Though my love for the Super Nintendo as well as my obsession with Chrono Trigger are well-documented, there were other 90s RPG titles that caught my interest and filled my socially reclusive days with hours of multi-colored, pixelated entertainment.
When people think about the classic RPGs from the Super Nintendo, the ones that always come to mind are Chrono Trigger, the Final Fantasy series, and Zelda: A Link to the Past. The game I’m reviewing today most closely resembles the latter.
Although I could never hate on the turn-based systems of combat presented in Chrono Trigger and the Final Fantasy series, I’ve always had a thing for a more action-oriented approach. Much like the future action RPGs Kingdom Hearts or Dark Souls, this game was all about fighting in real time and casting magic on the fly. This game was Squaresoft’s answer to Zelda and a blast to play. The game I speak of is Secret of Mana.
First of all, the graphics alone are worth the price of admission. From colorful to creepy and from dark to cheery, everything looked amazing in this game and it was a perfect showcase for the Super Nintendo’s processing power. The rich, vibrant graphics draw you into the story line and hold your interest as you spend hours exploring vast landscapes and labyrinthine dungeons.
The graphics are only second to the sound in this masterpiece. Whatever atmosphere the world brings, the music only intensifies it. From the angry boss battle music to the whimsical melodies of the underground dwarven village, every piece of the musical score has its proper place in the game. It really helps to build a believable, consistent world.
The gameplay is where the game really shines, however. With a high level of difficulty even for avid gamers, there’s much to love about the world that’s presented to the player. It’s like someone took a Zelda game and added more RPG elements to make the game deeper. You’re constantly walking around attacking the many varieties of beast that roam the wild, casting spells from a quick draw menu and switching between your 3 party members to decide which weapon and spell set fits which situation.
Whichever weapons and spells you use most are leveled up independently. You can choose the weapons you want to be built up at which times and which spells suit your fancy and help out your particular team configuration the most. While there are some choices that the game forces you to make like using a whip to get across chasms, even this minor level of customizability and depth of RPG elements was revolutionary for its time.
The game takes an upwards of 70 hours to beat fully and it retains its value via its high level of difficulty. Some day down the road you may wish to pick it up again and fiddle around in its colorful landscapes, killing bad guys and leveling up magic and weapons along the way. There aren’t multiple endings like in Chrono Trigger, but there are still plenty of reasons to play through the game again.
Secret of Mana is a classic Super Nintendo RPG from that golden age when RPGs were as numerous as First Person Shooters are today. With it’s cartoon violence, cutesy graphics, and flashy spell animations, people of all ages can enjoy this timeless classic. There’s even an iPhone version that you can play on the go. There’s no reason not to give it a try.