Posted By: wraggster
Format: SNES Publisher: Squaresoft Developer: in-house Reviewed: E4
In 1994, the very idea of a multiplayer offline RPG was as implausible and ridiculous as it sounds today. By definition Japanese RPGs are sprawling, drawn-out experiences demanding weeks of concentrated play before they let go of all of their stories and secrets. As such they are hardly best suited to being simultaneously enjoyed by two or three friends over a few weeks of on-and-off gaming. But somehow, with its easy-going dip-in-and-dip-out play system – whereby friends could wrest control of two supporting party members from the AI at any point – the otherwise traditional action-RPG Secret Of Mana is a riotous success. So much so that, for many, the memories of adventuring in partnership with friends through this green and pleasant world are some the very fondest videogaming has provided.Unusually for a Square game of the era, Secret Of Mana (known as Seiken Densetsu 2 in Japan) is set in a cute and charming pastoral world. The game sets up a classic save-the-world-from-the-evil- empire narrative arc but does so inventively and with keen and unexpected creativity so as to deftly avoid cliché. Produced by Koichi Ishii, the inventor of Final Fantasy’s yellow-feathered Chocobo, it’s not just the flair with which the game’s ideas are presented that is so remarkable, but also their quality. From the imaginative and oft-mimicked ‘ring’ inventory system, to the exceptional use of the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 3D effects, through to the simple but iconic design of the game’s mascot characters, the Rabites, Secret Of Mana exhibits style in just about everything it attempts. As a result it has become known by fans as one of the high points of the 16bit era, surpassed only by the third Legend Of Zelda for the accolade of best action-RPG on the system.While the two games share similarities – the bright colours, endearing Japanese sprites and occasionally overwrought storyline – Mana is more RPG than action. The game places an emphasis on statistics that its rival does not and, likewise, there are magic spells, elementals and weapons which level up over time: all elements more usually associated with Square’s output than Nintendo’s. The three playable protagonists do not have default names in the English version and so have instead become known by their titles in the Japanese instruction manual: Randi, Purim and Popoie. The trio find each other far from home, estranged and with only the most vague of purposes early in the game. But from its well-worn beginnings the narrative uncoils in a delightful fashion, ending on an unusual note of tragedy for a JRPG as the team secure a victory but at great and unbearable cost.