Secret of Mana (1993)

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“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
-Roald Dahl

 

 

There exists a unique sort of glamorization within retro gaming. This is not true with every game of the past, and I myself hold that there is much to learn from the perennial classics, but there are several retro games with glaring weaknesses covered over by the tenderness of nostalgia.

We may say of these flawed artifacts that they “don’t stand the test of time” or that they “didn’t age well”. By those phrases we mean that the steady march of years and the advancement of modern technology have rendered the antiquities unappealing and unsavory, most often said in terms of graphics. The gist is that we perhaps didn’t know better back then but now that tech has evolved, we can see things as they really are: games clutched like gems to the heart of childhood but cracked and lightless. We are in this sense spoiled by the gaming industry’s advancements.

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With Secret of Mana, that’s not really the case. It is far from a perfect game; that’s not to excuse it and then to proclaim it great. In fact, it could have turned out a lot better. It is a fundamentally flawed game and in realizing that, the glamorizing of retro games fell like scales from my eyes as I (finally) played through it from start to finish as an adult.

Seiken Densetsu 2, or Secret of Mana (since I’m reviewing specifically the US release of the game), doesn’t just fail to stand the test of time. It entered the Western world through a turbulent and rushed localization process, earning scars that ought to have been as plain as day nearly 25 years ago as they are right now. Maybe they were. Maybe these specific flaws were par for the course back then. I wasn’t a critic at the time.

When I was younger, Secret of Mana was a source of fascination to me. I never owned it but I rented it many times from local Blockbusters and gas station rentals. Further, I grew up with a brother two years younger than me so this was a game we could both play at the same time and sink our teeth into. Never being able to beat it likely meant that the mystery of Secret of Mana’s last chapters elevated the whole thing to legend in my mind. Its secrets guaranteed it became bigger in memory than it actually turned out to be.

What is apparent to me now, though, is that Secret of Mana is a unique and fun JRPG experience for two or three players but it doesn’t sit at the top of Square’s storytelling (or localization) achievements.

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Secret of Mana opens with a good ol’ fashioned text crawl explaining with almost religious gravity how the power of Mana is fading from the land. Magic is dying. The world awaits an Arthurian hero who can wield the legendary blade, known by many names throughout history, celebrated in myths. Excalibur. Herald. Gigas. The Sword of Mana.

Many years ago, an ancient civilization harnessed the power of Mana and created the ultimate weapon: the Mana Fortress. In this familiar theme in Japanese storytelling where the Mana Fortress takes the place of nuclear power, the natural gods of Secret of Mana sent their divine beasts to tear the Fortress out of the sky. War broke out across the earth and the power of Mana vanished.

In desperation, a hero appeared at the thirteenth hour. Taking up the fabled Mana Sword, this champion smashed the Fortress. Though civilization had come to an end, the world knew peace. Time, however, flows like a river. This pattern of the abuse of Mana and the calling of a new hero has been repeated throughout history. The time has come for a new Mana Knight to arise, for a new imperial civilization seeks the Mana Seeds to unseal the path to the Fortress.

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Near the village of Potos, a young orphan boy is playing with his friends when he falls into a lake below. The area is forbidden by the village elder but the boys talked of a ghost that haunted the waters. A voice calls to the orphan and leads him to a rusted sword embedded in stone. When the boy pulls it out, an apparition appears to him and then vanishes.

Returning to Potos, the village comes under attack by monsters and the villagers believe that removing the sword from the stone is an ill omen. The orphan boy is banished from the village, but in his hand he wields the ancient Sword of Mana. This is our hero, Randi, who later joins with a girl named Primm and a sprite named Popoi (none of whom were named in the original US version).

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Together they travel to revive the power of the Sword of Mana using the Mana Seeds at eight palaces across the world. Also on their itinerary is trying to save the warrior Dyluck, Primm’s love, from the clutches of evil, as well as finding a way to restore Popoi’s memories. They’ll receive aid from the eight Mana Palaces and the sages. They’ll inherit the powers of the elemental Mana Spirits across the land: fire, water, earth, wind, wood, moon, light, and darkness.

Thanatos, an ancient sorcerer, is manipulating the empire in order to achieve immortality, raise the Mana Fortress once more, and destroy the Mana Tree. Beyond the threat of Thanatos, the powerful Mana Beast will awake from its slumber should the Fortress arise to attack it and destroy civilization once more. Only the Mana Knight and his friends can prevent the world from ending.

