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Secret of Mana was released on the SNES and was one of the first games to mix real time combat with an epic RPG story-line, and it paid off. Secret of Mana was one of Square's biggest hits. So, with Wii owners begging for a good RPG to come to the system, Nintendo released it onto the VC for download. Should you spend 800 Wii points on it or not?
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A young boy (the hero) hears a sword talking to him, begging him to pull it out of a rock in the middle of a river. He obliges, needing the sword to cut through some bushes to get home. However, releasing the sword unleashes monsters on his village and beyond. He is therefore banished from his home and sets forth on a quest to return the the sword (which just so happens to be the sword of Mana) to its full strength.
Along the way he meets the other two members of the party, a girl and a little sprite who join him on his quest. Of course, along the way there are a bunch of plot twists and a shadowy bad guy who finally comes to light and whatnot.
While the story isn't really groundbreaking, some of the plot twists are interesting and it gets pretty sad toward the end. It's no Tales of Phantasia, but then again, I'm biased.
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Secret of Mana is an RPG with very non-standard RPG gameplay. You do RPG stuff like buying new weapons (and leveling up the weapons you already have), gaining levels and going on a vast quest involving 8 temples. However, there is no turn based fighting to be found here my friend. No indeed. Secret of Mana has real time fighting, very similar to Zelda, but there is a catch. There is a percentage gauge on each characters stats. This gauge determines how much damage you will deal. When your character swings a weapon, the gauge drops to zero and then refills. So, in order to dole out the most powerful attacks you have to do something like this: hit - wait - hit - wait - hit. You get the idea. Yeah, it is a little bit annoying. While I'm all for something that mixes up plain old button mashing, this doesn't really help. It's more like delayed button mashing.
Secret of Mana has some other cool features though. You can switch between all three characters using the select button, or you can play multiplayer with up to three people. This makes the game a lot more enjoyable as there is a lot of grinding to do in order to properly level up each character. Grinding with friends is always better than grinding alone, in a game.
Each character has certain abilities that complement each other. The hero is a powerful warrior, but can't use magic. The girl can use defensive magic (healing and such) and can fight a little bit, and the sprite can use quite powerful offensive magic and long range weapons, but he's no good at close combat. It's nicely balanced, and I like the fact that I can switch between characters on a whim. If you aren't controlling a character, the AI takes over. While you can control how the characters attack to certain extent, the AI is not very good overall.
Control wise, Secret of Mana is pretty complex. There are a lot of menus to navigate and not having a manual means you have to figure everything out on your own. Since it is an SNES game, you can use either the Classic Controller or the GameCube Controller, but I recommend the Classic. It makes the controls feel more natural and is much easier to get a hang of.
The only other annoying thing about Secret of Mana is the amount of items you can carry is a paltry 4. Yeah, 4 items for all three characters! I'm not sure why this design decision was made. To annoy players? To make it more difficult? I'm not asking for much, 10 items for the whole party seems standard to me. But 4? Come on!
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Graphics and Sound
Secret of Mana looks like a lot of 16 bit RPGs with the top down perspective and the colorful backgrounds. The sprites aren't overlay pixilated and the backgrounds are varied and everything blends together well. The characters are even so happy to be there that a lot of them dance (what is up with those inn keepers)? Even the way your party moves is a bit dancey and can take some time to get used to, but it is cute overall.
The music in Secret of Mana is really top notch. The songs are well done, the music always fits the feel of the scene and changes when necessary. For instance, from town to town, you know what to expect based on the music. Happy music? Good town. Sad music? What's going on here town. However, some of the sound effects throw me off. The gauge loading one in particular as it sounds the most often. I kept thinking I was doing something wrong when it was just a normal part of the game.
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Secret of Mana can be fun, and I have a vision that it would be really fun if you were doing it multiplayer. Just on your own though, it can get a bit taxing. The combat system is not the best. I don't like waiting between each hit, or being knocked unconscious for 20 seconds and not being able to do anything while a monster keeps attacking. That's just not fun. Also, it doesn't seem like enemies have the same loading attack gauge as the heroes do, making the fighting unbalanced.
The amount of grinding you have to do at times is a bit annoying too. After you get the sprite (he's at level 1!) I had to spend over an hour walking back and forth leveling him up to level 7 just so I could move on with the game. Not fun!
However, the story-line is interesting enough that it kept me playing
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Secret of Mana is a good game. It's not going to replace my SNES favorites, but it works for the most part. The multiplayer capabilities are a welcome addition to any RPG, and I look forward to playing with friends. So, if you are looking for a good Wii RPG and just happen to have a Classic Controller or two laying around, grab a friend and get ready to spend 800 Wii points on Secret of Mana. You're welcome.