As you might be able to tell by the fact that I have an entire playlist on my YouTube channel dedicated to RPGs, I love the genre. Throughout my formative years, the large majority of games that I played were either Survival Horror or RPGs, so naturally, they both became large parts of my gaming life.
The thing with RPGs, however, is that you can get some really great ones and some really, really bad ones. Some are so bad that they make you want to pull your eyes out in an effort to unsee them. Secret of Mana is not one of those games.
Secret of Mana’s storyline starts off like a pretty generic role-playing game, with a young boy finding a mystical sword in a stone. This grants him extra strength and the ability to fight. Over the next few hours, he and his friends have to set out on a journey to save the world whilst being hunted by an evil empire.
However, things escalate rather swiftly in Secret of Mana, with the few plot twists that happen to be of a rather significant scale. I must say that the story isn’t entirely original, relying on a number of cliches and tropes. However, that isn’t to start that it is a bad storyline. Quite the opposite, actually.
You see, cliches and tropes can be incredibly useful when done right. After all, there is a reason why tropes become common; they work. They are enjoyable and we come to expect them. They offer a sense of reassurance and comfort that help us to appreciate and enjoy the other aspects of a story and game. Secret of Mana does this really well. It uses the cliches that we expect to see in a way that helps to drive the storyline forward without feeling like a hinderance.
As with many of the RPGs released in the 16-Bit Era, Secret of Mana uses a top-down 2D perspective where you run around a pixel art map. The game uses an action-RPG style battle system where the enemies move around the map in a fixed area. You control the main character, who can attack whilst moving around the map as well, meaning that you are never taken out of the world and into a separate battle scene.
However, once you have other characters in your party, you can switch which character you control at any time. Each of these characters has their own abilities, strengths and weaknesses that you need to master and strategise. This creates a sense of thought and planning as to how you engage in combat and grow your characters.
On top of this, a very interesting method that the developers put into Secret of Mana was how you obtain magic. Rather than learning it simply from levelling up or purchasing magic in a shop, you have to rescue Elementals, or spirits. There are a total of eight Elementals which, when rescued, grant the player additional spells based upon their specific element.
The game also makes use of the SNES’ Mode 7 capabilities, just as many of the RPGs on the console did. This gave the effect of 3D when travelling across the world map in an airship.
Secret of Mana’s gameplay, similar to its storyline, uses a lot of the most common elements of RPGs for the SNES but adds enough new features and elements that it feels and plays like a very original game. This means that fans of the RPG genre are able to pick it up easily due to their familiarity with it, but get an entirely new experience from it as well.
Graphically, Secret of Mana doesn’t really do anything out of the ordinary for RPGs on the Super Nintendo. It uses 2D sprites on a pixel art, tileset based world just as every other RPG of the time did. However, this is actually a really big positive in my book. You see, the 2D sprite-based graphics have a very timeless look that doesn’t age. No matter when you come back to these games, they look just as incredible as they always did.
The user interface is incredibly simple and easy to understand, so as with the gameplay, it makes the point of entry to Secret of Mana open to pretty much everyone. That’s the real beauty of Secret of Mana. The developers have put so much thought into making the game as accessible as possible, right from the outset. It looks beautiful and all of the animations are incredibly smooth as well. The attacks look like they are causing damage, and the environments feel fresh and immersive.
Secret of Mana may not be on the same graphical scale as the likes of Final Fantasy VI, but it looks great and the graphics really compliment the gameplay and story. And that’s how it should be. Graphics should be complimentary, rather than the main focus, and Secret of Mana does just that.
And That’s All Folks
Secret of Mana for the SNES is a really enjoyable game that, whilst using typical RPG tropes, manages to still create its own original world, storyline and characters. It will keep you invested throughout the length of the game, as is developed to be easy to get into, no matter whether you’re an RPG veteran or new to the genre. That’s probably the reason why it was recently remade for the PS4!
Have you played the original Secret of Mana? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!