On the upside: the devs at Squaresoft didn’t foresee the need for quest lists in 1993 precisely because nobody thought of sending the player on tons of short fetch quests back then! iOS gamers who had written off the genre due to that extraordinarily predictable trope might just be lured back. Even as light as Secret of Mana‘s plot is in retrospect, a game structure that focuses nearly entirely on its progression is still a breath of fresh air in this market.
Those who well remember Secret of Mana probably have one burning question on their minds: how are the iOS controls? The user interface here is par for the course — which is to say, the action buttons and hotlink virtual buttons are reliable, but the player will wrestle with Secret of Mana‘s movement controls during the first couple hours. It could certainly benefit from a wider virtual joystick; too much movement range seems packed into too small a radius in the initial release.
I’ve always been of the opinion that the Mana series’ ring menu system proved a bit too willing to embrace clunkiness for the sake of beauty, but the iOS might just be a net benefit here because Square Enix has taken pains to create multiple avenues for accessing menus or selecting targets for items and spells. While not quite intuitive, menu navigation is pretty snappy here once the player gets a feel for it; most functions are just a tap or a drag-and-drop away. No in-game tutorials appear to have been added for the port, so players new and old will definitely want to spend some quality time with the 76-slide(!) virtual instruction booklet Square Enix has plopped into the game’s main menu. This becomes especially important before making that first shopping run: curative item descriptions are cooped up in that manual and don’t rear their much-needed heads in the shop menus themselves, which is a real shame.
Aesthetically speaking, Secret of Mana shows its age. Environments are noticeably tile-based and character animations seem a bit choppy compared to more recent competition, though I found myself surprised at just how well the game’s three heroes hold their own when it comes to attack animations. That the music is a mixed bag should come as no surprise except to diehards who’ve already purchased the soundtrack Square Enix has made available on iTunes to coincide with the iOS port’s release. Some tracks remain just as haunting as they did back in 1993 – a major credit to musicians who had to deal with the limitations of sequenced music – but some are certain to drive the newcomer insane if left to repeat on end. Bring your earplugs for the Dwarf Village and the regular boss jingle, because the game cancels out external music!
iFanzine Verdict:Secret of Mana gives mobile Action RPG veterans a good look at some of the magic the genre has lost since its initial release so, so long ago — if only the iOS port had incorporated a few more of the things the genre has been getting right! Whether you jump at the chance to purchase it at its premium release price or wait for a sale, definitely give it a go if you’re a fan of the genre looking for something refreshingly different from the Appstore’s usual Action RPG offerings.