Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Secret of Mana #10 - Carousel

There's no getting into the Mana Fortress without first going to Pure Land (or Mana Holy Land, as it's called in the original Japanese). Because you can't say "holy" in an early SNES game. Before we hit Pure Land, it's time to take a look at some of the weirder places in Secret of Mana.





First up is the temple north of Mandala, one of the more mysterious places in the game. There's no real reason to ever go here and it can be easily missed entirely during the game.

This place comes off as a proto version of Zeal Kingdom from Chrono Trigger. It's full of people meditating on the origins of life and stuff. They're also a bunch of snobs.

Here's why the area is interesting. It's an old temple, with relics from the -time- of the -war-

Ah yes, the infamous orbs. What are these things? We don't know, but I can say they're comparable to the information-rings from H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. So much so that it's the likely inspiration here.

A little bit of Zeal Kingdom, a little bit of Masa and Mune.

Finally we get to the orbs, which project sound of The Past. Yep, exactly like the information-rings. The most important war-era info:

Here's our proof that: A) Lorima(r) exists in the world of this game, and B) Was annihilated by The Empire. Ice Country's close proximity to The Empire on the overworld, as well as the visible ruins in the southern parts of Ice Country from above, indicate that it's what's left of that conflict. It would be great to get confirmation that Ice Country is indeed the remains of Lorimar. As it is, we've got backstory that The Empire fought a war with three countries in the past. One is Pandora, one is Tasnica, and the third...they just don't go into. It's gotta be Lorimar.

Some of the orbs have nothing to say, which is a bit of a waste given how interesting this room has the potential to be. I looked into translations of the original Japanese version for this particular room, and the things said by the orbs in that version are very similar to the U.S. translation. So we're not missing any information in this version, nor is it embellishing anything, which is important to note. One change is that Lorima is back to being Lorimar in the Japanese text.

Wait, I spoke too soon, the orb kicked in. Here we see an apparent CNN debate between talking heads arguing about whether or not using Mana Energy is going to destroy the environment. This is weirdly prophetic for a game from 1993.

Yet another news report. The Mana Beast was unleashed by the planet, WEAPON-style, to destroy the Mana Fortress. It resulted in the Fortress sinking into the ocean where we found it.

Another orb gives us a Jeopardy reference. This one is just weird, and probably serves as comic relief. That or they're suggesting that it takes place in our world. Who knows. Given that games like Final Fantasy VII and even the very first Final Fantasy have insinuated similar things, we don't know what they were aiming at here.

Next up: The Lighthouse. This solitary island serves no apparent purpose. It's home to the one building, and one NPC.

Landing on the island, there isn't anywhere to go besides the building. It's worth noting that the music for this section is the music from the very first cutscene at the beginning of the game - the only other place it plays.

It has a bunch of floors that all look the same, which gets a little redundant. It's like they added this place in at the last minute with some leftover assets just to use them for something.

At the top is noted bald Frenchman...

...JEAN-LUC PECARD?

He's really into the Ancients. Too bad he doesn't have more to say. Would have been cool to find another information-orb in here with more news from the past.

Here's a run-through of The Lighthouse. It's a mysterious place. What is the purpose of it? I don't know of any equivalent or similar areas in Chrono Trigger that this might be a proto version of, so I'll err on the side of "unused assets" for now.

The notorious "Martian face" that was all the rage in the 90's shows up in not one but several parts of the ocean in this game. It's also spotted in Final Fantasy IV. Most likely doesn't mean anything or serve any purpose.

Here's another one. Many people have tried to figure out the meaning of these faces over the years. I think it's just a cheeky pop culture reference, like the Jeopardy thing, in addition to being a developer signature.

Now for the titular location of this post: The Northtown Carousel. As far as mysterious SoM locations go, this may be the most mysterious and talked-about. It's visible from the air, yet when you go there on foot, the town ends before you get to that area. It has light-up objects visibly moving in circles around it, like a merry-go-round. Whatever it was supposed to be, it ended up on the cutting room floor like most of The Empire.

So what was the Carousel supposed to be, and what happened to it?

Probably something like the Millennial Fair, if not this exact location. I could see The Empire having a World's Fair type event in Northtown with various events you could partake in, like fighting their latest battle robot. Might explain why Gato in Chrono Trigger looks so much like Kilroy in this game. Also, that robot was wildly out of place in the Millennial Fair, which tells me it might have been a holdover.

As for the merry-go-round look, one of CT's endings has a parade walking in circles around the town square with all kinds of glittering lights on, and it actually resembles SoM's carousel effect.

I think we could probably find a ton of SoM's omitted areas and ideas if we knew where to look in Chrono Trigger.

With all of that out of the way, it's time to head for Pure Land (or Mana Holy Land). At the center is thick cloud cover that obscures the Mana Tree. I like how a river flows from there to the ocean, given that this is the source of mana energy to the rest of the world. It's a nice bit of environmental continuity. Of course, there's a waterfall right next to the Mana Tree's location.

The primary enemies here are Griffin Hands. These things absolutely ROCK you unless you have the new equipment from Neko. This is a great place to build levels/money if you don't, though. Just stay close to the entrance in case things get too dicey. The Griffin Hands can hit for hundreds of damage at a time against under-equipped characters.

Aside from giving a lot of exp, they have a microscopic chance of dropping the Griffin Helm. This is the best helm for The Boy.

...not by much defensively, but I know it has other non-defense bonuses we can't see. All of the top-tier enemy-dropped equipment in this game does. I believe the Griffin Helm increases physical attack power by +10 or something along those lines.

Most importantly, it's key to get a Griffin Helm before going any further if you're trying to max out in this game. Once this area is concluded, you don't have any more opportunities to farm it, so The Boy will never actually have his best equipment. All of the other best equipment can be farmed in the final area, so this is the only thing to really worry about out of Pure Land.

