Saturday, November 23, 2019

Secret of Mana #9 - The Forum of Augustus

They sure like to talk about Mavolia, the Underworld, considering it's a place you never get to see.

In addition to having an indecipherable name, Aegagropilon can be one of the toughest fights in the entire game. This thing spams Wall on itself no matter how much you dispel it, preventing you from using the go-to strategy of annihilating it with spell damage. When it isn't doing that, it's casting Burst for hundreds of damage on one or all party members. I'd put this up there with Hexas (upcoming) and Spiky Tiger as the three toughest bosses in the game.

Burst is a pretty cool looking spell. It resembles Exploder, except green and puffy. You also get Fiend Lights for it.

Here's the fight, which was a pitched, intense battle. I kinda feel like Aegagropilon's design was at least somewhat influenced by John Carpenter's The Thing, especially considering this creature is a shape-shifter that was pretending to be a man.

We arrive at the 8th and final Seed. Unfortunately, the Empire already absorbed its power.

Dryad, the eighth elemental, arrives with some depressing music. Nothing like arriving too late to do anything.

On the bright side, we get Dryad's powers.

 All of the elementals are now accounted for. Dryad is decent, but a little bit underwhelming for being the final elemental. Doesn't help that it starts at Level 0 like the rest and we're very close to the end here, leaving the player with very little time to level it up without ceasing forward momentum in the story for a bit. That said, the spells aren't bad:


Revivifier - Revives one character with about 10% of their HP, at a very steep MP cost. Cups of Wishes revive with full HP and are cheap, so this is really only useful as a backup to those if one runs out.

Wall - Puts up a barrier that reflects spells back against enemies. Not as useful as Lucid Barrier (the physical attack equivalent, if you will) because it bounces your own healing spells as well and most foes don't spam spells.

Mana Magic - The hidden third spell, only usable in the final battle. Gives The Boy the Mana Sword enchant.


Sleep Flower - Puts foes to sleep for a bit. Probably the longest-lasting stun spell in the game, though at this point it's mainly good for building up Dryad levels since it's low-cost.

Burst - A neutral-element attack spell that costs slightly more than most of the other attack spells while being more likely to work on almost any target. This is a highly-damaging attack and probably the Sprite's best damage spell overall once it's leveled up.

Mana Magic - See above

After leaving the Tree Palace, the coral reef it sits atop begins to rise up out of the ocean. This forms the Grand Palace, which the Tree Palace is basically just the top of. Interesting. Even more interesting: Beneath this is the Mana Fortress itself, which flies up out of the ocean when raised. The top of the Mana Fortress is part of the Grand Palace for whatever reason. It's just like the Ocean Palace / Black Omen in Chrono Trigger. Also fairly similar to the Floating Continent in Final Fantasy VI.

Also noteworthy: The overworld/Flammie theme changes to its second form at this point. Link below. It's a tremendous musical track. Unfortunately given the rushed nature of the second half of the game, the second flight theme only plays at this point and changes to the third and final theme after this next dungeon.

Landing on the reef again, there's a LOT more palace than there was before. The Tree Palace was just one room, after all. As if the Light and Moon Palaces weren't already almost entirely content-less, this took it a step further. In any case, Jema's here just sorta milling around. Also, lots of imperial troops (machines?) that like casting Wall on themselves. Surprised more foes don't do that at this late stage to counteract spell-spamming.

The enemies suddenly hit a LOT harder here, so it's important to have the absolute best buyable equipment (from Gold City) by now. Ideally you get that stuff well before now by stopping to farm gold/levels right after getting Flammie.

The very last buyable set is obtainable from Neko after this dungeon, and you need THAT for the area after this (which has another exponential power jump on the enemies). Pacing is not this game's strong point.

The Grand Palace is easily the biggest and best-designed dungeon in the game. It's interesting given how little apparent effort went into most of the other lategame dungeons. They really pulled out the effort for the last couple of areas. There are several major sections to the Grand Palace. Considering it's the top of the Mana Fortress and was buried under a coral reef for who knows how many years, you've got...

