Friday, September 20, 2019

Secret of Mana #3 - Giga Gaia

We rejoin our heroes as they trek towards the Witch's Castle, getting harassed by hostile bees every few steps.

Previously on Secret of Mana:

Dyluck and the Dyluck-Nation Army rode a Cannon Travel cannon right up to the steps of the Witch's Castle at the behest of The Girl's father. Dyluck didn't take this seriously, walked into a trap like a buffoon, and no one has seen them since. When being an Alpha Male leader type goes completely wrong: Film at 11.

The Girl, badass non-Marle noblewoman Oasis Rockwall, ran off alone to rescue Dyluck because I wanted to go check out dwarves and their cool beards instead.

We also got Moon Omega, the androgynous Sprite who everyone wants to bone.

Characters in the game refer to them as "he" a lot, of course. The truth is, we don't know what the Sprite is packing, and I'm not going to dig too deep on this. I'll call them "them", even if the singular/plural combination is unwieldy at best.

We rejoin things in progress. It looks like The Girl ran ahead through the Haunted Forest by herself, which would be a bad idea even if she was carrying a bazooka with glitched infinite ammo. 

I finally give in and buy some CBD-Infused Chocolate from the enterprising Neko. Not a moment too soon, because it's time to get absolutely obliterated by... 

...these twin werewolves. They're one of the several miniboss fights in the game, yet they're more difficult than most of the bosses. It doesn't help that they just BLITZ you as soon as you walk into the room. 

This fight is absolutely nuts, and defeats me a bunch of times over. Luckily you can save one room back from here. The problem is that I keep getting stunlocked by the werewolves. Their attacks are multi-hit even if they don't appear to be, so what will happen is you'll take a hit from them, fall back, recover, and immediately take another hit out of thin air that knocks you back again. At one point I took five hits in a row without being able to move or retaliate...all due to one visible hit from them.

Moon pretty much gets knocked off right away no matter what. I had to stick and move because even one hit from them might result in an eventual death from all the stunlock damage. 

Aside from these guys having weird stunlock powers and being WAY more aggressive than any other enemy, another weird thing is that they cast spells like Cure Water and Lunar Boost. The latter is a Lunar magic spell that we don't see until much later in the game, and at this point it's super-OP. Their version of Cure Water is L3, which is also weirdly strong for this point in the game. This fight feels like it was supposed to be later, or wasn't tuned right.


 Once you take one of them down, it's a lot easier to take down the other, which I eventually managed to do. Glad that's over with, was almost as difficult as the upcoming boss fight. The good news is that the difficulty of the game is absolutely peaking in this area.

Oasis Rockwall is way too cheerful at being rescued. After how she acted earlier, I'd expect something more like...

"Oh, YOU again. I had that under control, thanks. I guess you can help me rescue my boyfriend. Who's the midget?"

Since I'm in dire need of armor upgrades and healing items, I hoof it back to the Dwarf Village and pick up my latest weapon: The Axe. Gimli joke here. 

Some cool axes on display, but I don't entirely agree with the order. Going from single-sided to double-sided back to single-sided axe seems a little weird. Just go single-sided for the first three rather than having the fourth look like a step back. Noteworthy: The Were-Buster looks just like it did in Adventures of Mana. The Gigas Axe is indeed the highest-damage out of all of the Level 8 weapons.

Finally having all three characters makes the Haunted Forest a bit easier to get through, but it's still a 'Nam-like quagmire of status effects and archer ambushes.

Meanwhile, deep within the woods...

Dyluck and his privates are rolling right up to the gates of the Witch's Castle! "LET OUR PEOPLE GO!" he bellows.

Time is short, we've gotta get there before they drive right into a trap. I thought The Girl seemed hyperbolic and selfish at first wanting to run after Dyluck at all costs. The thing is, it's actually even worse than she thought. As it turns out, if they fail to rescue Dyluck here, he's gone forever. This is a slice of real life here, folks. Things aren't going to work out well for this crew.

