Secret of Mana uses a top-down view like most 16-bit RPGs, but from there the similarities end. The combat uses a real-time battle system, while magic can be cast in the middle of battle using the game's ring menu system. Secret of Mana is a co-operative multiplayer RPG, allowing a second player and/or third player (using the SNES Multi-tap addon) to take control of the hero's allies.
Secret of Mana is widely regarded for its beautiful and colorful 16-bit graphics, epic story, unique soundtrack, as well as its action oriented and multiplayer capable combat system.
Rather than using the traditional turn-based battle system of games like Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana utilizes real-time battles akin to the Legend of Zelda series, while also employing typical role-playing elements and a unique "Ring Command" menu system, which pauses the action, and allows a variety of actions to be performed without needing to switch screens. The game received considerable acclaim for its brightly colored graphics, expansive plot, "Ring Command" menu system, innovative real-time battle system, modified Active Time Battle meter adapted for real-time action, its innovative cooperative multiplayer gameplay, where the second or third players could drop in and out of the game at any time rather than players having to join the game at the same time, the customizable AI settings for computer-controlled allies, and the acclaimed soundtrack by Hiroki Kikuta. Secret of Mana was an influential game in its time, and has remained influential through to the present day, such as its customizable AI for player characters being used by many later games, its ring menu system still used in modern games (such as The Temple of Elemental Evil) and its cooperative multiplayer mentioned as an influence on games as recent as Dungeon Siege III.
The game was developed by Squaresoft, designed and produced by Hiromichi Tanaka, and programmed by Nasir Gebelli. This was the same team that had produced Final Fantasy III, which Gebelli used as a basis for programming Secret of Mana.
According to Tanaka in 2011 and 2013, the game was originally intended to be Final Fantasy IV, before becoming a new project called Chrono Trigger, and then eventually Secret of Mana. In his own words:
After we finished FFIII, we started FFIV with the idea of a slightly more action-based, dynamic overworld rather than keep combat as a completely separate thing. But, at some point, it wound up not being IV anymore… Instead, it was eventually released as “Seiken Densetsu 2″ (Secret of Mana), but during development it was actually referred to as “Chrono Trigger”. (laugh)
At the time, just after FFIII, we were working with Mr. Toriyama on a game with a seamless, side-view system. A CD-ROM attachment for the Super Famicom was scheduled to be released, you see. So we had this enormous game planned out for the CD-ROM attachment, but ultimately we were never able to release it.
So we had the Chrono Trigger project changed to a new game, and this other game we had been working on was condensed down into Seiken Densetsu 2. Because of this, Seiken 2 always felt like a sequel to FFIII to me.
Using the power of Mana, a civilization had grown strong... In time, Mana was used to create the ultimate weapon: the Mana Fortress... This angered the Gods. They sent their beasts to destroy the Fortress... A violent war rocked the world, and Mana seemed to disappear.... Before all was lost, a hero with the Mana Sword smashed the fortress... Though the civilization had been destroyed, the world was peaceful again. But time flows like a river...and history repeats.
When a boy finds a sword on the outskirts of his village, he only wanted a tool to cut through the brush to get home. What he got was the legendary Sword of Mana, drained of power and in need of someone to wield it. By pulling the sword free, the young man releases monsters in the surrounding forest. The boy is subsequently banished from his village, and embarks on a quest to reforge the Mana Sword. Joined in his travels by a Princess and Sprite child, the boy becomes the hero that the world needs, and will search the world for the Mana seeds and fight an empire that seeks to repeat the mistakes of history and revive the Mana Fortress.
While the internet likes to give the heroes names, none of the releases of the game, nor the manual or other material (such as Nintendo Power), provide default names for the characters. Supposedly these are the translated names from the Japanese manual, but this has never been confirmed. These names are included here for continuity with other material from the Secret of Mana gaming community.
The boy is an orphan in the town of Potos raised by the town elder. When the boy finds a sacred sword on the outskirts of his village, he releases monsters in his village and is banned from the town. The boy begins down his destined road to become the Mana Hero, restoring the swords power, unlocking the power of the world's Mana seeds, discovering his true past and fighting an empire that seeks to rule the world.