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Secret of Mana is actually a sequel, not a first entry in its series. Its predecessor was released in North America as Final Fantasy Adventure (in Europe as Mystic Quest) for Nintendo’s Game Boy, making Secret of Mana the first Seiken Densetsu title to be marketed as part of the Mana series rather than as a Final Fantasy game. Mana has generally been more obscure compared to its more final and fantastical sister series, with some titles not even appearing outside of Japan. Even Secret of Mana’s own sequel, Seiken Densetsu 3 for the Super Famicom, never had an official Western release.

That’s a shame considering Secret of Mana became known for its rather distinctive gameplay. Real-time battles and time-based strength meters replace the much more rigid turn-based systems, even the ATB system, seen in traditional JRPGs. In Secret of Mana, players can attack at any time but a character cannot strike with their full strength until their attack gauge refills to 100%. This prevents Secret of Mana from boiling down into a hack n’ slash. As a character gains experiential proficiency with their weapon, they can charge up their attack past 100% to do even more damage.

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Weapons take the form of several basic types throughout Secret of Mana and though you do not actually buy new weapons, you consistently receive new weapons by upgrading the ones you have. This occurs when you find a weapon’s orb, often dropped by a boss monster. Taking the orb to the dwarfen blacksmith Watts, you can pay a small fee and have your weapon adopt a new form and better attack stats. It’s always exciting to see what the weapons will turn into next, though some of them seem to always remain more useful than others.

Despite the game’s innovations, the three playable characters fall neatly into traditional classes. The boy is a fighter without any ability to use magic but to compensate he can gain proficiency with weapons much faster than the other characters. Plus he can wield the power of the Mana Sword. The girl is of course the healer. She gains three spells with each Mana Spirit that joins the team and all of her magic is of the support type. Lastly, the sprite is the official black mage. His magic, again three spells per Spirit, is offensive and afflictive. Expect to spam his magic during almost every boss battle.

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Hello, anytime.

One of the cool things about the magic system in Secret of Mana is the Mana Spirits will gain levels as well. This occurs through simply using their spells. As Spirits gain in levels, their effects are more potent. You can simply hang out near an inn and cast a bunch of magic to farm more levels, snagging a good night’s sleep to recover MP. It’s easily exploitable in that sense but you’ll need a good chunk of powerful spells to clear the game, anyway.

The most important feature in Secret of Mana is the multiplayer mode that makes it a co-op action RPG, two or even three friends can join in as the other party members and they can drop in or out at any time. Even by today’s standards, that is incredibly unique in the realm of RPGs but it makes for some awesome hang out sessions with friends. Secret of Mana is easy to play and though things like navigating menus grind the ARPG action to a halt, the battles are a seamless experience happening in the field with friends able to come and go at will. A godsend for potty breaks.

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The single player mode isn’t to be sniffed at either since any of the three playable characters can be left up to cpu control. Each individual AI can be customized to play more defensively and keep their distance or more aggressive and close in for the kill. The depth of this level of customizeable autonomy, however primitive, is impressive and it clearly formed the basis for future RPGs to come (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy XII).

There’s a lot to love in Secret of Mana but many of the elements particular to the US version bar the game from true greatness. Let’s get into discussing those.

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The 8-bit Review
visual Visuals: 7/10
Bright graphics, cutesy characters, and pastels paint the world of Secret of Mana. It is as lush and as vibrant as its cover art, though the graphics can become somewhat repetitive given the scale of this world. During development, the game was initially much bigger and had to be dialed back to fit on the SNES cartridge but it’s pretty clear that the game pushes the hardware quite far. Little touches bring this world to life: dappled sunlight passing through leafy canopies, atmospheric effects like mist or smoke, and lots and lots of Mode 7.

Mode 7 pseudo-3D is seen when flying through the air on the back of Flammie the baby dragon. It’s also caught in glimpses when launching from cannons in early game warp travelling. When flying over the globe, the earth seems to scroll beneath you. It’s a very cool effect considering the game’s age and it was something unique (certainly in appearance) to the SNES. By now, that particular 3D effect looks garbled and heavily pixelated, but the impression of soaring over sweeping vistas remains. If only there had been a way to depict differences in elevation.

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audio Audio: 8/10
The score of Secret of Mana has long been known for its distinctiveness among 90’s JRPGs. Whereas most other games in this genre at the time drew from strictly high fantasy instrumentation and themes for their music, especially those concerned with medieval castles, knights, damsels, dragons, and quests, Secret of Mana possesses a soundtrack that’s been called much more mysterious. It is notably dark and reveberating, eerie in some tracks and more unpredictable in its musical progression, relying heavily and unusually on bells and chimes. It sounds less like something a bard would play.

