Secret of Mana still feels fresh and fun 17 years later

The iPhone has been a boon for the modern generation of RPG fans. Aside from providing gamers with a slew of rather impressive titles that can be taken anywhere, it’s also provided folks with the opportunity to play some of the best RPG’s from previous console generations. Square-Enix has released Secret of Mana for the iPhone, and the port shows that classic games can still be just as great as they were when they first came out.

The story goes a little something like this: Randi, the local village outcast, invites himself along on some friends’ adventures and winds up getting a bit lost. He realizes that he needs something to help clear a path back home and pulls a conveniently-located sword from a stone in order to do so. This, in turn, marks the beginning of a prophecy that requires Randi (and some friends who join him on his journey) to prevent an evil empire from coming into being.

This top-down action RPG is a lot of fun to play. The usual virtual joystick is used for movement, and action/attack buttons are used to interact with the Randi’s surroundings. There’s a strategy to effective attacks: whenever an attack is made, it depletes an action gauge that quickly refills. In order for an attack to be powerful, the gauge needs to be completely filled. If attacks can be repeatedly timed to take advantage of the full gauge, some truly massive damage can be unleashed on one’s opponents.

Secret of Mana

For a 17-year-old game, Secret of Mana has aged nicely. That makes sense, since the game was one of the best-looking games on the Super Nintendo, though the graphics look a little fuzzy at times on the iPhone 4’s retina display. That said, the overall look is great, the designs are still imaginative, and the colors are pretty vibrant.

The audio is great too. While there are the usual sound effects for combat and the like, the soundtrack here really stands out. The music is just as lovely as it was when the game was first released. There’s no voice-acting (not surprising, since it’s a port of an SNES game), and the deep story is told out via a lot of text on the screen. I don’t remember how good the translation was when the game first came out, but it’s great now.

There are a couple of shortcomings here, though. When the game was first released, it featured a multiplayer mode that has been removed from this port (which, honestly, makes no sense given the online nature of the iPhone). Also, inventory management is a bit of a chore thanks to “ring command” system that Square Enix uses in the game. This is a holdover from the original incarnation; it was kind of clunky and confusing back then, and it hasn’t gotten any better over time.

Unlike so many classic games that have been ported to the iPhone, Secret of Mana doesn’t feel like it’s only going to be enjoyed by gamers who grew up playing it. It’s fun, it’s deep, and it looks great even after all this time. In spite of the (minor) problems, there’s a lot here to like, and anyone who’s an RPG fan should add this game to their iPhone’s App library immediately.