I thought we were only comparing Secret to KH1. If we're comparing it to the entire series then Secret wins on plot hands down as well as having better gameplay verses the overall average that the KH series currently maintains (Chain of Hearts and 358/2 Days do a pretty good job of lowering that average).
As for the composer, I don't recall what he's done recently, but I do remember that he did direct Koudelka (for all that that entails). But yeah, after SD3 its been primarily Ito's work (aside from that one time they got Shinomura to do the soundtrack).
Edit: Fuck; beaten.
BOTH games are notorious for not telling you were you need to go, and before anyone tells me that I'm a gamer that needs his hand held you are wrong. Some of the hints in Secret of Mana were only told ONCE and when you talked to that NPC again they would say random nonsense. Sage Joch was a dick!
I cant pick one over the other because they are from two different generations. If Secret of Mana came out the same time Kingdom Hearts did, then we would be closer to being able to compare the two. If you compare Dawn of Mana to Kingdom Hearts, hands down Kingdom Hearts wins. Also Secret of Mana is not a complete game, they were originally developing it for the Snes CD expansion but had to cut a lot of material because they had to fit it on the cartridge instead. This is also why the quality of the music is much better than most Snes games at the time.
I remember actually employing the good old fashioned buddy hotline technique to figure out where Jock was to begin with.
That said, Dawn of Mana was a crap game where the game's entire gameplay system was built around a clumsy gimmick mechanic and wasn't that well suited to 3D platforming. Moreover, Dawn also suffered from the fact that it came out after
KH which did what Dawn was trying to do better than what it did, let alone doing it years before Dawn's release (also didn't help that Dawn decided to borrow the Dwarf Village theme from Secret for the side missions rather than any one of the game's many good tracks).
Still, if we're comparing Secret's and KH's sequels, then Secret wins that one hands down
as well (despite everything from Sword onward being crap).