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Secret Of Mana: Ruins Of Pandora

Secret Of Mana (1993): “Ruins Of Pandora”

A textbook villain demonstrates the importance of putting on a good (evil) show.

By Steve Heisler • November 14, 2012

Villains know how to make an entrance. The hero of the story, any story, is the star of the show by default: We started with this person, which immediately gives them the benefit of the doubt. We are privy to their backstory, to the moments where they make difficult decisions for the good of humanity, to their failings and the lessons they learn. The villains, however, get none of that default cred. They’re pigeonholed. There is good, and there is evil. And they are evil.

There is a pageantry, then, to the way a villain behaves. Because if they’re going to be branded and abhorred, they might as well do so with flair. You know the classic flourishes: Capes are worn, mustaches groomed into hilarious spirals. Their bankrolls are as deep as that of the Monopoly guy, and they spend every pretty penny on ironic dungeons or pet saber-toothed tigers that shoot fire spells from their claws. They are the brand ambassadors for the ad campaign of evildom, and the best villains know how to sell it.

Secret Of Mana

The villains in Secret Of Mana are a ragtag bunch loosely affiliated with the government. They seek immense power, wishing to control Mana, the magic of the world, and to create an unstoppable fortress from which to rule. The heroes aren’t that much different: an orphaned boy, an orphaned sprite, and the runaway daughter of an aristocrat. They, too, pursue power capable of not only destroying the Mana Fortress but the Mana Beast as well—a dragon-like creature simply trying to do Captain Planet’s job and restore his own idea of ecological order. They’re not so different, the heroes and the villains. But while the good guys skulk around in caves and temples, quietly and doggedly gathering strength, the villains’ havoc is visible merely by looking up at the darkening, lightning-filled sky. That’s the distinction between these two sides: showmanship.

None of the characters in Secret embrace the pomp of villainy quite like Thanatos. The mystic of the bunch, he has the obligatory cape, but there are personal touches, too. His purple hair dips and dives like colonial mutton chops. Plus, he has what appear to be horns. You might expect bombast from this guy, but Thanatos instills fear with a more insidious touch. Your first visit to the regal city of Pandora comes with a caveat: People are losing the ability to speak, and these mindless drones are slowly making their way to the ruins south of town, where none dare tread. Each time you pass through Pandora, the sickness claims a new victim, and the name Thanatos never once enters the conversation. Finally, when two of your own friends go missing, it’s time to confront the nebulous evil within.

Secret Of Mana

Up until this point, Secret Of Mana is an upbeat game. An earlier level, the lair of evil witch Elinee, seems dark—since it’s embedded deep inside the haunted woods and infested with kung-fu werewolves and giant eyeballs that grow from the floor. Yet the soundtrack is a jaunty score that’s carries through much of the game—elevator-music organ and third grade-recital flute. And thanks to the gentle, cartoony edges of the character design, when you’re cracking a whip at hooded rats, it feels like handing them a comically large ice cream cone.

But Thanatos is not so saccharine. The ruins of Pandora are accompanied by the sound of a music box slowly stabbing itself to death. It is dark, with clouds (indoor clouds!) obscuring your vision of the freak-show enemies that skulk in the shadows. There are giant chessmen and swords that attack on their own volition. Tomato Man, a sentient version of the fruit that rides on a floating, frowny-faced skateboard, cannot be harmed with any of the weapons you’ve collected—only the magical spells you so recently acquired and have yet to master. Oh, and it spits out an endless supply of zombies until you either figure out its secret or run away. Running feels appropriate.

Secret Of Mana

Even running is harder than normal, however. The halls are narrow and winding, and it’s impossible to make an escape without taking a few licks. This is near the beginning of the game, no less, when your stockpile of healing supplies is likely to be thin. Given the brutality of the ruins, it’s natural to assume that the boss at the end will be just as unforgiving. You must ration candy, chocolate, and magic power without so much as an inkling of what’s next. This is the first of many cruel mind games Thanatos plays: The fear in your head magnifies the horrors to come.

Any great showman knows how important it is to defy the audience’s expectations. So Thanatos greets you with a twist. Your reward for reaching the heart of the ruins is a confrontation with the fiend himself, who parades your two kidnapped friends in front of your eyes before zapping them away. The floor falls, and you find yourself in a pit with spikes on one end. The boss music starts. But there’s no boss.

Secret Of Mana is a game that forces you to take multiple looks at your surroundings. Beyond these ruins, for instance, there’s an endless forest that cycles between seasons until you divine the key to escaping the wooded möbius strip. So there you are, in this basement, no boss in sight, and you run to the other wall. The one without the spikes (if you know what’s good for you). Nothing there, either. Then the eyes open. The wall’s eyes.

Secret Of Mana

Every step of the fight induces panic. Each eye has magic that far surpasses your own, and the strength to withstand the most savage beatings. But worst of all, and in keeping with the mysticism angle, there is a third, even tougher eye in the center. Those other two eyes are red herrings. If you beat them back, then the entire wall starts moving, inch by inch, toward those spikes on the other end, Star Wars trash compactor style.

