Secret of Mana

Once upon a time, Nintendo was contemplating a compact disc add-on for its Super Famicom / Super Nintendo Entertainment System, consulting with various companies such as Phillips and Sony for the potential peripheral, in the same vein that Sega had its CD add-on for the Genesis and NEC had one for its TurboGrafx-16 system. These negotiations ultimately fell through for Nintendo, and thus possible titles for the CD system necessitated conversion into traditional 16-bit games, among them being the first sequel in Squaresoft’s Seiken Densetsu franchise, titled Secret of Mana outside Japan, released in North America in 1993. Nearly a score later came a port to the Apple iOS, which fixes several bugs, has additional features, and is perhaps the definitive version of the game.

Like its predecessor Final Fantasy Adventure, Secret of Mana features a real-time action-based battle system, albeit with more variety, including three playable protagonists, Randi, Primm, and Popoi. They ultimately receive a variety of weapons with which to slaughter enemies and level up alongside normal experience levels, with increased levels allowing them to use more powerful charged attacks against foes. Players can also forge weapons into more powerful forms when meeting Watts the blacksmith, with Weapon Orbs typically obtained from defeating bosses allowing them to do so.

While Randi excels at physical attacks, Primm receives MP-consuming support and healing magic (albeit with some offensive spells), and Popoi receives attack magic, spells coming with eight different elementals obtained throughout the game. The player can level magic through repeated use, with magic in fact being the difference between victory and defeat against most bosses, Primm eventually receiving scan magic that exploits foes’ elemental weaknesses. New to the iOS version are up to four shortcuts for consumable items (though the limit of four each still remains) and specific spells.

Although players can repeatedly tap on the attack icon on the screen to attack enemies, doing so is a terrible idea, and instead it’s best to wait until a character’s attack gauge quickly charges to a hundred percent to do so, when attack power is at its maximum. In the end, the game mechanics work fairly well, with the only real hangups being some minor artificial intelligence problems such as allies occasionally being caught against walls and other objects, but otherwise, the battle system definitely helps the game more than hurts.

The same goes for the interface, with a decent use of the innovative ring menu system and touchscreen features, although items lack descriptions, and players can’t see how new equipment increases stats before purchasing it, yet typically, more expensive gear typically means better gear. There are also infrequent crashes, though fortunately, the iOS port has an auto-save feature (in addition to a new in-game clock), minimizing lost playtime due to such crashes. In the end, interaction is above average.

The story, however, is still pretty much run-of-the-mill in spite of characters now having their official names, focusing on an evil empire and its respective emperor, with a rebellion in the mix. The translation, furthermore, remains relatively unchanged from the original SNES version, although it was still good for the time, despite having taken a meager thirty days back in 1993. Overall, the plot and localization aren’t bad, but certainly not great, either.

Hiroki Kikuta’s soundtrack, however, is one of the game’s high points alongside the gameplay, with good sound effects as well, though one noticeable weak spot is the audible pause and looping of tracks that wasn’t present in the original version.

The visuals are nice as well, with some changes such as a reflection of the sky in water and altered enemy sprites, some seeming to come from Seiken Densetsu 3, although there are quite a few palette-swapped enemies and no diagonal facing for the player’s characters or vertical facing for the enemies. Even so, a great-looking game.

Finally, the first Seiken sequel is about twenty to forty hours long, most additional playing time coming from the leveling of both weapons and magic, although there isn’t much lasting appeal otherwise. All in all, the iOS version of Secret of Mana is a solid port that hits most of the right notes, particularly with regards to its gameplay, interface, and nice audio and graphics, although there are some aspects that leave room for improvement such as the rare crash, unchanged translation, and lack of any significant lasting appeal aside from building up weapon and magic levels. Even so, the iOS port is an ideal way aside from pirating the original version or searching on eBay to experience the classic title.

The Good:
+Great action-based battle system with plenty variety.
+Good control and use of touchscreen features.
+Nice aurals and visuals.

The Bad:
-Occasional crashes.
-Story is run-of-the-mill, with unchanged translation.
-Not much replay value.

The Bottom Line:
The definitive version of the game.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: iOS
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 6/10
Difficulty: Easy
Playing Time: 20-40 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

This review is based on a playthrough on an iPad Mini.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License