Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Secret of Mana (SNES)

Secret of Mana europe pal title screen snes
Developer:Square|Release Date:1994 (1993 JP/NA)|Systems:SNES

This month on Super Adventures, I'm finally getting around to the legendary Secret of Mana!

I'm running a few weeks late here so I'll get my internet-sourced trivia introduction text out of the way quickly so I can get to the game.

• That 'Nasir' you see on the title screen is Nasir Gebelli, the programmer of Final Fantasy I, II and III.
• Trying to figure out the game's exact relation to Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger could drive you nuts.
• It started out as a project codenamed "Maru Island" before becoming a Seiken Densetsu sequel.
• It was planned for the SNES CD addon, but was drastically revised and cut down for a cartridge release.
• Many of the unused ideas from the CD version ended up in Chrono Trigger.
• The dialogue was cut back even further for the English translation due to space limitations.
• It's getting a 3D remake next year!
• It's one of the games on the Super NES Classic!
• I've never played it.
• Well actually I have, but it wasn't for long and I don't think I liked it much.
• All I remember is walking down a river and maybe visiting a town before getting bored.

Also, it's one of the most popular and critically acclaimed SNES games, so I'm going to have to try not to hate on it too much.



I left the title screen on to listen to theme music for a bit and it switched into backstory mode, with the background opening up to reveal an impressively scruffy looking picture of the heroes standing on a branch. Apparently, when Mana's power fades the world goes through some horrific resizing and image compression.

When it ran out of text the black bars opened entirely, revealing that the characters are staring at... the blurry base of a giant tree. And then some pink flamingo-looking birds started flying by.

Seiken Densetsu 2
The original Japanese version features the same scruffy looking image, but it's sharper and there's much more of it on screen, so there's a bit of scenery to enjoy. It's almost like they had to crop it below the logo for the Western release because they didn't have a clean image to use.

Oh right, the scrolling text. It basically says 'Everything's going to crap as Mana's power fades. Excalibur, Herald, Gigas are all names for the same sword, the Sword of Mana, and people would really appreciate if a hero would come and wield it already'

Fine, I'll go start a new game and wield the damn sword then, if it's that important.

Whoa, it's gone high res all of a sudden. Well, higher res; they've doubled the number of horizontal pixels but kept the number of vertical pixels.

Hmm, I could spend half an hour trying to think of something, or I could just call him 'RAY' and move on.

Oh damn, I should've called him 'RADAIR'! Man, I haven't used that name since my website's ancient times. I can't even remember what game it was a reference to now.

Anyway, the unskippable intro scrolls past some stuff while more backstory comes up. Like this Mana Fortress for instance. It's the ultimate weapon, created using the power of Mana, and gods hate it. In fact, they hate it so much that they sent beasts to destroy it.

This caused a violent war which only ended when a hero with the Mana Sword came over and smashed the Fortress up for them. And so the crisis was over and disaster had been averted...

...though civilization did end up being wiped out along the way. Shit happens I guess. What's important here is that for once the great evil wasn't just sealed away for 1000 years. The problem's gone, it's dealt with.

Though that's not quite true. You see, "time flows like a river... and history repeats..."

Wait, what does that mean? Is the intro likening history to the repeated cycle of evaporation, condensation and precipitation that keeps rivers going? Or did it just bring up 'flowing like a river' because it sounded meaningful?

Hey, it starts with a Mode 7 flyby of the world map! Reminds me of... Lufia II maybe? Final Fantasy V? Damn, I can't remember what it reminds me of. Some other SNES JRPG starts like this, and it's like that.

After swooping around a bit, it cuts to the hero crossing a log with his friends Elliott and Timothy the dunce.

Turns out that the hero really sucks at walking across logs, and his friends are no help at all. All they're good for is exposition, as they mention that they're not supposed to be out here due to the ghost. But Elliott heard from his grandma that there's a shiny thing down by the waterfall and they want it.

