When Secret of Mana first hit the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1993, players wondered about the nature of the “secret” that was hinted at by the game’s title. 18 years and one iPhone release later, we still have no clue what this secret actually is, so we’ll just assume Mana steals cable, and move on with the review.
Secret of Mana is still regarded as one of the most delightful action-RPG titles to hit the SNES, but the ’90s were a long time ago. How does Square-Enix’s candy-colored fairy tale hold up in the modern age, and on a smaller screen? Pretty darn well, though the game is not without its scuffs and imperfections. Some of those blemishes are left over from the game’s original release, and a few are brand-new, courtesy of the jump to the iPhone.
The story behind Secret of Mana is succinct. Deep in the past, a powerful civilization used the planet’s energy, Mana, for its own frivolous needs. The civilization’s abuse of Mana climaxed with the construction of a flying fortress/casino called the Mana Fortress. Angry, the gods send their beasts to destroy the fortress, which, in turn, almost destroyed the world.
A hero with a sword brought balance back to the planet, but the civilization was lost. Cue modern times. A boy finds the very sword that once saved the world, and he must use it again to stop a corrupt Empire that wants to revive the Mana Fortress.
Playing through Secret of Mana involves traveling from screen to screen and giving gooey, adorable enemies what-for with your sword. As the game progresses, you pick up other weapons, spells, and a couple of friends. Secret of Mana is a relaxing game to play– almost hypnotic, thanks to a gorgeous soundtrack that has aged beautifully. If you thought it was a charming, memorable title in 1993, you’ll still enjoy it. If you’re new to the world of Mana and you enjoy action-RPGs in the vein of the Zelda games, you’re obligated to give the game a whirl.
However, veterans might be put off by the removal of the original game’s most appealing feature, the ability for two other friends to join in and control the Girl and Sprite characters. Secret of Mana on the iPhone is strictly a one-person affair. Square-Enix has tweaked the AI to make the computer-controlled characters less stupid, and, unlike the original game, you can still charge ahead even if your pals get stuck behind a rock. But the lack of support from warm-blooded friends makes the iPhone version of Secret of Mana a pretty lonely journey.
There are other features in place to sway longtime fans, though. The graphics have been updated for the iPhone, including new character artwork, portraits, and enemy sprites. The sandpaper-rough translation from the original game has also been done away with, and replaced with something considerably more sensible. Shortcuts make the game’s ring-menu system far easier to navigate. And the onscreen controls aren’t perfect, but they’re more responsive than what typically passes for virtual controls in iPhone games.
Ultimately, if you enjoy adventure games, you’ll have a blast with Secret of Mana. If you loved the game on the SNES, you owe it to your heart and soul to play the iPhone incarnation. If you’re just a fan of good, solid games, you’ll still appreciate the color and character offered up by this old-school fantasy world.