That’s the conundrum. You can either focus on the third eye and take a pounding from its brothers, or take out the sides and start the clock ticking on your spiky death. Whether it’s physical or psychological, you’re in for some hurt. It’s reminiscent of the scene in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince where Dumbledore must drink poison that clouds his mind to reach the evil inside the cup. Or the scene in The Dark Knight where the Joker forces Batman to choose between saving Harvey Dent—the future of Gotham City—or his long love Rachel. Or countless other acts of villains who delight in the anguish of heroes because they hate something in themselves.

When the show is over, there’s only the memory of Thanatos, and the promise that later in the game, you will meet him again. That’s what a true villain does—he not only tries to blow you up and cut you down but also worms his way into your psyche. While you may overcome The Ruins Of Pandora, they linger because Thanatos wants them to linger. That’s really their whole point. He knows you seek the power to destroy him, but given the way he flaunts his own power, he wants you to question what you’ll do once you find it. His over-the-top villainy defines what it means to be a hero in Secret Of Mana. The secret of mana is that it’s not about the mana. It’s about how you use it.

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207 Responses to “Secret Of Mana (1993): “Ruins Of Pandora””

  1. PaganPoet says:

    It seems like everytime I read one of these features, I try to sway the conversation into talk about the soundtrack, but my favorite part of this dungeon in Secret of Mana is the creepy, awesome, Indonesian gamelan-inspired music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=687sEfSkx9Y

    And the even freakier gamelan-meets-death-metal boss theme when you battle Lich: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCUdhcRQMC4

    Good stuff, that. The whole soundtrack is awesome…the golden age of Square(soft) for sure.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      I only remember the ice level music, because the still, crystalline music composed for any game’s ice levels tend to be the ones I remember, but that first clip is fantastic.  I might have to give this game another go.

      • PaganPoet says:

        I’d recommend it. Like others above have said, it’s aged very well and remains fun to this day. I’d also recommend its sequel Seiken Densetsu 3.

    • Sleverin says:

       You and me will be good commentor fellows then.  I love sidetracking game conversations to “Oh man, when the music just soared right at this moment!”  Or, “Man that music in Brave Fencer Musashi for the wintery forest area was perfect!”  My favorite moment years ago when playing FFXI came from fighting Diabolos and blasting “Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden.  Sure it wasn’t in the game’s soundtrack, but damn if it didn’t make the cutscene leading up to the fight and the fight itself just that much more amazing.

  2. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    I recall Secret of Mana being secondary to Chrono Trigger in my affections, but really loving the intense, super-saturated color palette and art direction.
       How does the game in general hold up?

    • flowsthead says:

      Fantastically. I played it a few years ago and I had a blast. It’s just ridiculously fun. The plot is pretty much nonexistant, similar to FF 1-3, but man is the game fun.

    • Girard says:

       I’d recommend also checking out the Japan-only sequel (which is ubiquitously available with one of the first big fan-translation patches). It has a similar candy-colored aesthetic, but richer values and a somewhat more painterly rendering.

      • Reuben says:

        I think I played through 3/4 of that back in the days when either there was no translation or it was a really lousy one. I finally got stuck somewhere where having a good translation was necessary to proceed. Of course, that is actually the third game in the Mana series. The first being what was Final Fantasy Adventure in the US :) 
        If I ever find the time, I definitely want to go back and play it.

      • alguien_comenta says:

        And more characters, different ways to start, a bunch of different classes. It’s an awesome game

      • djur says:

        I found SD III to have a rougher difficulty curve than Secret of Mana. Particularly when you first reach the Pure Land.

    • RTW says:

      Fun factor-wise it holds up very well, though if you know the history behind its development, the simplistic dialogue and pacing issues will stand out more. However, the former problem can be fixed with a ROM patch that switches to a variable-width font and rewrites the dialogue to give it more heft. It is quite a well-done patch and I highly recommend using it if you’ve played the game before. And the latter issue is easily forgiven considering a substantial chunk of the game was either cut or condensed—some accounts estimate as much as 40% of the game’s content was lost in the transition from CD to cartridge. (Short version: Sony and Nintendo were working on a CD add-on for the SNES, but then Nintendo went back over the contract and said “uhhh, fuck this shit” and shacked up with Phillips. Sony figured they still had a slice of fried gold on their hands and turned what they had into a standalone console—and thus was born: the PlayStation. Secret of Mana was originally going to be for the SNES-CD, but by the time the Nintendo/Sony deal went to pot, they’d gotten too far into development to just throw it all away, so they modified it to fit on a cartridge, and a shitload of stuff got left on the cutting room floor in the process.)

      I second @paraclete_pizza:disqus ‘s suggestion to play Seiken Densetsu 3. It is a much better and more fully realized game, definitely closer to what Secret of Mana could (and should) have been.

  3. Aaron Riccio says:

    I really need to play through this game again, hopefully with some online co-op or something. (Does that exist? If not, can it?) I don’t remember having nearly as much trouble with this boss (or him being near the beginning of the game) — it was always the first boss in the Dwarven Mines that gave me grief, and then that giant cat boss that you fight later on. 

