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Games Worth Playing: Secret Of Mana

September 20, 2021

There are thousands of video games out there; some classics, some obscure, and others new to me and maybe new to you too. I’m going to take a little time to highlight what’s great about games that I love and want to share; games that are worth your time, along with some tips to get you started.

Secret of Mana: Super Nintendo, SNES Classic / Remake available on Steam, Microsoft Windows and PS4

The title screen for Secret Of Mana

Credit: Square Enix

I don’t know if I first played this game in the summertime, but Secret of Mana is my summertime game that I’ll pick up every few years. It’s bright and colorful and has an excellent soundtrack. There is a lot to love about this game.

For one it’s got three characters and was one of the only games that could use the Super Nintendo multi-tap back in 1993 when it first came out. Most console games back then were limited to you and one other friend, but this one you could play with all three. If you’re playing alone, you can swap between characters and all three are available and play at the same time. You can set the AI of the computer players however you want, and the computer will never ever use magic, so they won’t waste your spells… I’m looking at you Dragon Warrior 4!

A screenshot of the AI in use

Credit: Square Enix

The plot is simple to follow and unfolds nicely, though it weirdly takes place in a post apocalypse that you learn about if you poke around in certain places. What I like about the original is that the main character is a good old silent protagonist communicating with nods or a sort of “yeah!” post every so often. In the remake, “the boy” is a lot more chatty. The game also doesn’t fall into a lot of tropes where you meet a girl and it’s love interest o’clock; she’s on her own quest to save her boyfriend, and depending on what you do early in the game, saves you from being boiled alive by goblins.

Main character from Secret of Mana in Goblin pot

Credit: Square Enix

I also like this game because of the goofy situations in it. At one point you meet Rudolph and he asks you to help save Santa Claus who has turned into an evil frost giant because of a magic seed that he wanted to use to grow a giant Christmas tree. There are also these sort of “record of the past” orbs that hold information from a long lost civilization. Is this Jeopardy?

Screenshot of history orb

Credit: Square Enix

Combat is fun and innovative. It is not turn-based and feels a little like Legend of Zelda, but unlike most games at the time you couldn’t just endlessly swing your sword, it takes a few seconds to charge up to full strength. This prevents you from just flailing away at an enemy, but with it being less than 2 or 3 seconds between strikes, doesn’t bog combat down either. It’s a great system that forces you to fight smarter. The enemy variety is extreme from haunted suits of armor, ducks that throw dynamite, puddles of goo, and bats; they all have different death animations and tactics they’ll use to cause your death animation!

Screenshot of a boss battle

Credit: Square Enix

There are light puzzle elements too, some involving weapons and others that use spells. If you’re stuck, most of the time the game will sense that and give you a hint, but it’s not oppressive. You use swords and axes to clear away brambles, spears to hit switches, and whips to cross gaps. As you use these weapons the character using them gets better with that weapon, encouraging you to swap them around and change up your play style. You’re also motivated to do this as your weapons improve and level up. Same with magic; the more you use it the better it gets. This goes through the whole game as some forms of magic, you only get in the last 15% of your playtime. The whole game has this sort of “rising tide” feel, and it’s great!

I can’t speak for the remake, but this classic deserves more attention.


1: You can upgrade your weapons with weapon orbs, and it does make weapons hit harder and lets you charge up your attacks more, but you don’t always need to upgrade. If you have a spear that stuns enemies or a boomerang that makes monsters go to sleep, you might want to hold off on your upgrade as dealing damage isn’t as important as keeping more difficult enemies on their backs.

2: Neko, a traveling cat merchant, always overcharges for items and armor. If you can find a town, you’re better off buying there. He does allow you to save the game, so that’s nice.

3: You can stun lock most bosses with magic if you cast a fast spell like gem missile, dark force, or fireball over and over again. This will help level up your magic and keep the boss from doing anything until all of the spells resolve. I would suggest saving your magic until the final bosses, at least until you get moon magic and can drain magic from enemies, then the game gets a lot easier, at least until enemies get reflect magic.

For more "Games Worth Playing," check out the article from last week on Hand of Fate 2.

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