Along with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, Secret of Mana formed a trifecta of RPG perfection on the Super Nintendo that I have yet to see be duplicated in the 20 odd years since. While not the strongest of the three, it offered something completely different, multiplayer. These three games are why Square was, and still is held in such high regard. Though sadly, they’re a shadow of their former selves.
While Chrono and FFVI had a traditional battle style, Mana was completely real time, much like a Zelda game, but with more RPG elements layered over it. Players started the game with only one character, the hero (I named mine Goku.) Eventually he had a girl and genderless sprite join him. Each character was equal enough in strength, but different enough to offer a unique play style. When playing alone, you could easily switch between characters while the other two were computer controlled. Players could join in, controlling the other characters. This was a little problematic as the console only had 2 controller ports. The stupid multitap was needed for three.
The party used 8 different weapons that each character could level up and master: sword, axe, spear, bow, glove, whip, boomerang, and javelin. Some were better than others. Magic was also a large part of the game. As players freed elements, they gained access to their power: water, fire, wind, earth, dark, light, moon, and life. The boy used no magic, but was stronger with weapons and leveled them faster. The girl and the sprite were the only two to use magic. The girl’s was more healing oriented while the sprite was more combat centric.
Another feature of the game that set it appart was the circle menu. When players brought up the menu, it formed a circle of icons around the player. It was intuitive and fun to use. Other than Secret of Evermore and a few of the Mana games, it’s rarely been used since. Another difference was how the world was traversed. With the exception of continents, all the maps were connected, meaning there was no overworld map to prance around on after you exited a town. To expedite this, later in the game you can summon a dragon named
Falcor Flammie to fly around the world.
Gameplay is always king, which is proven here. I don’t remember anything about the story. Even reading over the ‘plot’ (I use that term loosely) description, it’s very vanilla. The characters are nameless, with almost no personality. Something about killing some evil something. Doesn’t matter. One of the better moments, the final battle, requires both the sprite and girl to cast a spell on the boy, turning the sword into the legendary Mana sword. How could you not feel like a badass?
In Japan, the game is known as Seiken Densetsu 2, or Legend of the Holy Sword 2. The first game was released on the Gameboy in the States as Final Fantasy Adventure. The gameplay set the standard for the Mana series, but wasn’t perfected until Secret. The original was eventually remade on Gameboy Advance as Sword of Mana. It was passable. The next and last true game of the series, Seiken Densetsu 3, was never released outside Japan, though fan translations exist. There have been a few more Mana games since then, like Legend or Heroes of Mana, but it’s been a pretty steady plummet in quality. The gameplay has gone straight out the window, with new entries ranging from dungeon crawlers to tactical RPGs. None are really worth the time.
Thankfully, the original Secret of Mana has been released on the Wii’s Virtual Console. Now it’s easy to play through the game with 3 players (something I’ve never done). Avoid the IOS version, it’s almost impossible to control. This game is completely worth the time and investment. And it’s not difficult either, letting less game inclined people join in. I loved playing this game with my friends as a kid and look forward to doing so again.
Did you play Secret of Mana on the SNES or VC? What’s your least favorite weapon (javelin, hated that thing)? Comment below!
I played the game for 6 hours without saving and died. May or may not have broken the controller.