Secret of Mana, was originally released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu 2, so yep the first thing I am telling you is that this game is in fact a sequel. Seiken Densetsu apparently translates to Legend of the Sacred Sword. the original Seiken Densetsu was released as Final Fantasy Adventure in North America and Mystic Quest in Europe and was on the Game Boy. So the series began as a handheld side story to Square's flagship franchise Final Fantasy, though you wouldn't know this from playing Secret of Mana as all of the the Final Fantasy elements were dropped starting with this second instalment in the series and in all honesty it became a series in its own right with its own fan fare and legion of loyal followers.
So Secret of Mana can best be described as an action role-playing game it was both developed and published by Square for the SNES and released in 1993. Surprisingly this is the first time I have managed to talk about Square in my SNES series, yes they are a great studio but there stuff is usually expensive. In fact I spent £25 on my American cart of Secret of Mana and that was quiet a long time ago before prices really started to jump. I didn't own Mana back when it was released but one of my close friends did, and I used to go round his a lot and play it, I really enjoyed it but for some reason I just never decided to pick my own copy up, maybe its because when I was younger I tended to jump from game to game, so didn't really think an RPG was the best use of my cash. It was years latter when I decided to buy it and I basically just kept checking eBay until I saw a buy it now American copy with free postage. It was this game that actually resulted in me modifying my Super Nintendo. You see I was playing it through a convertor and well it was on a cupboard and when my daughter would run into the room the cupboard would rock a little and this would make the SNES rock and well it would crash, one time it crashed and somehow this ruined my save and I lost 15 hours worth of playing. I then began to think about what I could do to fix this situation, the obvious solution would be to simply sell my copy and spend whatever it cost to buy a Pal version, or heck just purchase an American SNES. Somehow I ended up reading about how to make a UK SNES play import games, and as a result of this I widened the cartridge slot, and disabled the region lockout on my machine and altered it so it ran at 60hz, I could have gotten more clever and gone down the route of switches etcetera but I decided to just have my altered SNES and a regular one as well as bad as this sounds it was simply easier.
OK so what makes Secret of Mana such a unique and often talked about game? Well for a start its a Square game so there is that name recognition but its also a little different for one its not just a single player game its also a cooperative multiplayer game with a system which allows for a second and even third player to drop in and out of the game at any time. You start the game as one character and as you play a further two are unlocked, and well as soon as one is unlocked a friend can jump in and play with you. As an adult this sounds pretty cool but as a kid this was simply amazing, it meant I could drop in on my friend and if he was playing this game it didn't mean that I had to just sit there and watch him play or that he had to come of the game because he had a visitor nope I could just grab a pad and jump right into the game. OK so I think its pretty obvious that being two player its not going to be an old Final Fantasy style RPG where everyone stands there waiting for there turn to attack, no rather than using a turn-based battle system like other role-playing games back then this game instead offers real-time battles with a power bar mechanic. For anyone who hasn't played Secret of Mana I guess id kind of explain this game as kind of feeling like its an almost Final Fantasy meets Zelda a Link to the Past kind of thing. The game also has a unique ''Ring Command'' menu system, when you use this it pauses the action and allows you to make decisions in the middle of battle.
I might have spent quiet awhile going on about how great it is that people can drop in and out of your game but even if your on your own or don't really like playing games with other human beings then the game still has you covered offering customizable artificial intelligence (AI) settings for your computer-controlled allies. While you control one character the other two will then behave however you have set them to behave with you having choices between having them run in swinging without a care in the world or having them behave more defenselessly staying away from enemies and only fighting when absolutely necessary. Or you can set them to run in swinging. The experience gained is equally shared so you don't need to worry about them either stealing to many kills from you and your character therefore loosing experience, or them cowering too much and becoming weak. There is a fairly large variety of enemies. You get creatures called Rabites, which are pretty much half rabbit half blob, then there are zombies and goblins all sorts of different things sure there are some pallet swaps but its not done to death and in my opinion it doesn't hurt the game at all there are also some pretty darn cool bosses.
OK so lets talk a little about the weapons you get how you attack with them and what makes this cool. You have an area on screen which sits under your character's icon and health meter this shows percentages, if you stop attacking it will climb up to 100% wait for this and the attack will be stronger, so rathter than slashing like mad its often better to hit and avoid to let this build.
As you increase your weapon abilities, which is done by killing enemies with a certain weapon, you will gain techniques. You use these techniques by holding the attack button and you will see a bar fill up to the desired level 1-8 and then when you release your button you will do a more powerful attack, to start with these are pretty simple like a jumping slash but they just get better and better. There are 8 weapons in the game and they are a sword, an axe, a spear, a pole arm, a boomerang, a bow, a whip, and a glove. So what you have is 8 selectable weapons for 3 characters, so you get to control who uses what and when. All of these weapons are upgradable by finding orbs and then taking them to the blacksmith. As the weapons are improved by the blacksmith they get stronger and develop abilities, so you might find that certain ones stun enemies or become strong against particular things. Now you will most likely just work out which are your favourites but its great to have the choice and for me at least it does add some playability as you can try to do things a little different next time, like using the whip, glove and bow instead of the spear, sword and axe. I could talk about this game all day but I don't want to give away everything about the game , and I certainly don't want to talk about the story in the slightest and that's because this game gets a very high recommendation from me and I want people to know just enough to feel curious and to go out and try the game.
OK so I have talked about my history with the game , I have talked about the play mechanics and seeing as I think gameplay is king id kind of be happy to leave it here but I guess I should talk about the graphics and the sound. I think the graphics are beautiful, you have great 16-bit sprites that living in a bright colourful world absolutely dripping with detail, its a wonderful living breathing world in cartridge form. You have large impressive bosses I think its just a treat for the eyes.
As for the games Music well the game has an absolutely fantastic score it is at times peaceful, at other times atmospheric and sometimes beautiful, its just as far as I am concerned one of the greatest game scores on the system which ticks every box and is an emotional roller coaster. As far as sound effects go you have all of the Slashes and such you would expect in a game of this type and most importantly nothing ever feels repetitive or out of place.
Overall I would have to say that this game is one of the very best games on the system, and even if you don't usually like RPG's with this games multiplayer and its spin on it being an action RPG, id recommend that you give it a bash. I feel I need to give this game a very rare 10 out of 10 after all it has to be one hell of a game for you to modify your whole console because of it doesn't it?
OK so if you want to play this game prices for pal carts start at about £40 I have also seen a lot of fake carts knocking around, with some of the owners/sellers even believing them to be real, this is something worth considering. To try and combat this take a good look at pictures of real ones and then study any you consider buying. It is also worth noting that this game made it on to the SNES mini AKA the Super NES classic Edition. It has also had a 3d remake for various modern platformers but I haven't tried that so wont be commenting on it beyond making people aware of its existence.