...a coral-filled area that just looks awesome...

...a water-filled underground temple area, and later an advanced ancient city followed by a more traditional palace area for the Grand Palace and a couple rooms of the Mana Fortress interior. Yep, it's a lengthy dungeon. Before any of that, the boss of the coral reef / temple area is...

...Hydra, the big bro to Jabberwocky. This series really got mileage out of two-headed dragons, didn't it?

Hydra is basically Jabberwocky 2.0. Notice how the HP of the bosses hasn't gone up that much over the last few areas. That'll change soon though. Much like enemies hit for exponentially more in the last two areas of the game, boss HP spikes up as well. In the meantime, the bosses in this third-to-last area aren't too bad.

After that, we find the Emperor along with Fanha and...some random goon, since all of the other generals are dead and Thanatos is busy raising the Fortress. The Emperor retreats into the fortress, which is the last time we'll see him alive. He unceremoniously dies offscreen, Final Fantasy XV emperor style.

Fanha leaves for now too, but we'll fight her soon enough. Most importantly, she actually gets a little bit of dialogue here. The villains were mostly left on the cutting room floor, so every little bit of character they get is worth noting.

Next up is the ancient technological city. This might be the most interesting locale in the game, as it's a relic from the Zeboim-esque previous era of world prosperity before the Mana Fortress' original creation. Not unlike Zeal Kingdom, perhaps.

Specifically, it's the train station of said ancient techno-city. You can see all of the signs of it being a transportation hub, like escalators and subway cars. More on that in a minute. Squaresoft likes to flirt with ideas like this, going back all the way to the flying techno-city in Final Fantasy 1.

Watts somehow made it down here, which means it's time to finally forge Excalibur to the next level...

...Masamune, which looks like a super-badass blue katana here. Surprisingly it ends up being one of Frog's knight swords in Chrono Trigger rather than retaining its blue-katananess and being used by Crono.

Masamune in action unfortunately looks like a standard sword (with a new blue hue) due to the space limitations of the game. It's worth noting that this Basilisk right here is the first farm target you have to stop and grind on if you're going for a 100% playthrough (for instance, platinuming the PS4 version) because it drops a rare helmet that can't be obtained from any other enemy. There are other spots in this dungeon where you can fight Basilisks (and one in the final area) but none of them are as convenient to get to or respawn as this one due to this being right by a doorway into another room.

The helm in question, the Cockatrice Helm, is EXCEEDINGLY RARE. It isn't the best helmet in the game either. Only the second-best, and only for The Boy. Considering the effort required to get it, it's a little odd. It's the one piece of equipment that I tried to farm in this playthrough and never saw. The top two pieces of equipment for each character are drop-only in lategame areas, while the (actually comparable) third-best armors are all buyable from the Neko shop we'll be getting to soon.

A color puzzle follows that's a little incongruous with the rest of the game. This leads to...

...subway turnstiles? What the?

Indeed, it's the infamous underground subway of the game. The train still runs, too. It's another sign of the more-advanced past world that crumbled.

There are ghosts and zombies on the train, which is awfully similar to the Phantom Train of Final Fantasy VI. Speaking of anachronistic areas, there's a good chance the 2300 A.D. portion of Chrono Trigger started out as part of Secret of Mana as well, since this game was originally supposed to have a time travel component late in the game.

The Scorpion Army returns. The game's underdeveloped job squad of villains really does seem to only exist to kill time and/or use up assets that would have otherwise been left on the cutting room floor, like the airship. And...

...Gato, of Chrono Trigger fame.

More specifically, Kettle Kin. Weird how the robot bosses and the hydra bosses seem to be paired in this game. This guy cuts out the middleman by casting Lucid Barrier so you HAVE to magic2win. The fight is over in literal seconds once I start blasting with spells, because boss HP is still lagging behind character power at this point.