    But come now. Who doesn’t love a good cannon transport system? So efficient!

    • Girard says:

       I remember some SNES emulators toyed with net play back in the day (laggy games of DBZ over dial-up where both I and my opponent won on our own respective computers because there were so many unaccounted-for packet-drops!). I haven’t really tried it lately, but I would imagine at least one of the big emulators has a decent online-play system.

    • Man, I still remember watching my older brother fly the dragon around in the late game and how badly I wanted to do the same.  I could only play 30 minutes a day, and it seemed like it took forever.  It was worth it, though.  I actually think Secret of Mana edges out Chrono Trigger slightly, in my memory.  This was a great feature.

      • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser says:

        I replayed Chrono Trigger three or four years back, and I was shocked at how well it held up – its narrative was still more sophisticated and fun than 99% of JRPGs to follow, and the game is a fucking blast throughout.

        But man, Secret of Mana.  I used to play this game CONSTANTLY with my cousin.  I’m not even sure which of us owned it, we traded back and forth so often.  But god, what a brilliant game.

        These, Suikoden II, some early Final Fantasy games… I’m pretty sure cutscene capability was the absolute worst thing to happen to JRPGs, but these are the games that remind me why I used to love the genre.

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          Yeah. I say that I’m an RPG fan, and there was a time when I played *every* RPG that came out in the US (even the Legaia games, even Thousand Arms, even stuff that was so muddled by the time it got here that it was awful, unbalanced, or both). And yet . . . few games grip me in the way they used to, and I certainly don’t go out of my way to play ’em all now. 

        • caspiancomic says:

           Yeah, JRPGs are the games that really got me into gaming as a proper hobby, not just a rainy afternoon pastime, and it was lucky for me that I was growing up in the golden age of JRPGs. Although I never had a SNES (although I’ve since retroactively played a lot of the titles I missed), being able to go down to Jumbo Video and pluck Suikoden, Legend of Legaia, Wild Arms, Final Fantasy VII, or Vandal Hearts off the shelf was a big influencing factor on my gaming idiosyncrasies.

      • Aaron Riccio says:

        Incidentally, Mode 16 or whatever it was called for when you got a flying creature in those old SNES games and the map shifted like that — it used to scare me. I remember trying to fly to that teleporting fortress at the end of the game on Flammie and just being terrified. Not sure why. It might have something to do with Star Fox and that crazed grinning asteroid.

    • RTW says:

      The boss in this article is a cakewalk. Just make sure your Gnome magic is at level 2 and bombard him with Earth Slide. It’s over in like 10 seconds.

      Magic in this game is pretty terribly broken on the whole. As long as you invest time in raising magic levels between palaces, most boss fights clock in at under a minute. You just use Analyzer, find out what they’re weak against, and pound it into them over and over. Strategy doesn’t even come in until about the Grand Palace or so when bosses start casting Wall, and probably the only actual difficult boss aside from the Mana Beast is Thunder Gigas in the Pure Land.

      Spiky Tiger is the one with the bad reputation, because he’s relentless and you don’t have magic at that point, but if you have the best armor to that point, equip the bow and boomerang, and keep an eye on your health at all times, it’s not awful.

      • alguien_comenta says:

        Yeah, when you realize you can level up the magic a little grinding and the games is not that hard. There’s also the instant casting trick
        Still a great game, though

        • Aaron Riccio says:

          I kind of remember pausing/unpausing to cast faster, and yeah, I knew about leveling up magic and just being really cautious with bosses (yes, Spiky Tiger was the one I was talking about — how the hell do people remember specifics like that!). 

          But some of the difficulty may have been that I was like twelve when it came out, and my brother — who I played this with — was even younger and not ALWAYS cooperative. 

      • Bad Horse says:

        Spiky Tiger just brutalized me into submission the first time I tried to go through, because I hadn’t done any grinding – I had just gone straight from plot element to plot element and counted on the game to be balanced enough. Boy, was I wrong. He made such an impact on me and my brothers that we called difficult bosses Spiky Tigers for years afterward.

  4. Colonel says:

    This game kind of holds a special place for me as one of the few games that my older sister played with me.  Well, we did play Mario Kart but that was always bound to end in hurt feelings (still does, despite 20 years passing by).  But this was a co-op game so it felt good to be helping her even though I was probably never actually doing so.  We were also stuck on the first major boss (in the Dwarven city) for the longest time but when we beat it, if I may borrow a John Mulaney punchline, it was like the liberation of France in our house.  I don’t think we even made it halfway into the game but when I replay it on my own I still have that dread when I come to that boss.

    A couple of years ago I found a copy of it online and gave it to her for Christmas (her family has a SNES).  She was legitimately excited about it and felt my pessimistic heart warm a little.

    • PugsMalone says:

      I played this with my little sister- I don’t think we got past this dungeon. I’d finished the game by myself before I played it with her, though.

    •  We used to rent the 4 player hookup and play this all through the weekend, my brother, cousin and I. It was so brilliant.

