Secret of Mana is an Action/RPG avoiding the tendency to become almost a scrolling beat em' up like so many other Action/RPGs tend to do. The action prevents the irritation random battles can often provoke and allows the game to flow far more effectively. Playing Secret of Mana with up to three other human players is righteous while maintaining an excellent RPG story and format. Battles can become a bit slow due to the use of magic, which is a crucial part of fighting. A menu must be brought up each time you want to cast and with more than one player the pause this causes can verge on irritation.
I found the action more enjoyable overall than a random battle and would present this as a plus point over certain other RPGs. Action battles allow for brawn or espionage to be displayed - my performance in the final dungeon mainly involved running away! The recharge system forcing you to wait as opposed to immediately attacking after your first hit also prevents the battles from becoming mere slah em' ups. Experience points are allocated to the victor and improve levels as well as points for weapons and magic making it well worth leveling up.
The extreme difference in each character and their abilities also improves gameplay. The sprite (my preferred choice) is a keen user of magic and is vital when boss fights arrive. However, the main hero plays a part at fighting enemies along the way (you can't waste magic points on just anything!) The girl also plays her part in healing the other two and being pretty nifty with her weapon, creating the effect of an impressive three-man team working like a machine.
The weapons system also deserves a mention as each character can use all eight weapons, these can be used in the field and to attack monsters and vary from a boomerang to a whip. Many must be used to break through to new areas again adding to the gameplay.
The Secret of Mana world is vibrant and the graphics allow easy navigation through it. Villages are very different and each one holds an interesting surprise; Matango is bizarre! Each character is beautifully animated and detailed and the enemies are similarly well rendered. The enemies are also wacky and imaginative which lends a fun feeling to the game. Bosses show the level of variation present in every aspect of the game, proving complicated with a different strategy to beating each one. What would you do if you, quite literally, came up against a brick wall? Another nice surprise comes when your spells reach level eight rewarding you for your hard work but I'll let you discover that.
The music in the game is memorable. The title music is epic and easily on par with the fantastic Final Fantasy VII's albeit with SNES capabilities. Dungeon music is still memorable, and this atmospheric music often fitting the scene to perfection is one of Secret of Mana's strongest points. Sound effects do the job and fit seamlessly into the game while not being a perfect representation of real-life, however they fit the louder-than-life world in which the game is set.
Dialogue in the game is simple while being interesting enough to bring out each character's individual personality, the sprite being the strongest in this department. The story is original and is not just your typical fairytale affair. It all revolves around the protection of the Mana tree and has a plot twist that made me genuinely upset. This only proves the strength of the attachment this epic game creates to each character.
The story is unveiled at a suitable speed and at no time does the story become slow enough to reach any form of boredom. The collection of Mana Seeds is fairly unoriginal, how many times have we had to collect things from each corner of the globe? However there are suitable twists to liven it up at every turn, and it ends up feeling far from a linear affair with surprising interruptions to your quest and plenty of sub-plots.
The computer players are probably the most irritating part of Secret of Mana. Computer characters can often get in the way and become trapped off screen. If this happens at a crucial time you may feel the urge to bring a sledgehammer to your SNES! In fact, as a one player experience Secret of Mana can be greater enjoyed (and probably better played) with the main hero dead and controlling the girl! I say this because the A.I is so poor. The computer performs extremely poorly in battle compared to a human player, charging in and being severely hurt. Also, in one player mode you must control two player menus for magic, which in an action RPG is very frustrating and hard to do. For this reason I would recommend playing with at least two players otherwise the battles can become a bit overpowering, you're fighting with one player where three players are meant to be!
As a single player experience Secret of Mana stands out from the crowd and is still a superb game that I highly recommend (95%). With two or three players it becomes near perfection (99%!). However, due to the fact that most players will find it hard to find a fellow RPG lover to share the 40-hour experience with I have included the single player score. This is the best game I have played and is the perfect introduction to RPGs, without the irritation random battles can induce, as well as a superb game for RPG fanatics with a highly enjoyable story. Get Secret of Mana and you won't turn back...ever.