Secret of Mana is an action RPG by Squaresoft. It was released in North America in 1993 for the Super Nintendo. The naming between North America and Japan can be confusing. In Japan, Secret of Mana came out as Seiken Densetsu 2. Secret of Mana is the sequel to Final Fantasy Adventure (Seiken Densetsu 1).
In December 2010, SquareEnix released Secret of Mana for the iPhone and iPod Touch. It's the same classic game; all they did was overlay buttons over it for the touch display. Click here for some screenshots. In October 2014, this same mobile version was released for Android.
In February 2018, Square Enix released a 3D remake of Secret of Mana for PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, and PS Vita. Check out these comparison screenshots between the 3D remake and the original to see the differences. Besides being in 3D, it's the exact same game; there aren't any new features or big changes to the gameplay. The only significant change is that exchanges of dialogue are now presented as simplistic cutscenes complete with voice acting in either Japanese or English.
In June 2019, Square Enix released Collection of Mana. This collection includes Final Fantasy Adventure, Secret of Mana, and Seiken Densetsu 3 in their original formats. Collection of Mana was released for the Nintendo Switch only. It was priced at $40 US - pretty steep considering other retro game collections are priced at $19.99 US. It features standard emulator save states. Special features include a music player and a few different graphical options for the display.
Secret of Mana is one of the best-known RPGs that ever came out for the Super Nintendo. The best way to explain the beginning is to read the first day in Randi's (the main hero) Traveler's Log...
"Today I went exploring in the woods with Elliot and Timothy. We'd heard Grandmother talk about something shiny near the waterfall. We wondered what it could be. The village Elder had told us to stay away from the falls, but we were sure that the shiny object must be some kind of treasure. We didn't expect any trouble, but when we were walking across a wet log, I slipped and fell into the water! Elliot and Timothy were frightened and they ran off. I could hardly believe it! There was a sword sticking out of a big rock in the lake--and it talked to me! I pulled on it really hard and it slid right out of the stone. I knew I'd be in big trouble if I didn't get back to the village right away, so I took the sword and hacked my way through the brush to find a trail. But when I got back and the Elder saw the sword, I was in trouble anyway. He called it the Mana Sword, and said that it had been protecting the village. He claimed that by pulling it out of the stone, I released all kinds of monsters near the village. And then, all of a sudden there was a huge earthquake! A hole opened up in the ground, and Elliot and I both fell in. It turned out to be a cave--and a Mantis Ant lived in there! The Mantis Ant was far bigger than I was, and it had scissor-like claws. I waited for just the right moment to use my sword, and when I finally beat it, I got the Sword's Orb!"
And that begins Randi's exciting quest in Secret of Mana!
You get to use several different types of weapons: swords, gloves, axes, polearms, whips, bows & arrows, boomerangs, and darts. Each weapon has its own advantages and disadvantages. Throughout the game, with each Mana seed, you seal you gain the powers of the elements through having Mana Spirits join you. These elements include earth, fire, wind, water, light, darkness, and wood. The Mana Spirits grant you the ability to use magic.
GP is important in the game. The dwarf charges you a lot of money to upgrade your weapons. Also, the dwarf requires an 'orb' for the weapon in order to upgrade it. Orbs are found throughout dungeons/temples or won from boss battles. Just like your characters need to be leveled up, your weapons need to be leveled up, too. Leveling up a weapon gives your character the ability to execute special attacks by 'charging' your weapon (holding down the attack button).
As an action RPG, all the action happens in real-time. However, casting magic and using items requires bringing up the ring menu, which pauses gameplay. Notice the ring menu in the sample GIF animation.
The blessing and the curse of magic is that it's unavoidable, whether you cast it or the enemy casts it. You need to be quick to heal yourself from the bombardment of enemy magic. Just like weapons, your magic needs to be leveled up, too. Notice in the sample GIF animation you see “FIREBALL Lv. 3” - that means Salamando (the Mana Spirit of Fire) has been leveled up to level 3. This is achieved by continuously using any of Salamando's spells until the game prompts you that it gained a level.