  5. caspiancomic says:

    Anyone here ever watch Secret of Mana Theatre? (Or, technically, “Theater”, but come on) Updates have slowed to a crawl, and I haven’t watched it in years, but I remember it being pretty fun.

    Also, since I haven’t actually played this game, my contributions to the conversation are necessarily limited to mentioning my own favourite camp villain. Gold medal winner in the 100 Metre Camp representing the People’s Republic of Camptown in the Kitsch Olympics is definitely Kuja, who is considered an overly theatrical nutcase even by the characters within the story, where this sort of behaviour is normally ignored as the typical trappings of a main antagonist. I also have special places in my heart for Dr. Robotnik (for building a space station shaped like his own head) and Liquid Snake (for stripping his own brother to the waist for the purposes of a climactic shirtless punch-up).

    • Girard says:

       I think Kefka pretty much takes the cake for camp villainy – by being both extremely campy and very villainous. Plus he has that goofy/sinister Kodachi Kuno laugh!

  6. My play style in Secret of Mana was to grind weapons and magic between dungeons, and then run through dungeons as fast as possible. If your magic skill is kept up, then boss battles are a breeze.

    In the Japanese-only SNES sequel, “Seiken Densetsu 3″*, they made a few changes that require a completely different approach. First of all, there is no grinding of magic and weapon levels. The only reason to grind is XP and Lucre. Secondly, you often need to defeat all the enemies in a room to open a door. These changes pretty much eliminate the need for grinding until near the end of the game. It’s usually more efficient to advance the story of the game, and level up that way, rather than sticking around the same few screens. This is a boon for co-op play, especially if you have a friend that hates grinding. 

    A third change is that magic spells have a casting time. This means that you can’t simply spam magic on a boss and have it go down. In “Secret of Mana”, most boss battles only last a minute or two. In “Seiken Densetsu 3”, boss battles frequently last upwards of fifteen minutes.  

    *(“Secret of Mana” was “Seiken Densetsu 2”. The original “Seiken Densetsu” was “Final Fantasy Adventure” for Game Boy.)

  7. kingderella says:

    i love this game. it holds up very well, and both the visuals and the soundtrack are gorgeous.

    this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTyUl86UIhM
    is one of my all time favourite video game tunes.

  8. Louis says:

    Although I was into all the other RPGs from that era, I could never get into SoM at the time. Maybe I should revisit as an adult?

  9. So, I’ve been playing (emulating) SoM for a couple of weeks now, and… well, I don’t hate the game – not by a long shot – but I am a bit confused by the love for it.

    It’s a fun game, but it recycles a lot of areas. The dialogue didn’t exactly get through clearly during localization. Grinding is a bit more tedious than expected (although that doesn’t bother me too much). Music IS good, I’ll give you that, and it’s loose enough so you have to figure out where to go at some points since people won’t tell you (this is good or bad, depending on how old you are, really).

    I’m having fun, though. I like that the game, especially with bosses, demand that you keep up. Some bosses unload status effects on you, and if you don’t have those various side items to dispel them (they have infinite uses), you’re flat out screwed.

    SoM’s localization was flawed, and Square knew it (someone mentioned 40% of the game is missing or something?). So they made Secret of Evermore, which is an amusing but fun RPG that plays on America and American perceptions on history and fantasy. (A Roman-esqu soldier says at one point, “I’m lonely, I wish my brother George was here.”) It too has flaws, but definitely has a more complete feel. I’m surprised it doesn’t get talked about more often, really.

    • PugsMalone says:

      Evermore isn’t terrible, but it’s a mess. There are a whole bunch of game-breaking bugs and it’s really unbalanced (the dog gets too powerful too quickly)

      • I looked up those bugs to make sure I avoided them during my play through – there’s really only 2 or 3, which sucks, but they’re avoidable.

        And the dog isn’t that unbalanced – he only gets super-strong in the final stage, and it’s for a reason; all the badguys are strangely super strong, and he’s kind of your only recluse until you acquire enough bazooka ammo.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      Yep.  It’s fine, but only the 4th best or so in its own series.  This article does focus on a more interesting part, how the entry (the 1st 2, really) combines adventure and dungeon-crawling-role-playing genres with co-operative play and action-focused battles.  It’s very interesting.  I feel like that’s rare, maybe done in The Babylonian Castle saga (Druaga) and, what, Gauntlet are some of the few examples?  Am I forgetting something?

      I, too, think the series’ next 2 entries are the best incarnations, where a heavily linear story-based solo run is combined with tons of character flexibility and item collecting.

      • RTW says:

        SD3 is definitely better, but there’s no way Legend of Mana is better than Secret of Mana. Legend is pretty and has great music but other than that it’s a total mess.

      • djur says:

        What I appreciate about SoM (and FFA before it) is the general absence of fussy little customizations and collection frenzies, which is my least favorite thing about JRPGs.

        SD3 also has a lot more plot, which is generally a negative in a Japanese game.

