seiken densetsu 2 box front

Secret of Mana / Seiken Densetsu 2 聖剣伝説2

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Secret of Mana (abbreviated as SoM), just saying the name is enough to make Western SNES RPG fans go crazy! It’s also enough to piss them off about the sequel (Seiken Densetsu 3) never being released outside of Japan. All of that anger is to be expected, as Secret of Mana is a game that will leave you begging for more after you beat it.

 

Secret of Mana was a revolutionary Action RPG that shined bright in a sea of Turn-based RPGs. With an interesting story, fluid real-time combat, and multiplayer gameplay, it should be no mystery as to why it’s being re-released after 25 years!

 

Score – 34/40

Story – 8/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 9/10
Music – 8/10

Style:  Japanese Role-playing Game (Action)
Platform: Super Famicom / Super Nintendo
Release Date: JP: August 6th, 1993  / US: October 3rd, 1993 / PAL: November 24th, 1994
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square
Length: 20~35 Hours

Secret of Mana SFC/SNES Review

Secret of Mana is considered by many to be one of the big-hitters for the SFC / SNES in terms of RPGs. The amazing combat, the unique Ring menu system, the catchy tunes, the magic system, Secret of Mana hit each of the important areas and it hit ’em hard! So, why is this game still receiving so much praise despite being almost 30 years old? Let’s take a look!

If you like this review, please go take a look at my Seiken Densetsu 3 / 聖剣伝説3 review while you’re at it!

Story

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Front box art for the Japanese version 聖剣伝説2 Seiken Densetsu 2, “Holy Sword Legend 2”

The story in Secret of Mana begins with a

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Box art for the US version of Secret of Mana

boy (unnamed in the original Western release, but named ランディ Randi in the Japanese release) and a couple of other boys from his village (Potos) venturing outside of their village. While walking across a log in front of a waterfall, Randi accidentally slips and falls to the bottom of the waterfall. Upon landing, he soon finds a sword stuck inside of rock. A voice encourages him to pull out the sword. Randi does just that, and by taking out the sword he accidentally unleashes monsters into the world! For endangering his village by causing monsters to appear, Randi gets permanently kicked out of Potos.

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Back box art for the Japanese version

While continuing his adventure, he learns that the sword he found is the Mana Sword, and that he must recharge the power of the sword by visiting all 8 Mana Temples all over the world. Along the way, the Empire, who wants the power of the Mana Seeds that await in each temple for themselves, attempt to stop Randi along the way. If the Empire gains control of these Mana Seeds, they can control the powerful Mana Fortress, which can then be used to take over the world and usher in an era of death and destruction.

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The cartridge for the Japanese Super Famicom version

The quest will bring players to many different locations, such as mushroom-filled forests, deserts, frozen palaces, dwarven caves, and many more! The story really picks up in the later half, but one unfortunate thing is that due to production problems, almost half of the game was cut in order to fit on a cartridge. This also seems to include story elements, and even potentially different story routes. So, while the story is still complete for what it is, some portions of the game due feel like nothing is really happening as far as story goes, so I imagine that’s where some of the cuts were made.

Gameplay

Secret of Mana is an Action RPG, which means that combat takes place in real-time. Enemies walk around and attack in random patterns. The player can also walk around, attack, run away, and change screens, which gives the player more control over combat than in a standard turn-based random encounter RPG. Enemies have distinct attacking animations, movesets, and special abilities.

Bees for example might shoot a stinger as a ranged attack, or a knight using a morning star might have an AoE whirlwind-type attack. This keeps combat fresh and allows for a bit of strategy, like knowing when to dodge, or what type of fighting style to use against certain defensive or offensive enemies.

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The party in battle with some enemies

The flow of combat in Secret of Mana is dependent on the “Charge Meter”. The Charge Meter is a meter at the bottom of the screen below each character’s portrait, which charges from 0-100% over a few seconds. Each attack resets the meter, and each attack’s power is decided based on the % of the meter. An attack used at 15% might do 17 damage, while an attack at 100% might cause 95 damage.

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The charge meter at 90%

The system works best when you focus on 100% attacks, which means you’ll have a delay of 2 or 3 seconds between each attack. Getting in a 100% hit and then dodging for the next few seconds before your next hit ensures that you be getting the most damage in and taking the least amount of hits back.