That message box up there doesn't look so great right now, but it makes more sense if you imagine what it looks like on a blurry TV. Also here's an interesting fact:

The US version of the game has slighty thinner text than the UK release I'm playing now, making it slightly harder to read! Alright, that's all the region comparisons I can be bothered with, I'm just going to play the game now.

Though I will compare it to its predecessor Seiken Densetsu 1/Final Fantasy Adventure/Mystic Quest for a moment, by pointing out that both games start with the hero falling down a waterfall.

This game's much more colourful though.

The good news is that the hero survived! The bad news is that he's trapped behind impenetrable walls of weeds and lily pads with no hope of escaping this repetitive music loop. Not unless he can find some kind of cutting tool anyway.

So I walked up through that bizarre gap in the river bank that water isn't spilling out of and pulled literal Excalibur from the stone. This earned me a visit from the ghost, who said very little and then disappeared again. Well... okay then.

Wait, this doesn't look like the legendary Sword of Mana or Excalibur. I wanted to be King of the Britons but all I got was this rusty piece of crap!

It seems like I've managed to bring up a weapon select menu here, but there aren't enough blades lying around for me to be picky about what I use to cut a way out, so I'll have to make do with what I've got. I guess I'll go hit those weeds and then hike back to town then.


A SHORT HIKE THROUGH THE FOREST LATER.


I've discovered that game's a Zelda-style action adventure with RPG elements and a lot of rabbit things that need a good stabbing. Every few kills I get either a level up or a sword level up, which makes numbers go up slightly. It doesn't ask me which numbers I want raising though.

Like the first game this has a bar along the bottom of the screen that fills up over time when I'm not attacking, but in this I do crap damage unless it's maxed out. What this means is there's a lot of waiting around in battle. I take a swipe, wait three seconds, take a swipe, wait three seconds... and so on. The bar also fuels my sprint, so that's something I won't be doing much of.

Sometimes when enemies die they leave behind a chest as big as they are with a single piece of candy inside, which is a bit weird. Though not as weird as the fact that I can push the chests around. I can push the enemies around too! There's no blocks that need pushing though, so it seems that pushing is just for fun. Or to get stray NPCs out of the damn way.

Speaking of stray NPCs, Granny's gone wandering into the side of a house again. In fact, these villagers are all over the place, like little wind-up toys that speed off across the ground and turn around when they hit something.

I haven't been told what to do here and the hero's inner monologue's gone quiet, so I guess I'm just supposed to go check the houses until I find the village elder or some other human-shaped switch that'll get the story moving and free me from this pretty pastel shaded prison.

Have I mentioned how nice the graphics are yet? They're not the best pixels I've seen on the SNES, later Square games like Chrono Trigger and Seiken Densetsu 3 have it beat, but it ain't bad looking.

Whoa, I actually was supposed to go speak to the elder!

Seems that the folks in this town are all well aware that the Sword of Mana was in the ground next to the waterfall, which makes it a little weird that Elliott's grandma would've been overheard talking about a "shiny object near the falls" earlier. It's like she wanted the kids to go off to see what the treasure was and take it.

She probably also knew that the Mana Sword has been protecting their village from the monsters and without it they're doomed, but of course they'd rather blame poor clueless me for their inevitable ruin. Elliott's blaming me with punches.

Nice going Elliott, you went and knocked us both down into a sinkhole and I'm fighting a boss single-handedly. Because I was the only one of us smart enough to be carrying the legendary Mana Sword.

A man shouted down to watch how the monster moves and learn its routine before attacking, so I've been trying that. Unfortunately, it turns out that its routine includes firing off unblockable homing attacks that take off a chunk of my health, so there's not much I can do about that. Plus they usually knock me unconscious too, so that he can walk over and get another hit in.

I think that the special attacks might work a bit like in a turn-based Final Fantasy game, where you don't jump out of the way, you just take your damage and then heal up afterwards. Shame I can only carry four bits of life-restoring candy.

And now the hero's dead. He's so dead that the Grim Reaper's dropped by to claim his soul.

