Oh, say ken den setsu (by the john’s eerie light)

I remember playing the Secret of Mana about as well as the first time I gazed upon a boob in a Playboy magazine, the memory is that precious. Twas the summer of ’94 (for Mana – not the Playboy), and I had my first Ween CD on repeat for days as I leveled in the lower lands. I wasn’t really that good at it, so level grinding was just as much a necessity as actually restoring the sword, and thus Mana to the world. I must have listened to “Push th’ Little Daisies” 700 times that summer. I had the game on loan from a friend, and he had already beaten it, which took a lot of pressure off finishing it quickly. So I took my time and enjoyed one of Squaresoft’s finest offerings ever. An RPG with “Zelda-style” combat, and a fucking dream come true. 17 years later, I now own it for Virtual Console as well as the iPhone, and it’s this latter that’s really brought it back for me. I can now play Secret of Mana AND look at boobs just about anywhere I go.

The fact that I have it on me at all times now has boosted its chances of getting played by about 67 million percent. I couldn’t resist downloading it from the Wii store, but I didn’t get far before some other game that could only be played at home took its place. But now, even Mother 3 which sits anxiously in my GB Micro is getting snubbed for Secret of Mana because I just can’t fucking stop playing it. Don’t tell my bosses or the teachers I work with, but I’m taking about eight or nine “shits” a day, and I’m about halfway through the game after just a week and a half. And that may not sound like much of a feat, but this game is long, and on the iPhone, it’s kind of fucking hard due to the controls.

I don’t know what you know about iPhone controls, but it’s all one big touch screen and the D-Pad is just an icon that sits in the lower left of the screen with attack and run “buttons” on the right. Since there is no “bump” to them, the way an actual button protrudes out of the face of a controller, the controls are not very precise. It sucks when you just want your dude to face another direction, and swiping the D-Pad that way ‘just a tad’ moves him several feet away and into a shittier position where he gets buttslammed by monsters again and again until he sees the reaper. So that’s one thing – and I can deal with that. I kind of knew that was coming after playing other console and arcade ports like Golden Axe and Street Fighter IV for iPhone: the controls suck on a turd until it has no shape.

And I might not have even noticed, but after about 15 hours of Mana on the iPhone, I wanted to see what playing the SNES one felt like again. And I can tell you exactly what it felt like – it’s like playing an electric bass guitar for five hours and then picking up an acoustic. You feel so nimble on the acoustic’s strings because you’ve been pressing down big phat heavy bass strings for so long that these thin little shits feel like unwound yarn under your Herculean fingers. I had to stop playing the SNES version because I knew if I continued that I would end up despising the whole iPhone app in spite of the sheer joy it’s bringing me in the toilet every day.

Other differences between the two versions are not so pronounced. The music is spot on, except it’s not expertly looped, and so you’ll hear it fade out before it repeats, which is kind of fucking annoying, considering that it’s just about the most incredible video game soundtrack for any Super Nintendo game. But all right – at least they didn’t rearrange or remix the score. Of course the animation is smoother in the original, too, but once you’re lost in Mana, miles away from your home it’s like saying “Yesterday’s hooker’s blowjob was better than the one I’m getting now,” and what are you going to do, stop? Stop and go find the hooker with a completely different save file? This analogy is not working so well anymore, but the point is hookers should definitely have save files.

The last two points I want to make are about the battle controls, and may not make a lot of sense unless you played this game a lot for the SNES, but stick it out because this is actually practical game playing informations.

The first point is that it is harder to cycle through your three party members in order to deliver consecutive attacks. See, in Mana, when you swing your sword or chuck your javelin or whatever, there’s a little meter that has to recharge before you can deal full damage with it again. It takes a couple seconds. On the SNES, you can change the character you control just by hitting the select button, so you can have your dude attack, switch to the girl and attack, switch to the sprite and attack, and by the time you’re back to the dude, the dude’s attack meter is full again, so you attack and repeat until the deed is done. It couldn’t be any smoother than with a standard issue SNES controller. For the iPhone, however, there is no select button, and you have to tap the character’s icon at the bottom of the screen to change to them. It can be done, all right, but it sure isn’t smooth. Plus with all the controls based on sliding your finger across the screen, you’re sure to fuck it up in no time.

Finally, there is a technique whose proper nomenclature I don’t know – it could be “spell stacking” or “magical gangbanging,” but the idea is that with the right timing, you can cast a spell many times in a row, and the enemy won’t take the damage until you’re good and done with the casting. It’s useful for when you’re leveling up magic because at some point the enemy will die and you won’t have a target to practice on, plus it can just about paralyze an asshole boss and they’ll continue to stagger under your spells until their unfair, albeit hilarious death. In the SNES version, it really takes timing – you have to open up the spell menu just as the summoned spirit dissipates. If you’re too late, the enemy takes damage and the spells don’t stack. Too soon, and you open up the menu but can’t select anything because the character is too engaged. This wastes time and throws you off your rhythm. For the iPhone, you can’t open up the spell menu again until the spirit dissipates, which means you can tap on a shortcut to the spell menu like a crazy fuck and the very moment it becomes available, there it is. No time wasted in impotent menus, and if it’s a spell that can stack, it almost certainly will.

So for 800 yen, I’ll go on record and say that it’s the best paid app out there. Get it, love it, whatever. I think I gotta go and take another shit.

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