Secret of Mana is a peculiar game especially in this day and age because all things considered, it has some really visible flaws. Its exceptionally repetitive, features a cliché story and has basic but yet sometimes harsh gameplay. All things considered, the sum of its parts really isn’t anything fascinating yet somehow it all comes together to produce an experience that is fulfilling, rewarding and addicting. It’s not the deepest game you’ll ever play or the best written but its damn fun and for that reason alone, Secret of Mana is absolutely worth a look if you haven’t played it.
The first thing to be said about Secret of Mana is that its an RPG, as such you’ll have the usual suspects like leveling up, collecting new weapons and upgrades, magic, HP, MP and all that other good stuff. The other thing worth noting is that everything is real time meaning no turn based battles or random transportation to a separate battle field. The combat is fluid and takes place as you transverse the landscape of the world. You control 3 characters who are all obtained fairly early in the adventure and they all mostly control the same with small variants. You get your standard warrior who’ll be your strongest physical attacker, your support magic character for healing and status and your offensive spell caster for magic attacks.
Now that all that is out of the way to the plot. Well in short its rather basic. The long answer is that this game had an obviously botched translation because there are some logical errors and sometimes emotion is not displayed like it should. (That could just be squares often terrible writing however). Basically, without spoiling anything, you start as a boy who is with his friends playing where they shouldn’t be and he takes a tumble and falls. He then sees a sword, pulls it and the adventure begins. He is eventually banished from his village and some other stuff happens that I won’t get into besides the fact that he pulled a legendary sword (the mana sword). He needs to restore it to its former glory to beat down the bad guys. It’s a basic story but it is compelling and exciting enough to draw you in long enough to continue playing. The supporting cast is likable as well.
Secret of Mana has a rather good soundtrack to its benefit as well. The tunes are catchy whether it’s the cheery music that accompanies when you run through the games various forests or the absolutely epic and daunting music that will face you when some of the games more important dungeons are discovered. The tunes in the game will most definitely add to the mood and atmosphere when it is needed. There is some miss though where some tracks don’t quite fit location like a certain tune that happens to play in the games longest and possibly most frustrating dungeon. This leads me into the next point, Secret of Mana’s gameplay and pacing can kick your ass if you’re not prepared for it.
The game has massive difficulty spikes that aren’t balanced well. Its not something that people will be very tolerant of for long initially. There are simply parts of the game with absurd difficulty that requires you upgrade your equipment. The problem is that sometimes you simply don’t have the money to buy better equipment and the only other way to get it is through rare drops. There are points in the game where enemies can kill you with a single hit if you don’t upgrade. If you do however you may take literally no damage. It makes fighting certain enemies uninteresting.
The combat itself is simple and satisfying however. You have a bar that charges up to 100%. When the bar is full your attacks will do maximum damage. If you attack before the bar is at maximum capacity you will do very low amounts of damage. As such it discourages button mashing as it will yield long and ineffective battles. Magic is brought up through a ring menu and you will collect more spirits to aid you in your quest. Magic is quite a ways more effective than physical attacks but regaining the MP which is used to cast magic can be a pain so it evens out. Most enemies have a specific weakness to a specific magic. Overall the combat is fast and furious though a few hit detection and framerate issues do occasionally get in the way. Controlling the other characters is extremely simple as there actions can be mapped though the options ring and you can set them to have certain patterns of movement through a 16 square grid. Away at one side, close at the opposite, attack perpendicular and defend opposite to it. Thus there actions are easy to map and use and well they occasionally get (stuck) in certain spots, they are not too much of a bother.
I think it’s appropriate to talk of Secret of Mana’s most prominent feature last. The whole adventure can be played in drop out 3 player co op. It’s an absolute blast to play because it forces team work in an extremely satisfying way. Each person (up to 3) controls one of the characters and the game plays the same as single player except now you only have control over your own character. It’s fascinating to see how an effective single player person can become a bumbling mess in multiplayer. Now that your survival lies within other peoples hands you must all learn to trust each others abilities and realize signs of potential danger, fail to do this and the failure will be swift and vicious. If you however learn the ropes you’ll get an exceptionally fulfilling experience and form an incredibly strong team which enhancing the experience to the end.
Secret of Mana is a game with some real flaws that shouldn’t be ignored. However its charm and addictive nature will keep you coming back for more and more and while its an unpolished gem, it still shines through brilliantly if you just hold it in the right light.