The King of Pandora wants this princess to marry against her will. The girl's boyfriend, Dyluck, has also been kidnapped. The girl joins the heroes quest to help save Dyluck. The girl eventually gains the power to summon mana elementals and cast magic. The majority of the girl's magic is defensive and restorative magic. The girl can even cast spells on the team's weapons, imbuing them with the power of mana elementals.
The sprite child is an orphan from his home in the Upper Land. The smart mouth sprite will join the team to get home, and ultimately stay till the end. The sprite eventually gains the power to summon mana elemantals and cast magic. The majority of the sprite's magic is devastating offensive magic.
While the heroes meet many who assist them on their journey, these important allies are crucial to the story or the heroes success.
These brothers, who all look suspiciously alike, operate the Cannon Travel system. Using their system of cannons allows the party to travel across the world for a fee....until they get Flammie and no longer need their services.
The heroes save the dragon Flammie when he is very young. King Truffle raises the dragon, and teaches him to respond to the bang of a special drum. The heroes will eventually be able to ride Flammie to anywhere in the world, including the Mana Fortress.
Neko is a merchant who has a shop to the west of Potos. Neko, however, is a traveling merchant. The player will find him in the wild whenever he is needed most. Neko's prices are expensive, selling items at double their cost in towns, but in a pinch they are worth it. Neko can also provide a means to save the game. For much of the game, Neko was the only place to get Fairie Walnuts, which restored MP.
Luka is the guardian of the Water Palace and its Mana Seed. The 200 year old guardian keeps tabs on the outside world from the ebb and flow of the waters that pass through her palace.
A republican solider, Dyluck is leading an attack against the witch Elinee when he is kidnapped by Thanatos. The Girl is in love with Dyluck, and joins the hero's team in a quest to save him. The trio encounters him multiple times through the story, as Thanatos has selected Dyluck as the new body to possess and has placed Dyluck under a trance.
Watts is the world's greatest blacksmith, and the only capable of upgrading the hero's Mana weapons. Watts has the uncanny ability of following the party everywhere, seemingly being in all of the games towns at the same time.
The Republic is an army who vows to destroy the Empire. Jema, a knight from the Republic, repeatedly helps the hero on his quest.
Jema is an experienced Tasnican knight who fought alongside the boy's father. Jema discovers the boy during a battle against monsters in Potos, and will repeatedly guide the boy in his quest to reforge the sword and become the Mana Knight.
The Resistance is a group of civilians who aim to fight against the empire and stop them from using Mana to revive the Mana fortress. The base of the resistance is disguised as a cafe in Northtown.
While our heroes will fight a seemingly unending amount of monsters and bosses, these are the true enemies pulling the strings.
Emperor Vandole rules The Empire. Vandole seeks to steal the mana seeds and control the power of mana for himself, with the ultimate goal of reviving the Mana Fortress.
One of Emperor Vandole's personal body guards, Geshtar does much of the Emperor's dirty work. The heroes will have to fight Geshtar and his mech-rider numerous times.
One of Emperor Vandole's personal body guards and a lieutenant of the empire, the heroes have to fight Sheex as the Dark Stalker and Aegagropilon.
One of Emperor Vandole's personal body guards, the heroes have to fight her in the form of Hexas after defeating Sheex.
Thanatos is a dark and evil wizard who is hired by Emperor Vandole to assist him in his quest of ruling the world. Thanatos, however, has plans of his own, and is responsible for the kidnapping of Dyluck. The heroes will have to fight Thanatos in the form of the Dark Lich.
The Scorpion Army
These would be mana seed thieves are not very bright but quite tenacious, and the heroes have to thwart their attempts to steal the mana seeds several times. The heroes never directly fight the Scorpion Army, but instead their robots Kilroy and Kettle Kin.
Secret of Mana plays like other Action/RPG games of the time, such as Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The directional pad moves the currently controller character around, and the face buttons are used for attacking, activating items and dialogue, and opening the game's unique " ring" menu system.