 

 

Composer Hiroki Kikuta believes in the value of independent, creative thought to achieve the highest quality results over divvying up responsibilities among a group. He claimed to have spent nearly 24 hours a day in his office composing and editing music for Secret of Mana while it was in its two year production. That’s nothing to sniff at, and he called this amount of time spent on composing “luxurious”. His stance on creative work is that there’s a degree of obsessive passion that needs to come to the fore. This philosophy can be heard in the richness of the music, its ability to convey imagery.

 

 

 

“Through a single musical phrase, it’s actually possible to influence the creation of a kind of world in the imagination of the listener.”
-Hiroki Kikuta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As mentioned, there are some dark tracks. One of them even made it on our Top 20 Spooky themes list!

 

 

 

 

While the majority of Secret of Mana’s soundtrack is great, there is one song that goes on insta-mute. Not sure what he was going for here with the Dwarf Village. Sugar high, maybe?

 

 

 

 

 

gameplay Gameplay: 7/10
With the multiplayer being as good as it is, that’s likely the primary reason why you’ll want to play Secret of Mana. Multiplayer in this JRPG is unique enough and fun enough to warrant a 7/10 for Gameplay, though it’s not a system with its bugs completely worked out and playing in tandem with the wrong buddy can turn into a real drag. The menus aren’t too user friendly but if you delegate a friend to keeping watch of the heals or doing some extra damage it can certainly be an enjoyable experience, that is if your friend doesn’t run out of patience with all of the inevitable backtracking and getting lost.

Secret of Mana works a significant amount of backtracking into its plot (the section where you have to hunt down Sage Joch is barely bearable) but getting lost is another thing entirely. Navigation in the game is really terrible. The one map the game gives you is a rotatable globe so zoomed out so as to be totally ineffective. Down on the field, it’s impossible to figure out where you want to go without memorizing the world’s layout beforehand or stumbling around until you’re there. Even when flying Flammie, so much of the detail of the Mode 7 scrolling plane escapes distintion that it’s difficult to tell one city from another. A mini-map or really just a traditional map of any kind with place markers would have been amazing.

How else are you supposed to find this teeny-tiny face in the ocean Easter egg?

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Frustration will also develop with Secret of Mana’s major hit box and accuracy problem. The game is viewed from a top down perspective almost exclusively, minus the Mode 7 portions, so some of the larger enemies and flying bosses will appear to occupy spaces that they evidently are not. Even when fighting ogres as big as proverbial barns, you’ll likely become annoying when you “miss”, especially after charging up for a more devastating attack. Missing will make you want to mash your attack button but that’s exactly you do no damage at all. As it is, certain enemies feel almost as if they’re not there and magic becomes a mainstay for any serious battles, unfortunately.

Lastly, there’s an extremely limited inventory in this game. Only four of each consumable item can be carried at once! That’s extreme but it’s not hard to imagine that the decision was made to go with such a limitation since in a real-time combat game the action can be paused at any time and therefore your heroes can be healed at any time. Putting limitations on healing via items means that you can’t rely on restocking to carry you through every dungeon (especially with only four Cups of Wishes to bring characters back to life).

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story Narrative: 3/10
Writing out the basics of the story as I did above felt pretty good, actually. Though the premise isn’t bad, it’s the details of the story which leave much to be desired. Secret of Mana feels sparse. Characters come and go. Some of them seem more important than they actually are. Character development is absent. Subplots lead up to nothing. There’s a reason for all that.

Secret of Mana was actually developed to be a launch title for the proposed Super NES CD-ROM System under development by both Nintendo and Sony. Yes, before PlayStation, Sony teamed up with Nintendo. Too bad the partnership fell through when the two giants couldn’t play nice together. There were battles for control, spearheaded by the Big N. Nintendo announced its partnership with Philips, Sony’s rival, when they were supposed to be working with Sony and so the feud between them developed, eventually leading Sony to the path of competitor against Nintendo. The peripheral add-on that would’ve enabled the SNES to play CD-ROMs was never released.

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This meant that Secret of Mana had to be reformatted for the smaller space of a SNES cartridge, resulting in many changes and cuts to features, gameplay, and storyline. Initially, multiple endings were included (an itch scratched in Chrono Trigger). The original story apparently would have been much darker. It likely would have increased the significance of all the secondary characters (the imperial leaders for example). Up to forty percent of the planned game was left on the cutting room floor. Let that sink in… nearly half of the game had to be cut. But, as they say in marketing, that’s not all.

