#249 Secret of Mana

Posted: 25th October 2020 by Jeroen in Games
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903rd played so far

Genre: Action/Role-Playing
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square

Thanks to a lovely Christmas present, I got the Switch port of the Mana trilogy (Collection of Mana), including the most liked Secret of Mana that ended up on the list. It took me about five months more to play it – I’m not in a rush – but it means that I haven’t just played a Switch game through their NES and SNES emulator programs, but also as a more proper game on a cart.

Every time I look up the history of this series, it gets me confused, but it’s safe to say that while its predecessors have been marketed as Final Fantasy spin-offs, in reality they’re their own list of action RPGs instead, originally as a Gameboy game but by this point as a game aimed at the SNES.

Our Thoughts

Secret of Mana is interesting as an action RPG. As there’s still some turn based element, you can’t just spam your attacks, but instead you hit, get some distance in and wait to recharge before attacking again. It still gets a bit better as you level up, but there’s a lot of planning in when you attack. In fact, playing through, the first big boss fight (falling down in a dungeon under the town) comes down to only attacking at the right time, more of a timing challenge than overpowering your opponent through speed or higher stats. The game doesn’t feel like it needs a lot of grinding, although I ran into issues not buying enough equipment when I got to the second proper town. I felt the difficulty more from enemies being hard to reach and having ranged attacks when you can’t necessarily respond to it yet, and the whole thing does become draining at times.

The world this takes place in resembles a lot of the other worlds in Final Fantasy games, elemental crystals included. You get your spells granted from them by going through the appropriate dungeons and visit towns, but the emphasis on the areas you battle in being the same that you explore makes them feel more condensed and gamey. It’s a lovely looking game – sure, dated in places because of the SNES heritage, but it works quite well for a beautiful, colourful world.

Final Thoughts

There’s something exhausting about playing Secret of Mana unprepared, and it’s one of those games I want to start over knowing what I know, so I can do a few things that much better. It’s a beautiful world with quite an involved story for its time, especially as the action elements put more pressure on what you can do with this world. It might not be up to Final Fantasy VI standards – I think you can fee that the origins of the system are handhelds – but it works.