RPG Review #110: Secret of Mana

NuMetalManiak 110, boys, 110. Sure glad I got this one done before Halloween because I have a LOAD OF STUFF I want to do for this entire week and I plan to do all of it. Secret of Mana is a long time coming, which is the second game in the Mana series after Final Fantasy Adventure/Sword of Mana. This game had been in the back of my mind for quite some time and now it's time I get to it. And yes, it's another Square game.

Gameplay: This isn't anywhere close to Final Fantasy Adventure's gameplay, and Sword of Mana had several more tricks up its sleeve, being a remake of FFA and all. The gameplay that is in Secret of Mana is closest to Secret of Evermore, its American counterpart. It's an action RPG in real time, enemies are on the field and locations are presented top-down. Characters in combat get up to eight different weapons to use, and two of those characters are spellcasters, which the spells have to be cast by using the menu. Both weapons and magic get level ups upon repeated use, alongside regular levels which simply require experience. Just killing enemies is enough to get both experience and gold.

The game does feature a meter at the bottom for each character, which shows their HP along with a percent bar at the bottom. Upon attacking, or even dashing, the percentage depletes and charges up. What this means is that when its full, a weapon attack deals full damage, and this system was in place to prevent players from repeatedly hacking at enemies, since the damage becomes negligible at low percentages. The meter also corresponds to weapon level, if you hold the attack button, it charges for a stronger attack, up to whatever the weapon level is. When an attack (weapon or magic) connects, the target (either player or enemy), flinches for a few moments if it isn't killed, which actually makes it awkward somewhat when an enemy has a delayed death for some reason. Oh yeah, and you have three characters, but you can swap control by using SELECT. The other characters in the group are controlled entirely by AI, and thankfully aren't that bad to control that way (there's a menu option to tweak AI too).

The game's weapons are the sword, spear, gloves, bow and arrow, boomerang, pole dart, whip, and axe. The magic spells are summons from the mana spirits Lumina, Shade, Undine, Salamando, Gnome, Sylphid, and Dryad. There are a few instances of plot progression, like using the sword or axe to cut stuff or using the whip as a grapple, along with crystal balls that require certain magic to use. To further level up weapons there's specific weapon orbs, usually after each boss battle, and the recurring blacksmith Watts will sharpen the weapons with the orbs. Leveling up magic involves finding seeds in mana temples and using them. The overall gameplay had me grinding weapon and magic skill levels often, the overall end result made the game quite easy to play through, but still enjoyable.

But perhaps what's most interesting is the fact that you can have up to three total players in this game controlling one character. This is something you'd see in modern games these days, but Secret of Mana got a head start on co-op RPG games. Grade: A-

Characters: I'll use the default names of the characters given in the original Japanese release of Secret of Mana. Oddly the international releases don't actually give the characters any names.
Randi: Randi is our hero, the one who pulls the sword from the stone. Typical "chosen one" protagonist. He's the only one who can't use magic though.
Primm: A princess wearing hammer pants, she is on a quest to find her beloved knight Dyluck and helps Randi out. She later gets magic ability including healing magic and light magic.
Popoi: A little sprite child who's gender is heavily debated. Originally a swindler, the sprite joins and will get mostly attack magic and dark magic to use.

Not much else to say for overall characters besides those three. A sage Luka and a knight Jema are helpful, along with a resistance leader Krissie and a few others. There's quite a few villains, most aren't too memorable. Grade: B-

Plot: Randi lives in Potos village with two friends Elliot and Timothy. They break curfew and explore the falls above the village, where clumsy little Randi falls into the water. While trying to go back home he finds a ghost that leads him to a sword, able to pull it out of the stone. This of course has the effect of unleashing monsters around the village, and the sword just so happens to be the Mana Sword, a sword that no one else could have possibly taken out of that stone. Randi is banished from the village as a result, but the knight Jema helps the boy out as he goes along, telling him to find Mana temples to re-power the sword again.

A sorcerer named Thanatos is seeking a new and peaceful world and is trying to seek a new body to fit him since his old one is aging. Thanatos gets the help of the Empire, run by Emperor Vandole and including generals Sheex, Fahna, and Geshtar, and Thanatos is a general too. In Pandora, the next town, the princess, Primm, is angry at her father about marrying some noble guy, and runs off with Randi in search of Dyluck, who is actually on some sort of suicide mission or something. The end result is Dyluck, along with Primm's close friend Phanna, are considered to be candidates for a body transfer, and much of the plot from then on combines the aspects of reaching the Mana Seeds as well as finding Dyluck. The sprite joins a bit after the girl, who originally is a swindler and entertainer at the Dwarf Cave, but is also searching for memories of the Sprite Village at the same time.

Many little (mis)adventures happen as we try to go with these two goals in the plot, but the eventual result is that The Empire does in fact succeed in unsealing the Mana Seeds for their goals. This has a twist when Thanatos actually kills the emperor himself, then seizing their ultimate goal, the rise of the Mana Fortress. The party ventures to the Pure Land, too late unfortunately as the fortress shoots a beam that destroys the tree. It's revealed here that the ghost from the beginning was Randi's father, Serin, a Mana Knight, while the tree was in fact Randi's mother, all this explaining why Randi was able to pull out the sword in the first place. There's also a Mana Beast to look out for, and the Mana's energy is restored. At the fortress, Primm finds Dyluck about to lose his body, but he manages to fight back against Thanatos enough to die so that Thanatos can't possess him. After his demise, the final boss which is the Mana Beast is fought, and its defeat creates a load of snow around the world. Primm and Randi return home, with Primm still sad about Dyluck's death and Randi returning the sword to its stone, while Popoi actually disappears from the world altogether. It's a really bittersweet ending, where the best parts are at the beginning and end. Grade: B+

Music: I LOVE THE ICE PALACE THEME. Although it's not the only worthwhile track. Many others are great, the techno-driven themes in the endgame along with the upbeat town themes, the wonderful desert theme, and many others. A definite high point. Grade: A

Overall Grade: B+

Close between a B+ and an A- for Secret of Mana. It's enjoyable, but easy. It feels like a co-op game even without multiple players, and the story can get funny at times. It's far from what I would consider to be best though.