Secret of Mana uses a “Ring Menu” to access equipment, items, spells, character stats, and so on. This type of menu can take some getting used to, but it’s rather quick once you get the hang of it (especially compared to other SNES RPGs, particularly this game’s sequel)! Inventory space is limited in Secret of Mana, and items can only stack up to x9. I would say during early game, inventory management is crucial, but things lighten up enough near the end of the game that the low stack amount doesn’t become bothersome.

Equipment is gained mostly from buying new equipment in stores. Weapons are found after killing certain bosses or after finishing certain quests, and certain late-game equipment can be dropped directly from monsters. Equipment becomes pretty important late-game, and some of the items require a decent amount of grinding to get enough for your entire party of 3.

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Showing the armor section of the Ring menu

The magic system in Secret of Mana is based on finding different elemental “Spirits” throughout the journey and using abilities based on their elements. Magic and weapons can be leveled up after using them enough times in battle. Magic, in particular, becomes really ridiculous towards the end of the game. Using magic stops the screen while being casted, and you can open up the menu to cast again WHILE the cast animation is happening, allowing for continuous chain-casting. This combined with using an item to replenish mana 9 times enables the player to easily kill most of the bosses in the game without taking any damage. While you do have to level up your magic a bit more than what is necessary in order to be able to do this, it will definitely happen naturally if you decide to farm for any of the late-game gear.

I don’t think many people consider Secret of Mana to be a hard game, even though there is a sudden spike in difficulty about half-way through the game. Any complaints about difficult will surely be linked to party AI, which can be tweaked within the character menu. Different aggression levels and magic/weapon charge usage can be set, but i’ve honestly never really seen a difference regardless of which settings I chose.

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AI settings screen

Instead of relying on AI, you can have a lot more fun playing with a friend or two thanks to the multiplayer feature!  Difficulty and a few opportunities for cheese aside, Secret of Mana’s gameplay was definitely fresh for it’s time, and even nowadays, there still aren’t enough games that have taken this type of approach to Action RPG gameplay! Secret of Mana will keep you engaged and having fun killing monsters and leveling up until the very end!

Graphics

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The party in front of the Ice Palace

Being released about half-way through the life-cycle of the SNES, Secret of Mana had some pretty great graphics! Colors are bright and vibrant, and environments are often animated. It’s not unusual to see grass swaying in the wind, rivers flowing, or crystals gleaming. Areas have enough variety to keep the player interested, and you never feel like you’re in a zone that’s been copied and re-used.

Sprite animations are fluid and have some variety to them. Some enemies can be seen sleeping before combat, all characters have a downed animation (the party and enemies both get knocked down after being hit), different weapon types have different attacking animations, and monster types are varied enough that they all have different ways of moving. Spell animations are pretty decent, too, though they aren’t very extravagant. Usually a quick projectile will shoot across the screen or your character will flash rainbow-colored for a second or two.

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Flying around the world using Mode7

Later in the game, you are able to fly around the world map. Flying uses Mode7, which allows the overworld map to appear to be slightly 3d, and that always looks great. The world map itself isn’t very detailed, usually consisting of just water or dense forests, but time seems to change slowly and that changes the lighting from daytime to nighttime, which is a nice little extra detail.

Music

Secret of Mana fans have always praised the game’s soundtrack. Though sometimes a bit all over the place (and a bit heavy on the snare…), the game has a very charming and memorable soundtrack! The first tune that plays when you enter the forest and enter your first battle in the game is probably one of the most famous SFC/SNES songs there is. Give it a listen below!

The main instruments used on the soundtrack are drums and xylophones. Most songs will include either one or both of these instruments, which gives the songs a kind of playful and (not in a bad way) childish feeling. One of the best examples of this type of song is the common town theme. This song really makes you look forward to arriving at the next town!

Another song that is really great is the boss theme. It really gives you a sense of panic and urgency!

A nice small detail that the developers added is that songs have a bit of echo and reverb to them when you enter caves or dungeons. Songs will also sound a little bit muffled when you enter a cave and the same song is playing outside. This doesn’t seem to happen much in newer games for some odd reason, so I find it really fascinating that developers could do this with the old hardware.

