Nevermind that Steve, I heard the Elder is looking for you! Better see him ASAP!”
“Oh, that’s no biggie. The old man isn’t upset or anything. Relax.”
“That’s not what I heard… you better go see him.”
“Fine… by the way, why do you keep dancing? I always get motion sickness when I’m around you.”
“Sorry, not my fault. It’s the DAMN tourettes, man!”
“Ooooh Steve, I heard you in BIG trouble!”
“Silly Prudence! Uh, where did you hear that from?”
“Some old lady walking these parts. She’s probably still wandering around here somewhere…”
“You shouldn’t listen to strangers. And I’m not in trouble, you little pop-fart.”
“LIAR, LIAR! PANTS ON FIRE!”
Elliott: Well, if it isn’t our lovely town hero himself!
Steve: Hey guys, what was the deal back there?
Timothy: What are you talking about? The bridge thing? We don’t know what you’re talking about.
Steve: Elder, what’s going on here?
Elder: My apologies, Steve. There’s nothing I can do…
Steve: Whadaya mean?
Elliott: He means, your goose is cooked! Done, finito!
Timothy: Yeah! Hit the bricks, pal!
Elliott: Go on, get outta here!
Elliott: Yeah and don’t ever come back, ya hear!?
Steve: So much for our Thanksgiving plans…
Prudence: Haha, I knew it Steve! I told ‘cha you were in big trouble…
Steve: SHADDUP PRUDENCE!
Prudence: Duck, cover and roll! No wait…
Jema: Hey, who is that kid?! I saw him earlier…
*Steve falls down the hole*
Our hero quickly discovers he isn’t alone down there. Meet the first boss, the Mantis Ant!
This is the first of over 40 bosses. Some say it’s overkill. And perhaps that’s so when considering that many of them are just palette swaps. Shame we didn’t get 40+ unique bosses, but hey, what cha gonna do?
Jema: What happened down there?!
Steve: Well –
Elliott: Man, it was awesome! See, this towering mantis monster was about to eat Steve, but then I came swooping in to the rescue. The monster had to be 200, maybe 250 feet tall. But he was no match for the great Elliot!
Elliott: Yeah, I surprise myself sometimes.
Elliott: Well, I gotta get back now and tell the others what happened. Bye!
Steve: What a joke…
Jema: What’s your name, kid?
Steve: Uh, it’s Steve.
Jema: My apologies, Steve, for the way I treated you back in the bar earlier.
Steve: ‘Scuse me?
Jema: I know you were the one who pulled the sword out, and I also know you were the one who defeated the great beast down below. Come see me and Luka in the Water Palace later. But first, take care of your business here. We’ll be waiting for you when you’re ready.
Jema: Here he is, Luka, THE ONE.
Luka: That’s it?
Steve: Whadaya mean, “that’s it?”
Luka: I mean as in, where’s the rest of ya?!
Steve: Very funny.
Luka: Only one way to find out. If the Mana Seed reacts to him…
*Steve steps up to the shrine and a blue glow suddenly bursts forth*
Jema: You see?! Steve is the chosen one!
Luka: We’re all f*cked.
Steve: Um, this has been one hell of a day….
Jema: I guess it has, eh?
Steve: If you don’t mind, I’m going to Neko’s Inn.
“But probably the cruelest, most heinous act of all was when they gave me Ms. Neko. It took me a whole two weeks before I figured out she was just a blown up farce!”
As Steve prepares to retire for the night, a thick cloud lingers over our hero’s head. Thoughts of saving the world, his lost mom, his “family” banishing him from Potos, and for some reason Steve keeps daydreaming about a girl he’s never met before. As the waning light gives way to dusk, an inexplicable burden has befallen the land. The innocence of childhood has passed, like sand slipping through the hourglass…
Each night Steve is haunted by the same visions. He couldn’t make sense of it but he knew something big was bound to go down. These harrowing images were only the precursor of great and horrifying events to come…
The dreams always started with a vision of a fair young lady. She sported huge ring earrings, red parachute pants and long flowing golden locks. Steve had never seen this girl in real life before but every night she infiltrated his dreams and thoughts. Although he had no clue who she was or even if she was real, he had a sneaky suspicion that if they ever met they would form a powerful team to save the world from calamity and terror.
In his dreams Steve would always see the two of them gazing up high at something truly breathtaking…
It was no ordinary tree. It was the sacred Tree of Mana, a majestic sight and one of the eight wonders of the world. It never failed to leave Steve breathless, even in his dreams. A strange robotic creature stood alongside Steve, but it was a simple mix-up and he would later appear in Chrono Trigger…
Then the dream suddenly shifts. In the robot’s place stands a strange dwarf. Flamingos fly overhead. You can feel a palpable sense of wonder lingering in the air.
The dream shifts yet again. Only this time, there seems to be an element of grave danger looming over the horizon…
Steve: Huh?! NEKO!??! What are you doing in my dream?
Neko: Hey, you’re in MY dream, buddy!
Girl: Stop bickering like two little girls!
Sprite: Steve and Neko sitting in a tree…
Steve: *gasp* THE TREE!
And as just as quickly the dream switches to the sprite befriending a cuddly white dragon. Steve heard about the legend growing up… but surely dragons were just a myth?
Goblin 1: Let’s kill him!
Goblin 2: Let’s eat him!
Steve: Let’s free him!
Goblin 1: Yeah, let’s free him!
Goblin 2: Errr, wait a second…
Steve: Tee-hee… can’t blame a guy for trying.
Goblin 1: Let’s go check on the Rabite burgers.
Goblin 2: Sure. He ain’t goin’ nowhere! HAHAHA!!
Steve: God, it’s been a while but…
Girl: Hey! You!
