Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Secret of Mana (Super NES, 1993)

Been wanting to get to this one for a long time. It's one of those rare SNES games that could make a huge impression on the people that played it. It's one of my favorite games of all time, it means an awful lot to me, and it has subtle connections to a lot of other classic Squaresoft games from the era. And the crazy thing is...in some alternate dimensions, there's an even better version of it for the Nintendo PlayStation CD add-on.

This game is, in fact, Seiken Densetsu 2 in Japan. Early game magazines referred to it as Final Fantasy Adventure 2 which is kinda funny to go back and look at now. NEW FROM SUPERSOFT!

The title screen is as good of a recreation of the main artwork as it can be. I remember playing this for the first time and having no idea how good it'd actually end up being. The initial coverage of it (in Nintendo Power Volume 54) is pretty lackluster and doesn't make it look that interesting. I gave it a shot after reading that, via rental, and made it to the second or third boss before giving up on it. Later issues of Nintendo Power had MUCH better coverage that caused me to revisit the game and I'm glad I did.

I'm naming The Boy after AEW Superstar Jungle Boy, or as he's known on the indies, Jungle Jack Perry. You only have six letters to work with here, so I ended up going with Jack. We're far enough removed from 24 that I don't immediately think "Jack Bauer".

It's worth noting that the file select music, as simple and repetitive as it is, has a certain mystical quality to it. The entire soundtrack is off the charts, and I could be here all day embedding songs. Instead I'll have a couple of select (no pun intended) themes at the end.

We get an extremely Final Fantasy VI style intro with shots of technology, mentions of distant wars of yesteryear, and questions of whether those in power are on the verge of repeating the mistakes of the past. Spoiler Alert: They are. If they weren't, we wouldn't have much of a game though.

Before we get too excited, this isn't referring to Final Fantasy Adventure or any other Mana game. It's the same loose history that the entire series makes reference to.

So it says as the background is fittingly empty. Not sure how long ago this big war took place in this storyline. The similarities between this and FFVI make sense, since Secret of Mana shares developers with both Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger. I'm sure later I'll be talking more about where these similarities become most apparent.

The Mana series loves waterfalls, and this one is no exception. Here we have a pan-over of Gaia's Navel, the belly-button of the planet.

The game begins with our hero trying to hang out with a couple of assholes who don't like him. For some reason they're walking across a dangerous log, because kids do kid things.

But wait! Our hero slips and falls off the log! Pokey and Picky uselessly stand there panicking.

Then they speed off! Man, they're the most useless characters ever. Willy and Amanda, they ain't.

Our hero crashes into the ground, breaking in half.

"Therrrre you are! LIKE A FALLING STARRRRR!"

This guy seems to have the same resilience against falling damage that the hero of FFA did. That's weird, he doesn't look like Kofi. It's actually the last major fall he takes in this game, and in retrospect it's probably a reference to FFA more than anything else.

The crux of this entire game is finding the Mana Sword, seen here in base Rusty Sword form. I don't even have to defeat that godawful rolling Ifrit to get it this time.

Pull the sword, and that low rumble in the distance means that you've made a huge mistake. The world immediately ceases to be at peace, and monsters are unleashed everywhere.

The first fearsome, bloodthirsty monsters we have to battle? Rabites, weird bouncing balloon-type creatures that look like refugees from the Pokémon universe.

This is a good time to mention that this game got a port for iPhone/Android a few years ago. Aside from having the not-great phone controls, it has surprisingly crisp redone visuals. I would have liked to have the option to play in this visual style for the Switch collection. There's something to be said for visual accuracy, but I feel like the phone visuals look more like our memory of the SNES visuals as it is.

Enemies in this game disappear with super-satisfying balloon-esque pops when defeated, sometimes accompanied by a cloud of smoke.

The music that plays during this section is still astoundingly good, decades later. One of the best overworld themes in existence. Here we see the debut of the "X gets whacked!" critical hit message.

Like FFA, you constantly find candy in chests after defeating foes. It's more useful here, at least, and heals a decent amount. Playing this after all of the FFA variations, you can really see just how much this game draws from FFA. This entire first part of the game could have fit right into FFA.

Another shot of the phone version. It's the last time we'll be looking at the phone version, unfortunately. The Switch collection doesn't utilize this visual style, nor does the PS4 remake:

The PS4 remake actually uses the engine of Adventure of Mana for a pseudo-3D effect. Still prefer the phone visuals. This is what they decided to go with, though.

Our hero lives in the town of Potos for like the next two minutes. He grew up here as a foundling, Highlander-style. As far as I can tell everyone else in the town is a jerk.

"Someone like him"? What the hell does that mean, ya little jackass?

The Elder notices that our hero pulled out (teehee) the Mana Sword, and...apparently that's a bad thing. Of course, he didn't know any better.

Pokey proceeds to push him around. My policy for this game: Just get out of this town ASAP and NEVER REVISIT IT.