There are three characters playable in the game, and all are on-screen for the majority of the game. When not under player control, a character's actions are assumed by the game's artificial intelligence (AI), following the player character around and attacking on their own. This AI has a notoriously weak path-finding system, often causing characters to get stuck. The game provides an "action grid," where the behavior of an AI controlled ally can be tweaked. There are various settings between aggressive and defensive, and the power level of attacks can be adjusted. The player can also use the AI allies "ring menu" to cast magic. With the use of a multi-tap peripheral, all three characters can be player-controlled, making Secret of Mana one of the first co-op console games with more than two players. This occasionally had unintended consequences as the players could attempt to go different directions, 'trapping' all the players in the active screen and preventing forward momentum.
Combat is a simple case of facing the character towards an enemy, and pressing the attack button. At the bottom of the screen there is a 'power bar' for each character. This displays the character's current hit points (HP) and the character's current combat state. If an attack is made, a small counter on the bar quickly fills back up to 100% - if another attack is made before it reaches 100% then that attack is slightly weaker. This means the player must time their attacks correctly to deal the most damage.
Holding the attack button down will charge up the power bar. It will fill up as many times as that character has leveled up in their weapon. When the button is released, the character will perform a special attack, which has varying power depending on how long it has been charged. Some special attacks deal more damage, or more hits, or will connect with more enemies at once. Up to 8 levels of each weapon could be unlocked per character. The weapons also had individual characteristics (whips could cross chasms, spears could attack enemies from a far, Bows could shoot enemies on far away platforms, etc.)
The heroes fight a maximum of three enemies on screen at any time.
The heroes will eventually gain the ability to summon the eight Mana elementals and cast magic. The boy is unable to cast any magic, as his Mana sword will eventually be more powerful than any magic. The sprite gains the ability to cast offensive magic. The girl gains the ability to cast primarily defensive and restorative magic.
As the world's mana seeds are unlocked by the mana sword, the potential of the heroes mana magic increases. Each elemental can be leveled to a maximum of eight levels. An allies skill in a particular magic increases as it is used. The following levels becomes increasingly harder to obtain. So, for example, while a elemental might reach level 1 from level 0 after casting a spell 10 times, it could take casting the spell 100 times to move from level 7 to level 8. The increase in an elemental's level not only increases the power of the magic's effect, but also causes a subtle change in that spells graphical effects, which get more elaborate as the spells level up.
Spells are cast using the games "ring menu" system, and combat continues while a spell is being cast. For a short period at the beginning of a spell, the character summoning the mana elemental cannot be moved. Once this summoning is complete, all characters can continue to move and fight as the spell is cast.
The exception to this is "Level 9" spells. When spells reach their maximum level of 8, the player can continue to gain magic experience up to level 8.99. "Level 9" spells can occur at any point after level 8.01. The closer the player is to level 8.99, the more often they occur. They also occur more while "mashing" the attack button during casting. These rare "Level 9" spells freeze all action in the game while they occur. They have increase graphical effects. For example, fireballs become dragons. These "Level 9" spells also increase the spells effect greatly.
Magic can be targeted to a single target or to all applicable targets. For example, cure water can be used to cure a single ally, or can be cast on all allies. An offensive spell can be cast on a single target or all targets on screen. A spell's effect is greatest on a single target.
The mana elementals and their spells are listed in the order they are obtained:
- Remedy (1 MP): cures an ally that has been poisoned.
- Cure Water (2 MP): rostores a portion of an ally's HP.
- Ice Saber (2 MP): causes ally's weapons to turn enemies into ice.
- Freeze (2 MP): freezes an enemy temporarily with ice attacks.
- Energy Absorb (2 MP): steals an enemies HP, damaging the enemy and healin the sprite.
- Acid Storm (3 MP): corrosive rain falls on enemy, causing damage and lowering their defense.
- Defender (2 MP): Improves defense of an ally.
- Speed Up (3 MP): Inceases an ally's hit and evade points.
- Stone Saber (4 MP): causes ally's weapons to turn petrify enemies and turn them to stone.
- Speed Down (1 MP): vines entagle an enemy, slowing them down.
- Gem Missle (2 MP): shards of gems shred an enemy.
- Earth Slide (3 MP): a large ball of earth crushes enemy.
- Analyzer (1 MP): Finds information, weaknesses and status of enemies and orbs.
- Balloon (2 M P): Can immobile enemies temporarily.
- Thunder Saber (3 MP): Use on weapons for the power of thunder.
