Secret of Mana, or Seiken Densetsu 2 as it is known in Japan, introduced to me many of the RPG concepts that I was very unfamiliar with at the time I played it. Being the very first RPG to enter my life, it’s safe to say that this game was my “gateway drug” into the world of video game RPGs. When the game came out, I decided to buy it because it looked like a Zelda game, a series I was (am still am) a huge fan of. However, I soon came to realize that, unlike Zelda games, Secret of Mana is more than just an adventure game – it’s an RPG. Using terminology I had never heard before such as HP, MP, and EXP, this game was one that took a while for me to really get into. However, to this date, it remains one of my favorite RPGs of all time.
In the past, man used a magical energy known as Mana was used to create the Mana Fortress, a flying weapon of destruction. The gods, greatly angered by this, sent magical beasts to destroy the fortress. One day, a hero appeared. Using his magical sword, aptly named the Mana Sword, he destroyed the Mana Fortress, and peace returned to the world.
“But time flows like a river… and history repeats…”
In the present day, a boy and his friends are out playing at the town’s nearby waterfall. The boy, who is our protagonist, discovers a sword inside a stone. After hearing a voice beckoning him to pull out the sword, the boy does so and consequently unleashes monsters into the surrounding area. The boy soon finds out that this is no ordinary sword; it is the legendary Mana Sword, albeit having been greatly weakened throughout time. The boy sets out to restore power to the Mana Sword by activating the world’s eight Mana Seeds. However, there are some selfish individuals that wish to use the power of Mana for their own desires. They want to bring back the calamities of the past in hopes of creating their own ideal world. The boy and two friends he meets on his quest embark on an epic journey to rid the world of those who wish to do it harm.
Secret of Mana, like many RPGs of the time, is played in a top-down overhead view. You start out playing as the boy, who you provide with your own name. As you progress through the game, two other characters will join your party. You can switch control to any of these characters at any time. In fact, Secret of Mana is one of the first (and few) games to make use of the Super Nintendo Multitap, an extension device that allowed you to plug additional controllers into the Super Nintendo, which normally only had ports for two controllers. If you plan to play this game, get two of your friends together and enjoy some multiplayer co-op. If you’d rather play the game by yourself, the other two characters are controlled by an AI which you are able to customize in a very easy-to-use interface.
Gameplay is just like that of a standard adventure game, but with RPG elements. Enemies are seen and fought on the field, with no separate battle screens or menus. Just press a button to swing your weapon and attack. Button-mashing, however, is a no-go in this game. After each attack, it’s recommended you wait some time for your strength to replenish, or else your subsequent attack could be considerably weaker. Secret of Mana uses an interesting “ring menu” system. When you enter the menu, a ring will appear around your character with various options, allowing you to check your stats and use items, among other things. In essence, it’s not much different from most RPG menu systems, but the “ring” presentation makes it somewhat unique.
Levels are gained by obtaining EXP, which you get from fighting enemies. In addition to gaining character levels, your weapons and magic spells also need to be leveled up as well. When attacking, weapons can be charged up to a certain level, allowing you to unleash a special attack that will make short work of many enemies. The amount at which you can charge said weapon depends on its level, which depends on how much you use it. There are a variety of different weapons available in this game, and each character is capable of using every weapon, so you’re given some customization in that aspect.
A bit into the game, two of your characters will begin to learn magic, a very powerful tool which will make most boss battles much easier. However, this also needs to be leveled up, and the only way to do that is – you guessed it – casting each spell over and over and over until it levels up. This can be quite tedious, and is one of the few downsides to this mostly outstanding game.
At the time, the graphics were quite stunning. The outside areas and dungeons alike are immense and beautiful. The music soundtrack is just as stunning as the graphics, if not more. Composed by Hiroki Kikuta, a man who doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, Secret of Mana‘s soundtrack could not have been done any better. It is a perfect accompaniment to an epic fantasy story, complemented by the game’s beautiful graphics.
If you never played Secret of Mana, you’re missing out. Fortunately, the game has been released for the Nintendo Virtual Console, and even supports up to three players via GameCube controllers or Classic Controllers! Do yourself a favor, and give this timeless classic a try, because it is truly a masterpiece of its time.
Secret of Mana, originally on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System is also available for download via Nintendo’s Virtual Console.