Secret of Mana

Musings on the Secret of Mana

“Some of us like chocolate ice cream, some of us like vanilla ice cream, and some of us like strawberry.”

The bulk of my gaming memories are from the Nineties through the early 00s. I vividly remember the excitement of the Console Wars from my childhood. I remember people arguing over the merits of the Sega Genesis versus the Super Nintendo. Ultimately, I feel they both have their good points, which is definitely the wimp’s answer on that little debate. But on the whole, I thoroughly enjoy the 16-bit era of gaming in general. I love finding games from that era I haven’t played, I love discussing them, I love tributes to them.

Likewise, the first home console that I owned was the original Sony PlayStation. I got it because my neighbour and I were in our early teens and were interested in “more mature” gaming than what Nintendo had to offer on the N64 at the time. I mean, Eastern RPGs were taking the world by storm, and we both wanted in on the pie. Our first significant experience was Star Ocean the Second Story, but we quickly hopped on board the Final Fantasy bandwagon, getting excited when FF8 came out. But several of my favourite series and games are Eastern RPGs, and I’m still generally a massive fan of the genre and am eager to find ones that can capture that magic from my childhood while still playing with my expectations a bit.

So, with all that being said, I want to let you all in on a dark, terrible secret. One that haunts me, mocks me, shakes me to my gamer core. Now, scoot in close, because I don’t want too many people to overhear this. All right, you listening?

I’m not a huge fan of Secret of Mana.

Secret of Mana
Secret of Mana SNES cover (Source)

I know, that’s terrible, right? The Mana series is a favorite of several of my friends, and for a good chunk of my life I’ve been hearing about how it’s not just one of the best games for the Super Nintendo, but one of the best video games period. It’s a beloved classic, and I wanted to experience it. So, a few years back, I picked up the cartridge for the Super Nintendo. On booting up the game, I was greeted by that colorful, vibrant 90s Square SNES vibe, complete with a gorgeous soundtrack, using everything that the SNES can do. I immediately knew that this was going to be an AMAZING experience, and would utterly change me as a gamer forever.

About half an hour later, when the tutorial boss had killed me about five times, I began to worry. The game was giving me specific instructions on when to attack, and I was attempting to pull them off successfully and it just…wasn’t working for me. I’d get lined up where and when I thought the game was telling me to hit, I’d swing…and then the giant bug monster would proceed to eviscerate my little pineapple headed protagonist. Eventually, I prevailed, but I did not feel as though I had actually learned what the game was attempting to teach me. Nevertheless, I decided to press onwards.

In retrospect, I really should’ve taken that tutorial fight as a sign of things to come.

Secret of Mana
Secret of Mana gameplay on the SNES (Source)

As I attempted to progress through Secret of Mana, I found myself repeatedly frustrated. The game is going for a smooth, action experience with JRPG elements, but because a good portion of it involves grinding up weapon levels, I found myself repeatedly in and out of menus, breaking up the flow of the game. When I recruited the other two party members, and gained access to some magic, I found myself constantly having to switch characters, or hop into the menu to tweak the AI to get them to do anything remotely helpful, and even then they frequently wound up at death’s door. And, again, I had to micromanage weapons and weapon levels for them too. I would frequently find them running off only to get killed unless I took direct control of them. And all this character switching and micromanaging of equipment just felt like it broke the flow of the game for me.

I think it was some point after I got the first summon, and was questing to get the second, and got stuck on a dungeon that I finally had to put the game down and walk away, just out of sheer frustration. I’ve tried to start over a couple of times, but I haven’t gotten very far in it before having to walk away again.

Now, does this make Secret of Mana a bad game? Of course not. It just means that maybe it’s not the best game for me at this point in time. I do want to give it another go, because the game is so beloved that it DESERVES a proper chance from me. But for me, at this moment, not a huge fan of the game.

Secret of Mana
Super Metroid (Source)

And you know what? Maybe that’s okay. I don’t have to like every game out there. And after all, everyone has different tastes in games. For example, take Super Metroid. I didn’t experience the game until I was in my twenties. But, from the moment I popped it into my SNES, I immediately fell in love with the game, and it quickly became one of my favorites. I was quick to send my copy of it to my brother, who had also never played it. I figured, “He loves Metroidvanias. He’ll love this.”

Well, not as such. He didn’t really get into the game, and in fact never wound up finishing it. When I asked him what he thought, his response was, “Well, it’s no Symphony of the Night.” Does that make Super Metroid any less of a classic? No. Does it make Super Metroid a bad game? No. Does it mean my brother has bad taste in video games? Not at all. It just means that something specifically about Super Metroid didn’t quite connect with him. And that’s okay. Not liking Super Metroid doesn’t make him a bad gamer, or a bad person, or anything of that nature. All it means is we have some different tastes, like enjoying different flavors of ice cream.

Or even simpler, Mario. Everyone loves Mario, right? He’s a gaming icon. And Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the most beloved video games of all time. If you talk to a lot of the Mario loving grognards out there what their favorite Mario game is, chances are they’ll rattle of Super Mario Bros. 3. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of going to my cousins’, and us trying to get that Tanooki suit in order to fight King Bowser.

Secret of Mana
Super Mario Bros. 3 (Source)

Would you believe that one of my best friends does not enjoy the game? I got her to play it one time (the story of which I will have to regale you with some other time) and she just did not have fun playing. Does this mean the game is bad? No. Does it make her any less my friend? Definitely not. Again, it just means she has different tastes. Perhaps she needed mint chocolate chip when the game was offering Cherry Garcia.

There are a ton of iconic, classic games out there in this great big hobby of ours. Sometimes, these don’t always connect with people. And that’s okay. After all, some of us like chocolate ice cream, some of us like vanilla ice cream, and some of us like strawberry. Just remember when you’re going out there to try not to yuck in someone’s yum.