    • Citric says:

      SoM isn’t incomplete because of the localization, but because of the chaos of its development. See, it was originally planned for the proposed SNES CD, and they got all excited and made a big ambitious game that would take advantage of all that delicious space. Then the add on was cancelled, and they had to scramble to shove it into a much smaller cart.

      Still, want SoM to shine? Find more people, it has co-op multiplayer. 

      • djur says:

        Yeah, the co-op multiplayer is why SoM is so well-loved. Everyone I know who remembers it fondly remembers playing it with siblings or friends. It’s the GoldenEye effect.

    • Len says:

      40% of the game is definitely missing, but not because of translation issues. The game was never completed due to time constraints, creating a weird mish-mash of areas, unused quests, and truncated storylines and characters that never really go anywhere.

      Check out the last couple of Mana temples to see an example. Just kind of there, some don’t really have any gameplay. And the “roads” leading up to them are practically non-existent. 

    • Quantrepreneur says:

      I have a love-hate relationship with Secret of Evermore. 

      When it was first released, I remember renting it a few times and very much enjoying the aesthetic, and I dug the combination of an action game a la Zelda with the RPG elements I’d come to love through playing FFIII/VI and Chrono Trigger. Furthermore, the bazaar sequence in the Roman section was one of the coolest experiences I’d yet to have in a video game, as it required you to run back and forth between vendors within a limited time frame to make exchanges to end up with the best goods (like a VERY compressed series of fetch quests, with a frantic dynamic added by way of a time limit).

      However, there were two things that I remember driving me up the wall, so much so that I put the game down shortly after the aforementioned bazaar scene and didn’t end up picking it back up and playing through until about a decade later via emulator while I was in college. They were:
      1) A dearth of the ingredients necessary to perform the alchemical spells that formed the magic system.
      2) At least a few unforgiving save points with no recourse save a restart should you find yourself woefully under-prepared for the following scenario (e.g. battle).

      As a veteran RPG player, I have no problem with the process of grinding, so long as it doesn’t overtake the entire game. However, by limiting the resources available to cast spells, it effectively prevented the player from using them except when they were absolutely necessary. Further, since spells needed to be used repeatedly to be leveled, it hindered the player’s ability to ensure that they were prepared for what the game might throw one’s way in the future.

      When I found my 10-year-old self stuck with a saved file in the pits of the Colosseum, forced to fight a champion I seemed incapable of defeating and with no means of beefing up my character, I felt in some way that the game had stacked the deck against me. Should I probably have alternated save files to prevent ending up stuck down a particular path I couldn’t handle? Probably. And this game was one of the ones that I can credit to teaching me that vital policy (see also: Final Fantasy Tactics and the battle against Wiegraf inside of Riovanes Castle at the end of Chapter 3). Still, I’d have been a bit more forgiving if I didn’t feel as if the game design had created something of a catch 22 to prevent me from moving forward.

      As I said, I managed to play through the game about a decade later, aided significantly as I recall by GameFAQS. I enjoyed the gameplay and the story thoroughly, and I think a lot of what I found challenging at 10 seemed like a breeze at 20 (and with an additional decade of gaming experience under my belt). Still, I can remember to this day returning Secret of Evermore to the store with a rather unpleasant taste in my mouth, with no intention of rerenting a game that could so easily force me to toss away several hours of progress.

      • aklab says:

        I have a soft spot for Secret of Evermore, as it was the first RPG-ish game I ever played.  (Traded a Donkey Kong Country cart for it but later bought DKC back because it’s such a great game!)  
        That Colosseum battle is indeed really hard – I could only ever beat it with a level 3 spear.  

      • Oddly enough, I’ve had a similar experience, although it was at the end of the game. I’ve had a number of problems with the final boss; he seemed unkillable. Part of the reason I’m playing through it again is for ULTIMATE REVENGE. (I’m actually surprised I managed to get as far as I did when I was young, too – the coliseum and swamp bosses are insanely tricky).

        I get the sense that leveling up magic in this game was an afterthought, a reflection of leveling up weapons. The latter is a necessity; the former really just to have stronger magic if you want to spend the grind. You receive SO many spells for so few ingredients, it’s like the game makers realized the poor game design decision way too late and kept it; this is why they gave you call beads, and allowed you to get 99 of them so early in the game.

        In essence, you only need to level up Heal and Crush, then whatever you’d like (Defend, Lance, Corruption are decent ones). The real trick is just unloading call bead attacks until you run out.

      • PaganPoet says:

        Oh, I adored Secret of Evermore, maybe even a little more than SoM.

        The memorable part about that market scene you mentioned is that when you first arrive, you only have a limited amount of time to do shopping/trading until the story forces you to move on (to the Colosseum battle you mentioned). In the dungeon of the Colosseum, you would find treasure pots that gave you armor, helmet and a shield one level stronger than whatever your strongest was at that point. If you had managed to get the armor, helmet and shield from the marketplace, you would get some supplies that were available nowhere else in the game. Being the completionist kind of child I was, I made a chart of the marketplace and marked down what goods each merchant wanted to trade for, that way I could get as many of the items as possible before the Colosseum event. That’s a surprising amount of work I was able to put up with as a kid for a video game!