Outside the castle, we fight more werewolves that absolutely beat the tar out of everybody. 

In the dungeon of the castle, we find the DX Army. They pretty much got owned by the Witch. And for some reason Neko is in here too. Turns out, he joined the DX Army at the last minute, because when you need an army, you look to your friends. YOU LOOK TO NEKO.

 *Neko crotch-chops as pyro goes off in an X*

I always liked this. He just nonchalantly mentions that he got caught, while purring. This guy is still our only source of MP-restoring Faerie Walnuts (soon to be the most important consumable in the game) and he absolutely fleeces us on prices. 1000 GP for one walnut. At some point I'll be able to get them from regular shops for 500 GP. Not until Matango, though.

Here's a really good level-up spot right before the hardest fight in this entire game. Neko's room is to the south, and while there's no inn available, he sells heal items and revive items. So you can (very expensively) restore your characters inn-style if necessary. Going in and out of this door spawns werewolves across the gap, and they can be easily defeated with Bow/Boomerang shots for large amounts of EXP. There's also a tough eye enemy that spawns in front of the door and can do some damage, so this spot isn't perfect. However, being able to save/buy items one room away and take out two werewolves a shot with impunity is hard to argue with as a level grind spot.

All of that said, level grinding doesn't tend to be particularly effective or necessary in this game for the most part. Gaining 1-2 levels here is probably sufficient to get to where you're "supposed" to be if you beeline through the Haunted Forest (as sane people often do). If the next boss proves difficult, gaining more levels here is a good crutch. 

Here's Elinee, the titular witch of the dungeon. She's been working with The Empire to undermine Pandora, and has Dyluck locked up. His warpath basically amounted to nothing, sold out by his own country.

We see Dyluck for a few moments before the witch teleports him away to her secret boss Thanatos. And that's pretty much the last time The Girl will see her guy in any kind of good health.

So, in the original four-player vision of this game, is this where you got the fourth character? (Assuming it was Dyluck, don't know who else it could be). I'd love to get some developer insight on this. Is Dyluck the cut fourth character, when did you get him, and what kind of character was he? If I had to wager a guess, he probably played a lot like Duran from Seiken Densetsu 3.

This also explains why the game has four range-weapons and four melee-weapons. That way there was one of each for every player. 

Thanatos, the main villain of the game and a bloodthirsty imperial stooge along the lines of Ardyn from Final Fantasy XV or Kefka from Final Fantasy VI, is preparing his forces in the ruins south of Pandora. With most of Pandora now under an Eloi-esque drug haze thanks to Elinee, he should have an easy path to the castle where he can hand a victory to The Empire over one of their toughest adversaries.

Question is, why did Pandora allow creepy ruins to be built there to begin with? The answer might be an easy one: It was a place of worship and the bad guys quietly began forming up there with illusions and other trickery. In other's the Cathedral from Chrono Trigger, in a proto form.

We get a fun callback to Final Fantasy Adventure as the gate raises to let Spiky Tiger into the battle arena. One of many things I've been spotting and instantly recognizing as being in common with that first game.

This is no easy intro fight, as he proceeds to CRASH INTO EVERYBODY. This knocks them all down and does large amounts of damage. Welcome to the hardest fight in the game. And he hasn't even started casting spells yet. 

Aside from death-rolling, he can also leap up onto these higher platforms (where melee attacks don't reach) and just own you with fire breath (temporary DoT and stunlock) and Lava Wave (potent damage spell).

Here's the actual fight (and the last footage of Dyluck before he becomes a lost soul). An absolutely blistering fight that I have no trouble calling the hardest fight in this game and the peak of the game's difficulty. There are a few notably strong bosses in the last 10% of the game, but it'll be smooth sailing till then.

It's fitting that this guy is called Spiky Tiger, since he's such a difficulty spike.