Note: On the PS4 version where you need one of everything to get 100%, you also need to worry about the Cocatrice Helm in the previous dungeon, which is also generally unavailable after that.

Sloshing through the sacred waters of the Pure Land forest. This place is super-atmospheric, and the music adds a lot. See below.

There are no fewer than SIX bosses in this place: Half of them are dragons (much like how Final Fantasy Adventure throws all of the dragons at you in the last area) and half of them are reduxes of earlier bosses. The first one is the Dragon Worm, a redux of the Great Viper.

With a lot of these Pure Land fights, I tried to win with physical attacks, only to resort to spell-spamming once it became clear that physical attacks were just drawing the fights out unnecessarily.

The non-dragon bosses are sorta the minibosses for the dragons. Each one un-seals a nearby gate that leads to the next dragon.

First up: Snow Dragon. No relation to noted rapper Snow. This guy's main thing is that he can freeze characters.

He's weak to fire, obviously.

I tried doing some Fire Saber attacks here until I realized I might as well just nuke him down. One of the things Seiken Densetsu 3 improves on from this game is that you can't just spell spam 2 win, and physical attacks are the order of the day. It adds a lot of difficulty back in.

The next foe is Axe Beak, the big bro of Spring Beak. This name makes more sense since Axe Beak is actually a name for some types of birds. This fight seems weirdly out of place here in Pure Land for whatever reason.

Super-easy fight here, over before it even gets going. The scaling of boss HP in this game continues to be weirdly slow (until the spike at the end). It's noteworthy that this boss is weak against Undine because we haven't had an Undine-weak boss in a WHILE now.

And speaking of Undine-weak, so is the next boss! The Red Dragon is an impressive foe. Some of these fire/explosion animations look just like the ones in Chrono Trigger.

This is probably my favorite of the dragons in this game. The color scheme is rad and goes well with the room.

The Red Dragon is another fight where you spam Undine to win. I tried to go with a more melee-based fight here with Ice Saber and Acid Rain, until it became clear the game didn't want me to. Still, it's cool to see a couple of dragons in the endgame here. I wish there were more of them, and that they were more spread out in this game.

Next, lightning heralds the arrival of...

…the Thunder Gigas. With Thunder Gigas, Frost Gigas, and Fire Gigas, the only one we're missing from the initial four elements is the Earth Gigas. My theory is that it existed in this game and ended up being edited out during the great boss-deletion of SoM, becoming what we know as Giga Gaia in Chrono Trigger. Giga Gaia always seemed odd and out of place, so my theory is that it spun off of their need to use all parts of the SoM. Obviously they changed its look quite a bit, but even still there are some similarities.

The actual fight. These Gigas bosses make me nostalgic in a way I'm not sure any other SoM bosses do.

Lastly, the final boss of Pure Land: The Blue Dragon. This guy is thunder-element.

For those keeping track....this means we got two ice-element bosses, two fire-element bosses, and two thunder-element bosses in this area. Interesting. The lack of Earth element stands out as probable omitted content given that it's the fourth primary element in the game and is usually represented along with the others. So what happened to the Earth Dragon? Maybe, just maybe, it became the Black Tyrano in Chrono Trigger. It's from the same chapter of the game as Giga Gaia, and it has a very Earth-elementy feel to it. Adding fuel to this? The Earth Dragon boss in Chrono Cross bears some resemblance to the Black Tyrano.

And while Emperor Vandole is killed offscreen in this game, I'd venture a guess that his original boss fight would have probably been something similar to the fight with Queen Zeal. At the very least, Dark Lich has a lot in common with Queen Zeal. Alas, we'll never know what the omitted fights would have looked like or which ones spun off into CT bosses. Not for sure anyway.

Jungle Jack and Friends finally arrive at the center of Pure Land, home of...

...the Mana Tree, source of the world's energy. I thought it'd be bigger. Lame "that's what she said" joke here.

This is one of the most memorable scenes in the game. It's interesting how the characters kinda glow here. Maybe that's energy from being so close to the tree. They're bathing in the actual "light of mana" that the game referred to earlier.

The Boy is glad he met his allies. Especially that sexy little tart, Moon.

A lot has happened, indeed. Not half as much as I feel was supposed to have happened up to this point, but regardless, it's been a journey.

And then, WHAM, the tree gets nuked by the Mana Fortress.

Commence THE SADDEST SCENE IN THE GAME. Even with all of the cuts, this scene still means a lot to the story.

The Mana Tree, aka Jack's mom, sends him some messages before dying. Jesus.

Dryad can now power the sword up to its secret Level 9 form. Look at how damn freaked-out The Boy is during this though.

This is a lot. Let's just keep going.

That's true, all three of these characters have that in common. They basically tell The Boy that he has to let it go, because everybody's suffering right now and a lot more people are going to suffer if they don't get out there and stop Thanatos. Well, they don't say any of that, but let's pretend they do. I'm sure the intention was there.

We take a moment at the destroyed tree before leaving.

After all of that horror, it's time for THE POTOS DANCE. EVERYBODY'S SO HAPPY.

Here's the Nintendo Power coverage for this episode. Just two pages... and two pages left. Next time: The exciting finale.

Pure Land theme, "Still of the Night" - One of the game's absolute best.

Flammie Theme 3, "Prophecy" - The third and final Flammie theme is the best of the lot. You go from foreboding in the second theme to outright crisis in this one. It's tremendous.

1 comment:

  1. These orb reports are super eerie.

    It's hard to believe that Lighthouse tune plays so rarely, it seems like such a bread and butter Mana track.

    The Red Dragon would probably get along well with Firebrand.

    ReplyDelete