Secret of Mana
Box Shot
Secret of Mana
Platform: Super Nintendo
Publisher: Square
Designer: Square
Genre: RPG
Players: 3 (Simultaneous)
Published Date 1994
Reviewed by: Rupto-pack

To me, something about this game has always been magical. It's a combination of the lush and colorful graphics, the memorable and stirring music, and the light-hearted sense of adventure. It has Square written all over it. It's because of great games like this that my Super Nintendo is still hooked up after all these years.

The story behind this quest is simple, but can get confusing as plot details and characters intertwine and you're sent from place to place. The world is alive with Mana energy, stored in 8 seeds in different lands, and each protected by an elemental spirit. But the power-hungry human Empire has been stealing the seeds and misusing their energy, and breaking the seals which keep the legendary Mana Fortress safely under the sea. So the mythical Mana Sword, lost in the ancient forests, calls out to a hero to restore the balance of Mana. Eventually you'll have three travellers; a boy, a girl, and a Sprite, all of whom must be named by the player. You control one of the three, and set behavior for the other two on a grid in your menu which contrasts "attack" and "guard" horizontally, and "approach" and "keep away" vertically. So placing their icon in the upper left square is the most aggressive, and the lower right most defensive. You can also assign your controller to any one of the three at any time by hitting the Select button, which is necessary sometimes when your main character is knocked unconscious during battle. Another nice feature is that a friend can join in at any time and play as one of the extra characters with controller 2. All the fighting is real-time, but the action pauses when you bring up the menu to select spells or items. Unfortunately your party can only carry four of each item, so be careful with your inventory. You'll receive eight types of spells from the eight seed guardians: Earth (Gnome), Water (Undine), Fire (Salamando), Air (Sylphid), Moon (Luna), Light (Lumina), Darkness (Shade), and Mana (Dryad). Only the girl and Sprite can use magic.

The characters and enemies have a high cuteness factor, but Square is good at doing that without getting too goofy. Heck, what can be cuter than baby moogles? There's even an appearance by Santa and Rudolf. It seems Santa was disappointed that kids no longer believe in him, and accidentally turned into a Frost Gigas when he used a Mana seed to try and grow a giant Christmas tree. How could I forget to mention enemies like the Mushboom, a little mushroom guy that bends over and erupts a cloud of poisonous gas. And for some mysterious reason, every single town has a dancing shopkeeper.

There are three types of armor you can buy for your characters - body, helmet, and wrist. Sometimes they can't all use the same item. For instance, only the girl can use the "Tiger Bikini." There are also 8 types of weapons you can get: Sword, Glove, Whip, Axe, Bow, Boomerang, Spear, and Javelin. Each can be powered up by a master forger named Watts, but only after you receive that weapon's power orb by defeating a boss. Boss battles aren't as large and crazy as in some other Square games, but they're still fun and frequent. There are several bosses that keep coming back, so you'll have to fight stronger and stronger versions of them. Most of the bad guys in the game are working for the evil Empire and are figuring out devious ways to abuse the Mana power. A king is using Mana energy to make an entire city into gold, a mercenary is using it to heat up an arctic town, and well, there's Santa's little mishap.

Special effects, as in spell casting or story segments, aren't very spectacular, but the visuals in general still rate high. Some of the environments are so detailed and colorful you almost feel like you could reach into the tv and touch them. My only gripes about the game are some slowdown when there are many characters on the screen, like in a busy town, and an annoying pause that sometimes happens when entering a new area - everything freezes for a split second and you can't move. But there's no question that Secret of Mana is a classic 16-bit masterpiece from Square, and one of the reasons the SNES is still a favorite console of RPG lovers.