Released in 1993 for the SNES/Super Famicom, Secret of Mana is arguably one of the greatest games of all time. It follows a sprawling and charming story, features addictive three player multiplayer gameplay, and has one of the greatest soundtracks to ever grace a video game. Simply put, I think Secret of Mana is fantastic and has aged particularly well. Sure, it’s a fairly buggy game with a very simple story and gameplay loop, but it’s extremely fun to hop into and play through nonetheless.
However, I recently came to a conclusion about this classic JRPG that I feel needs to be explored. And, don’t get me wrong, I say this with the utmost respect and love for the game and feel like I’m about to commit a warcrime with this simple suggestion, but hear me out:
Secret of Mana (also known as Seiken Densetsu 2 in Japan) might be too damn long.
I picked up Secret of Mana last spring and begun to play through it on my Nintendo Switch via the wonderful Chronicles of Mana collection. And, after booting it up for the first time, I immediately fell in love with the game. Everything about it jumped out at me as being extremely playful and whimsical, and it quickly earned a spot amongst my favorite SNES games.
But something happened to me along the way. The further I got into the game, the more I begun to feel fatigued by my adventure. Now I’m no stranger to RPG burnout; I am very familiar with getting worn down by how long games in this genre usually are. It’s why I haven’t beaten games like Fallout: New Vegas or Persona 4 yet. Hell, it’s why it took me close to 6 months to beat Final Fantasy IX for the first time last year, despite it being my favorite game of all time. These adventures tend to take place within drawn out and meticulously detailed narratives. While I’m usually somewhat deterred from the genre due to how long these games are, I’m often happy with the games I do end up playing because of how their extended playtimes encourage deep theming and a comprehensive lore.
Which brings me back to Secret of Mana. As a real-time action RPG, it has a lot more flair to it than it’s contemporary turn-based adventures. This results in the game feeling a lot more action packed and, generally faster paced than those adventures too. However, Secret of Mana also has the same length issue that I have with other roleplaying games despite this, having an adventure that is approximately 30 hours long for most players. Sure, it’s shorter than something like Final Fantasy IV or the SNES’s Dragon Quest installments, but I can’t help but feel like it somehow feels longer. This may be due to Secret of Mana being a decidedly simpler and easier to pick up experience that, especially when compared to the aforementioned RPGs, doesn’t really concern itself with its storytelling or trying to give its characters all that much depth.
While I don’t have anything against the game choosing to keep things accessible in that regard, quite the contrary honestly as I picked SoM up expecting this/initially picked it up as an in-between game for after I had completed Final Fantasy IX last year, I do think that the adventure being as long as it is doesn’t do the plot any favors (and vice versa).
Once games start to pass the 15 hour mark, I usually begin to need a reason to want to stick around for the rest of the adventure. Whether it be due to enjoying the plot itself and wanting to see how it unfolds, being attached to the characters, or being offered any other sort of compelling reason to keep playing, there needs to be something that justifies that length.
And, unfortunately, I simply don’t think Secret of Mana has that. At about 15 hours into the adventure, the game goes from being a linear experience to being more open world after you get the ability to call Flammie; while this is a huge sign of progression in the game and does technically shake things up. Only, the game opening itself up and becoming more exploratory doesn’t really do it any favors for me; I was perfectly content being told where to go and following a linear path to that location. Being told to now fly and navigate an open world (without an in-game map) just doesn’t click for me, because so much of the adventure up to this point revolved around combat and following the story. And while the game has really fun combat, I just didn’t see myself wanting to troubleshoot my way to the next dungeon/story beat in order to fight new enemies to face up against.
At the end of the day, I love Secret of Mana. I can’t say that enough. But I also need to be honest with myself when I say that it lost my attention due to how long it is. And unfortunately, this also extends to it’s sequel, Trials of Mana, which runs into nearly the same exact problem halfway through that adventure. Both Secret and Trials of Mana (specifically the remake for the latter of the two) were two of my favorite games that I played in 2020. In the time of a worldwide pandemic and suffering through chronic illness, I found refuge from the stresses of the world in both of these titles. And while I have nothing but love and affection for them/look back at my time playing both of these games rather fondly, I just don’t see myself coming back to them to finish those adventures.
At least not for a while…
Thinking of buying this game and want to help support TallyhoGaming in the process? Feel free to use these Amazon affiliate links to pick up Secret of Mana for the Nintendo Switch! I’d also highly recommend the remake of it’s sequel, Trials of Mana!