Secret of Mana

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Secret of Mana
Secret of Mana Box.jpg
Developer(s) Square (SNES)
Square Enix (iOS)
Publisher(s) Square (SNES)
Square Enix (iOS)
Director(s) Koichi Ishii
Producer(s) Hiromichi Tanaka
Designer(s) Koichi Ishii
Hiromichi Tanaka
Programmer(s) Nasir Gebelli
Artist(s) Hiroo Isono
Writer(s) Hiromichi Tanaka
Composer(s) Hiroki Kikuta
Series Mana
Platform(s) SNES, FOMA 903i/703i, Virtual Console, iOS, Android
Release date(s)
Genre(s) Action role-playing
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer

Secret of Mana, originally released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu 2 (聖剣伝説2?, lit. "Legend of the Sacred Sword 2"), is a 1993 action role-playing game developed and published by Square (now Square Enix) for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It is the sequel to the 1991 game Seiken Densetsu, released in North America as Final Fantasy Adventure and in Europe as Mystic Quest, and it was the first Seiken Densetsu title to be marketed as part of the Mana series rather than the Final Fantasy series. Set in a high fantasy universe, the game follows three heroes as they attempt to prevent an empire from conquering the world with the power of an ancient flying warship.

Rather than using a turn-based battle system like contemporary role-playing games, Secret of Mana features real-time battles. The game has a unique Ring Command menu system, which pauses the action and allows the player to make decisions in the middle of battle. An innovative cooperative multiplayer system allows a second or third player to drop in and out of the game at any time. Secret of Mana was directed and designed by Koichi Ishii, programmed primarily by Nasir Gebelli, and produced by veteran Square designer Hiromichi Tanaka.

The game received considerable acclaim for its brightly colored graphics, expansive plot, Ring Command menu system, and innovative real-time battle system. Critics also praised the soundtrack by Hiroki Kikuta and the customizable artificial intelligence (AI) settings for computer-controlled allies. An enhanced iOS port of the game was released in 2010, an additional release for mobile phones in Japan was produced in 2009, and the original version was re-released for the Wii's Virtual Console in 2008.

Gameplay[edit]

The standard overhead view. The party's attack strength and remaining health is shown in the gauges at the bottom.

Like many other role-playing games of the 16-bit era, Secret of Mana displays a top-down perspective, in which the player characters navigate the terrain and fight off hostile creatures. The game features three such characters: the hero, the girl, and the sprite, named Randi, Primm, and Popoi outside the initial North American release. The player can choose to control each of the characters at any time; whichever character is currently selected, the other two companions are controlled via artificial intelligence. The game may be played simultaneously by up to three players,[1][2] made possible by the Super Multitap accessory for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) console.[3] The Virtual Console version of the game supports three-player gameplay via additional GameCube controllers or Classic Controllers.[4]

Each character possesses individual strengths and weaknesses. The hero, while unable to use magic, masters weapons at a quicker rate; the girl is a healer, able to cast restorative and support spells; and the sprite casts offensive magic to damage and impair enemies.[4] Upon collecting enough experience points in battle, each character increases in level and improves in areas such as strength and evasion. The trio can rest in towns, where they can regain hit points or purchase restorative items and equipment. Options such as changing equipment, casting spells, or checking status are performed by cycling through the game's Ring Commands, a circular menu which hovers over the currently controlled party member.[2][3][4] The game is momentarily paused whenever the Ring Commands appear.[5]

Flammie flying and demonstrating Mode 7

Combat takes place in real-time.[2] Located at the bottom of the screen is a gauge that determines the amount of damage done to an enemy when attacking. Swinging a weapon causes the gauge to empty and then quickly recharge, allowing that character to attack at full strength. The party wields eight different types of weaponry: sword, spear, bow, axe, boomerang, glove, whip, and javelin. All weapons can be upgraded eight times, and repeated use of a weapon increases its skill level to a maximum of eight, unlocking a new special attack with each level. Weapons are upgraded with Weapon Orbs, which are found in dungeons or earned by defeating certain bosses.[2] The player takes each Orb to a blacksmith, located in most towns, who uses it to reforge one weapon.[1][6]