The Scorpion Army (and their hot leader) take off, never to be seen again. Who? What? Why?

The Grand Palace itself is the next area, and it's more of a standard palace. Just a lot bigger than the others. Same palace music and look.

Lots of elemental orbs in here, prompting you to use all of the elements obtained up to this point.

National Scar are sentient books that attack you in these rooms. I've always wondered what their deal is. Why are they called that, and are they supposed to be a relic of the past since you fight them in this area-of-yesterday? ...Are they a reference to the National Enquirer?

Noted miniboss The Biting Lizard returns here.

And now for one of the things that kinda drives me nuts about this game: The Emperor is found, dead. No explanation, and he was offed offscreen. Same thing that happens in Final Fantasy XV, after lots of hype surrounding him. It reeks of "we ran out of time" when you have your big bad get killed offscreen by a bigger bad. Know what game did this right? Final Fantasy VI. Would have been kinda weird to find Gestahl dead on the way through the Floating Continent with no explanation. Instead we get him battling it out with Kefka and losing, as his chickens come home to roost.

I take a moment to WHIP THE EMPEROR. MY GOD. Well, since we never got to fight the guy, this is the best I can do.

Turns out Fanha is the one who killed the Emperor. I mean beat, beat the Emperor. Can't say killed in U.S. translation.

Thanatos is here too. So for those keeping track of the villains, these two are the only ones left.

One of the creepier things about Thanatos is that he seems to move from body to body, which implies that he's been around for a long time and might have been the guy who caused the previous Mana conflicts that left the world in ruin. I'm sure we would have gotten some answers on that in the hypothetical full game.

Fanha gets her very, very little character development of the entire game, as we learn that she is both A) Sassy and B) Covets the power. And in my case C) Is female. Cause I had no clue Fanha was supposed to be a female character until the PS4 version of the game came out.

Fanha turns into Marilith (or Hexas as it's called here) and we get another of the game's toughest battles. It's interesting that Thanatos and Fanha become Lich and Marilith from their communion with the Underworld. No sign of Kraken or Tiamat (or honorary fiend Ifrit). The Emperor also had Underworld power, but we'll never know what his new form would have been had we fought him. Sheex debatably became Aegagropilon, but we don't know for sure if that was really him or an imposter.

The Midge Mallet gets a workout here, as the boss uses shrink a lot.

This hands me not one but several losses. This might well be the toughest boss in the game. It's in the top trio with Spiky Tiger and Aegagropilon. Thing is, Spiky Tiger is early enough that some level grinding makes a huge difference in its difficulty, while Aegagropilon can be dispel-spammed to negate a lot of its offense.

This fight, on the other hand, can be tough either way. Bear in mind that I've got the best possible equipment for this point in the game (the Gold City equipment), aside from that helm that I couldn't get to drop. More levels or equipment aren't much help here. Thing is, you can't tell most of this from the fight video where I won, because I trapped the boss into a bit of a cycle of casting Dispel over and over. Sorta the reverse of Aegagropilon. Note the extremely high magic resistance of the boss, as well.

We're not done with the Grand Palace yet, as there's one more boss to fight. Geshtar did indeed die back at the Imperial Castle...only to be reanimated by Thanatos.

I feel like there's an equivalent to this in either FFVI or Chrono Trigger as well. Geshtar is basically a machine and/or zombie at this point, though with Underworld power he's stronger than ever.

Weird thing is that Geshtar looks the same, but his mech-bike is now gold.

It's an obnoxious fight because unconsciousness gets spammed on your heroes. This seems to happen a lot in this game and I don't remember that being the case in the past.

The actual fight is memorable mainly because this room is actually the top of the Mana Fortress, buried under the Grand Palace.

With Geshtar's corpse re-defeated, we've slain every Imperial General except Thanatos.