        • aklab says:

          Oh man, the market.  I still think of this part of SoE every time I’m in a crowded farmer’s market or something.  

        • PaganPoet says:

          @aklab:disqus  You start going crazy trying to remember how many bags of rice you needed to trade for the Jewelled Scarab?

      • I remember all my friends having Secret of Mana, and playing it at their houses/borrowing it many times.  For whatever reason I never thought to ask for it for Christmas/my birthday (the only time such an expenditure on a game was allowed).

        When Evermore came out I BEGGED for it for Christmas, and remember very well the sinking feeling plugging it in the morning of the 25th and seeing the muddy, drab (kinda gross) starting chapter, all vines and mudpits.  The limited-use magic bothered me from minute one, the weapons lacked the luster of SoM’s weapons, and the dog was fun, but ultimately no match for the cuteness of the Sprite.  I also hit a progression blocking bug in the final desert dungeon that forced me to restart, which had never ever happened to me before in a console game.

        Ultimately, for me, only two good things came of Secret of Evermore:
        1) Nobody else had it!  I would trade it to friends for their RPGs (7th Saga, anyone?) and got to play more rental-unfriendly games than I normally could.
        2) SoE PLOT SPOILER:  I figured out the butler did it very early on, and my young self felt like a vindicated genius when I (finally) got to the end.

      • Fabian Gross says:

         Secret of Evermore is fascinating to me in that the game’s content is completely different from its presentation. It has a light-hearted, silly plot that clashes hard with its drab colour pallette and moody ambient soundtrack. Love it, though.

    • Reuben says:

      Secret of Mana lives on fondly in my mind (although not as much as other games) mostly due to nostalgia, I’d wager. It’s a solid game with some great fun elements, but it’s very rudimentary in other ways. I was actually surprised to see it here in an article about (ostensibly) great villains, since the plot and characters are all pretty flat cliches. Compared to other Square RPG’s that came out soon after, it doesn’t really hold up. FF 5 and 6 and Chrono Trigger beat it by a mile. 

    • alguien_comenta says:

      Try Secret of Mana 3, shouldn’t be hard to get. Has good music, more characters/classes, not much grinding, great bosses… it’s a non-beta SoM

  10. TYL81 says:

    I remember playing this game with my not-so-bright next door neighbor, so I always made him be the boy since I didn’t think he was smart enough to effectively use the other two to cast spells.

  11. Dikachu says:

    Great game… this and Chrono Trigger (along with FF VI) are like the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers and the last 10-15 years of Squeenix’s output basically being Ringo’s solo crap.

    • Citric says:

      I take issue with the 15. FFVII is good, FFIX is good, FFT is good, Parasite Eve is good, Chrono Cross is good, Brave Fencer Musashi is good, Vagrant Story is good, Front Mission 3 is good (if very ugly). In fact, all of those games stand as among my favorites of all time. I’d probably argue that the PS1 era was the best era for Square, no question, and I quite like a lot of their SNES output.

      • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser says:

        God, Vagrant Story.  That’s on the list of games I blind-bought from Electronics Boutique – I think that was the name of the store, they don’t exist in the US anymore – and just absolutely loved.

        But yeah, that’s a pretty solid list of Great RPGs, though I personally think FFVII is only pretty good, and represents a huge step in the wrong direction from Square.

        But yeah, the rest of those?  Awesome.  I was so pumped when they released FFT for the iPad, and I’m playing through it again right now.

        • Citric says:

          While things are a matter of taste, I’m not sure that one can say FFVII is a huge step in the wrong direction, since it was pretty much continuing down the same path as FFVI with better tech behind it. I suspect your primary objection is the big cutscenes, which Square had clearly wanted to do for a very long time and just couldn’t implement. Many of their late-period SNES titles had those big, frequently non-interactive story moments which tried to be as visually splashy as possible.

          The opera in FFVI was probably the biggest example of this – it’s a quick time event laden cutscene, something you know they wanted to do with FMV and a real vocal track but were unable to because of space constraints.

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser says:


          Okay, I definitely misspoke.  I don’t think FFVII is a bad game.  When I say that I think it represents a huge step in the wrong direction, I mean in the same way that “Watchmen” or “The Dark Knight Returns” also represented a huge step in the wrong direction.  Which is to say, it’s a good-to-great game that was also immensely successful… but that other creators learned all the wrong lessons from the game and, in seeking to imitate it (and its success), took only the most ridiculous surface-level excess without understanding or being able to emulate the depth beneath it.

          After FFVII, Squeenix and many others started abandoning even basic growth in the areas of storytelling, gameplay, combat timing, etc… for a more generic set of standards that were meant to prop up huge, impressive set-pieces, not realizing that FFVII also had (from what I recall) a reasonable depth of game play, exploration, etc….

          I mean, God, remember how much buzz there was around the Weapon battles?  I remember swapping strategies with friends in the lunch room on how to find Ruby and Emerald, the best strategies for taking them on, funniest failed attempts.  There were loops and crazy little tricks buried in the combat gameplay.  A fair amount of the story was coherent.

