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Secret of Mana- Retroview

Secret of Mana-Retroview

By: Castomel


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 9
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 7
   Originality 9
   Plot 7
   Localization 9
   Replay Value 10
   Visuals 8
   Difficulty Easy
   Time to Complete

20-30 Hours

 
Overall
Criteria

Don't look now- you might be seeing this pic again
 

 Between Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI there was an interminable wait of almost three years. Fortunately, this period was cut a little bit shorter by the fortunate release of a game called Secret of Mana. Actually the second game in the Seiken Densetsu series, this was the first action RPG released by Square in North America, and was a brilliant addition to their SNES collection.

    Secret of Mana is both a traditional and an action RPG. On the one hand, levels are built slowly through the gaining of experience. Menus used to access spells, status, and equipment information all have the feel of a traditional RPG. There is, however, a definite flavour of action to the proceedings. Your characters(there are three, up to two of which are playable simultaneously) progress through the game by fighting through a host of monsters, most of them disgustingly cute. This isn't entirely a bad thing, since it enhanced the enjoyment derived from killing them, but it understandably puts some people off the game(these same people, interestingly enough, usually loathe Pokemon, in my experience). Fighting is thus an amalgam of menu-based action and more conventional action-style fighting. Even this, however, is given a new look, as simply mashing buttons does not work in most cases. After the early levels, to do any real damage, the player must build up their weapons to deal more powerful blows. Weapons can be further improved through the collection of orbs, which allow weapons to be forged so they gain more potential for damage. This system provides an experience that was, and still is, very original.


Tasnica: Yours to Discover
When Hidden Ninjas Attack 3  

    Returning to the aforementioned menu screens, they are arranged in rings, which affords SoM a different look from other games of its sort. The actual menu screens themselves are all fairly easy to navigate, and casting magic spells does not slow down gameplay significantly. Certainly, games such as Diablo did a better job of integrating systems like magic into the game, but this menu system is more than adequate. By far the best part is how little time you'll spend wallowing through it. Equipping oneself is generally easy, and the only real drawback is the somewhat useless action grid, which changes the AI of your allies from timid to aggressive. Given the usefulness of your allies, however, it might as well be changing them from stupid to moronic. This is the major flaw with the gameplay in SoM; the one(or two) character(s) not in use by the player tend to behave illogically to the point where they can actually be a hindrance. This flaw aside, however, the gameplay in SoM is very well structured, and suffers minimally from this problem.

    The music for this game was good, both in terms of quality and composition. The tracks were usually well-suited to their scenes, and some of the quieter pieces, as well as those in minor keys, turned out quite well. There were several irritating songs, however, most notably the track in the Mushroom Kingdom, which grated on my nerves with its irritating... steel drums, I suppose. The sound effects are adequate, and some are quite distinctive, particularly the sound of building up for a powerful attack.


Cursed New Media! Get some decent SoM screenshots!
There's just nothing clever you can say about this screenshot  

    This game represents what is probably Square's biggest innovation in gameplay. Nearly everything about the game was untried at the time, and most of it came off successfully. They even provided the basis for the plotline which they would shamelessly recycle in part or in whole in future games; one has to wonder if there's a disgruntled Squaresoft employee somewhere who came out second best in a run-in with an evil empire with an overzealous emperor and diabolical sidekick somewhere.

    The plot of SoM is somewhat utilitarian. While it does occasionally get interesting, it serves primarily as an excuse to go around finding things to buff up your characters. If nothing else, it is fairly well-constructed, if not memorable, and the translation is more than adequate. The benefit to such a sketchy plot is excellent replay value. Since gameplay is the primary goal of the game, replay value is enormous. It's also fun, which is a definite plus. These two factors combine to make this one of the SNES games I still play occasionally.

The visuals in Secret of Mana are very nice for their time. The art is colorful without being garish, and the sprite-based characters are nicely detailed. As previously touched upon, there is a definite cartoonish quality about the game, but this is quite fitting to the style of the game. Also featured is the scaling technology featured when flying above the world map. This would later be refined in Final Fantasy VI, but it was still put to good use here.


Now where on earth could this screenshot have come from?
Game may not be exactly as shown  

Secret of Mana is fairly easy to play, and the progression of the game is straightforward; thus, most people won't have very much trouble playing through, a process which usually takes between 20 and 30 hours, depending on how plodding your pace is. Overall, it is one of the better games Squaresoft has ever put out, and is definitely worth your time should you ever have the opportunity to play it.





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