What was cut? Playing the game, absences are obvious in the lack of balance. The Tree Palace is an arduous task to complete but the Moon Palace is a tiny galactic “maze”. The earlier parts of the game seem to have much more focus and direction whereas the later parts of the game will leave you wondering where you are supposed to go next. As a kid, I always thought that the story would “take off” after fighting the witch, confronting Thanatos in the castle and trying to rescue Dyluck. As it turns out, the story just meanders and seems to forget itself as it goes along until elements appear out of nowhere, as if by casual mention.

It’s a bare bones script. In addition to the 40% of the game that was cut due to the switch from SNES CD-ROM to SNES cartridge, whole swaths of the game’s text had to be cut for the English localization. There simply was not enough space left on the SNES cart for all of the story. Likely this constraint of space was another reason why Square eventually chose to move their RPGs like Final Fantasy from Nintendo consoles to Sony’s. So Nintendo lost two partnerships right around this time in the mid 90’s.

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Translation by Ted Woolsey had to be completed on a terribly short deadline, just 30 days, with a lot of the English having to be oversimplified and a lot of the script cut again due to space constraints. Woolsey commented in an interview that the list of what was cut is too long to describe.

Q: “On a scale of one to ten, how tough is it to translate Japanese games into English?”

Woolsey: “Let me put it this way, It’s a lot more difficult than it seems! Our avid following in the US is constantly saying to us, ‘look, just what is your problem? Get the games out faster!’, they have a real problem with this. But they don’t understand that there are severe limitations – as everyone who’s played a Square game will realize – with size, it’s just so tough squeezing the translated text into the game. What this means is that you have to rethink an entire plot without actually changing any of the parameters that govern how the plot has implications on the rest of the game. So, inevitably, some depth is lost in the translation from Japanese to English.”

Q: “How much is lost?”

Woolsey: “Well, as far as simple text is concerned, I would say that you can get twice as much information into the same space when written in Japanese as you can writing in English. But it’s the process of making sure that what you’re left with still makes complete sense, that’s the real time consuming problem, even after you’ve stretched and pulled all the text windows until they are as big as possible. Also, with some titles – like the Secret of Mana – there’s no order to the messages. As a result, it’s very difficult keeping all the plot lines and story elements in your head while working out what can be lost and what needs to be changed. Translating Japanese can be a completely frustrating task!

My kid brother playing through Secret of Mana with me commented at the end that the game seemed “unfinished”. Considering everything that transpired during the rushed translation process, the botched partnership with Sony, the compression of the game’s data into the SNES cartridge, I now know why he said that. So much has been cut.

But what exactly is the “secret” of Mana? The world may never know. I mean it’s likely that (spoilers: highlight to reveal) the Mana Tree is the orphan boy’s mom and the ghost in the Sword is his dad, but those two revelations matter so little to the overall plot that they may as well be afterthoughts.

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accessibility Accessibility: 8/10
Only the ring-shaped menus and the timing for the attack gauges bear some explanation to new players, though these are features which can be quickly learned through trial and error. Secret of Mana never becomes so complex, so multi-layered with new systems that it gets too complicated. Newcomers and RPG fans alike should be able to pick up their controllers and jump in and out of combat rather easily. There is far less of the number-crunching and dialogue dragging that occurs in other RPGs. Limiting players to only a few items, spells, and weapons for the entire game means there’s not a whole lot to have to learn.

diff Challenge: 8/10
Leveling in Secret of Mana is simple and that is the surest road to success. There are some boss fights (especially that fire tiger, ugh) that can be painful if you’re unprepared or under-leveled. Bosses strike hard and many of them rail on you with magical attacks which cannot be avoided. Ensuring you’re well-equipped and well-stocked with items and experience points should be enough to see you through, but that won’t help if you cannot find a sense of direction. Secret of Mana does not give you the tools to be a great navigator.

There is also a significant leap in difficulty in a handful of areas in the game. The Pure Land is one example of this. If I had to guess, I’d say that is probably yet another symptom of everything that had to be cut from the game. Otherwise you’re left with this massive, inexplicable jump in challenge.

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unique Uniqueness: 9/10
Secret of Mana may be many things but a rip off it is not. Some risks it was forced to take but some of its features are the results of pioneering thought. You could play retro RPGs for years and never come across something as distinctive as Secret of Mana. That seamless multiplayer goes a long way, not just in covering up the flaws but also in ensuring the game remains remembered.

pgrade My Personal Grade: 6/10
Like I said at the beginning, there is a real temptation with retro games to view them through sepia-toned glasses as perfect or at least superior in some fashion. Indeed this is one accusation made against the retro gaming community. One of the difficulties of being a critic is recognizing one’s own biases, which most certainly exist. In the realm of retro games of decades past, there exists a strong bias toward seeing them in high standing and in undertaking this adventure to I guess review everything, I’ve begun to confront this bias within myself. Replaying and reviewing Secret of Mana took the game down a few notches for me, no matter how excited I was to play it again on the SNES Classic.

