Review: Secret Of Mana (Retro)

Reviewed by Lavar Pittman, posted Jan 30, 2018, last updated Feb 15, 2018
Secret of mana is a adventure role playing game produced by Square Soft and released in 1993 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This is one of many games before merging to make Square Enix. From the makers of Final Fantasy series at the time comes a game that makes many attempts to fit the fantasy theme for international players. The game also changes how is played from the random encounter turn based strategy combat to be a open world active real time battle system to keep the momentum in action more prominent.
Jan 30, 2018
  • Release Date (NA): October 3, 1993
  • Release Date (EU): November 24, 1994
  • Release Date (JP): August 6, 1993
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Square Enix
  • Genres: Action/RPG
  • ESRB Rating: Everyone 10 and up
  • PEGI Rating: Seven years and older
  • Also For: Android, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo Switch
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
Guess what guys, we gonna play a RPG game together... yes you heard me, together. This one is a co-op game with lots of stuff going on, especially with three players!
Lavar Pittman

So I noticed there is a remake for this game coming to modern consoles. Obviously I thought what better way to make it even more interesting than to make a review of the old game first. Sound silly right? Well sure I guess. You know what made old games so interesting, the promotion for it. Back when we didn't have things like youtube, twitch, twitter and other such social media networks on the internet, the best way to find out what games to buy was a tv commercial or a magazine like Nintendo Power. But if you never saw that on tv or never subscribed to magazines, then the only option you had was to go to the store and find a game and look at the box for all the info you can get. Let's take a look at this one and what it says shall we?

"Good and evil battle for a young warrior's heart!

There is one force in the universe that keeps good and evil in perfect balance.
It is called the tree of Mana. But a magic sword has tricked a young warrior into upsetting this balance, spreading evil throughout the land.
Thus, the warrior must undertake a dangerous journey to find the seeds of the Mana tree which have been hidden for centuries.
Only then can the perfect harmony be restored.

In this incredible adventure, things are not as they seem.
Magic swords release evil as well as fight it.
Treasure chest hold booby traps.
Monsters are friends and friends are enemies.
Potions give power, black magic takes it away.
Dragons fly, weapons change.
It's a world turned upside down that you must help the warrior make right.
And the only way to succeed is to solve the Secret of Mana."

Brought to you from the makers of the Final Fantasy Series.​

Whoa! That sounds awesome huh? Epic story, magic swords releasing evil, booby trap treasure chest, monsters are friends, flying dragons, changing weapons... This world is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions. Old Testament, real wrath of God type stuff. Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes... The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!

Well after trying to be funny by quoting lines from Ghostbusters, how could I resist? This might be one of the most inspiring purchases for a game one could find! If you read this in 1993, you was convinced you was buying a good game, how could you think otherwise, it even says "From the makers of Final Fantasy series" Like that was the hook line and sinker for the purchase. Of course even if you didn't know who Squaresoft was or what Final Fantasy is, you're too focused on all that exciting context to care. Well time to see if that advertisement wasn't a load of baloney or as Oscar Myer spells it, B-O-L-O-G-N-A.


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This game has some good presentation, is not the best but is good. The game boots up to having some ominous sound then the Squaresoft logo on the screen (reminder this is before Square Enix) then the title screen appears with a black background and the title card with the copyright info. Next the game shows some of the key developers of the game like producer, music composure. Suddenly the background opens up showing a picture as it get wider, all while having the game's plot scroll until is all done, the background exposes the full image and what do you see? Is the box art, pretty intense huh? Dramatic build up for one thing, next you continue to start a new game or load one you have saved before playing, starting a new game, you get... more story, but it does have some nice in game scenes to show with the flashback story, guess is a good time to explain the plot.

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"Darkness sweeps the troubled land, as Mana's power fades... People await a Hero who will wield the sword... Excalibur, Herald, Gigas... The blade had many names, for it has been celebrated in myths and legends throughout time. But all of these speak to just one weapon: the Sword of Mana.Using the power of Mana, a civilization had grown strong... In time, Mana was used to create the ultimate weapon: the Mana Fortress... This angered the gods. They sent their beast to destroy the Fortress.. A violent war rocked the world, and Mana seem to disappear... Before all was lost, a hero with the Mana Sword smashed the Fortress... Though the civilization had been destroyed, the world was peaceful again. But time flows like a river... and history repeats..."

I didn't write that, is what they wrote, that was in the intro for the game, if you didn't understand any of it, Mana is a power source for the world, and people use it for various things, some people used it to forge a powerful blade with many names, but best know as the Mana Sword and some used it build a flying fortress called "The Mana Fortress" Of course that was before, but this is now and the same thing is happening again. So your new quest is to find the Secret of Mana... The Mana Sword, and destroy the fortress. Other than that intro, the game story is played out in game like Final Fantasy IV, and plenty of it is reading text. So again, is common for games at the time, there is a few in game cutscenes that does show up but is not often.