East vs. West

Secret of Mana is actually one of the few games from this generation to keep most of the content the same between Japanese and Western versions. The differences aren’t really big, and that might have to do with the fact that almost half of the game was cut in order to ship the game on cartridges (the game was originally planned to be released on CD as a launch title for a disk device that was supposed to be released for the SNES, but actually ended up becoming the Playstation instead). Had the game been shipped with all of the intended content, i’m sure a lot more of the game would have been changed in some way. The changes that the Western version did receive were basically just cosmetic.

  • Localization – The 3 main characters in the game are given actual names in the Japanese version. In the Western version, they’re simply called the Boy, the Girl, and the Sprite. In the Japanese version, the Boy is named Randi, the Girl is named Purimu, and the Sprite is named Popoi.
  • Localization – The name of the game itself is different between the two versions. The Japanese version can be translated as “Holy Sword Legend”. 聖剣伝説2, 聖 Sei – Holy, 剣 Ken – Sword, 伝説 Densetsu- Legend or Folktale. Most likely, “Holy” was considered too religious by Nintendo at the time, so they probably had to come up with a new name for Western audiences.
  • Censorship – Teleportation tiles have what resembles a Wiccan symbol in the Japanese version, so this also probably got changed for some type of religious-related reason.
  • Localization – Another name related difference is, the Japanese version is actually the second game in the series. Secret of Mana seems like a stand-alone game in the West, but it’s actually the second game in a three-part series. The first game, “Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden” is actually what became “Final Fantasy Adventure” for the Gameboy in the West. Due to this discrepancy, Seiken Densetsu 3 is often mistakenly called “Secret of Mana 2” by Western audiences. I guess the developers are truly to blame since they called what should be “Secret of Mana 2” “Secret of Mana”!

Should you play it?

I would definitely recommend playing Secret of Mana! While it is an Action RPG, it’s still basic and primitive enough that you don’t need to be particularly good at Action RPGs in order to enjoy it. It’s easy to pick up and play right from the beginning, it’s not too difficult, and it’s also not very long of a game either, so you can most likely finish it over the course of a weekend. The music will get stuck in your head, and you’ll probably remember zones/bosses for quite some time to come. The game has a cheery feel and a special charm to it that makes it stand out from many of the other RPGs on the system!

Which version should you play?

With Secret of Mana, the versions don’t really differ at all except for some super small details, so you won’t miss out on anything by playing a certain version. Most people probably rename their characters anyways, so the naming thing won’t be an issue for most players. The only thing I noticed is that dwarves talk a lot cooler in the Japanese version (the fantasy dialect that’s used), but dwarves talk cool anyways, so there’s nothing to miss out on. Whether it’s the SFC version or SNES version, players should be quite happy with Secret of Mana! Playing it now will give you a very good idea of why people enjoy going back and playing these classic games. Jump in, enjoy the game, and look forward to playing its sequel, Seiken Densetsu 3, afterwards!

Final Score – 34/40

Story – 8/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 9/10
Music – 8/10

som end screenIf you still have some time and didn’t check it out above, i’d love it if you would check out my Seiken Densetsu 3 / 聖剣伝説3review, too!

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Secret of Mana
Author Rating
51star1star1star1star1star
Product Name
Secret of Mana

3 Comments on “Secret of Mana / Seiken Densetsu 2 聖剣伝説2

  1. Pingback: Seiken Densetsu 3/聖剣伝説3 SFC/SNES - Review by Golden Age RPGs

  2. I remember seeing Secret of Mana in a shop and my mother commenting on the graphics being pretty good, although she did not understand much about SNES graphics she had a good eye for such things. Sadly I didn’t decide to buy that game as I didn’t know much about japanese RPG’s at that time. All i knew were Jump’N Runs, fighting, racing and simulation games. It’s funny how popular opinions and not being in the know can affect us. I say this because looking back I see what I missed in my childhood, on the other hand I had a chance to play it when I was grown up and I have to say the game is wonderful and like all games SNES opens up another dimension. Maybe it’s only for those this way who grew up with it, but there is more to nostalgia than meets the eye. Thank you for your informative review, I also had a hunch that somehow some things were missing and now I understand it better.

    • Hey Uchuuaoi, thanks for commenting again!

      That’s awesome that your mother thought the graphics were great! She definitely had good taste in art!

      I only got to play it briefly when I was younger, so like you I finished it when I was older. I agree with you that SNES games have a special kind of magic to them! I wonder how much better SoM would have been if all of that content wasn’t cut out?

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