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Truth be told, Secret of Mana is an example of a retro game which suffers more from just time. It’s not time that ensured its blemishes. In the US version, its perhaps once beautiful plot was reduced to the isolated activities of forgettable characters and villains mucking about in a chopped up world. Its gameplay can still be enjoyable for a couple of friends whittling away some afternoons with couch co-op, but inevitable frustrations and narrative aimlessness will work actively against that. I never beat this game as a child and it took forcing myself through the latter parts of Secret of Mana with my kid brother to see those end credits roll.

All of the troubled translation issues are summed up in a single image, the image of the three heroes standing tranquilly at the foot of the Mana Tree, lush foliage in the background, scarlet cranes flying overhead. That image doesn’t actually appear in the game, excepting the title screen. It’s an elegant scene that points out the inelegance of the game itself.

The full 3D remake is on its way here soon and I wonder if Square Enix is going to take the opportunity to restore what Square was forced to cut from the English version. Now’s their chance to restore the world of Secret of Mana to the dream it could have been!

 

 

 

 

 

Aggregated Score: 7.0

 

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42 thoughts on “Secret of Mana (1993)

    1. How are you and I not best friends? Haha that was exactly my take revisiting it as an adult for this review! I think of it now as an example of a retro game that has too much nostalgia attached to it to be truly criticized by the majority.

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      1. It completely changed my mind on picking up the PS4 version. Pity that, if they had maybe refocused on some of the mechanics and updated it then it might have been better.

        Oh, and to hell with that fire breathing tiger monster boss.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Fascinating, since I played this in expectation of the remake which I still plan to get. I am most curious to see if they’ll restore some of the cutout content and fix some of the game’s issues, especially with the story. I’ll let you know how it is!

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  1. Here’s a game I have tried to get into many times but I was never able to get far into it. I always chalked that up to the fact JRPGs and I have a rather shaky relationship, but – given your score and comments – maybe it’s something else entirely.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shaky relationship? Do explain! Do JRPGs have some tendencies you find off putting? For me, that’s true post-2000ish. I loved most JRPGs before then.

      Likely what turned you off of Secret of Mana though is some of the stuff they cut out that leaves it toothless. The gameplay can be fun with multiple players but the story is so meandering that it’s hard to become invested in it compared to games like Final Fantasy (post-IV at least). I still recommend playing through it at least once with a friend for the experience, but expect a very slight story.

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      1. They do! I guess it’s mostly the extreme focus on combat and dungeon-crawling, which I find to be tedious. With most JRPGs, I eventually realize I am just playing for the story, because the gameplay does not do much for me, and I end up dropping them. Given the plot of Secret of Mana is not that engaging, it is no wonder I stopped playing it after a little white a few times already.

        That’s why I like the Xenoblade series as a whole, because they dilute the battles and dungeons by adding open-worlds and MMO elements to the formula. Strangely, I am not heavily into MMOs or JRPGs, but for some reason the blend works for me.

        I am also not into the anime tropes that make their way into JRPGs either, but I can live with them as long as they are not too frequent. Xenoblade 2 falters in that particular aspect in my book, because I think it often leans way too heavily towards those staples, and it just turns me off.

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        1. Yeah the old school dungeon-crawling with random encounters and turn-based combat is a turn off to a lot of folks. That surprised me when I first started hearing about it because that’s what I grew up on, but nevertheless I can certainly see how it’s tedious. The time sink of grinding out experience is actually enjoyable to me so I can multitask with reading or listening to podcasts at the same time, and I actively seek out that sort of thing even in modern games if I can. Funny you mentioned Xenoblade, as I have been spending the past two days farming for core crystals. Tedious but super relaxing to me! I am not into MMOs though. Not at all.

          Where you and I do agree is on disliking those anime tropes. I really detest that kind of stuff: the fan service, the stereotypical characters, the obsession with ridiculous hair colors. I especially think these are stupid in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. That Zeke character isn’t exactly treading new ground. He’s essentially just Team Rocket from what I’ve seen so far. I actually laughed aloud during a short-skirt transformation sequence akin to Sailor Moon. Like how is this not a self-parody at this point? It’s mostly why I stopped watching virtually all anime.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I also multitask when grinding is necessary. I usually listen to some music while doing it. Farming for core crystals is sort of like trying to catch a rare Pokémon I guess: you keep walking on the grass until it eventually shows up. I think there was a certain inspiration coming from Pokémon when they decided to implement those rare non-generic blades in Xenoblade 2.