They fall down a hole (...I was wrong about that first fall being the only one) where they're face-to-mandibular-region with the Mantis Ant. Pokey lays in the corner uselessly, Earthbound-style.

I remember this fight being awesome back in the day, but it's actually pretty lame. You spend most of it knocked unconscious by the Mantis Ant's attacks. Who are the ad wizards who came up with that game mechanic?

Outside of being knocked unconscious, this fight does have the distinction of being one of a mere couple of pre-magic fights in this game. Once you have magic you pretty much Spam2Win. At this early stage, however, it's more like FFA's style of dodge and slash. The only issue with it being exactly like FFA is that enemy spells are unavoidable, much like your own. This is a magician's game, while you can get through 99% of FFA without using an attack spell.

Somehow lose this fight and a mysterious voice auto-revives you immediately. It's like playing retail World of Warcraft!

The boss-defeat animation is so good in this game, and is its own reward after some tough fights. Still, there should be an item reward of some kind for having the cojones to defeat this boss without needing to be revived. Maybe 2 Faerie Walnuts or something like that. I don't think I've ever managed it. Always get knocked out once. Gaining a couple more levels in the wilderness beforehand, or liberally using candies, would get me the win if I wanted to go for it.


Mantis Ant from Final Fantasy Adventure

Mantis Ant from Secret of Mana

Mantis Ant Remake from Secret of Mana on PS4. This is the same Mantis Ant model that Adventures of Mana uses. Unfortunately I don't have video of that version.

Defeating bosses in this game nets you the orbs you need to power up weapons (well, forge them into new ones, really) at a blacksmith. Powering a weapon to the next tier doesn't just make that weapon more powerful, it also lets you raise your skill level in it another notch, which allows more powerful charged attacks.

Here are the swords you can forge, as they appear in Nintendo Power. I noted in the Adventures of Mana posts that the Dragon Buster in that game actually shares a design with the NP artwork here. Unfortunately, ingame swords in Secret of Mana don't have much difference from one another besides color, so you won't be seeing the badass design of the Gigas Sword in action.

Side note: There's a secret 9th version of most weapons that isn't found in Nintendo Power and can only be obtained by farming one last orb from the final area. These secret weapons aren't necessary to complete the game, by any means. The sword doesn't have a 9th version, but all of the other weapons do. Maxing some of the weapons requires you to farm more than one orb from the final area because the main story is missing several orbs from the heavily-edited lategame.

All of this talk about pulling out while we stand next to a giant hole... you know, some lesser writers would make jokes about all of this or otherwise point it out. They should be ashamed.

Despite saving the day, our hero gets kicked out of the village while the saddest music I've ever heard plays.

They really rub it in. I mean they just pile the sadness on while you're trapped in this room.

Now that our hero is ready to /wrist, it's time to start the adventure.

He gets literally thrown out like garbage. Potos is a town of horrible people, and they get to continue being horrible after this. Of course, the hero saves all of them from dying soon after this, but it's doubtful any of them ever even realized it.

He journeys back out into the wilderness, where I...promptly get knocked unconscious by these flower enemies and their sleep spores. I don't remember constantly being unconscious when I played this back in the day. It's obnoxious, because you lay there for a good six seconds waiting to be able to play again. The enemies usually don't even attack during that time. It's just six seconds of nothing, like hooking up with Harvey Weinstein.

There are multiple paths you can take at this early stage of the game, interestingly enough. Going north to the Water Palace and going south to Pandora result in different early-game events. One thing is for sure: There's no reason to ever go back to Potos in this game. Every time you walk up to the gate you're greeted by the /wrist music and a guy who wishes you were dead.

Seriously? Mushrooms too? I don't remember this effect being much of anything during this game, so maybe it's only prevalent at the outset.

Now severely-concussed, I manage to unconscious my way through the fields and reach the safe haven of Neko's Haberdashery.

Neko is, of course, the infamous cat merchant of Secret of Mana. He'll sell you top-of-the-line goods, often before other shops have them. Late in the game he sells armor that you can't find anywhere else. The only problem is...he charges a lot.

"We've got CBD-infused chocolate!" he rumbles while purring intensely.

"CBD-infused Royal Jam!" he muses while licking his paw.

Faerie Walnuts are the Ethers of this game in that they restore MP at a massive cost. Good thing our hero doesn't have MP and doesn't need to pony up this kind of cash. Aside from the obvious healing/curative/MP items here, there's also a barrel that protects you temporarily while you slog through an area slowly. Not sure what the point of that is. He also sells the very first armor upgrades of the game.

And when it comes to equipment upgrades...man, this game has a lot. Take it away, Nintendo Power:

 Helmets for all three of the main characters. While you can't see equipment on your characters in the field, the icons that represent each item are accurate to the drawings you see here. Much like the list of swords earlier, it's very compelling to have the armor all lined up with bits of lore that add immeasurably to the game.

 Wristbands and bracelets are generally the domain of The Boy.

 Rings are usually worn by The Girl and The Sprite...usually. I particularly like the lore for these. They went out of their way to make each one interesting and worth collecting.