Girl: Over here, ya git!
Steve: Wow. That was fast. Thanks, God!
Steve: Who are you?
Girl: Does that really matter right now?! I’m here to save your scrawny little ass! Now c’mon, let’s get the hell outta dodge.
Steve: Thanks! Hey wait, you look familiar… *gasps* You’re the woman of my dreams! I mean, the woman IN my dreams…
Girl: *nodding* Yeah, I have to admit. I do get that a lot.
Steve: Oh wow, the destiny and legend is coming true! We’re the ones who will rescue the land and bring peace back to all!
Girl: Uhhh, yeah. Well, I’m off to see my dad. Nice savin’ ya! Maybe we’ll run into each other again some day…
Steve: I hope so! I mean, yeah, you know, whatever, heh.
Girl: Boy, are you weird…
Neko: Stevie! Welcome back. Oh, and you’ve brought some new friends!
Steve: Sup Neko. Yes I have.
Girl: Hey Neko, nice little place you got here.
Sprite: Yeah, I dig it too.
Steve: I’ve seen this before somewhere…
Neko: Mi casa su casa!
Steve: *gasp* This is my dream come true — it is!
Neko: Oh come on Steve, it’s a nice inn and all but not THAT nice.
Steve: Oh my bad, Neko. I was just going on about something else… nevermind. Hey color me shocked to see you here! I thought this is the time of the year where your cousin takes over so you can head over to the Super Play offices for your monthly “assignments.”
Neko: Yeah, about that. I been doing some meditation exercises, you know, on top of my therapy… and my therapist and I agreed that it just wasn’t a healthy working environment for me over there. So I QUIT!
Girl: Hey good for you!
Sprite: Hi-five with the guy with nine lives!
Steve: About time! Have some respect for yourself.
Neko: Yeah, I even left them a note and all. Those bastards. That’s the last time they beat up Neko!
Not only will you travel all over the world but you will also travel through the four seasons as well. How many SNES games can claim that? I mean, this isn’t SHENMUE but it’s still very cool especially for its time. By the way, I just love playing (action) RPGs during the fall and winter seasons. No better time to be playing these adventure games! Something about those early darkening afternoons and frosty nights that provide a perfect backdrop to playing these games. Speaking of which, check out my Christmas Memoirs if you want to read more about my Christmas-SNES memories. And speaking of Christmas…
There’s much more but I’ll let you discover the rest on your own!
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Secret of Mana graced several magazine covers and earned the accolades of mostly everyone who played it. Combining elements from both the RPG and action genre as well as providing a huge world to explore, Secret of Mana won the hearts of many. To top it all off, throw in a unique three player option and its fate as one of the most beloved Super Nintendo games of all time was sealed. This is evident by all the favorite lists the game has made over the years (and decades). EGM awarded it Game of the Month honors with scores of 8, 9, 9 and 9. GameFan gave it ratings of 86, 90, 91 and 96%. Super Play rated 94%. They ranked Secret of Mana as the 8th best SNES game on their top 100 Super Nintendo games list (February 1996).
EGM was king and ruler back in the day. My brother was a subscriber in ’94 and I always looked forward to that glorious day each month where the latest EGM issue would be sitting pretty in our mailbox. If there was one thing that my brother loved more than EGM it was definitely Secret of Mana. I remember watching him play it for hours on end. Even though there was a chance for me to jump in, I never did. As I said before, growing up I didn’t care for the genre. Looking back on it now, I wish that I had joined my brother on one of his binge Secret of Mana sessions.
Well, it’s funny how life works. When I finally played Secret of Mana 17+ years later in December of 2010, my brother and I ended up having a little playthrough. We were no longer kids now but we sure felt like it (for two hours at least). Afterward I introduced him to BS Out of Bounds Golf, one of my perennial favorites. He loved it, too. He and I had a cutthroat battle that came down to the last stroke. It was a glorious gaming afternoon. Super Nintendo — bringing brothers together and reminding us of the innocence of childhood
After hearing all the hype about this game for years on end, it was nice to finally sit down and quell a 17 year folly. Everything about Secret of Mana, from the visuals to the music to the gameplay, screams quality. Sure, the CPU-controlled allies are not too smart but the game is easy enough so their lack of AI never does become a glaring issue. It’s a treat playing this with a friend (or two). It’s not everyday that an action RPG affords you that chance. Secret of Mana is no doubt a Super Nintendo classic but one question remains…
Did the game live up to the massive hype for me? Not quite, actually. While I do like Secret of Mana a lot, I was expecting to wholeheartedly love it. Super Play was obsessed with this game and they made it seem like it was the Holy Grail. The combat system didn’t totally work for me. As I stated earlier in this review, the damage ratio is not to par, which took me out of the game at times as a semi-glaring oversight. Attacking at 90% didn’t produce much damage difference from say, 11%. Also, there wasn’t enough NPC interaction for my liking. The game had interesting dialogue early on but it seemed to go away completely in the middle of the game. There weren’t as many plot developments as I’d like, either. For a long while there I felt like I was just hacking and slashing, leveling up but with no big story advancement. It’s long been confirmed that the game is incomplete; it was originally intended to be released with the ill-fated SNES CD add-on. English translator Ted Woolsey admitted that’s why some areas, in addition to the lack of dialogue, appear to be missing. It’s such a shame because as great as I found Secret of Mana to still be, another part of me felt like it was missing that little something that would have taken it to the next level. Don’t get me wrong, Secret of Mana is certainly worthy of the title “SNES classic” but is it the greatest 16-bit Action RPG ever? Try the sequel Seiken Densetsu 3 (AKA Secret of Mana 2) first before you answer that question!