Secret of Mana
Reviewed by Katherine Cho
Many people like this game, but I'm ready to list all the reasons I wouldn't
like to give it more than a 4 out of 10. Maybe it was because I didn't feel
it lived up to the incredible hype. Maybe it was because I expected
something better from SquareSoft. Square's RPGs are terrific, but their
16-bit venture into the field of "action-style RPGs" was quite a disappointment.
Graphics 8 out of 10
The graphics are very Japanese and cutesy. Sprites are generously large, but
movements are a bit choppy. Sometimes I wished the enemies would look a
little more menacing. Anyway, backgrounds are very well done and the
people in the villages actually look like they might have some kind of character!
Music and Sound 7 out of 10
Nothing really sticks in the mind and I couldn't help comparing the bouncy,
sort of awkward beats to the slick orchestration of Final Fantasy, etc. It's
real 16-bit sound, though.
Game Challenge 8 out of 10
The reason I'm saying this game is 'challenging' is because it's
FRUSTRATING (see Frustrations below). The story itself is easy to follow.
There are no (none that I recall, and I just replayed this 2 days ago) riddles
to solve, and everyone tells you where you're supposed to go, so it's mostly
smooth sailing... IN BETWEEN BATTLES. (Battles are another thing entirely.
Game Play-Fun 3 out of 10
You do spend a lot of your time collecting hints in towns and watching
the story unfold. However, as with most RPGs and action- style RPGs,
most of your time is spent fighting. And that's my biggest gripe about
this game because the action just doesn't deliver.
First of all, it's choppy. You (or the enemy) get hit, you are stunned for a
while, or you're knocked off your feet. It just doesn't fit right into an
action-style RPG because the overall action is static, not dynamic. At least
we get lots of animation frames as eye candy.
Second, that energy bar thing. It's annoying waiting for your bar to reach
100%. Charging up your weapon also takes a long time. This is another
reason the action becomes static.
Third, the boss characters. They're pretty challenging before your allies
learn magic, but once you have some spells, the bosses are too easy. Just
cast Analyzer to learn its weakness and blast away mindlessly with the
right Element... it'll go down soon enough. Especially in a one-player game,
you can't have your allies cast spells while you're charging your weapon,
so you tend to end up depending upon magic entirely. You can beat way too
many bosses this way without hitting it directly even once. So you don't
have to monkey around much with the controller at all. Which is fine and
only natural in a standard RPG, but this is supposed to be action-style. It
leaves you hankering for a lot more.
Fourth. The last two bosses, Thanatos and the Mana Beast, are the lamest
final bosses I've ever encountered in an RPG, even lamer than Neo-Exdeath
in Final Fantasy 5. They don't attack much, are pretty predictable and die
before you even expect it.
Fifth, the dungeons are pretty straightforward. Just follow the trail and
you'll eventually end up at the boss. Personally, I thought this was one
of the major drawbacks of the Final Fantasy series and it applies
here as well.
All right, this game is FRUSTRATING. And it's not frustrating because the
dungeons are difficult or the story contains a lot of riddles, etc. The reason
lies within the combat system. It's nice to be able to hit your enemies
when they're down (although it's weird to see them get hit AFTER they stand
up) but the same applies to you. If you're cornered, then you have little chance
of getting out on your own because once you're knocked off your feet, you can
do very little to stay back up.
Anyway, by the middle of the game, I lost all desire to fight enemies
head-on. One huge relief was that you can get through the dungeons almost
without wielding your weapons. Just push through the enemies (they won't
even hurt you much, pretty dumb) and keep pushing them out of the way
until you reach the boss.
Replayability 3 out of 10
There are some hidden things in the game, but nothing really spectacular.
Since not that many games have truly incredible secrets, this isn't much
of a fault. But because of the less-than-stimulating action and the linear
storyline (there's not much you can change about it) there's not much to
go back for unless you aim to reach higher magic/weapon levels the next
time or such and such.
Game Value 1 out of 10
This was SEVENTY DOLLARS in the United States? Gimme a break.
Overall 4 out of 10
I don't know, maybe SquareSoft didn't have the know-how to make a smoothly
running action system, being the king of RPGs as it is. As long the game is
action-style the combat should be more under the player's control and more
dynamic. The bosses required little strategy (it was almost like fighting a
boss in a standard RPG, if you get what I mean) and like I already mentioned,
the last few bosses should have been a bit more rewarding. Plus, the ending
didn't quite live up to my expectations of What Should Come From A Cartridge
With So Many Megs. I'm a pretty patient person but Secret of Mana really fried me.