Unfortunately Thanatos is way ahead of our heroes. Not only is he raising the Black Omen Mana Fortress as we speak, he's also going to transfer his consciousness from his decaying body to Dyluck. Why? Because Dyluck is a warrior strong enough to conquer the world. Wonder what would have happened in this scenario if Dyluck was the fourth character instead.

Outside the palace, our heroes lament their woes to Jema. Who did NOTHING.

The "world's end" is always an interesting prospect. As if there's a point where you can fall off of it. Super Mario RPG and Grandia both have their own takes on this idea.

So in order to stop the now-risen Mana Fortress, we've gotta go to Pure Land (or Mana Holy Land in the Japanese version) and talk to the Mana Tree. I don't really get it. Either way, these last two dungeons contain lots of uber-equipment to farm and lots of bosses to fight, so we still have quite a bit left to cover.

SUPER IMPORTANT NOTE: Walk around the Grand Palace at this point and there's a new Neko shop to peruse. He's got the best buyable equipment in the game. These armors are about twice as strong as the best equipment up to this point, because it's hard to have pacing when your game is missing half its areas. They're also about 85-90% as strong as the ultimate droppable armor sets, which means you can certainly beat the game with this armor alone. The droppable/farm sets are pretty much for the min/maxers. Since I've never farmed them up in previous playthroughs, I'm going for it this time. We'll see how it goes.

One thing is for sure: You NEED this Neko armor to survive in Pure Land. The foes there utterly decimate you without it. Given the somewhat hidden nature of this shop, I've read a few accounts of people giving up on the game after reaching Pure Land because the difficulty skyrocketed out of nowhere, not knowing about the Neko shop. And even if you DO know about it...this stuff is expensive, so there's a good chance you'll have to farm the first couple rooms of Pure Land in a significantly underpowered state until you have enough funds to buy Neko's stuff. The good news is that in the meantime you might get some of Pure Land's ultimate armor drops. More on all of that in the next episode.

Here's the Nintendo Power coverage for this episode. We only covered two pages, which is surprising given the sheer volume of what we covered today. The Grand Palace with all of its segments is actually a massive place with a lot to do.

As for "The Forum of Augustus"...the titles of all of these Secret of Mana posts are very deliberate. It's the name of one of Rome's Imperial Forums, which was never completed. Sorta like the Empire in this game and its completely unfinished nature. - Wikipedia.

Taking a quick glance at the overworld map of this game and the density of locations, it's easy to see which areas went primarily unused. There's a great location density in the early areas (the center). However, around the time of Matango (north of center) there's suddenly a lot of unused map space. Which coincides with the point where the game begins to feel like it's missing a lot, the Matango/Kakkara/Ice Country chapters.

And then you've got the biggest zones of cut content: Tasnica Republic (southwest) and The Empire (eastern continent). Both of those places have a lot of unused land that appears to have roads, bridges, and other areas on the overworld. The fact that about 90% of The Empire is empty space (with the couple of towns being as underdeveloped as they are) says a lot. We'll be dipping into the underdeveloped parts of the game more in the next episode.

This episode's two select themes are good ones. The desert theme has always felt mystical to me, especially when you listen to it while sailing to the Moon Palace.

The second, far more serious iteration of flight music. At this point the Grand Palace has risen and time is of the essence. It's just too bad this doesn't play for longer. You only really get to hear it between the Tree Palace and Grand Palace, if you fly around at all at that point. The good news? It always plays outside the Grand Palace if you land there to talk to Jema or Neko-shop.


  1. Haha, those really are the Fiend lights.

    Dryad may not have much, but... Mana Magic.

    The Flammie themes are funny because you can't really complain about losing out on an awesome song when the new track is so very good.

    I always thought the Masamune deal in Chrono Trigger was odd too. Excalibur would have been a better fit for Frog. I suppose Excal and Ibur wouldn't be all that great as individual character names though.

    Good point about Gestahl and Kefka.