            Oh man, don’t get me started on Zeke! He’s certainly on of the first elements that come to mind when I think of the anime tropes that are present in the game.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I definitely thought of booster packs in trading card games with the core blades in XenoChron2. I was told that the probability of getting a rare blade diminishes quite a bit after collecting over 21 rare blades. That seems to be the case, as I’ve still been grinding and I built up about 70 common cores and 25 or so rare cores, but I opened them all and only got one rare blade out of it. I looked up other ways to farm rarer/rarest cores, so I’ll have to wait for late game for that, if interest in the game remains.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Oh boy, I did not know about the probability of getting a rare blade diminishing as you acquire more of them. It’s a shame, as I have looked at some of the designs and they are awesome.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Yeah the way it’s set up, it seems like you could easily complete the entire game without getting all of the rare blades. In my opinion, the blades are one of XenoChron 2’s few highlights so I wish there was more emphasis on them and less optionality involved in collecting them. I’m in chapter 6, though, so maybe that changes? I doubt it does, drastically at least.

                  Liked by 1 person

  2. I did try out Secret of Mana in the past, and though I made some progress, I wasn’t interested enough to complete it. It wasn’t as though it was a bad game; it just didn’t captivate me. I think it has a few pacing issues that make it a bit difficult to get into. I have also played this game’s predecessor, Final Fantasy Adventure, which is a lot faster, though strangely, I never got around to completing that one either.

    There’s a patch that improves the translation, so anyone interested should probably look into that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I can’t tell you how many times I attempted to complete this game in the past but never did, for whatever reason. Now I’m guessing it’s because the plot was so declawed that it can’t grab the way it should. I’m interested in an improved translation. Got to play this recently on the SNES Classic but I’m holding out for an improved story in the remake.

      I appreciate the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I also think in some gaming spheres, the nineties are romanticized to an occasionally unhealthy degree. In practice, I feel the decade had the advantage of having a sheer volume of good games along with the fact that the worst of the worst tended to fall into obscurity, thus making it seem better than it actually was. If anything, I’ve been more impressed with the last two decades because missteps aside, they went for quality over quantity.

        Either way, I can see the visuals alone getting attention in 1993, but that’s not really setting itself up to have much long-term appeal. I did play through Secret of Evermore, which also had something of an emphasis on visuals, and while I did like it as a kid, I will be the first to admit it hasn’t aged very well.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. You want to talk about painful you should pick up Secret of Evermore. It was a kind of SoM spinoff (used basically the same engine) but it was very, very confusing and the story was pretty boring. I hate to say it, but its one of the few SS games I really do not like. I don’t think I ever finished it, and I remember actually being excited about buying it because I had such a great time with SoM. I might have to pick it back up and finish it just to say I did, but…wow, it was bad. Maybe Ill do my own review of it. I may have it in my emulator folder.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Weirdly, between all of the Mana games, Secret of Evermore is the only one I finished. I enjoyed it when I was eleven, but I now feel it’s a pretty middle-of-the-road experience. There are a few ideas from it I like, but it hasn’t held up well with time. I’ve been entertaining ideas of reviewing it myself now that I’m being reminded of it.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Secret of Evermore is definitely a step down from Secret of Mana. There’s one less playable character and the storyline, though perhaps more coherent in its simplicity than SoM, is just really dull. I beat it once a long time ago and I guess now we’ll have to review it, the three of us, and compare notes!

          Liked by 1 person

              1. I like the Hall of Collosia theme, but otherwise, it’s a pretty sparse soundtrack. I think they were going for more of Dark Souls-like atmospheric soundscape. It wasn’t a bad attempt for its time, but it made listening to the game dull at times; the medium needed to make the 3D leap in order to make that idea viable.

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                1. Now I’m caught trying to think of 2D games that had excellent atmospheric soundtracks. The first Donkey Kong Country is probably a prime example of that. Out of this World/Another World popped in my head but I don’t think there’s even much music there.

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                2. Yes and that’s the exception for the time, not the rule. I recently wrote elsewhere that the structure of stages and levels fit better with melodic sound design as opposed to more open world games in the 3D age benefiting from fluid atmosphere. All that to say I agree.

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                3. I did notice that myself. A lot of people lament games supposedly not having good music anymore, but I think developers eventually learned that having music continuously play isn’t always the best approach. There is still plenty of good game music if one knows where to look.