- Silence (2 MP): confuses enemy.
- Air Blast (2 MP): swirling wind blades attack enemy.
- Thunderbolt (4 MP): lighting strikes an enemy.
- Flame Saber (2 MP): Causes ally's weapons to set enemies on fire.
- Fire Bouquet (3 MP): Damages enemies and lowers their attack power.
- Blaze Wall (4 MP): A wall of flames engulfs enemies in fire.
- Fireball (2 MP): blazing fireballs home in on an enemy.
- Lava Wave (3 MP): wave of molten rock drowns an enemy.
- Exploder (4 MP): Exploding fireballs sizzle an enemy.
- Lucid Barrier (4 MP): protects from enemy physical attacks.
- Light Saber (5 MP): Use on weapons for the power of light.
- Lucent Beam (8 MP): Strikes enemies with beams of pure light.
- Dark Force (2 MP): spheres of darkness attack an enemy.
- Dispel Magic (4 MP): clears an enemy's spell protection.
- Evil Gate (8 MP): darkness engulfs an enemy.
- Lunar Boost (2 MP): Allies focus on attack, not defense.
- Moon Energy (2 MP): Inceases percent of allies critical hits.
- Moon Saber (3 MP): Causes weapons to absorb damage done to enemies, healing allies.
- Magic Absorb (1 MP): steals an enemies MP.
- Change Form (5 MP): morphs an enemy into an easier type.
- Lunar Ma gic (8 MP): unpredicatable spell.
- Wall (6 MP): protects allies from enemies magic attacks, reflecting them onto the caster.
- Reviver (10 MP): revives an ally that has perished.
- Mana Magic (1 MP): when cast on the boy with the sprite's mana magic, unlocks the true power of the mana sword temporarily.
- Sleep Flower (2 MP): puts an enemy to sleep.
- Burst (4 MP): ultraviolet rays cause enemy to burst.
- Mana Magic (1 MP): when cast on the boy with girl's mana magic, unlocks the true power of the mana sword temporarily.
When enough experience points (exp) are earned by one particular character with one particular weapon, that character gains a 'level' in that weapon, bestowing higher damage and better special attacks. There are eight different weapons and they are shared by the three playable characters, that is, one weapon may not be wielded by more than one character at once. During the course of the game, the player characters will come across 'orbs'. When taken to a character in the game known as "Watts", he will 'forge' the orb into the corresponding weapon allowing for a higher level capacity. Additionaly, certain levels of weapon evolution have other benefits, such as the ability to deal extra damage to a certain class of enemies or inflict certain status effects.
The orbs were usually awarded to the player for completing the game's quests and dungeons, however due to the game being scaled down to fit on the Super Nintendo cartridge, some weapons' orbs were dropped by standard enemies in the final dungeon.
Each different weapon is listed as follows, in the order they are obtained, with the name for each level of upgrade. Many weapons also have other unique gameplay abilities, just as cutting obstacles or pulling characters across gaps.
The sword is the first weapon gained in the game, found near the river in the beginning of the game. It is a close range weapon, which can also be used to cut down certain obstacles in the world like bushes. The sword in it's ninth level, as the Mana Sword, is by far the most powerful weapon in the game. The Mana Sword can only be unlocked properly via the use of "Mana Magic" in the game's final battle. It can be unlocked earlier by using a glitch in the game to get an extra sword orb.
- Rusty Sword
- Broad Sword
- Herald Sword
- Gigas Sword
- Dragon Buster
- Mana Sword
The spear is given to the hero by Sage Luka of the Water Palace. The spear has a little bit more range then the sword., but more importantly, a second weapon to fill a similar role to the sword. Not counting the special ninth level of the sword, the Spear is the most powerful weapon in the game.
- Heavy Spear
- Sprite's Spear
- Oceanid Spear
- Gigas Lance
- Dragoon Lance
- Daedalus Lance
When the sprite child joins the heroes quest, he is equipped with the boomerang. When used correctly, the boomerang can strike multiple enemies almost anywhere on the screen.
- Lode Boomerang
- Rising Sun
- Red Cleaver
- Cobra Shuttle
- Ninja's Trump
Given to the hero when the sprite child joins the team. A ranged weapon which can be fired across gaps and obstacles to hit switches and enemies.
