Secret of Mana Sub-Genre

What happened to multiplayer RPGs? I have played numerous RPGs for nine of my fifteen years of existence, including the American Final Fantasy series (with three games passed and three others played), Lufia FoD, Breath of Fire 1&3, Parasite Eve, Musashi, Lunar SSSC, Final Fantasy Tactics, Illusion of Gaia, etcetera through infinity. Of these, my three favorites are Legend of Legaia, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana. Chrono Trigger is a masterpiece, and everybody knows it, so no comment there. Legend of Legaia is a tactical, graphical, and story perfection piece. Odd, nobody seemed to notice it... except for the editors of Gamepro. This game deserved more prestige than FF8. Sensei Phoenix gave this game a 67% rating, and gave Lunar SSSC 95%. I take issue with that, but if I dwell longer on this topic, I will become hopelessly depressed. And I don't mean to offend Phoenix either. Each to their own tastes after all. Anyway, I must get to my point.

Secret of Mana is my all time favorite. I fell in love with the game from the moment I first saw it in a Gamepro special article. The graphics, which were exemplary for their time, demonstrated a stylistic standard which has not even been matched by Lunar IMHO. What's more important, the game looked like fun. What could I do? I rented it. I played it. The music captivated me. From the casual yet adventurous tone of "Boy Heads for Wild Fields" to the meditative "Prayer and a Whisper", the music perfectly captured the spirit of the location. Cancel that. The location seemed, to me, to capture the spirit of the music. With nothing but my limited budget, I saved birthday money and allowances for months. And it came. It finally came. The game was a transcendent experience itself. I practically believed that I was there, in the frozen lands of the north, the charred deserts of Kakkara, the cruel but majestic Empire, the splendid City of Gold. But what set the game apart, truly, was the three-player capability.

In Secret of Mana, every player controls one of the three principle characters; the Hero (heavy hitter), the Girl (healer with nominal weapon skill), and the Sprite (weak attacker with most of the offensive magic). Any character not under player control became an AI, although they never cast spells unless you tell them to. Each character was able to equip each of the eight varied weapons (sword, spear, axe, glove, bow, boomerang, whip, and dart), which evolved constantly into higher forms of pure attack power. For example, the sword is called "Excalibur" at level 5, but becomes the "truly" legendary Masanune at level 6. The characters moved around in real time in whatever environment they found themselves by choice or lack thereof. It worked similar to Legend of Zelda and Illusion of Gaia, except that control was much smoother, and fighting was much more tactics-intensive. Spells were cast by summoning the eight elementals (representing the eight elements) to do the players bidding, from healing, to damage, to status attacks, to MP absorbs.

This is the most fun game I have ever played in my life. Single player, the game is captivating. Multiplayer, the game is a whole hell of a lot of fun. So much fun, in fact, that I'm wondering what happened. Why have there been no games like Secret of Mana since? Legend of Mana will be imported to North America this summer, and will therefore be the first game if SoM's sub-genre for seven years. I can't understand this. The money companies have wasted! Why has this format been ignored? There is no copyright issue. After all, Topware Interactive (or is that Valkyrie Studios) had no qualms about borrowing the Active Time Battle System. Star Ocean came close, but battles were too disorganized and atactical to really place it in the same league as SoM. Star ocean lacked the proper timing and sense of play (not to mention the cool environments) which made Secret of Mana such a masterpiece.

This is not to say, of course, that we've forgotten about Secret of Mana. I know (or at least, I hope) that we still remember and revere this extraordinary title. But the developers are in dire need of a swift kick in the rear. And that's my two cents. Provided you're not going to flame my assessment of Star Ocean, send comments to scarhawk@hotmail.com.

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