          And a lot of that has disappeared in favor of some fairly stagnant gameplay tics and storytelling tropes.*

          Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like JRPGs set-pieced and pretty-boyed themselves into near extinction, at least in America.

          *I’m not saying there were no innovators after FFVII, just that they were in the minority and only rarely received much attention.

        • Citric says:

          I can’t agree, just because Square’s PS1 era was so good, apart from Parasite Eve II which was a big old pile of crap that abandoned everything good about the original to be a bad RE clone. They were even more prone to experiment in the way they told stories and made games, and it had a very positive effect on their product. They also experimented with different styles a lot, whether it was visually – like SaGa Frontier II’s watercolor look – with gameplay or story presentation. That entire era had a level of boldness that they lost somewhere in the PS2 era.

          If anything, Kingdom Hearts was the game you’re thinking of which pushed Square into irrelevancy. It mined the past for inspiration, had no intention of making actual sense, and didn’t really attempt to experiment. Soon after we got unnecessary sequels which retroactively undermined their predecessors, lots of surface gloss with little underneath, and stories which disappeared up their own asshole.

          I still like FFXII a lot though, but it was largely a different team that forced people out.

        • Dikachu says:

          I liked FFVII a ton when it first came out, but it has not aged well… the PS1’s shitty 3D graphics look terrible in hindsight, whereas SNES games still look crisp and visually appealing.  Also the story gets a little wonky and off-track in parts.

          Chrono Cross was amazing, I’ll grant you that, but it’s their only REALLY good post-SNES era game in my opinion.  FFXII was good too, though a bit too long (and some of the side quests were stupidly tedious).

        • caspiancomic says:

           A sort of general reply to the entire thread:

          I think to say that “FFVII was a step in the wrong direction” is not totally accurate (as has already been discussed), but is actually sort of prescient. With the exception of IX (my all time favourite Final Fantasy game), I’d say that after VII the series started to slump. I know a lot of people love VIII, or X, and even I had kind of a soft spot for XII, but I think the general trend has been meandering downwards. And the reasons for that downward spiral- increased emphasis on setpieces, incomprehensible melodrama, out of control character designs, unrewarding gameplay mechanics- can often be found in a foetal state in FFVII. I think VII was a truly great game- and I even think it’s aged quite gracefully (Since I was quite young in he 8-bit era I’ve always had a soft spot for the blocky “retro 3D” look of VII’s chunky characters). But I think its success caused Square to cannibalize it for future releases, and they tended to focus on the stuff that made it different from its 2D predecessors (the CG cutscenes, the psychological storyline, the abundance of distracting minigames), rather than what made it the same (the engaging characters, striking visuals, complex combat, etc).

          Also, a quick note, re: Kingdom Hearts. I maintain that the first game is a pretty unqualified success, although I know some people disagree. Because the Kingdom Hearts series has become such a monster, people seem to forget that the first game had a really simple story about a kid who teams up with some Disney characters to find his missing friends. All the backstory and Light/Darkness stuff was basically set dressing at that point. The self-aggrandizing mythologizing didn’t really start until the byzantine KHII, and since then it’s been one absurd contrivance after another.

        • Citric says:

          I suppose I’ll go ahead and defend a game I don’t actually like much.

          I think there’s a difference between FFVIII’s failures and later Square failures, since FFVIII was a very ambitious and experimental product. The whole junctioning system was incredibly – and one might argue, unnecessarily – complex. They made major overhauls in pretty much every area, and the thing took pretty big risks.

          I can’t defend the story, which was seemingly written by several people who were not on speaking terms, but the game itself wasn’t trying to be a retread. They were actually trying for something, and even if it failed at least it failed by going balls to the wall. It was an example of why I loved PS1 era Square, even if I don’t actually like the game.

          And I agree that Kingdom Hearts was good, it was just the start of Square’s downhill spiral for the reasons others might argue FFVII is – it’s just got a lot of the seeds of bad ideas hidden in an otherwise charming product.

        • I won’t defend FFVIII’s story either, but as a followup, I’ll say it’s as ambitious as everything you mentioned, Citric, about the gameplay. It’s a love story in a midst of a war. Sure, they fumbled that ball before it got out the endzone, but the fact they based a game on that idea is ballsy as hell.

      • Reuben says:

        FFIX is so underrated. If anyone here is a fan of older JRPG’s and has not played it, I implore them to go do so now. It feels like a return to the 16-bit era in terms of gameplay. It’s just straight up fun. The story and characters are not as “serious” or compelling as in VII or VIII (although there are several very good story/character moments), but the mechanics are wonderful.

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser says:


        • GhaleonQ says:

          If you read it in a straightforward way, it’s definitely a comedy with tragic elements.  I think it’s postmodern and is about the series itself, which makes it the most serious (and intelligent) by far.


        • Dikachu says:

          I tried playing it, and while I liked the theme and the story, I just could NOT get past the random monster encounters.  They were so incredibly excessive… sometimes I just wanted to get from point A to point B for chrissake.  And Chrono Trigger already proved that they’re unnecessary anyway.

