In 1993, 10 year old me purchased Secret of Mana on SNES for, I want to say for $79.99, scrounging up all the Christmas, birthday, and chore money I could find. Although it broke the bank, I consider it to be one of the best purchases I made in my lifetime. Everything about this game captivated me and provided an experience that I can only describe as being “magical.” The whimsical story and landscape. The hauntingly good soundtrack that still sends tingles up my spine. The real time combat. And the three-man multiplayer – I was lucky enough to get a copy of Bomberman with multi-tap for my birthday that one year. Secret of Mana is one of my favorite games of all time in which I have screaming nostalgia. So when I heard the Collection Of Mana was coming stateside, I would be lying if I didn’t tear up a bit. Finally, finally this game I only heard about over 20 years ago would finally be mine.
Seiken Densetsu 3, or now called Trials of Mana, is that one long lost hidden gem from the 16-bit era, the golden time of Square when they could do no wrong. Although a fan translation has been available for years and I tried to play it, it never felt right. After desperately waiting for this sequel for over 20 years, my expectations are so high they could never be satisfied. However, I am super excited that this game is now available to North American players.
Unfortunately, the Collection of Mana is sort of like running a marathon but then stopping cold at mile 21 – you are so close and just need to muster that last bit of strength to reach the finish line. Meaning, Final Fantasy Adventure, Secret of Mana, and now Trials of Mana are here on one cartridge (also available digitally on the eShop) and most importantly in official English. But other than a lamely presented music player and lacking overall interface, there is nothing more added to this collection. There are no displays of box art, no instruction or ad scans, no interviews with developers, no behind the scenes tidbits, no added content. There aren’t even screen boarder options. While the games themselves are quality, entertaining titles that are still great even today, there is zero fanfare. After 20+ years, Square finally goes through the trouble to translate these three games in a total of four different languages, but they decided to stop short of the finish line by not including any extras or enhanced presentation elements whatsoever. Talk about a huge missed opportunity. It’s as if they casted Shade on the whole experience, pun intended.
Although save states have been added, there are literally no other options available other than clicking the shoulder button to zoom the screen slightly (which makes the visuals a little blurry). Even if there was an option to play with black boarders, that would have been nice but even a basic feature like this is missing.
The highlight of this collection is Trial of Mana and feels so awesome to finally have access to this neglected Super Famicom game. However, it is a surprising complex game and players are left to figure things out as they go. This is where a scan of the instruction manual, or better yet, a redesigned “how-to” page would have been beneficial. For example, I didn’t realize each character can perform a super attack with the non-attack button once a meter fills during combat until about halfway through the game. Even equipping weapons and armor is tricky and unintuitive as the player has to access the menu, scroll right and then up to the equipment screen, then cycle through the characters by pressing the “-“ button (the game never indicates this) even when the game mentions that “L” and “R” are used to rotate through the characters. Also, as a Super Famicon cart, there is a lot happening so there is a delay when activing menus, especially the start “+” button item management screen – that’s right, there is loading that causes the game to awkwardly freeze for several seconds making the player think they soft locked the game. Then, to change the characters final class, the game hints that a “certain item” is needed to complete this change. Other than this one vague message, the player is left in the dark about changing class, something that would have been highlighted in the instruction manual. Luckily, the internet is your best friend in 2019’s gaming landscape. Without an online guide, I probably would not have been able to finish Trials of Mana in my 25 hour play time. The opening scene is also daunting as the player has to select three characters with no background or mention of abilities but yet it drastically affects the entire game.
The good news is, all the best versions of these Mana games are here in this collection. Also, it is worth noting that these three Mana titles are also the best Mana games in the series. Final Fantasy Adventure, which originally appeared on Nintendo’s original Gameboy, was eventually remade on Gameboy Advance as Sword of Mana and then completely overhauled again on mobile devices and Playstation Vita as Adventure of Mana. Both these remakes were lacking in comparison to the original but sort of a shame they were not included for completion-sake. Then, Secret of Mana was remade in 2018 on PS4 and Vita but that was a pretty terrible remake as the original is so much better in every way. Still, even though the best versions of these games are in this compilation, not even mentioning these other remakes and ports makes it seem like Square doesn’t full care about one of its most beloved properties. It is however, a little strange to play Secret of Mana with an analog stick though. Longtime fans might want to invest in a Pro Controller and use the d-pad as the analog stick could be a little sensitive at times.
Even without my rose tinted nostalgic glasses, the three games in the Collection of Mana are great and definitely playable today. It is just a shame that the bow that ties it all together is desperately bare bones and a mega disappointment. Honestly, unless you are playing three player, playing Secret of Mana on the SNES Classic is a better way to experience this fan favorite game thanks to multiple save states, rewind, and with screen and boarder options. Either way, it is just a shame that Square passed out and died during the last leg of the marathon – you came this far. Why don’t you just finish it?
Not As Complete As: the Disney Afternoon Collection
Also Try: SNK 40th Anniversary Collection
Wait For It: the complete reimagining of Trials of Mana in 2020