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                4. Hmm I definitely would find that lamentation unfair, if I met someone who believed it. There’s always been great music in gaming and music that fits the structure of the game it belongs to is criteria that needs to be met. This year alone I really enjoyed the scores from several games, two differently structured ones, Cuphead and Breath of the Wild, I thought were both amazing.

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                5. Yeah, it seems like half of the complaints enthusiasts lodge at the medium can be quelled simply by digging beneath the surface or not being so quick to dismiss the current generation’s accomplishments in the name of fulfilling the “games are getting worse” narrative.

                  That remix in Hyrule Castle in Breath of the Wild was something else, huh? I’ll definitely talk about that game in further detail after reviewing the installments I’ve played leading up to it.

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                6. Quick dismissal is general unfair, isn’t it? I just wish we could develop a level of critical thinking within the culture to where individual titles can be judged on their individual merits or flaws rather than merely their associations with some group, some era, some developer, or some other stigma.

                  I’ll keep an eye out for your discussion on BotW! I enjoy your in-depth work!

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                7. The gaming sphere had to deal with a prominent critic declaring that games can never be art. That was after having to defend themselves for nearly two decades from lawmakers who wished to censor what they enjoyed, so after all that effort, they were told point blank it was all for nothing. Even if it doesn’t take much thought to realize his statement was wrong, it really dealt a major blow to entire medium’s self-esteem, and I feel it has had an effect on everyone. Artists try to distance themselves from the concept of fun, critics occasionally go for style over substance, and fans have trouble taking any kind of criticism. It’s a complicated issue to be sure, but though there may be yet more growing pains involved, but I think the gaming sphere will get there eventually. The solution is not going to be provided through one definitive work that proves games are art, but rather the mainstream accepting the cultural legitimacy it has had from the beginning.

                  Thanks! I’ll be sure to be as detailed as possible. Though it may be a while; I managed to get a Majora’s Mask review done a few days ago, but I still have everything I’ve played between the Oracle games and A Link Between Worlds before I get to Breath of the Wild.

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                8. I really wish you and I could just sit down and have a coffee. We should collaborate on something some time. You’re speaking my language. Question: do you think then that games don’t need to fundamentally change but that the overarching issue is a cultural one? If it’s a question of cultural legitimacy, then I suppose I have little interest in the issue at all. Culture seems to change on whims but I’m most interested in what can be accomplished in games as they are now whether or not somebody agrees with me about their quality or nature. What is interesting though is understanding how the culture surrounding games has developed and changed, but the games themselves remain I guess almost compartmentalized in my mind from the culture. Maybe that’s because I play single player so much? I dunno. Where culture begins to influence or dictate the content and nature of games though is where I start to become … apprehensive might be the best term? Games trying to distance themselves from the concept of fun is one instance. Personally I’m turned off by the hyper-serious “every day is the apocalypse” brand of games, but hey, there’s enough games today that I could play the rest of my life without having to play another zombie game.

                  I know I always do this to you, somehow it’s always you specifically, where I write these spur of the moment, stream of consciousness comments. I suppose I just haven’t paid attention to a lot of the external stuff to where my thoughts aren’t solidified on them.

                  Reviewing all the Zelda games is quite a monumental task. Somebody asked me if I’d do that, and I said someday I’d have them all done haha!

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                9. I think there is an overarching cultural issue, and that games, like any other medium can’t help but be influenced in some way by the culture that produced it, which is neither good nor bad. The more timeless ones tend to keep that to a minimum, lest they create a dated period piece by accident.

                  However on the subject on whether games need to change, I think they should – just not on the terms of any other medium. Using Naughty Dog as an example, the problem with their approach is that they’re trying to recreate Hollywood’s success in their own medium. It’s for the most part, a lost cause because many of those classic cinematic moments were brought about through decidedly irreproducible circumstances (read up on the production of Apocalypse Now for a good example). The other problem with that approach, and one that has become especially apparent in recent years, is that developers seem to be under the impression that Hollywood is an infallible cultural bastion when that’s not the case at all. Indeed, The Last of Us incorporated themes and elements stereotypically associated with Oscar winners, yet the irony is that Hollywood themselves would prove how horribly it could backfire last year when they released the reprehensibly awful Collateral Beauty. For another example, there is Spec Ops: The Line. It tried to be the gaming equivalent of Apocalypse Now, but just like Naughty Dog’s effort, it fell woefully short. Both games failed because they were trying to be something they’re not, and while critics may praise them for their themes, at the end of the day, a majority of them were covered better in much older works. They also both benefitted from the fact that the games easily capable of surpassing them were either easy to ignore because they didn’t enter the mainstream or made before 2010 when that critic wrote his infamous screed.