        • caspiancomic says:

           I’ve mentioned already (even on this very page!) that IX is my favourite Final Fantasy game, so I obviously agree that it’s “must play” material for any fan of the genre. Not for no reason does it feel like a return to 16-bit glory: since it was going to be the last game on the PS1, the production team deliberately made it a tribute to the series’ past, including setting it in the series’ more traditional “fantasy” (rather than steampunk/sci-fi) setting, having wobbly-headed character designs, focusing heavily on airship travel, incorporating moogles into the story again, etc.

          Most exciting- for me at least- was that the game was really Yoshitaka Amano’s last hurrah. Since VII they had been opening more and more of the designing process to hotshot newcomers like Tetsuya Nomura, and Amano’s role was relegated to things like broad concept art and promotional material. For IX, designing all the game’s most important elements, from the main cast to the most prominent locations, was all Amano’s work. If you look at a city like Lindblum, or a ship like the Prima Vista, or especially a character like Quina, they’ve got Amano’s hallmarks stamped all over them.

          A few weeks ago I got this bad boy in the mail, and it’s amazing to see just how much he produced for a title like VI, compared to how little he made for X. I didn’t know who he was when I first played IX, but now that I know and adore him and his work, it makes perfect sense to me that his final major contribution to the series would also be my favourite game.

      • djur says:

        The only of those games I can stand is Tactics, and FFVII is one of the most unpleasant gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Plotty, overlong, and hideous to look at, especially coming on the heels of gorgeous games like FFVI, Chrono Trigger, SD3, etc.

  12. Reuben says:

    FFIX is so underrated. If anyone here is a fan of older JRPG’s and has not played it, I implore them to go do so now. It feels like a return to the 16-bit era in terms of gameplay. It’s just straight up fun. The story and characters are not as “serious” or compelling as in VII or VIII (although there are several very good story/character moments), but the mechanics are wonderful.

  13. D3ADP0OL says:

    A really great game that sadly did not get the success it deserved.  Check out http://thebestgamesyouneverplayed.blogspot.com/ to read more about some really incredible games that were criminally overlooked in their time.

  14. Citric says:

    This entire thread is making me just want to play old Square games.

  15. Look at the memory you triggered within me,

    I originally played it at about age 13, an unusually expensive gift from by brother priced at $80, and it was worth the unusually high price to be paid. We got it from Babbages, at the mall in Lynchburg, Virginia. Good game for something to do during the summer when living on a 70 acre land. I replayed it at age 21 using an emulator, an emulator with the ability to basically play at 1x, 2x, 4x, and 8x times the speed and rewind when you screw up and die. The game felt way to slow the second time I played it, but perhaps that’s because I was in college, and I grew into a much more complex thought process. The game could use more graphical immersion for children these days, children that have lost touch with their imagination thanks to the modern media trends. The game is only good for a child or childlike mind and it helps to see past many of the attributes, such as to envision the chocolate and candy as physical nourishment to heal wounds. If the story is worth it, it is better to change the stupid ideas into something that suits the imagination, and then let the mind do the auto-conversions while you play. My brothers cold not see past the image that was shown and was too quick to judge, like a critic picking at the flaws, and never understanding the vision.

    I remember several failed attempts of that dark forest and being left to a disturbed stop. Bothered by its confusion I knew it was time to take a break for a day or two. To be more truthful… I let my imagination go too far. The vision of the game displayed from the 15” monitor, a commodore monitor and speakers, acted as an effective catalyst that trigger my imagination and fully simulated the story as if it were as real as an intense dream. In that forest, the fantasy in my head was gradually growing too a level of disturbance that I knew I had to break free from. A week? A month? I am not sure how log, but I had to rip my mind back to reality, power off the game before I even failed the attempt and died, and then immerse myself back into the norms of reality.

    To truly be able to feel and simulate a story within can result in the story becoming a reality. Think of the feeling you get if you trully accept and beleive in God… Distorted realities designed to break a person’s mind can instigate insane feelings like a music box trying to kill itself, I like the way the writer of this post invasions the song of the forest. All it takes is faith and beleif to activate the mighty immagination. It helps to be isolated on a large plot of land to help soak in anothers window into their vision. What I got out of this part of the game was an infinity of, lost, doom, hopelessness, confusion, etc. Endless, a repeated endless circle of the battle of the good vs. evil and that they are both the same. I would much like to have that feeling again. The feeling of adventure, the feeling of stress, the feeling of horror, that feeling that my imagination can no longer conjure up; the feeling that was washed out of me by the education system. Now I can recognize the outcome in any given situation eliminating all suspense. I can see a purpose in anything and so much emptiness in so much that we do. Fun has been removed and replaced with complete understanding. Fun is shamed with definitions of vanity. There is no more adventure; just conflict we hear about on the news and hope to avoid.

    Thanks for triggering this memory.
    I am now sad, but now I remember, and beleive I can create a new catalist to toss me back into the relm of imagination