We’ve reviewed several of the top RPGs here at LoveRetro, but one we’ve yet to cover is Secret of Mana. Released August 6, 1994 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), this groundbreaking title has influenced many other video games. So today we’re going to take a closer look at Secret Mana, breaking down its characters, story, gameplay and other elements.
There are three playable characters in Secret of Mana:
- A boy from Potos who discovers a rusty sword. He was adopted by the village’s Elder after being abandoned by his mother.
- A young girl who’s in love with the warrior Dyluck. She leaves her village with the boy after her father tries to arrange a marriage for her.
- A sprite child from the Dwarf Village who earns a living by scamming people. The sprite child suffers from amnesia, so he joins the party in hopes of remembering his past.
Note: none of the game’s three playable characters have names in the original release. However, you can give them custom names when initially adding them to your party. Developer Square later added names to the instruction manual for the Japanese version — Randi, Primm and Popoi.
You might be surprised to learn that Secret of Mana is actually a sequel to another video game: Final Fantasy Adventure (Gameboy). Upon starting a new game, you’ll watch as three children from a local village explore a waterfall. One of the children loses his footing, however, and falls into the lake below. Here, the child discovers a rusty sword, which he pulls free. Unbeknownst to the child, he inadvertently releases an army of monsters after freeing the sword, prompting his guardian and village elder to banish him.
It’s soon revealed that the sword pulled was the legendary Mana Sword. A mysterious knight tells the child he must restore the Mana Sword by visiting Mana Temples scattered across the world. The child encounters two other characters during his journey (see above), and the trio embark on an epic journey to restore the Mana Sword and save the world from the sorcerer Thanatos.
Secret of Mana differs from many other RPGs of its time. Instead of using a traditional turn-based style of gameplay, it features real-time combat. This means you won’t have time to stop and think about your actions — unless you hit the inventory button, in which case the game will temporarily pause.
Each of the game’s three characters has their own specific play style. The main character (the boy) can master weapons more quickly, although he cannot use magic. The girl is a healer-type character who can cast magic to heal and buff the group. And the sprite can use offensive magic against the party’s foes.
Most RPGs of this era were strictly single player, limiting their playability in social settings. However, Square developed Secret of Mana with a focus on multiplayer, making it one of the first true console-based multiplayer RPGs. And it was also one of the first console games to support 3-player multiplayer. This means you and two other friends can play Secret of Mana at once, with each person controlling one of the game’s three main characters.
There are eight usable weapons in Secret of Mana: the sword, spear, bow, axe, boomerang, glove, whip, and javelin. Each weapon can be upgraded eight times, making them significantly more powerful.
Based on its fluid gameplay, captivating story, colorful landscape and multiplayer capabilities, we give Secret of Mana a 9/10 rating. The only reason why it didn’t get a perfect score is because of its clunky inventory interface and somewhat repetitive gameplay that forces the player to backtrack. Of course, those are minor flaws that can easily be overlooked.