Secret of Mana
Have you ever reached a point when you were playing a particular video game and you realized that you had everything figured out? Well, I think I can reasonably say that I've pretty much got this game pegged. I don't know exactly what compelled me to play for the first time probably since I posted the original review (which, according to my old update page, was about 4 1/2 years ago), but when I played it this time around, I came to the conclusion that I'd been playing it wrong the whole time. Now that I've had the opportunity to complete another campaign, I think that I need to make a few changes on my previous opion on this game. Not a whole lot of changes, but just enough to merit a rewrite here.
I don't necessarily want to say that I underrated Secret of Mana the first time out; the final score is the same as it was back when I first reviewed it. But I will say that in the last few weeks that I've replayed the game, some things have been brought to my attention. I originally said this game was on the hard side, but it really isn't - in fact, if you play it the right way, it's incredibly easy. The other elements of the gameplay are also different from what I remembered them, although not always better.
The plot, in and of itself, is a fairly good one: an orphan of unknown legacy happens across a sword after falling down a waterfall. Pulling it up, it sends the world just enough off-kilter that the boy now must travel the world to correct the jadedness. I like the conflict - I'm just not sure I like the way it goes about its plan. While I previously considered the game to be a bit goose-chasey - particularly the whole Sage Joch sequence - it turns out that it's more a result of the game basically running out of real estate to formulate new tangents than the writers forgetting the main story arc in the midst of the battle with the Empire. The dialogue seems a little stiff, but that's forgiveable.
While I used to mark points off for the game having a bit of a cutesy atmosphere, a second look shows that they make fairly good use of the climate for the game. The surroundings are quite easy on the eyes, with plenty of pastel colors that will easily set this game apart from any of its Squaresoft brethren. There does seem to be spots where the game gets a little overwhelmed with the sprites on screen, though, particularly when magic is being used. On the musical side, I originally gave the game a 5 in this category, and as much as I'd like to bump it up to a 6, it doesn't quite earn that score. The soundtrack to this game will likely be overlooked among all the Final Fantasy games that are around it, but Secret of Mana does have some extremely good tunes played. Unfortunately, the game has a nasty habit of cutting out tracks as you play, which diminishes quite a bit from the intended effects of the music. When I was in the underground cave leading into the Lost Continent's temple, the sounds got so intrusive the percussion wound up getting omitted halfway in.
The interesting thing about Secret of Mana is that it's the first adventure game where there's more than one protagonist. However, since adventure games are largely one-player affairs and there are three people to control in this game, the programmers had to figure out a decent form of AI with which to control the other two players. They were on to something with the whole Action Grid doohickey, but as a whole the AI just doesn't get it. It tends to short circuit around enemies, leaving the computer-controlled characters stranded on ledges, walking into enemies I'm trying to escape from, confronting certain enemies head-on when a diagonal approach is recommended, and other mistakes that no human player would do. Perhaps this wouldn't have been so much of a problem if there was only one partner instead of two, because then there'd be one less person to keep track of. As soon as you have the sprite and the girl in your party, though, you'll quickly come to realize that they're as dense as sandbags.
For some reason, my last review spent an awful lot of time complaining about enemies' tendencies to kick a player while he's down, scoring multiple hits without fear of retaliation. This go-round featured me taking advantage of this just as, if not more often, than the enemies. And while there is an element of level-raising to this game, it turns out that that isn't really what your performance will hinge on. When I played this time, I focused on raising my magic skills as quickly as possible, and found that in doing that, most of my experience and gold woes practically disappeared. Moreover, the bosses became a breeze: just have the Sprite cast the spell that boss is vulnerable to over and over again, and many bosses that used to give me trouble now went down after five castings of Earth Slide, with them barely causing a scratch. Reaching the bosses can sometimes be a tribulation, especially when certain enemies have the ability to incapacitate you temporarily with their standard attacks.
As far as the fun factor is concerned for this game, there are both incentives and discentives for playing. While campaigns are pretty easy and this game isn't too hard to mow down in a couple of weeks, the plot's thinness does kinda repel me. Obviously it took several years for me to revisit this game - a symptom of having so many other quality RPGs and adventure games to choose from - but once you start making your way into the Upper Lands and get your hands on a few magic schools, you should be motivated enough to see the game through.
So when all is said and done, what sort of effect does my returning to the game do to its score? Well, if you look at the end result, nothing. But still, I think I've come to appreciate the game a little more, even if I don't actually like the game as much as its publisher's hallmark series.
|Play Control: ||
|Technical Score: 12
|Aesthetic Score: 18
|Overall Score: 69%|