Showing posts with label Secret of Mana for SNES print ad (1993). Show all posts
Showing posts with label Secret of Mana for SNES print ad (1993). Show all posts

Monday, February 2, 2015

Secret of Mana for SNES (1993)

Secret of Mana advertisement

Original ad published in EGM's 1994 Video Game Buyer's Guide (late 1993).
Press to view or download image in higher resolution. 

Historical Background and Graphical Analysis

Secret of Mana, the incomparable Action-RPG released for the Super Nintendo in 1993, remains one of the most beautiful video games ever made. Square Soft had gained some notoriety in North America since 1991 with Final Fantasy II (in the reality, the fourth releases of the franchise in Japan). But Secret of Mana was a much different game, both in concept and aesthetics. 

Many compare SOM with The Legend of Zelda. A Link to the Past (1991), Nintendo’s mega-hit for their 16-bit powerhouse. The reality is that Mana surpassed even Nintendo in both technical quality and gameplay. 

For starters, you could play Mana with  three people. Each character—the hero warrior, the female healer and the sprite magician—had a wealth of usable weapons and magic options that could be easily selected with Square’s innovative “ring-menu” system. Press “select”, spin the ring and that’s it. This integration would be all but forgotten in later Square Soft releases. For Mana, it was perfect. It made three-player cooperative gameplay a breeze. 

Perfect also Mana's music. Back in the day I would hook up my SNES to my stereo and enjoy most games with two big, fat, Pioneer speakers my dad used to own since the 70’s. Mana was easily the clearest, sharpest, most melodious video game I had ever heard on any console. (Maybe too sharp, since my channels clipped during certain parts of songs that featured many layers of string arrangements). 

Up to 1993, Mana could claim that achievement. In musical terms, it was better than the above mentioned Final Fantasy II, Act Raiser (1990) and Streets of Rage (1991)—and this is saying quite a lot. Sound was very good, with an added “bass” to every hit you connected with different weapons.

As for the graphics, take a look at the random screen I selected below. Magical. Dreamy. Colours are contrasty, balanced and character sprites animate in a very pleasing manner. The generic boy-saves- the-world storyline served, in reality, as a vehicle for a fantasticly entertaining experience. 

Secret of Mana gameplay screenshot

It was a just a joy to advance through the magical worlds presented to you. Who cared if the characters fitted tired stereotypes? You came to Mana for the action and the high-sky production values.  EGM declared it 1993’s RPG of the year.

As for the print advertisement, it still remains a sight to behold. Thankfully, Square Soft decided to keep the Japanese box-art of Mana for their American campaign. As many gamers know, the American box-art is just a cropped version of the Japanese art, but since Japanese is read vertically in most instances and Occidental languages in a horizontal manner, Square just cropped part of the Oriental artwork and pasted it on the SNES release. 

The ad you see here features the box-art Japanese gamers would purchase. In a smart move, Square included a cool 8 x 12 poster of the vertical artwork in the American release of the game.

The artwork recreates the general mood of the game and delivers a truly aesthetic experience. As with most Japanese RPG’s, the tree of life is a very important component  of the overall plot of the game. The tree represents the cosmic bond between life and death and it must remain balanced for the world to function properly. 

Off the top of my head, I remember The Legend of Zelda. Ocarina of Time (1998) and Final Fantasy VII (1997) having this same tree of life plot as a very important part of their overall story. You’ll find that most enemies or antagonists want to break the world balance that the tree maintains. The tree is both a symbol of this life and death balance and the divine connection that society keeps with mother nature.

Most high civilisations, as Joseph Campbell stated in his well-known analysis of mythologies, share the tree symbol: 

All the high civilisations of the world are to be thought of as the limbs of one great tree, whose root is heaven….This celestial order then became the model for mankind in the building of an earthly order of coordinated wills—a model for both kings and philosophers, inasmuch as it seemed to show for the supporting law not only of the universe but of every particle within it (Campbell, Primitive Mythology, 1991, p. 149). 

If there is no tree, Occidental civilisations use some other manifestation of nature to keep earthy structures in check (stars, seasons, etc).

American gamers have been nourished by this Oriental philosophy through video games, in most cases, without even knowing it. This has been going on for decades. It’s hard to find a better example of this Buddhist/Shintoist way of thinking in another Japanese video game. 

Like movies, video games are vehicles that transmit modern myths in a popular manner. In this case, what’s interesting is that they are Oriental motifs, religious symbols and mythologies. Their field of study remains largely untouched. 

As a side note, Secret of Mana 2 was never released in North America for reasons no one understands, even today. Every indication points to another classic game by Square Soft. You can search the web for fan translations and ROM to play on emulators, but I fear that pales in comparison to the actual physical experience of playing it on a Super Famicom. I'll leave you to a very good YouTube review of the game:

Secret of Mana for SNES print ad copy:

Uncover the Secret of Mana

  • 16 megs of action and adventure
  • More bosses and enemies to wage battle against 
  • Sophisticated Mode 7 effects
  • Seamless flight animation 
  • Long game play
  • Simultaneous 3-player capability.

“Get ready for the ride of your life.”
Nintendo Power, May 1993

“A visual and audio tour de force.”
EGM, April 1993

“A spectacular 16-bit blend of action and role-playing all in one.” 
Super NES Buyers Guide, May 1993

Brought to you from the makers of the first Final Fantasy series.