In order to learn magic, the party must rescue spirits known as Elementals. The eight Elementals represent different elements—such as water, earth, and life—and each provides the player with specific spells. Magic has skill levels similar to weapons, but each magic spell costs magic points to cast.[1]

At the start of the game, to reach a destination players must traverse an enemy-infested countryside. Travel may be expedited with Cannon Travel Centers, where the party may be launched to faraway destinations via a giant cannon. Cannon Travel usually requires a fee, but is mandatory to visit other continents later on.[3] Later, the party is given access to Flammie, a miniature dragon which is controlled by the player and able to fly freely across the world, represented by an overworld map.[7] These sequences make use of the SNES's Mode 7 capability to create a rotatable background, giving the illusion that the ground beneath Flammie is rendered in three dimensions. While riding Flammie, the player may access either the "rotated map", which presents the world as a globe, or the "world map", a two-dimensional view of the overworld.[8]

Plot[edit]

Setting and characters[edit]

The story takes place in a high fantasy world, which contains an ethereal energy source named "mana". An ancient, technologically-advanced civilization exploited mana to construct the "Mana Fortress", a flying warship. This angered the world's gods, who sent giant beasts to war with the civilization. The conflict was globally destructive and nearly exhausted all signs of mana in the world, until a hero used the power of the Mana Sword to destroy the fortress and the civilization. The world began to recover in peace. As the game opens, an empire seeks eight Mana Seeds, which when "unsealed" will restore mana to the world and allow the empire to restore the Mana Fortress.[9]

The three main characters do not have names in the original SNES release, though their names appear in the manual of the Japanese release; and their names were added into the game in the iOS port worldwide. In all versions, the player can choose to name the characters whatever they wish. The hero (ランディ Randi?),[10] a young boy, is adopted by the Elder of Potos before the start of the game, after the boy's mother disappears. The girl (プリム Primm?)[10] is in love with a warrior named Dyluck, who was ordered by the king to attack Elinee's Castle. Angered by the king's actions and by her father's attempt to arrange her marriage to a local nobleman, she leaves the castle to save Dyluck and to accompany the hero as well.[11] The hero and the girl meet the sprite child (ポポイ Popoi?)[10] at the Dwarf Village. The sprite makes a living by scamming people at a freak show held by dwarves. He does not remember anything about his past, so he joins the team to try to recover his memories.[12]

Story[edit]

The game begins as three boys from the small Potos village disobey their Elder's instructions and trespass into a local waterfall, where a treasure is said to be kept. One of the boys stumbles and falls into the lake, where he finds a rusty sword embedded in a stone. Guided by a disembodied voice, he pulls the sword free, inadvertently unleashing monsters in the surrounding countryside of the village. The villagers interpret the sword's removal as a bad omen and banish the boy from Potos forever.[13] A traveling knight named Jema recognizes the blade as the legendary Mana Sword and encourages the hero to re-energize it by visiting the eight Mana Temples.[14]

During his journey, the hero is joined by the girl and the sprite. Throughout their travels, the trio is pursued by the empire. The Emperor and his subordinates are being manipulated by Thanatos, an ancient sorcerer who hopes to create a "new, peaceful world".[15] Due to his own body's deterioration, Thanatos is in need of a suitable body to possess. After placing the entire kingdom of Pandora under a trance, he abducts two candidates: Dyluck, now enslaved, and a young Pandoran girl named Phanna; he eventually chooses to possess Dyluck.[16]

The Empire succeeds in unsealing all eight Mana Seeds. However, Thanatos betrays the Emperor and his henchmen, killing them and seizing control of the Mana Fortress for himself. The hero and his party journey to locate the Mana Tree, the focal point of the world's life energy. Anticipating their arrival, Thanatos positions the Mana Fortress over the Tree and destroys it. The charred remains of the Tree speak to the heroes, explaining that a giant dragon called the Mana Beast will soon be summoned to combat the Fortress. However, the Beast has little control over its rage and will likely destroy the world as well.[17] The Mana Tree also reveals that it was once the human wife of Serin, the original Mana Knight and the hero's father. The voice heard at Potos' waterfall was that of Serin's ghost.[18]