Fortunately, the guy above's still giving me more advice and he won't let me die until I've tried it out. Advice like 'wait until your power is at full and then aim carefully'. No shit, guy above, that's the only way to deal any damage worth a crap in this game!

The fight continued like this for a while, with my hero getting a hit in, dying to an undodgeable energy wave or gem missiles, getting resurrected, getting another hit in and so on. I was knocked out half a dozen more times before it was over, but even I couldn't lose an unloseable fight and I eventually wore the monster out with my persistence.

Sword's orb get!

This is the guy who was shouting advice to my hero and keeping him from being dead. Jema here seems to know a bit about the Mana Sword, so I tried handing in over to him so that it could be his problem. I mean my character tried to pass the sword over to him; I don't get to make any dialogue choices myself.

Unfortunately, this is one of those 'only the person who pulled the sword free can do what needs to be done' kinds of situations, so I'm stuck with it. But Jema at least told me that Sage Luka in the Water Palace's the person to speak to for advice on how to get the sword re-energized. Then he said 'I'll meet you there' and walked off! Wouldn't it make more sense for us to travel as a team, seeing as my young hero seems to need his help in order to not repeatedly die?

Before I left I had to go have a chat to the Elder, and I found that whole village has dropped by to tell me how I've gone and ruined everything by removing the Mana Sword.

Well perhaps they should've told me about the thing then! Put a sign up maybe. "Don't remove sword, it is protecting us from the monsters -- Thanks, Elder". Build a fence around it. Stick a bucket over it. Anything!

The Elder is taking pity on me at least and is letting me have the 50gp he keeps in a chest in the basement. That's the first I've been able to interact with inside a house in this game and possibly the only one. I'm grateful, but I was kind of hoping for a backpack, a warm coat and a packed lunch.

And now I've been hereby banished from Potos village. Well, at least it didn't get burned down. Yet.


A SHORT WALK TO THE SOUTH LATER.


I got surprise-attacked by a perfectly normal looking flower! It was all innocent and normal and then suddenly the head grows twice the size and out come the teeth. The poisonous teeth.

That poison really eats through my health, and between the flowers and their mushroom allies I soon found myself out of hitpoints. Annoyingly that's it for me, game over, as I don't have lives, I don't respawn in town with a lighter wallet, and I haven't passed any save points.Now I'm going to have to replay everything all over again from the start. Including the intro and that bloody boss fight.

I passed a fork in the road on the way here. Next time I think I'm going to try going the other way.


14 MINUTES OF REPLAYED CONTENT LATER


The other way led to a giant cannon at the top of some stairs! The guy below called it a 'cannon transportation system' and said my fare's been paid by Jema so I'm good to go.

So I just climb inside and hope that there's a massive stack of mattresses waiting for me on the other side then? Do I at least get to wear a cooking pot as a crash helmet?

OH SHIIIIIIT! THE LOONEY TUNES PHYSICS IN THIS CUTSCENE ARE WILDLY INCONGRUENT WITH THE MORE TYPICAL JRPG TONE OF THE GAME UP TO THIS POINT!

ALSO I DON'T SEE ANY MATTRESSES!

My flight ended with me slamming into the ground right in front of the Water Palace, so I headed inside and met with Jema and Luka for more exposition. Annoyingly though, I had to keep initiating conversation with the two of them a few times to hear all of it.

Alright, it turns out that removing the sword really did revive the monsters, but it was necessary because I need to take it to each of the 8 temples like this to get it re-energized. Also I need to get more Sword orbs by killing bosses and then bring them to a skilled blacksmith to unlock the sword's power. I'll find him in the cave called, uh, Gaia's Navel. It's south through the realm of Pandora apparently. Oh plus I've been given a spear as well, so I need to get that upgraded too. Man I'm going to need a journal at this rate. The Sage isn't just a handy source of quest information though, as she also saved the game for me! So that's 20 minutes of gameplay I won't have to do again.

I guess I'd better start heading south then.


SOME ADVENTURING LATER.