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Is safe to say that this game looks great, lots of pretty sight seeing here, so many different environments. Woods, caves, villages, desert, snow, mountains, sky, grasslands, temples, ruins... there is plenty to see here. All environments are lively and animated, waterfall looks great, caves with water are well too, even ones with lava as well, leaves or petals from trees fall on the screen, you get the idea. The characters and enemies also are just as animated and lively, plenty of enemies in the game that have lots of actions and some that don't as well as they look good too. There is even some mode 7 to show off, once you get to fly in the game... oops, was that a spoiler? There is one oddity to mention about the game.

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For some reason the in game menus have higher resolutions than the actual game. So if you see the pictures are bigger and inconsistent, is cause the resolution doubles during the menus, I can't change that but is weird, not sure why. Anyway just strike me as odd, is not like there is much to see in those menus compared to the actual game you play, and there isn't anything impressive about it other than the doubled size. Make you wish you play the whole game with the bigger resolution. This is just nitpicking, but still deserves questioning. I could go on about this but not now, moving on.


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Oh boy this is gonna be good. Time to rock that Sony SPC700 chip to the core! The music in this game is phenomenal, all the music is impressive, making great use of what that chip had to offer to the fullest. Every track gives a supreme demonstration of what it can do. From dark and ominous music to up beat and chipper music. No two songs sound alike which is good cause you want a lot of different songs to show off just what your SNES was capable of. The unique thing about the music is how well it emulates realistic instruments, it sounds almost like 3D audio but not like surround sound, more like dynamic sounding. Seriously, is that good. Catchy tunes.

Not to mention Hiroki Kikuta has his name on the title screen like some other games (Yuzo Koshiro for Streets of Rage series) there is also a article on wikipedia just telling about the music in the game. This game was his first job at game music, and spending nearly 24 hours a day working on this soundtrack, and says that it is his favorite one, all that hard work paid off it seems. Taking a unique approach to the idea, he decided to compose the music using samples matching the system specs rather than instruments to convert to the system specs, that way he always knew how it would sound before putting it into the game. Seriously, this article is on Wikipedia, including how the music got a CD audio release and enhanced remixes and such. This is probably something people remember doing at the time, buying video game soundtrack CD, this sure put him in a good spot on the team I say.


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Okay time to get immersed in this game, find out just how much of this match up with the context on the box. The game has a three characters to play with, you get to name them whatever you want, but they do have names already, the "Hero" Randi starts the game by doing something foolish such as falling off a log down a mountain into the river in a forest, there he finds a sword stuck in the stone. He hears a voice telling him to pull it out and he does. The rusty blade has been acquired, next you have to get back to your village. So you go through the woods but wait... there is monsters, there was never monsters here, oh wait didn't the box say something about a sword releasing evil? Well it also says it beats evil so guess is time to get to work. After getting to the village, you come across a problem that puts you into a hole trying to save someone's life, antlion wants to do battle, so you bash it with the rusty sword and it explode into a fiery burst! After the village elder finds out the sword is the cause of the problem, you are banished from the village, and this starts your quest.

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On this adventure, you meet a pixie or "Sprite" Popoi, he suffers from amnesia and tags along with you to find more about herself, and a "Girl" named Primm who is a princess of a village also that needs saving. These two companions join you on your quest and they aren't useless either. Each one of them can be used by the player at any time or as I said in the beginning, can be played with two other friends, hooray for teamwork, I recommend it over the CPU AI of the game, games are more fun when you play with friends right? Also why wouldn't you want to? This is probably one of the first JRPG games to even have such a feature, just work together, not fight each other.

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Of course with that said, doesn't mean the AI control is completely useless, the game actually has settings to let you plan how they do battle which is praiseworthy at the time the game was released, not many games offered a custom setting for AI control. There is also a targeting function, so you can intentionally command the teammate to attack the specified enemy. Still even with praiseworthy effort that can help single players, I still recommend you play with someone, trust me, if you tried this alone, you would understand why.

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The goal of the game is simple, Jema and Luka who are the only two who are trying to do something against the Mana Fortress help you to prepare. As Luka says, you must visit the world's eight palaces, each holds a home to the world's elemental guardians, they also protect the Mana Seeds you need to connect with to power up the sword. (Story based not actual stat gain) The real way to power up the sword, is to collect orbs that you can ask the dwarf Watts to reforge your weapons with to increase the power, he won't do it for free though. There is a total of 8 weapons which all need constant power orbs to get stronger, which is gained commonly by defeating bosses or opening treasure chests. The eight Guardians also get stronger the more you use their spells which range from attacking to supporting the party giving variety of attack options in battle. Some weapons are needed for various obstacles like axe for cutting down trees and bushes or the whip for swinging across pits. This game sure has a lot going on.


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Let's finish going over the checklist that was advertised. The part of things not being what they seem is still true, there is plenty of oddities in the game. Treasure chest sure are indeed booby trapped, but that is common to RPG games to make player think twice about opening everything one they find... but what about ones that walk on two legs and try to escape, or the ones that becomes monster themselves? That exist. Monsters being friends, and friends are enemies, that is true, I could tell you but that probably be too spoiler for you, let's just say the biggest help will be your biggest problem. There is also items in the game, though there is a decent amount, you can only have 4 of each... for a game that is made by the "Producers of Final Fantasy" and the game they made before this one "Final Fantasy IV" this is odd to have that limited from plenty of items to very few. Let's just call this a pet peeve or nit picking. In reality, is not that bad, suppose is okay considering you won't use them as much as the magic. Accessories are simple cause there is only three types to equip, Armor, Wrist Guard, and Helmet. Is good they kept that simple since it is a action game.