The trio flies to the Mana Fortress and confronts Thanatos, who is preparing to transfer his mind into Dyluck. With the last of his strength, Dyluck warns that Thanatos has sold his soul to the underworld and must not be allowed to have the Fortress.[19] Dyluck kills himself, forcing Thanatos to revert to a skeletal lich form, which the party defeats. The Mana Beast finally flies in and attacks the Fortress. The hero expresses reluctance to kill the Beast, fearing that with the dispersal of Mana from the world, the sprite will vanish.[20] With the sprite's encouragement, he uses the fully energized Mana Sword to slay the Beast, causing it to explode and transform into snow.[21] At the conclusion of the game, the hero is seen returning the Mana Sword to its place beneath the Potos waterfall.

Development[edit]

Secret of Mana producer Hiromichi Tanaka

Secret of Mana was directed and designed by Koichi Ishii, the creator of the game's Game Boy predecessor, Final Fantasy Adventure. He has stated that he feels Secret of Mana is more "his game" than other projects he has worked on, such as the Final Fantasy series.[22] The game was programmed primarily by Nasir Gebelli and produced by veteran Square designer Hiromichi Tanaka. The team hoped to build on the foundation of Final Fantasy Adventure, and they included several modified elements from that game and from other popular Square titles in Secret of Mana. In addition to having better graphics and sound quality than its predecessor, the attack power gauge was changed to be more engaging, and the weapon leveling system replaced Final Fantasy Adventure's system of leveling up the speed of the attack gauge.[23] The party system also received an upgrade from the first Mana game: instead of temporary companions who could not be upgraded, party members became permanent protagonists and could be controlled by other players.[23] The multiplayer component was not a part of the original design, but was added when the developers realized that they could easily make all three characters human-controlled.[22]

The real-time battle system used in Secret of Mana has been described by its creators as an extension of the battle system used in the first three flagship Final Fantasy titles. The system for experience points and leveling up was taken from Final Fantasy III.[24] According to Tanaka, the game's battle system features mechanics that had first been considered for Final Fantasy IV. Similarly, unused features in Secret of Mana were appropriated by the Chrono Trigger team, which like Final Fantasy IV was in production at the time.[22]

Secret of Mana was originally planned to be a launch title for the SNES CD add-on. After the deal between Nintendo and Sony to produce the add-on fell through, and Sony decided to develop the SNES CD into the PlayStation console, Square Enix chose to continue to develop the game for the SNES. The game had to be altered to fit onto a standard game cartridge, which had less storage space than the SNES CD add-on would have allowed.[25] The developers initially resisted continuing the project without the CD add-on, feeling that too much of the game would have to be cut, but they were overruled by company management. As a result of the hardware change, several features had to be cut from the game, and some completed work needed to be redone.[22] Most major of these removals was the option to take multiple routes through the game that led to several possible endings, in contrast to the linear journey in the final product.[23] The plot that remained was different than the original conception, and Tanaka has said that the original story had a much darker tone.[22] Ishii has estimated that up to forty percent of the planned game was dropped to meet the space limitations, and critics have suggested that the hardware change led to technical problems when too much happens at once in the game.[22][26] In 2006, Level magazine claimed that Secret of Mana's rocky development was Square's main inspiration to move their games, such as the Final Fantasy series, from Nintendo consoles to Sony consoles in 1996.[22]

The English translation for Secret of Mana was completed in only 30 days, mere weeks after the Japanese release,[27] and the North American localization was initially advertised as Final Fantasy Adventure 2.[28] Critics have suggested that the translation was done hastily so that the game could be released in North America for the 1993 holiday season.[25] According to translator Ted Woolsey, a large portion of the game's script was cut out in the English localization due to space limitations.[29] To display text on the main gameplay screen, the English translation uses a fixed-width font, which limits the amount of space available to display text. Woolsey was unhappy that he had to trim conversations to their bare essentials and that he had so little time for translation, commenting that it "nearly killed me".[30] The script was difficult to translate as it was presented to Woolsey in disordered groups of text, like "shuffling a novel".[29] Other localizations were done in German and French. The Japanese release only named the three protagonists in the manual,[31] while Western versions omitted the characters' names until the enhanced port on the iOS.[32][33]