I've found a cat called Neko who runs a shop! I wouldn't have thought that cats would be suited for retail work, but this guy seems alright. Though I don't like how he won't tell me if an item's better than what I have. Or equal. Or whether I own one already. Or even what the thing does. The only info I can get out of him is the price and a little icon showing me which characters can equip it. Okay, maybe cats do suck at running a shop.

Though he also runs an inn and it turns out that a save option is thrown in as part of the deal! So now I know that I can probably save in any of the other towns I come across, provided I don't get myself banished from them as well.

Right, I've spent my hard earned coin on a wristband and a bandanna, so now I need to figure out how to put them on. All I see in this bloody ring menu is a sword and a spear.

I’ve found the rest of the menus! I just had to keep pressing up when I brought up the weapon select wheel.

This ring menu system works well enough when you know how to use it, but intuitive it ain't. The different pages are hidden until you cycle through them with the d-pad, there's no evidence that they even exist, so it's very much designed with people who read instruction booklets in mind.

Hey, I’ve got stats! If I note these numbers down, then next time I get a level up I can check the page again and be amazed at how some of them have automatically gotten higher.

Well the Neko shop was handy, but it's also a dead end, so I need to get back on the road and head south through Pandora to this cave.

SOUTH, PAST PANDORA.


Man this place is a spirally mess. Even with the signs I've been coming across I'm still not sure if I'm heading the right way. It'd be nice if I could bring up a world map, like that one they keep using for the Mode 7 effects.

I'm fighting new enemies here, but combat hasn't changed much; they just take three or four fully charged whacks to kill now. Also, I'm sure my character's started pulling off backflips to dodge attacks sometimes, which is weird because I can't seem to trigger the move deliberately. Maybe it's just because I've upgraded my EVADE % stat.

I found the cave entrance! But then a bat cast 'Balloon Lv. 0' on me and froze me to the spot! So that's new. But what really confuses me, is why the string's so low res. Those are some chunky pixels.

The bats are nothing though, it's the slimes that are really causing me grief. Every time I think I'm making progress cutting through the pack, the survivor splits up and I'm fighting three slimes again. Also they can poison me! Fortunately I can just walk around the gloopy gits, even though it means leaving XP on the table.

I still haven't come across any block pushing puzzles, which is a surprise, though the game did play a game of 'guess what that switch you just flicked did' with me. Plus I ran into my buddy Neko again, just hanging out in a cave. Seems like he's always going to be one step ahead of me, waiting around every dungeon like the Merchant in Resident Evil 4. Suits me though, I could use some candy and a save point.

It wasn't long before I reached the dwarven village of Gais's Navel, and it sure is a letdown. It's just dull empty cave with a few doors, and dwarfs wandering around and bouncing off the walls like lemmings. I feel like the game's expecting me to want to talk to them all for important clues, but I'm not feeling any driving need to go do that.

By the way, see how close I am to the screen here? That's how much space the game's given me to react to enemies as I'm walking around. I keep having to step forward a bit to push the screen over and then leap back again in case there's an enemy there.

I've found the dwarven blacksmith at least, and the guy's so hardcore he uses a pool of lava instead of a fire. I guess he's been doing it so long he's built up a tolerance to the intense heat and suffocating toxic gases.

So that's it, I handed over my Sword orb and some money, and got the rusty Mana Sword reforged into a broad sword. Mission complete! I'd be happy enough to turn the game off here, but I know that you can collect two extra characters during the story and I feel like I should at least try to recruit one of them before I quit. Especially as I spotted them in this village.

Plus I don't want to quit until I've earned enough cash to buy a new hat; I'm only like 50gp short! Half of what gets me hooked on these classic RPGs is my need to keep going just long enough to get that one other piece of gear in the shop. Well, maybe a little more than half.

Suddenly things have taken an unexpected turn. I was on my way out to earn some cash, but another incident happened like in the first town and now I'm fighting the second boss: Pineapple Dynamite Headdy!

