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Secret of Mana

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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. See Frustrations)

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.

Frustration

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.

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