Music[edit]

Secret of Mana composer Hiroki Kikuta
Secret of Mana Original Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Hiroki Kikuta
Released August 6, 1993
August 25, 1995
October 1, 2004
Genre Ambient, Classical, Electronic, Video game soundtrack
Length 1:06:01
Label NTT Publishing/Square
NTT Publishing (reprints)

The score for Secret of Mana was composed by Hiroki Kikuta. Kenji Ito, who had composed the soundtrack for Final Fantasy Adventure, was originally slated for the project. He was replaced with Kikuta when Ito was forced to drop Secret of Mana due to other demands on his time, such as the soundtrack to Romancing SaGa. It was Kikuta's first video game score.[34] Despite difficulties in dealing with the hardware limitations of the SNES, Kikuta tried to express in the music two "contrasting styles" to create an original score which would be neither pop music nor standard game music.[35] Kikuta worked on the music mostly by himself, spending nearly 24 hours a day in his office, alternating between composing and editing to create a soundtrack that would be, according to him, "immersive" and "three-dimensional".[36] Rather than using pre-made MIDI samples of instruments like most game music composers of the time, Kikuta made his own MIDI samples that matched the hardware capabilities of the SNES. These custom samples allowed him to know exactly how each piece would sound on the system's hardware, so he did not have to worry about differences between the original MIDI sampler and the SNES.[37] Kikuta said in 2001 that he considered the score for Secret of Mana his favorite creation.[38]

The soundtrack's music includes both "ominous" and "light-hearted" tracks, and is noted for its use of bells and "dark, solemn pianos".[39] Kikuta's compositions for the game were partly inspired by natural landscapes, as well as music from Bali.[40][41] Hardware limitations made the title screen to the game slowly fade in, and Kikuta designed the title track to the game, "Fear of the Heavens", to sync up with the screen. At that time, composers rarely tried to match a game's music to its visuals. Kikuta also started the track off with a "whale noise", rather than a traditional "ping", in order to try to "more deeply connect" the player with the game from the moment it started up. Getting the sound to work with the memory limitations of the SNES was a difficult technical challenge.[37]

The 1993 soundtrack album Secret of Mana Original Soundtrack, first released as Seiken Densetsu 2 Original Sound Version in Japan, collects 44 tracks of music from Secret of Mana. Aside from its packaging and localized song titles, the English release is identical to the Japanese original. Secret of Mana was one of the first Japanese games to inspire a localized soundtrack release in North America.[39] An album of arranged music from Secret of Mana and its sequel Seiken Densetsu 3 was produced in 1993 as Secret of Mana+. The music in the album was all composed and arranged by Kikuta. Secret of Mana+ contains a single track, titled "Secret of Mana", that incorporates themes from the music of both Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3, which was still under development at the time.[42] The style of the album has been described by critics as "experimental", using "strange sounds" such as waterfalls, bird calls, cell phone sounds, and "typing" sounds.[43] The music has also been described by critics as covering many different musical styles, such as "Debussian impressionist styles, his own heavy electronic and synth ideas, and even ideas of popular musicians".[42] The latest album of music from the game is a 2012 arranged album titled Secret of Mana Genesis / Seiken Densetsu 2 Arrange Album. The 16 tracks are upgraded versions of the original SNES tracks, and Kikuta said in the liner notes for the album that they are "how he wanted the music to sound when he wrote it", without the limitations of the SNES hardware. Critics such as Patrick Gann of RPGFan, however, have noted that the differences are minor.[44]

Re-releases[edit]

