As action rpgs started to gain in popularity during the 16-bit era, many game companies began cashing in on this new trend. Some were good, and some not so good. Enix had already created a hit with their action rpg Soul Blazer and it seemed only natural for the other big gun in the rpg world to follow suit. Enter Secret of Mana. A combination of the epic square storylines coupled together with this suddenly popular action-style combat. The result was a stunningly original and action-packed role-playing title for the ages and a game that's become one of the most beloved action rpgs ever created.
Up until the time Secret of Mana was released, the majority of Square's rpgs featured turn-based style combat. While Secret of Mana represented a new direction for Square, they pulled it off surprisingly well. You basically have several different types of weapons ranging from swords to spears. When you swing your weapon it hits at full strength if it's fully charged up. Once you've swung it, it has to charge back up to 100%. If you swing before it's fully charged your hit won't inflict as much damage. This aspect of the combat system makes the game more strategic. You can't just go into this one hacking and slashing. This strategy will especially come into play when you begin taking on some of the game's stronger enemies and bosses.
The game also utilizes a new "ring" system. From here you can quickly and easily select items, equip weapons, and even configure the game's setting to your liking all with one push of a button. The game also sports a very unique multi-player function so two other players can get in on the action. This was an almost unheard of feature for an rpg at the time and still remains one of Secret of Mana's most popular features among rpg fans.
Visually Secret of Mana has a very unique look to it. The game makes use of wildly vibrant color schemes throughout and the level of detail in the many various areas of the game are impressive, even by 16-bit standards. Of course as with many Super Nintendo games, there's plenty of Mode-7 special effects thrown in for good measure. The characters and enemies in the game are all very well-animated and show a lot of detail given the type of game. Secret of Mana is easily one of the more visually impressive rpgs of the 16-bit era and still holds up quite well, even all these years later.
Square was already well-known for their musical prowess when it came to rpg soundtracks. Their Final Fantasy titles set new standards for audio in role-playing games and that standard would continue on in Secret of Mana. To say that the musical effort in Mana is epic would be an understatement. There are tons of musical tracks strung throughout the game and not a bad song in the bunch. There is also a wide range between the different tunes that always seems to fit the current situation perfectly. The Mana series would later go on to feature some amazing soundtracks in later years, but none quite as impressive as the one found in Secret of Mana.
Although the storyline isn't quite as epic as Square's Final Fantasy series of games, it still offers a fairly long and engaging quest that should keep rpg fans busy for awhile. Secret of Mana manages to take the action-rpg stylings of Legend of Zelda, and add that trademark Square feel to it. Even though this is an action-rpg, it somehow manages to feel a little like a standard rpg due to the increased strategetic elements that are carefully injected into the game. The action combat stylings of this game may take some gamers a little time to get used to, but in the end what you're left with is a great action-rpg that will leave you feeling quite satisfied when you've finished it. If you're an rpg fan, you absolutely don't want to miss this one.