Monday, April 20, 2015

Secret of Mana- some thoughts.

I recently finished playing Secret of Man from the Virtual Console for the Wii (in fact I finished it last summer, but never got round to posting about it). I really enjoyed the game, it has a whimsical, light-hearted quality that is lacking in modern day rpgs. There isn't much to review about the Catholic dimension of the game but I'm going to try and fill a few pages!

Character and identity

There are 3 main characters in the game, none of which are particularly well developed, so much so, they default names are simply "boy", "girl" (who bears a striking resemblance to CT's Marle) and "Sprite" (some kind of imp, which we are not actually sure as to whether it is if male or female). If you are looking for a gripping, roller coaster of a story, you won't find it in SoM, but there are still a few minor plot-twists and there is enough to keep the player interested. The character of the boy and girl and both driven by noble quests, the boy, with the task of charging the mana-sword so as to defeat a wicked sorcerer, and the girl, with the desire to rescue her boyfriend, Dyluck, who is being used by the evil sorcerer as a host-body. The boy faces being rejected from his own town in pursuit of the good and the girl, even with the companionship of the brave boy, remains entirely committed to being re-united with Dyluck, she says at one point, when someone wonders whether she might be attracted to the boy says- "Knock it of, I'm Dyluck's girl!". The character of Sprite is rather uncertain, he is mischievous and even devious at times its not entirely certain why he joins you on the quest but towards the end of the game he shows himself capable of noble self-sacrifice. 

Reality of Objective Moral laws.

For the most part the game succeeds here. the bad guy is diabolically bad, and all forms of sorcery and witchcraft are displayed as evil. A very large number of enemies are clearly diabolical fiends. The problematic character is the "mana beast" a character that the mana tree summons up to destroy the sorcerer, but lamentably, this mana beast which the speaking tree summons is rather out of control and has to be killed as the final boss- a bit strange really. The mana tree is definitely good, mana seems to keep balance and harmony in the world, and the depletion of its power enables monsters to emerge. Why the threatened mana tree summons an uncontrollable wild beast to destroy everything is rather odd. 

In terms of purity and chastity, there isn't anything objectionable in this game. The violence is fairly sedate.

Interior Struggle to pursue the good.

There is very little introspection of the motivations behind characters' actions and so it is difficult to point this out. There are a few moments in the plot where characters are willing to face the prospect of their own death in order to save the world.

Divine Providence working through free will.

Very little on this point, only the fact that the boy himself is chosen by the mana tree to use the mana sword and save the world. We later discover that the tree is, or is perhaps inhabited by, the soul of his mother. A bit strange, but it isn't meant to be taken too seriously.

Basic Christian Theodicy- Monotheism, Goodness of creation, understanding of eternal reward/punishment based on moral behaviour.

 There are some rather strange ideas about souls in this game. I think this is linked to the Japanese view of Kamis, or spirits, inhabited inanimate objects. As mentioned, the tree is inhabited by a soul, but there are also moving treasure chests. 

Mana is also a non-Christian concept. The idea that there is a force out there holding all things in balance through the medium of mana crystals. The idea is present in some of the early FF games too. But maybe we could imagine Almighty God governing the world through these crystals and leaving humans the task of guarding them. The game doesn't oppose monotheism and I suppose that there is a sense in which creation is good insofar as its goodness is ensured by the well being of the crystals, monsters emerge where this balance is broken.

When characters die in battle they "see the reaper", but then can be resurrected, that is a pity, it is more Christian to have characters knocked out and then revived, as in most ff games.

The boy's father speaks to him as a ghost, so there is some continuance of souls after death although it is not clear that anyone goes to heaven or hell based on their lives.

In spite of all these theological flaws, I would still recommend the game to Catholics, why so? I think the essential reason is SoM is an RPG which is driven much more by gameplay than story or character development. The essential script within the game is very small (around 4000 words compared to Chrono Trigger's 20000) and whilst it sounds as if there is a lot of objectionable content, in fact, there is very little, because most of the game is dungeon crawling followed by curing and upgrading in the next town. The amazing musical score for the game is also one of the best of the 16bit era, in my opinion, second only to Chrono Trigger and highly enjoyable with a wide variety of moods and themes expressed. SoM doesn't aim to be the big block buster epic action RPG, I think it is satisfied with being a decent, enjoyable amusement between playing the FFVIIs and the Suikoden IIs. The game also seems to capture something of child-hood, at least it did for me, perhaps it was the soundtrack and the bight colours that evoked this. Overall the whole game carried an air of simplicity and whilst it isn't one of the greatest games of all time, it is a lot of fun and not too much hard work. 


Miles Mariae said...

I got it for the Wii off the virtual console. It's also now available on Ios for phones and probably android I guess.

Malik Aru said...

I had this game for NES as a kid. Being a highly creative child who enjoyed filling in the gaps in the story with my own interpretations, this was one of my favorite games for years. Still is, come to think of it.