In 1999 Square announced they would be porting Secret of Mana to Bandai's handheld system WonderSwan Color as one of nine planned games for the system.[45] No such port was ever released. A mobile phone port of Secret of Mana was released on October 26, 2009.[46] A port of the game for iOS was revealed at E3 2010, and released on Apple's App Store on December 21, 2010.[47] The port fixed several bugs, and the English script was both edited and retranslated from the original Japanese.[48]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Reception
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 87% (9 reviews)[55]
Review scores
Publication Score
AllGame 5/5 stars[49]
Dragon (magazine) 5/5 stars[50]
Edge 9 / 10[51]
Electronic Gaming Monthly 8.75 / 10[52]
Eurogamer 9 / 10[53]
Famitsu 33 / 40[56]
IGN 9.0 / 10[54]
Nintendo Power 3.65 / 5[55]
RPGFan 90%[1]
Slide to Play 4/4 stars (iOS)[48]

As of February 2004, Secret of Mana had shipped 1.83 million copies worldwide, with 1.5 million of those copies being shipped in Japan and 330,000 abroad.[57] The initial shipment of games in Japan sold out within days of the release date.[58] Edge noted in November 1993 that the game was "the most widely covered game of the year in Japan", with a high number of sales, but was released in North America "completely un-hyped and mostly unheard of".[51]

Secret of Mana was awarded Game of the Month in December 1993 and Best Role-Playing Game of 1993 by Electronic Gaming Monthly.[52][59] The magazine's reviewers heavily praised the graphics, music, and multiplayer gameplay, saying that it had "some of the best music I've ever heard from a cartridge". They hoped that other companies would take the game's lead in adding multiplayer modes to role-playing games.[52] Diehard GameFan's review of the game named the multiplayer as the game's best component, with reviewer Kelly Rickards saying that while the graphics were nice, the multiplayer "made the game".[60] GamePro's review, however, praised the graphics and plot, while stating that the gameplay and multiplayer were "rough around the edges".[61]

A reviewer for Edge magazine said that Secret of Mana was better than contemporary role-playing games Ys I & II, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole. The reviewer stated that Secret of Mana "includes some of the best game design and features ever seen: simultaneous threeplayer action, the best combat system ever designed, the best player interface ever designed, a superb control system, and yes, some of the most engrossing and rewarding gameplay yet". They concluded that the game was one of the best action RPGs or adventure games.[51] Game designer Sandy Petersen reviewed the game in Dragon, and described the game as much like Zelda but with conventional role-playing game features. He predicted that the game would be regarded as a classic. Peterson concluded that Secret of Mana was one of the best SNES role-playing games and that it was "a much larger game than Zelda, with many more types of monsters, character options, and fortresses to explore".[50]

In 2008, Lucas Thomas of IGN reviewed the Virtual Console port of Secret of Mana and stated that it was considered one of the best video games ever made.[54] Eurogamer's Dan Whitehead also recommended the port, describing it as "essential" and as the formative game of the Mana series.[53] The iOS port of the game was praised by Nadia Oxford of Slide to Play for its improved graphics and computer-controlled characters. She also praised the quality of the touch controls relative to other role-playing game phone versions, though she disliked that the multiplayer mode had been removed.[48]

In 2014, Edge magazine described Secret of Mana as "one of the high points of the 16bit era". A writer for the magazine noted that, 20 years after Secret of Mana's release, its reputation as a SNES action RPG had been surpassed only by that of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.[26] Review aggregator site GameRankings lists the game as the 13th-highest rated SNES game.[55] In 1996, Super Play ranked Secret of Mana eighth on its list of the best 100 SNES games of all time.[62] It took 42nd place on Nintendo Power magazine's 2006 "Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time" list, and the magazine called it the 86th best game on a Nintendo system.[63] IGN's "Top 100 Games" list ranked the game at number 48 in 2005,[64] number 49 in 2006,[65] and number 79 in 2007.[66] Secret of Mana was an influential game in its time, and its influence continued into the 2010s. Elements such as its ring menu system, described by Edge as "oft-mimicked", were borrowed by later games such as The Temple of Elemental Evil.[26][67] Its cooperative multiplayer gameplay has been mentioned as an influence on Dungeon Siege III.[68] The Rabite enemy introduced in Secret of Mana became a mascot character for the Mana series.[26]

References[edit]

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