The aggressiveness of your characters can be customized in the settings. At any time you can set them to be aggressive fighters or be more on the defensive. The game is normally pretty good at having your two supporting characters follow you around. Sometimes they get stuck behind obstacles, and you need to run near them to get the game's AI to wiggle them out to return to following you.
The way magic is designed lets you easily cheat. Once you choose an offensive or defensive spell, it's immediately cast. Without enough MP and Faerie Walnuts (they heal MP), you can simply repeatedly cast your strongest attack magic on bosses to kill them with little effort.
The game is relatively easy if you regularly grind your party. You're forced to grind anyway if you want your weapons and magic leveled up.
This game is truly amazing! I'm going to give you some history so you can join my appreciation. As I mentioned in History, Secret of Mana was released in North America in 1993. At this time, the last RPG Squaresoft released was Final Fantasy IV (as Final Fantasy II) and Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. The graphics & animation of these games weren't impressive for long due to newer & better competition. When Secret of Mana entered the picture, it was breathtaking! Along with Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, this was the beginning of a string of megahits from Squaresoft.
The graphics and music... wow... they're just beautiful. The storyline is epic. The wide selection of weapons and magic adds loads of variety, making the battles so much fun. My favorite part is the elemental spirits. Bringing up the ring menu is like a candy store of options, showing those shining Mana Spirit icons. It's strangely satisfying to explore all the different spells at your disposal.
Figuring out what to do next can be a pain. It's especially a pain when you get Flammie. Navigating the world map isn't easy to do. I couldn't play this game without help from a walkthrough. Some of the final dungeons become a maze and can get tricky to complete. I've gotten stuck a couple of times.
Secret of Mana is truly a gem of the 16-bit age. It's a timeless classic that I can play over and over. I highly recommend it!
I haven't played it, but I can tell you the general consensus: most people hate the 3D remake. They feel the game was rushed and unpolished. The battle system and play control are awkward. There's often slowdown and the camera system can be cumbersome. People even feel the original game had more detail. The 3D remake wasn't made with love. However, don't take me literally - not everyone hates it. I'm just saying, from what I've read, the majority of fans who have played the original aren't too happy with the 3D remake. It lacks polish and the game's original charm.
It was awesome for Square Enix to give us a bundle with Final Fantasy Adventure, Secret of Mana, and Seiken Densetsu 3 (now officially called Trials of Mana). It's nice to have all of these games on the go with the Nintendo Switch. Granted, you could easily emulate these games on an Android device. There's a certain novelty (at least for me) to own an official product. And the Nintendo Switch is so easy to use and quick to load a game.
I do have several complaints about the emulator they used for this collection. The process of saving states and loading states takes several gestures. It's not as seamless as, say, the Genesis Classics Collection, where saving only takes a single gesture. It offers only one screen filter: “smoothed”. And you don't have the ability to disable the background wallpaper that borders the game screen. I'd rather be looking at a black background than a decorative wallpaper!
Unfortunately, I missed out on Secret of Mana during its heyday in the 90s. What I remember is the treatment the game was given in North America's Nintendo Power. They featured Secret of Mana as a near-complete walkthrough split across multiple issues. What made this feature exactly special was how beautiful and detailed it was. It featured gorgeous original artwork. It was written as if it was the main character's journal. Even though I didn't/couldn't play the game in the 90s, I have fond memories of appreciating it in Nintendo Power's coverage. If you'd like to view the full set of scans from The Days of Mana, you should be able to find it on Google.
The time when I was finally able to play Secret of Mana was in the era of video game emulation in the early 2000s. This is where my most cherished memories of the game began. I remember playing through Secret of Mana on my first-generation PC gamepad - the ones you plugged in via a 15-pin game port because USB wasn't invented yet. My excitement for Secret of Mana was further enforced by the fansites that were around at the time. It was beautiful and inspiring to see so many people adoring the game.