                  Some indie developers have taken it to the opposite extreme with the “walking simulator” craze, but though some critics consider it avant-garde, I believe it to be a defeated revolution just like the game-movie approach. Proponents claim they aren’t meant to be fun, but it’s a weak defense. I will admit there are a few games I really enjoyed that I wouldn’t consider fun, yet they’re the exceptions that demonstrate why it’s such a weak defense. The level of talent needed to pull off a game that puts all of its eggs in the story basket is beyond that of the average walking simulator developer (or Naughty Dog, for that matter).

                  Long story short, a new path will be forged for video games to tread in their goal to make the mainstream acknowledge its artistic merits, but I doubt Naughty Dog, anyone else using a similar approach, or the walking simulators, will be the ones to do it. As an aside, I’m still unconvinced that anyone who declared The Last of Us the Citizen Kane of gaming actually saw the movie; even fans were baffled by that one.

                  Yeah, I didn’t realize just how monumental the task would end up being until after I started reviewing the original game; even my review of Link’s Awakening ended up being fairly long. I do like reviewing these high-profile series because you usually get two narratives: one within the game and the other concerning its development.

                  I’m glad my comments have led you to ask these kinds of questions. I wouldn’t mind doing some sort of collaborative article. What did you have in mind?

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                10. So actually I didn’t have anything particular in mind for a collaboration. Not yet at least. If you have any idea for a collab you’ve always wanted to do, let me know. I just enjoy our back and forth, though there’s a lot of what you said above that I agree with but cannot respond to for lack of forming an opinion or being too versed in the subject. That includes walking sims and overly cinematic games. Naughty Dog, I haven’t played too many of their titles, and after Last of Us I’m not in a rush to. But hey! I have seen Citizen Kane so there’s that. Heck, I don’t even think the Last of Us is the It’s A Wonderful Life of gaming. I find the attempts fascinating when games attempt to make this reach for art, but like you pointed out, there are those which are timeless because they stand apart from clear cultural influence and it’s those games I’m most interested in.

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  3. Sit down, fair mages, and let me regale you with my tale!

    Long ago, before the mystical aether we know as the interwebz, gamers such as you and I had to order games from the back pages of musty tomes known as ‘Gaming magazines’ via mail order or ‘order by phone’. It was from one of these tomes I had pre-ordered Fatal Fury for the SNES. Alas the release date came and went and still I had no game. My curiosity piqued I contacted the outfit I had pre-ordered from only to be told that the release date for Fatal Fury had been pushed back! Forlorn, I nearly wept, as, at that time, I was but a lowly stock boy in a local store, and games were expensive! Fortunately the place offered me an opportunity to get a refund or select another game from their library. The gaming magazine spread before me, opened to their page of available games, I saw the large picture of the recently released ‘Secret of Mana’. “Just send me this Secret of Mana game” I said.

    Little did I know the Nintendo gods smiled upon me on that day, as the port of Fatal Fury sucked butt (I eventually rented it and hated it), and I got years of play out of SoM. Not only did I play through it several times, but I also eventually invested in the multitap and enjoyed multiplayer adventures with some of my friends. The soundtrack, being absolutely wonderful, was maybe the 2nd soundtrack I had ever ordered, and it has been a joy to listen to even after all these years.

    Looking forward to the remake, though it will never hold the same nostalgia as the first, when I got a package in the mail, ripped it open and headed straight to my room and my trusty, well kept SNES.

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    1. *Sitting down, the Well-Red Mage took in the siren song with wide-eyed wonder*

      Haha thanks for sharing your memories! I remember ordering from those magazines but most of my games came from Toys R Us and rentals. Ah, for days gone by.

      I am also greatly looking forward to the remake, now for reasons regarding the plot and the additional space that modern hardware can afford the plot, but the score and the gameplay are two of the best things about this game. It was really fun to play through it again and have my kid brother (15 years younger than me) enjoy it for the first time. That’s been a helpful gauge in dealing with the tendencies of nostalgia to over-glamorize, but all that said I would gladly play through the game again with a new translation or of course with the remake.

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    1. Yay controversy! You know I love that stuff.

      I remember loving Secret of Mana when I was younger, too, as I mentioned. I think SoM is one of those games that’s a legend on the SNES but it has some significant issues. Play through it again paying special attention to its plot structure and I’d love to chat about it with you. I can definitely agree on the soundtrack being great. Square doesn’t skimp there. The score and the gameplay were the best parts of the game for me whereas the narrative was ultimately a real let down. Not being able to beat the game as a kid meant I thought the story would be a lot better than it turned out.

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