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I think I should have mentioned this earlier. While the game is new, is not considered the first in the series, is based on the gameboy game "The final Fantasy Adventure." Let me be the first to say while it has the name of Final Fantasy, is not based on it at all, but then what game in that series is anyway, am I right? Actually is how the game play that makes that game and this different than main series games with the title. That game play more like Legend of Zelda games at the time, this one also tries to mimic that but with more JRPG content, the idea to mix fast paced action battles with a JRPG system is what make the game unique. Gone is the turn battle system of waiting for stuff to happen after inputs of command, that and also deep customization of characters, and none of those random encounter troubles. You now have a real time game system, where all battles happen.

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In short, the enemies appear on the screen at all times and you can choose to attack or stay away rather than have those forced random encounters. Of course the enemies can also choose to attack you as well which they most likely will do, each with their own strength and weakness. You can switch weapons, use items and such with a ring command. Is like the condensed version of a camp menu in more common JRPG, is simple to keep the player engaged in the action. The only problem I find with the real time battles is how difficult some can get. Monsters have attacks that can keep constantly hitting you even when you're down and you can die in a matter of seconds with no way to recover, don't believe me, just try the first boss, that is just one enemy. You may think is not a problem since you can just move out the way, but the enemies have some very cheap attacks that auto lock to you. Your way of attacking is not easy either, each player has a stamina or focus gauge. Every time you swing your weapon, it drops to zero and needs to recharge, is the best way to get high damage, any attacks before is %100 is weakened and mostly ineffective. You do have charge attacks but it takes long to build up and probably least used over all. Your best chance to win is have high stats, buy accessories and level up and plan attacks.


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Does the game live up to the expectations of the boxes advertisement? I say so, this is definitely a bizarre breed of a game, considering it has to point out is made by The producers of Final Fantasy with not much relevant content to the series, is just a spin off game. The game is well received for the bright colorful and animated graphics, wonderful composed music and gameplay that starts the concept of fast paced real time action progress over the slow turn based one. The story also to get you curious about this new and strange world where so much stuff seem out of ordinary, even more than going underground or to the moon in Final Fantasy IV, this game is more of a fantasy than Final Fantasy. Most of those games follow that medieval European renaissance theme like the King Arthur and the knights of the round table, this game follows a fantasy, lots of things are completely made up and put together to make the player say "What the heck is going on here, that never happens, unbelievable!" Isn't that what a fantasy is? Having Santa Clause in a video game is indeed a good fantasy!

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This game has inspired a series based on this concept and it holds up well. Secret of Evermore which is based on this concept also on SNES copy a lot from this game. Remakes of the original "Final Fantasy Adventure" was changed to use this kind of gameplay. Also this game received a mobile port to smartphones IOS and Android as well as others. That one does look a lot better... in some cases, but is probably as close you can get as playing a near acceptable replication of the SNES game, keeping the sprites and artwork mostly pixel art, with some nice but odd touches to graphics and fixing some issues the original had like walking up stairs. Trust me, is novelty, not bad but questionable, it seem like a game you make in shockwave flash, I'm not kidding. Again is not bad but it could be worst right? Let's hope the new one on modern consoles will remind us about this time, hopefully they will fix some of the problems this game has with the combat system.
+ Bright & Colorful detailed graphics
+ Great quality soundtrack
+ Interesting gameplay concept
- Challenging gameplay that can test your patience
- Could use more presentation of storytelling
- Questionable use of higher resolution in menus.
7 Presentation
The game shows off some very nice colorful and detailed graphics, use of mode 7 is well done in all cases. Big detailed sprites compared to the Box size ones in Final Fantasy IV is a nice improvement. The simple story telling of ingame text is a bit common but could have been nice to see more than just that, some animated scenes, detailed pictures like the title screen would have been nice touches.
8 Gameplay
While I think the gameplay is okay, it can be frustrating at times to suddenly lose and feel cheated, I think that is the only discouraging thing about the game. If you want to try this, I suggest playing with friends, the AI custom options system is something to be impressed by but is only luck how useful it is for a single player experience, like most games AI companions have not been received well. Is still enjoyable experience if you dislike slow progressive games like Final Fantasy.
10 Lasting Appeal
This is one of those games that could be brought up time and time again. Is something people will remember playing and either you telling your friends to play or they are telling you if none of you have yet. Having a three player co-op JRPG was unheard of at the time and this broke the scale of what type of games people enjoyed at the time. I'm probably overselling it but I'm only pointing out what should be acknowledged rather than preach why you need to experience it.
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
There is a mixture of content in here that makes this game considered a purchased back in the day. During a time where JRPG wasn't common or favored anywhere else but Japan and wanted to share it with us, is shows how much they tried to get us introduced to the genre. Plenty of things to offer in this game that even if you wouldn't call it your top favorite game of all time, you just need the experience to understand what it offered.

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