Fortunately he was piss easy, I just had to avoid the bouncing pumpkins and give him a smack whenever I had the chance, and a sprite joined my party afterwards as my second hero! I mean like a fairy, elf, pixie kind of sprite, not a little pixel character... though it's that too. The sprite can basically do anything my first hero can, equip gear, use the weapons, level up, and I can switch between them at any time. Whichever one I'm not using follows behind and helps out in combat as player 2.


SOME TIME LATER.


And now I have all three heroes! Trouble is, the girl and sprite start off as level 1, so they're fairly useless and have a tendency to die quickly. Though death isn't the handicap it used to be, because as long as one hero's standing I can keep going. The others follow as ghosts, unable to do anything but wait for me to stop being stingy with the resurrection items.

Combat feels better now with these two hanging around and piling on enemies, as even a low damage hit will stun. It doesn't actually change how it plays, as I'm still smacking monsters with something, waiting three seconds, and then doing it again, but at least there's more happening on screen now.

My two partners are a little dumb and like to get stuck on scenery sometimes until I assume direct control, but that can be solved by getting two friends to play with you. Can't be many RPGs on the SNES with drop-in three-player co-op.


EVEN MORE TIME LATER.


Well I was doing alright so far, but now I’m fighting a spiky tiger who can paralyse me and set me on fire from across the room and I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore. I mean I get that I'm supposed to shoot him with the bow, but keeping my team alive long enough to join in seems hopeless. I filled my pockets with maximum resurrection items and snacks before I came here, and it's all gone now; it took all my healing items just to keep one character alive through the undodgeable flames. I was down to 1 HP at one point!

Man, at the start the constant ... three second ... pauses ... between ... attacks ... during ... combat had me looking for an excuse to stop playing, but the game had been slowly growing on me until this difficulty spike bullshit. The tiger can drop on me out of nowhere, bounce around the level, set fire to me, freeze me... it's a nightmare I never stood any chance of surviving. I'm going to be kicked back to the last Neko save point, and I've got no interest in playing up to this guy again, because the only new tactic I can think of trying is 'grind more'.

Uh... what just happened? I want to rage quit the fight but I can't, because it's all over and I won; I beat Spiky on my first try. So, I guess that means that I have to like the game then? Oh whatever, I'm still going to quit here, but it can have one of my prestigious 'kept my attention, didn't hate it' stars:


I feel like I should be saying something else here, but nope. I got nothing.


Thanks for finding my site, clicking on this article and making it all the way down here. All that's left for you to do now is leave a comment.

10 comments:

  1. no next game preview ? this article feels less enthusiastic than the previous ones, is this the end of your journey ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's getting that obvious, huh?

      But no this isn't the end of Super Adventures. I want to at least finish off the rest of the year before I make a decision about its future (or lack of it).

      Delete
    2. Pedro Meniqueti Martinez Samora de las Mercedez5 October 2017 at 00:49

      If you decide to end this, I think you need to beat a "boss fight", reviewing Mel Croucher's Deus Ex Machina while drunk or something. Some kind of tremendous termination that serves as a big apotheosis for your adventure.

      Delete
    3. Even if you decide to not update this website anymore, please keep it online!

      Some of your old reviews, when you cracked a lot of jokes and funny comments, were hilarious! And I like re-reading those.

      Delete
    4. No! As punishment for people not finding my newer articles funny I'm taking them all down forever!

      Don't worry, even if I did somehow come up with a really good reason to take the site offline (and I don't see that happening), it'd still be on the Internet Archive.

      Delete
  2. In my opinion, you should return to obscure/bad games, I think this kind of games are so good that leaves no room for parody, laugh, weird stuff. But hey, I already recommended 4 or 5 games in your new year post

    ReplyDelete
  3. Pretty glad that it's not only me that Secret of Mana is arduous

    ReplyDelete
  4. This one has never appealed to me, despite its reputation, because I prefer the number-crunching type of rpg. What's weird is that football management sims are functionally identical to the type of rpg I prefer but I don't much like those. Swords and spreadsheets are the way to go!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Your site got me through a rough time, and if you want to end it, feel free. That’s the glory of the inter-web.! I’ll miss you, and also felt this game was tough to love.

    ReplyDelete

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