Secret of Mana was released originally in Japan under the name Seiken Densetsu 2 on August 6th, 1993 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. How does the classic JRPG hold up today?
Secret of Mana utilizes a 16-bit graphical style, with very detailed character sprites as well as beautiful, epic backgrounds and set pieces. Much of the game has a distinct Autumnal feel due to the washed-out color palette of deep oranges and faded greens. While this adventure does take you to a variety of locations, much of the overworld is very similar in presentation, leading to some monotony in the visual department.
Like many JRPGs of the era, Secret of Mana introduces us to an unnamed, sprawling, high fantasy world. An ancient flying warship called the Mana Fortress looms over the land, put into place by a long gone civilization who made use of the game’s titular resource mana to power the vessel. The creation of this fortress sparked a war with the Gods who unleashed an army of powerful monsters to wipe out civilization, resulting in most of the world’s mana being depleted. The war was ultimately ended by a mysterious hero brandishing a legendary weapon called the mana sword. This sets the background for the story at the beginning of the game as we are informed that a powerful empire is seeking eight mana seeds which they believe will be able to restore the mana fortress, tightening their powerful grip on the land.
The game begins in a quaint village named Potos, where a group of boys venture beyond a forbidden waterfall, much to the dismay of the elders. Here the party stumbles upon an old sword lodged in the stone. One of the boys pulls the sword free, accidentally unleashing an array of monsters into the world. A knight named Jema identifies the weapon and sets the boy on his way to seek out eight mana temples to restore the sword’s power.
Taking control of this protagonist, you will meet two other heroes that join your party. One is a girl hopelessly in love with a warrior and the other is an amnesiac sprite. Curiously, all three main characters in the game are unnamed. The story is vast, sprawling across the world where the trio are pursued by the empire trying to hijack the mana seeds. Along the way, there are many characters, twists and turns that we will not spoil here, despite the game being decades old at this point!
In terms of gameplay, Secret of Mana employs a top-down perspective as you guide the trio across the various landscapes. You can opt to control each of the characters individually, with the other two automatically acting which is an innovative feature for that period of gaming. Interestingly, you can play Secret of Mana co-op depending on your platform, with up to two friends controlling the other party members independently.
The different characters offer some variety to the gameplay. The boy is better suited for melee combat, the girl acts as the party’s support with healing abilities, and the sprite can cast damaging magic spells on your enemies. The trio level up and you can assign experience points into various skills to better their chance of success in battle.
Unlike similar titles of the time, Secret of Mana opts for a real-time battle system instead of the traditional turn-based approach. There are a variety of weapons available to the group which can also be individually upgraded to increase their potency. These upgrades are available via weapon orbs which are dropped from the game’s large variety of bosses.
The overworld is vast and at a certain point in the game you will gain access to a fast travel system in the form of a giant cannon that launches the trio to faraway locations. There is also a rideable dragon that can be used to traverse the overworld, which is visualized in 3D, again a very innovative system for the release date.
Secret of Mana’s score is the icing on the cake for this all-time JRPG classic, with a large variety of tracks that set the tone of each location.
We had an amazing time playing through Secret of Mana, which stands the test of time and takes its worthy place as one of the greatest games of all time! With a sprawling, epic, fantasy story set in the backdrop of a beautifully-detailed world, Secret of Mana is a joy to experience! The soundtrack does wonders for the game through some wildly memorable pieces of music. Despite being originally released in 1993, Secret of Mana includes many innovative features that do not feel out of place even after so many years, including the fast travel, real-time combat and levelling systems. We completed the game after around 25 hours and not one of them felt wasted!
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