Here's the PS4 version of the fight. It's noticeably easier than the SNES version. Just a bit, but noticeable.

I won this solely by switching to The Girl and firing arrows at him*. Those landed even when he was on a higher platform and impervious to most attacks. Unfortunately the CPU-controlled characters were exceedingly useless on this fight and existed only to take hits, because they couldn't reach him with their attacks.

* - Why didn't I equip The Boy with that weapon instead, since he hits harder? Because the boss was most likely to target him with the stunlock breath, and I was better off playing a different character while that was going on. 

Elinee turns back to her normal self, a garden-variety elderly book-thusiast. Thanatos was giving her "herbs" that turned her into a maniac.

Here's my favorite weapon, the Whip. We've got almost all of them now: 7/8. 

Whips in this game are a joy. They're ranged, like the Bow and Boomerang. They can hit multiple targets like the Boomerang, but with more accuracy and effect. They also strike with a satisfying cracking sound. Their only downside is that a lot of enemies are full-immune to Whip attacks for some reason. 

Whips get two pages of coverage in Nintendo Power. Every other weapon gets one page. Why do Whips get the extra room? Also, don't think we didn't notice that you copy/pasted the Chain Whip, Nintendo Power.

On the side there, you can see a bit of what we've got on the way in the next couple of episodes.

The Girl is overjoyed that Dyluck didn't die in the attack on the castle, even if he got spirited away to parts unknown.

As sad as this component of the game is... looks like Jack is getting a telepathic, low-key, Luka booty call. She might as well go "u up?"


Jack makes excuses for how he has to leave RIGHT NOW to deal with things and scampers off. He gets halfway to Luka's place before realizing he has to go get protection first. After that he zips over to buy some protection at Neko's Haberdashery: 

"I ain't selling you any protection!" says Neko while leaping up and down doing the DX crotch-chop over the counter. "So put that in your pipe and smoke it!"


Our hero crashes through the wall of the Water Palace and tumbles over to Luka. What? Don't blame him, she's hot. 

Well, it turns out she called him because Undine, the elemental of water, is being held hostage by a rabid tadpole miniboss in the lake outside.


......wait a minute. You mean Undine was hanging out nearby all this time? I could have REALLY used some spells for that last part of the game. Now that I've defeated the toughest boss in the game, NOW you tell me about Undine? We're through, Luka. We're through.

The miniboss in question actually gets the boss music, but it doesn't drop an orb or have the typical boss explosion animation. It also shows up as a regular enemy later, so I'm counting it as a miniboss. Here's form one, the relatively-harmless Tonpole.

Defeat Tonpole and it goes to form two, the Biting Lizard. This one is capable of doing some serious damage if it hits one of your characters with a biting attack. However, corner it like this and it barely gets any moves off for the entire fight. A little later I'll need to fight three of these at once, and cornering won't be a win button there. 

Undine, the water spirit, appears accompanied by some very Chrono Trigger like music. It figures, because Undine is basically Spekkio. It gives our heroes their first magic spells. Difference is that they both get the same element here, Water, and that'll happen for every other elemental they encounter with a lategame exception. The Girl gets defensive spells, The Sprite gets offensive spells. Mostly.

Much like Robo or Ayla, The Hero inquires about why he can't learn magic like the other two. The answer? His weapons can be enchanted to have magical properties. Also...

...he's the strongest attacker, and the Mana Sword is the thing that's gonna bring down the final boss. Still would be nice if he could learn something besides weapon techs and had an attribute besides more HP/attack. Besides, the other characters can use the Sword too. All of that said...this game is fairly well-balanced between the characters. They all support each other, and The Boy is the one most likely to be able to bail the party out of a wipe situation due to his high HP.