"The what? Sprite?" says someone who hasn't played this before. You'll see. The Sprite is its own thing, like David S. Pumpkins.

And here's the main event. There's some interesting armor in this game. The first few lines of armor incrementally improve on each other, then armor values take off like a rocket in the last two lines. Another example of how rushed the second half of this game is, but we'll get to that. The Faerie Cloak and the Samus-esque Power Suit are drops near the end of the game, FFA-style. Same goes for the best rings/helmets.

I run into Dyluck, a major of Pandora who is leading his troops to battle Elinee the Witch. At one time, this was slated to be a four-player game and the plan was to have Dyluck be the fourth character. He'd be a physical fighter, which was redundant with The Boy. I'm sure they would have found a way to put a spin on it, as Seiken Densetsu 3 had several physical characters who had some notable differences. Perhaps Dyluck would have been the Duran-type heavy fighter, while The Boy would have been a Hawkeye-type light fighter with some Saber magic. Regardless, with all of the cuts to Secret of Mana, Dyluck was scrapped as a playable character.

...I should probably stop calling him The Boy. His canon name is Randi, which figures because he's a randy lad.

Dyluck and the privates are ready for war. I have a feeling that all of these guys are going to get Aliens'd once they get to the Witch's Castle. I mean, they're doomed.

Know what the difference is between Neko and Major Dyluck?

Dyluck... doesn't lick his privates.

This game is way too good for someone like me

The troops disappear into this apparent dead end with a zapping sound. Investigating it leads you to an invisible portal in the stones. That was a great way to teach the player to look for hidden portals and get them thinking outside the box. A modern game would have just told you exactly what to do with a giant arrow while also reminding you to press the D-Pad to move.

The Haunted Forest is a really difficult area at this early stage, with werewolf enemies that can obliterate you. Get through this and there's still the Witch's Castle, followed by possibly the toughest boss in the game. The pre-magic phases of Secret of Mana are no joke. It's possible to skip this part of the game, though, depending on what you do early on.

Since I can't go into the woods yet, I head to the Water Palace. Here's Sage Luka, an attractive woman who is apparently 200 years old. If they ever do that Great War prequel to the Mana Series to establish some kind of continuity, Luka could be a character in it easily.

Speaking of establishing, in this scene we establish that YOUNG RANDI is kind of obnoxious.

Luka gets her news from the waterways. You could say she's very knowledgeable about......current events.

Something I forgot to mention: I'm playing the UK version of the game, which has a slightly better font. The shot above is from the US version I played in the past, so you can compare that to the UK version in other shots like the one right below this.

Jema, the knight that we ran into in Potos, meets Randi here. Clearly he's the Gemma Knight of this game, except his name is Jema. I mean...it is what it is. I haven't been covering this guy, because truth be told...he doesn't really do anything in this game. Just shows up from time to time being the Cool Dad in the room who tells you what needs to get done.

Luka tasks our hero with collecting more weapon orbs, and the eight Mana Seeds from temples throughout the world. Stuff will happen, he might need to defeat a God-Beast that he accidentally unleashed. No problem.

She also gives us our first mention of The Empire, the tyrannical force setting things wrong in the world and one of the more interesting components of this game...largely because so much of it is edited out of the final game.

I get the first of the eight Mana Seeds, the Mana Seed of Water. That was the only gimme seed in this game. It lets you raise spell levels...from Level 0 to Level 1, once spells are acquired. Each Mana Seed adds a spell level, maxing out with Level 8 spells that are vastly more effective than their Level 1 counterparts. The weapons also max out at Level 8, which affects their amount of potential charge attack variations. Some of the higher-level attacks are crazy. For example, one of the highest-tier Sword charge attacks is Crono's Cyclone.

Luka sends me out to Get Power and fight The Empire until I restore the entire world since I ruined it. Hey, as far as game premises go, it's a solid one. Let's do it. ...NEXT TIME, ON SECRET OF MANA.

I mentioned the Nintendo Power coverage of this game and how much it added. Well, I'm going to be looking at that a bit too. Here's the very beginning of the coverage, which is all we got to today. In 1994 I read this diligently before I tried the game for the second time, and met with a bit more luck.


First, a possibly-underappreciated tune: The file select theme, which is way too good for what it is.

And a well-appreciated tune: The main field theme, which is overpoweringly majestic.

More on this later.

Other Secret of Mana Posts

1 comment:

  1. I didn't understand this game /at all/ when I first rented it, and having access to a Mantago save didn't help either.

    Yeah, the enemy 'splosions are awesome.

    Potos SUCKS. There's maybe one decent person in that town.

    I do like to "revisit" Potos later with the character change trick just to troll the damn place. Can't keep me out!

    Man, those are great sword pictures. I assume the sword doesn't have a 9th orb level because its 9th form you only get from Mana Magic.

    It's just not fair that Lahan gets destroyed while Potos goes on without a care in the world.

    That equipment list is SO GOOD. If I had these NP issues my initial time with Secret of Mana would have been very different.