- Chobin's Bow
- Short Bow
- Long Bow
- Great Bow
- Bow of Hope
- Elfin Bow
- Wing Bow
- Doom Bow
- Garuda Buster
The Axe is bought for 100 gold from Watts the blacksmith. While the sword and spear can cut through bushes and grass, the axe allows the party to smash through rocks and stalagmites. A close combat weapon.
- Watt's Axe
- Lode Axe
- Stout Axe
- Battle Axe
- Golden Axe
- Great Axe
- Gigas Axe
- Doom Axe
When the girl joins the heroes quest, she is equipped with the gloves. The gloves are the ultimate close combat weapon. They can be used to throw enemies in combat as well.
- Spike Knuckle
- Power Glove
- Moogle Claw
- Heavy Glove
- Griffin Claws
- Dragon Claws
- Aura Glove
The whip is given to the hero by Elieen (the witch) after the defeat of her pet, Spikey. The whip is long-ranged, and can be used to pull the characters across gorges and ravines by latching onto poles sticking out of the ground.
- Black Whip
- Backhand Whip
- Chain Whip
- Flail of Hope
- Morning Star
- Hammer Flail
- Nimbus Chain
- Gigas Flail
The Javelin is received from the water elemental Undine after defeating the biting lizards in her cave. The javelin is a thrown weapon with long range, and fills a similar role to the bow.
- Pole Dart
- Light Trident
- Lode Javelin
- Fork of Hope
- Imps Fork
- Elf's Harpoon
- Dragon Dart
Secret of Mana has eleven items that can be used at almost any time. Some are unique items that are found or recieved and have unlimited uses. Others are consumable items that are store bought or found in treasure chests that are lost upon use. Secret of Mana differs from other RPGs in that only 4 of each consumable item can be carried at once, forcing players to be conservative and strategize with their use. Certain more expensive stores charge double for items.
This consumable item can be bought for 10G or found in treasure chests. Upon use, candy restores 100 hit points.
This consumable item can be bought for 30G or found in treasure chests. Upon use, chocolate restores 300 hit points.
This consumable item can be bought for 10G or found in treasure chests. Upon use, a medical herb cures any adverse status effects.
This consumable item can be bought for 150G or found in treasure chests. Upon use, a cup of wishes revives a fallen ally and restores some hit points.
This consumable item can be bought for 500G or found in treasure chests. Upon use, a faerie walnut restores 100 magic points.
This consumable item can be bought for 100G or found in treasure chests. Upon use, royal jam restores 999 hit points, making it the best healing item in the game.
This consumable item can be bought for 900G or found in treasure chests. Upon use, the player can hide in a barrel to avoid combat.
The Flammie Drum is given to the hero by King Truffle. The Flammie Drum has unlimited uses, and summons Flammie to pick up the party.
The Magic Rope is found in a chest in Gaia's Navel. The Magic Rope has unlimted uses, and allows the player to "escape" a dungeon, returning to its first screen.
The Midge Mallet is given to the hero by the chief of the dwarf village. The Midge Mallet has unlimited uses, and inflicts or cures "shrunk" status on allies.
The Moogle Belt is received after the optional quest of restoring was to Kakkar village. The Moogle Belt has unlimited uses, and inflicts or cures "moogle" status on allies.
The Ring Menu
By pressing the menu button, the game will pause and a ring of icons will appear around the currently selected character. Pressing left and right on the D-pad will rotate the ring, while pressing up and down will switch between different menu rings, which cover the player's inventory, a character's spells, weapons, and game options. This unique radial menu system allows quick selection of items and a minimal interruption in the real time combat.
SNES Disc Drive
Until the project was canceled, Secret of Mana being developed to come out with the launch of the SNES CD add-on. When the add-on was canceled, the game lost approximately 40% of its original content and the graphics were reduced to accommodate a standard cartridge. Examples of unused game portions include staircases that lead to nowhere and doors that are unreachable. Additionally, some parts of the game can be buggy at times due to the alteration.