Still, without spells, The Boy would definitely be the toughest one to beat the game with solo. ...which sounds like an interesting idea. Put the other two characters on the least-aggressive setting so they stay out of all of the fights (until they get knocked out, then keep them at 0 HP), don't cast spells, reset if The Boy loses. Call it "the Final Fantasy Adventure 2 challenge". I bet it's very doable, but it'd require a LOT of leveling up and building weapon skills. Some bosses would suddenly be as tough or tougher than the Spiky Tiger without the use of magic.

Besides magic, we also get the 8th and final weapon, the Javelin/Harpoon. It's fitting that the Water elemental would give me such a Moby Dick weapon.

This is a ranged weapon, which brings our close/range weapon total to 4/4. All of them have their situational uses, but rarely are you forced to switch between them to interact with the environment (unlike FFA, where it was a constant interruption). The Javelin can best be compared to the Bow in that it's a single projectile that flies in an arc and stops when it hits something. While I prefer the Whip for ranging normal enemies, the Javelin is high-damage and works well against bosses.

The eight weapons on display in the weapon wheel. This is a great selection, with nothing being particularly redundant (aside from maybe the Bow/Javelin being really similar). One of the reasons I put this game well above Secret of Evermore in playability is the much-greater weapon selection. Unlike FFA, we have weapon levels here so there's an impetus to switch weapons on a regular basis and level them all up rather than just using your latest and strongest weapon. The charged-up techs can be pretty awesome, too. One of the later Sword techs is Crono's Cyclone. The same exact attack, except in real-time combat.

Enough about weapons. As for Undine's spells, we've got some good ones. Every elemental (with one exception) gives both characters three spells each, and most of them are useful or at least fun to use. A lot of them do the same thing, especially on the Sprite side. However, this game goes heavy on bosses having elemental weaknesses, so even the slightly-repetitive attack spells have their situational uses that differentiate them. And of course, you can build up the level of these elementals much like you can with the weapons. Both weapon levels and spell levels are crossover, which means new weapon upgrades retain the weapon level of their predecessor while casting one spell of a particular elemental will level up all spells of that elemental. No need to build up Freeze and Acid Rain individually.

Sprite Undine Spells:

Freeze - Ice damage attack, effective against fire

Acid Storm - Water damage attack, less damage than Freeze but also lowers enemy defense

HP Absorb - Drain spell, doesn't do much damage but does heal the Sprite a bit

Girl Undine Spells:

Cure Water - Heals one or all characters, most important spell in the game

Remedy - Cures status effects like poison

Ice Saber - Gives everyone's weapons an ice enchant temporarily (the precursor to Crono's elemental sword dual-techs, no doubt) that turns enemies into snowmen FFA-style. They can't be damaged, so it's only really good for stunning foes as you run by.

Nintendo Power, of course, has a page dedicated to the elementals as well. Just noticed, and this is pretty cool, that your weapon collection is completed at the same time you get your first elemental. So now we're 8/8 on weapons and 1/8 on elementals.

A shot of Freeze in action. Weird things happen to the visuals in this game when you cast spells, with layer distortions and full color-changes happening while the spell is casting. Similarly, the music constantly cuts out during fighting due to the limited sound channels. This is something I'm noticing a LOT more right now than I did playing this game in the past, and wish they would have fixed for the Switch release. I don't think any purists would have complained about more sound channels. 

Ice Saber in action. Turning foes into snowmen and going about your business is a good way to book it through an area without dealing with fights, but it won't yield you exp. Also, snowmen often get in the way of forward movement, which is likely about to happen with the flower enemy here. 

I get launched from Cannon Travel for the first time ever, which gives us a sweet Mode-7 view of the immediate overworld. Gaia's Navel is the place on the right with all the waterfalls.

Watts can now forge the baddest weapon: The Power Glove. The Girl is disappointed by it only vibrating in one setting and tosses it aside, after which The Sprite quietly pockets it.

Use Freeze on this crystal here to get to the Underground Palace, home of the Earth spirit. That's right, we're already going after the second elemental. Is the rushed nature of the game beginning to pick up? Not so much, because there's a good space between this and the third elemental.

