Secret of Mana is a charming action-adventure game about grinding for unnecessary upgrades. It’s not for everyone, but I adore it.
The game plays a bit like Kingdom Hearts in that you run around a two-dimensional isometric map and hit adorable enemies with a sword (or your choice of seven other weapons). There’s a satisfying cronch when your weapon connects, and the enemy death animations are super cute. For example, mammal-type enemies will explode in a poof of bones that make rattling sounds as they drop to the ground in a neat little pile. The magic animations are also lovely, and they become more elaborate as each spell grows more powerful.
The game’s story is about protecting seeds and saving a tree, and it’s filled with gorgeous Instagram-style ~nature~ that has its over-saturated anime filter slider pulled all the way to the top end. The tree leaves rustle gently, the grass sways in the wind, the sun sparkles on the surface of water, the frost glistens with a rainbow-hued shine, and so on. Your job as the player is to walk around these beautiful fantasy-themed environments killing critters for the points you need to max out the levels of your weapons and magic.
The way this works is that each of the eight weapons has eight magical orbs, which you earn by defeating bosses, and each orb unlocks an additional level for that weapon. Once a new level is unlocked, you can earn points by defeating enemies in order to achieve the special attack for that weapon, all of which are laughably impractical and none of which you will ever use. There’s no real reason to level up your weapon attacks; but, if you want to, it becomes more difficult with each progressive level. To get to Level 2, each enemy kill nets you 8 points (out of a necessary 100). To get to Level 3, each enemy kills nets you 7 points (out of a necessary 100). And so on. Ditto for each of the eight magic element sets.
Each of your characters has to level up all of the weapons and magic elements separately, so you’re in for some grinding. But only if you want! Again, it’s not necessary, but I find it relaxing.
The PlayStation 4 remake changes almost nothing about the original Super Nintendo game, and the updated graphics and music are wonderful. For a good six months after the release, there was some sort of bug that caused the game to crash if you went for too long without saving, but the developers have patched and fixed whatever was causing the problem.
The PS4 remake of Secret of Mana takes about ten to fifteen hours to finish if you don’t grind and a little less than thirty hours if you do, and either way it’s good wholesome content for when you need to turn off your brain and chill out for a bit.