Secret of Mana
Afterthoughts from ½ of The Team You Watched Play It
by Fat Kakashi


A lot of people have very warm and fuzzy memories from the child in regards to SOM. Decoy and I on the other hand, only just recently completed it. I know the game gets a lot of slack because of when it came out, and "for its time" gets thrown around a lot. That's kind of cheating if you think about it. Even 8-bit Super Mario maintains its charm, and even solid JRPGs age pretty well (The Breath of Fire series being my all-time favorite). Don't get me wrong this game did a lot of things right, but after all the blood, sweat, and tears I put into filming us play this game, I feel that the world is ready to hear what I think.

First off, if you're not playing this game with a friend DON'T PLAY IT AT ALL!!!!!!!! I really can not stress just how painful and stupid the AI was. Look at the SpydaK (our Sprite). If it wasn't for the fact that I could mash the X button and use his magic to make all the bad people go away in a Pokemonish "super effective" kind of way, he was fucking useless! Unless of course I wanted him to get stuck behind a piece of rock and screen and lock the screen, forcing me to manually switch to him and execute a tactical walk around maneuver. A few un-filmed "grinding" session were done by me so that we could get past certain points that required an element that we hadn't spammed all to death, (I'm looking at you Dryad) and even for those maybe 2 hours, having to interact with the world and point my two [REDACTED]ed allies in the right direction raised my damn blood pressure. I couldn't imagine fighting a boss with the two of them, even if I cared enough to set up the logic grids right.

Secondly, although cool, I'd say 80% of the in-game magic is pretty useless. For SpydaK it was pick what attack spell you think looks cool (in my case Thunderbolt) and spam it. Break this cycle only when you know a boss' given weakness or you realize after wiping on the mana beast that you need to level Dryad. Poor Decoy (our girl) should've just been a priestess for all I care. All we ever needed was "Heal Water." True, the occasional cleansing was nice, but who the fuck would ever waste MP on sabering everyone's weapons!? I'm told there were a few useful spells that we kind of missed, like Lumina's MP Drain, and Dryad's Wall did come in quite handy on the last few boss fights, but it's all a matter of preference. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they but so much thought and time into making the magic system, but did so much of it have to be useless?

Thirdly, I'd like to touch on the difficulty curve which looks something like this:

The beginning of the game was just plain fucking hard. Call me a noob if you want, but the witch's castle and the infamous Spiky Tiger fight was the hardest and most rewarding part of the game. After receiving magic though, it's pretty much the end of the difficulty. I know what you're thinking, "Hey FatK, didn't you just bitch about how useless most of the magic was?" and yes I did, but one thing the magic was really good for was making boss fights a battle of patience rather than perseverance. Now later on, they kind of punish you for depending on magic by making some of the latter bosses Wall themselves or just be resistant to magic in general, but even then all you have to do is switch gears to charging your weapon hit and repeat. Even the final boss fight against the Mana Beast (Yelnatc) was okay, wait for it, wait for it... Saber and charge attack until you felt like you wanted to die, and believe me, I did.

And lastly we come to the story. Now the story in most 90's games was a wall of text at the title screen you quickly hit start to get past and start playing. SOM tried it's best to weave an epic narrative and it didn't do a gawful job at it.

The following are my major beefs with the game's story. My mother was a fucking tree! She was a part of a tribe of people whose women turn to fucking trees and then became the Mana Tree? My Father was also kind of a weak point. He's mentioned by a few NPCs, and I kind of wished they at least had a ghostly father son cats in the cradle moment. Decoy's piece of the story was pretty bearable, but I kind of wished they'd developed Dyluck a tad more so that way when Orochi... I mean Thantanos took his body I actually gave a damn. SpydaK's story was probably executed the best. My family all became ghosts, I'll help you revive mana and become a ghost too! The villains were hit and miss. The Scorpian Army were a lot of fun even though you never actually fought them. The Empire was, I guess, evil? You spend more time slaughtering animals then fighting the empire. Thantanos was a pretty awesome and is currently number 6 on my list of Top 10 Villians I'd Go Gay For.

So, in closing, I know I got kind of nit-picky, and Decoy and I did kind of oafishly muscle our way through this game, but we still beat it. I like side quests as much as the next man, but it seems like a whole lot of SOM was just for bragging rights. We never got the Midge Mallet, and there was some sort of sash, and we never made it to level 99, BUT WE STILL PUNCHED THE MANA BEAST IN THE DICK! Now "for its time," this game was amazing and with the exception of the Japan-only sequel which we will be LPing soon, it's definitely the best of the series. The ring menus were awesome and I kinda wish they'd caught on a little more, and despite the few gripes I had with the story, it had excellent pacing and tied up all the loose ends. All in all this game is every bit the masterpiece that people rave it is, but I had to hate on it a little bit.

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