The Underground Palace isn't quite as bad as the Witch's Castle, but it's full of multiplying enemies that hit hard. 

A look at an interesting new foe, the chess knight. This is one of the enemy types that's immune to the Whip that I'm relying on at the moment, and is generally resilient. Building up The Sprite's Undine to level 1 is a must here, as is then hoarding MP for the upcoming boss fight. One of those overpriced Faerie Walnuts is a good idea to bring, too. 

Around this point I smallened the game screen in the UI without realizing it, so for the rest of this post the game screen will be smaller. Maybe this looks better for the game because you can see the characters in the lower right more clearly, I don't know.

"This is an outrage!" bellows Gnome as our heroes barge in. I...don't know what's going on. 

What follows is another difficult boss, the Fire Gigas. Yep, a fire-elemental is guarding the Earth spirit. Not sure why. This guy casts Exploder and other highly-damaging fire spells that can quickly annihilate the party.

Speculation: 3 out of the 4 primary elements are represented by a Gigas (giant) in this game. There's the Fire Gigas, Frost Gigas, and Thunder Gigas. Which led me to wonder what happened to the Earth Gigas that presumably should exist as well, since Earth and Thunder are opposites in this game and it's weird for this game to not use both sides of an elemental pairing at any point. It was likely omitted.

Meanwhile, over in Chrono Trigger, we have this one boss that more or less stands alone, incongruous with the rest of the bosses in the game: Giga Gaia, which literally means "Earth Giant". What I'm saying is that, among many other unused (and even used - Mana Fortress/Black Omen) aspects of Secret of Mana that were revamped for use in Chrono Trigger instead, the unused Earth Gigas fight ended up becoming Giga Gaia. And, of course, got a completely souped-up design. So it's really only the Earth Gigas in spirit...but I believe it to have sprouted from the same seed.

As a result of all the fire magic flying around, this fight LOOKS really cool when you aren't getting destroyed. The key to victory? That's right, unleash your new Undine attack spells with The Sprite, specifically Freeze. If it's leveled up to L1 (from L0) and The Sprite has full MP, that's enough to end this fight in a flurry of chain-casting, hopefully before he kills you with his own OP spells.

Also, having The Girl cast Cure Water on everybody while the Fire Gigas is launching an attack spell is actually a good way to block his spell damage. Once you know these things, the fight isn't bad. It absolutely wrecks when you first encounter it, though.

Here's the fight itself in a glitchy video. I love the way the fight ends, at least.

Here's the PS4 version of the fight in a less-glitchy video. Again, easier than the SNES version.

That's it, we're pretty much over the difficulty hump with bosses, at least until the lategame.

The Sprite gets to be awesome again, ordering Gnome to give up Earth spells and referring to The Boy as a mere servant that he throws scraps to. Gnome scraps. They good eatin' 

Gnome also mistakes The Girl for The Sprite's wife. It's understandable, since in Gnome Culture it's normal for short gnome guys to date freakishly tall human women.

I'm not even going to try to figure out the sexuality of The Sprite...but I definitely have a crush on them.

Next time on Secret of Mana: The stability of the world continues to unravel, with Thanatos quietly causing discord. Fantastic!

The Nintendo Power coverage of this episode is again confined to two pages. These two pages, in my view, contain the most difficult section of this entire game.


Underrated Track Alert: The theme that briefly plays when you meet Undine. I forgot this tune even existed because it's so woefully underused. If this doesn't sound like a refugee from Chrono Trigger, I don't know what does.

Here's the second field theme after the main one, Distant Thunder. As a kid I really liked everything about this track. The name and everything else about it just felt good. I remember sitting on the porch watching the sun begin to set while this tune emanated from the TV inside the window, and it was a chill time.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know, Schtolteheim with the infinite bazooka might have done alright here.

    I always knew Neko was a degenerate.

    You say you're done, but the next time Luka calls you know you'll be there.

    The "fork of hope?"