Full Channel Music
The SNES audio processor is only capable of producing eight sounds at once. Many songs in Secret of Mana using seven to eight channels. This highly unusual use of all audio channels allows the music to be richer, but requires the game to drop channels of music when producing sound effects. Depending on how the player perceives it, this could range from not noticeable to jarring and annoying.
The English translation for Secret of Mana was hampered for multiple reasons. First, in an effort not to miss the 1993 holiday season, the English translation was completed in only 30 days. This is compared to the many months usually afforded to English localization efforts.
Secondly, the English release of Secret of Mana uses a fixed-width font to display gameplay text. This choice of font greatly limits the available space to display text. Accoring to the translator of the game, Ted Woolsey, a large portion of the game's script was cut from the English release due to these space limitations and the lack of sequential text. Many conversations are cut down to their bare minimum.
A rom hack, FuSoYa’s Niche's Secret of Mana Variable Width Font Edition, was released that brings variable width fonts to the game and uses the extra room to expand the dialogue. This expanded dialogue, however, is fan made, and does not come from the Japanese release, as sometimes is thought.
The graphics of Secret of Mana place the characters within the surroundings to the point where the colors portray them as part of the world, as opposed to standing out while on it. Despite some people disliking the lack of clarity between the two areas, most players like the absorbing combination.
Secret of Mana pushes the SNES to its limit not only on an artistic, but on a technical level. It is one of only a few games to use a 512x224 pixel "high resolution" mode to display additional information at times. Other portions of the game using the SNES's " Mode 7" capability to create large, scaled, rotatable backgrounds to give the illusion of three dimensions, such as when traveling on Flammie.
Secret of Mana's unique soundtrack was composed by Hiroki Kikuta. The soundtrack was released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu 2 Original Sound Version and later released in the US as Secret of Mana Original Soundtrack. Both releases of the 44 track, 66:20 soundtrack are currently out of print and no longer available.
The names of the songs are known alternately as their translated Japanese names or their localized English titles.
Track # Localized title / Translated title
- Fear of the Heavens / Angel's Fear
- A Curious Tale / A Mysterious Story
- Phantom and ...A Rose... / Rose and Spirit
- Together Always / Always Together
- Fond Memories / Kind Memories
- Into the Thick of It / The Boy Heads for the Wilderness
- The Color of the Summer Sky / Summer Sky Blue
- Dancing Animals / Dancing Beasts
- Distant Thunder / Distant Thunder
- The Little Sprite / The Child of the Fairy Tribe
- It Happened Late One Evening / Occurence of Moonlit Night
- In the Dead of Night / The Dark Inside
- Mystic Invasion / The Holy Intrusion
- Secret of the Arid Sands / Secret of the Hot Sand
- What the Forest Taught Me / What the Forest Taught
- A Wish... / A Wish
- Spirit of the Night / Soul of the Night
- Did you See the Ocean? / Did you See the Sea?
- Danger / Crysis
- Calm Before the Storm / Orphans of the Storm
- The Wind Never Ceases / Where the Wind Splits
- Flight Into the Unknown / Flight Into the Unknown
- Eternal Recurrence / Eternal Recurrence
- The Legend / The Legend
- A Bell is Tolling / Eight O'Clock
- A Curious Happening / A Strange Incident
- Monarch on the Shore / The King of the Coast
- The Dark Star / The Star of Darkness
- Prophesy / Premonition
- Steel and Snare / Steel and Traps
- Whisper and Mantra / Prayer and Whisper
- Ceremony / Ceremony
- Morning is Here / Reach for Tomorrow
- Leave Time for Love / Time to Love
- Still of the Night / Pure Night
- The Curse / The Curse
- The Oracle / The Wizard
- A Conclusion / A Conclusion
- I Won't Forget / I Won't Forget You
- One of Them is Hope / That One is Hope
- Meridian Dance / Meridian Festival
- Now Flightless Wings / Wings Flapping no Longer
- The Second Truth From the Left / The Second Truth from the End
- I Closed My Eyes / I Closed my Eyes
Secret of Mana
Hiroki Kikuta would later release Secret of Mana , a CD containing a single fifty minute track incorporating various arranged themes from Secret of Mana. The album received vastly mixed reviews, unlike the generally positive reception to the Secret of Mana soundtrack. The album is currently out of print and no longer available.