Right, today we’re taking a look at Secret of Mana for the iPhone. This RPG has taken on something of mystical status over the years. Japanese developers Squaresoft (now Square Enix) made the game, which debuted in 1993 over in Nippon on the SNES.
It made its way over to Europe by late 1994 (an unusual occurrence for the time – many Japanese RPGs were never translated or released in the West), and Mr. Wapojif got his greedy hands on a copy from A&B games in Chorley circa 1994. He promptly fell in love with it, got stuck, sold the game, purchased it again off eBay in 2003, and now just downloaded the iOS edition. Yes, it’s available on your smartphone. What the!?
Secret of Mana
Weird technology, isn’t it? Really weird. You may wonder how a complex RPG could function on one of Apple’s phones, especially considering the thing’s mainly suited to physics based games like World of Goo and Alto’s Adventure. As it only cost £4 we decided to give it a whirl, and Square Enix are to be congratulated – the control system works well, on the whole.
In the game you follow the (mis)adventures of the horribly named protagonist Randi, who unwittingly unleashes monsters in his local vicinity. Banished from his village as a result, he must set about restoring order to the world by beating up loads of bad guys, annihilating bosses, and contemplating his stupid name.
Now, unlike Squaresoft’s other legendary RPG series, Final Fantasy, there was a different approach to the battle system here. Released a year after Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy VI was an epic adventure but also featured the trademark arbitrary battles which some gamers either love or hate.
In Secret of Mana, these don’t exist. You’ve got a free-form battle arena and, amazingly for the time, with a SNES multi-tap up to three players could get stuck into the game! It’s a bit more liberating, but also created problems where difficult characters could keep whacking you and you’d become stuck, die, and yes – there’s the frustration. At least the music would keep your spirits up.
As we’ve come to realise recently, the soundtrack to any game is far more important than graphical prowess. Composer Hiroki Kukuta did a sensational job with Secret of Mana, blending jaunty pop with really rather emotive efforts. This was his first game soundtrack, too, so to get the job done properly he spent 24 hours a day locked in his office to create something “immersive” and “three-dimensional”. Boy did he deliver, sonny jim. You can have a listen to the title track below – fans of FFVII from 1997 will notice similarities.
Indeed, it’s his music (at turns moving, at other times invigorating) which adds real depth and maturity to Secret of Mana. Despite being 20+ years old now, the game has aged very well. The SNES era was a creative high for games developers which is unlikely to be matched again, meaning Secret of Mana was one masterpiece in an endless stream of them around ’94 and ’95.
Legacy & Remakes
“How come Secret of Mana stands out?” you grunt. It’s the emotional edge, you cretins, which helps it, with well honed traditional gaming mechanics. The damn thing just works brilliantly and the reward for gamers is a lovingly crafted experience. Now it’s on iOS you really should get yourself a copy. Go on, you crazed SOB!
As an addition to this, Secret of Mana made its way to the SNES Classic Mini and met with largely solid reviews again decades after its first run. The big news, however, is it’ll be getting a big old remake. Although it hasn’t been in as much demand as with the Final Fantasy VII remake (even being a little unexpected and superfluous) – it should be available in February 2018. Let’s see how it goes – the good news is the old soundtrack is still in place, it’s just had a graphics overhaul and gameplay tweak.