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Beating Your Demons
I take pride in my ability as a gamer. I enjoy the thrill of dominating a difficult game, and I try my best to finish every game I start. Some of my favorites, like Final Fantasy VII, BioShock and Mass Effect 2, I’ve beat multiple times. I’m not perfect, and I have my fair share of failures. Some of them were due to lack of interest (Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Call of Duty: Black Ops) and some were due to the fact that I just couldn’t do it (Fez, Super Meat Boy). However, no ending has haunted me more than Secret of Mana.
Secret of Mana was a fairly popular action-RPG for the SNES created by Square. It has appeared on countless “Best Game Ever” lists, and no doubt many gamers share my love for the title. I must have put 1000s of hours into that game as a kid over dozens of playthroughs, but, try as I might; I could never beat the thing. It was always something: Lose a save here, leave off too long and forget where I was. That last one was a particular problem, as things can get pretty obscure near the end of that game. More than once I remember getting stuck searching for the elusive Sage Joch.
Of course for the longest time, I had no idea if I ever even came close to beating it. The furthest I ever got, and I remember this clearly, was the Dark Lich. He is (as I learned later) the second-to-last boss in the game, and he is a bastard. I fought him twice, lost both times, and for reasons I can’t remember, never attempted him again, losing my copy of Secret of Mana to that great bargain bin in the sky. I never beat it.
Over the years I tried to play through it again a few times. I had an emulator on my college roommate’s desktop, and Secret of Mana was one of the first ROMs I had to get (along with the obligatory Final Fantasy VI, Harvest Moon and Link to the Past). I found that the game had aged incredibly well (especially the stellar music), but I could never gather enough willpower to slog through it, always losing track somewhere around the Upper Land. I still loved the game, but the end credits remain unwatched.
I’ve thought a lot about that game since my childhood, and I started thinking that I couldn’t face myself in the mirror unless I finally beat it. I mean, how could I call it one of my favorite games ever if I’ve never even experienced the whole thing? Forget that, I had to take it out.
As luck would have it, a friend of mine put up his SNES for sale, and I snatched it up. I’ve been trying to pad out my console collection anyway, and it had a ton of great games and was reasonably priced. One game he didn’t have, though, was Secret of Mana. I trudged my way through Super Mario All-Stars and Super Metroid for awhile, then hopped onto eBay and picked up Secret of Mana for a very smooth eighteen bucks (plus shipping and handling!). I literally couldn’t think of anything else while I was waiting, and after a couple days of video game limbo, the day arrived. I was reunited with Secret of Mana.
It’s still great. It had been about six years or so since I had played it at all, and my memory was a little fuzzy on it. Flying around with Flammie in gorgeous Mode-7 is still exhilarating, and the combat, leveling system and unique spell mechanics haven’t lost a step. More importantly, I was on my way to finally beating it. I blew through the opening sequence, and marveled at what game designers could get away with back in the day. If I had to travel from Gaia’s Navel to the Water Palace and back again one more time, I was going to give up on it for good. Thankfully I persevered, but the late game brought a whole new set of challenges.
I seriously don’t know how I got as far as I did when I was a kid. Not because it was hard (I actually felt overpowered the whole time, but because I could not figure out where to go next sometimes. I only had to break down once and check a guide (finding the key to the Gold Tower), but I had to do some heavy scouring a couple times. Believe me, I’ll never again forget how to find the Moon Palace. Eventually, I was back to the dreaded Dark Lich.
I owned him in under a minute.
With that incredibly anti-climactic encounter over with, I breezed through the rest of the game. I finally found out who the kid’s mom is, I powered the Mana Sword up, and I conquered my past. I beat Secret of Mana. While it wasn’t the life changing experience it had become in my head, I felt pretty good about it. I set a gaming goal, and I accomplished it. I didn’t get a single achievement for it, and I didn’t unlock any avatar awards, but it felt great.
Isn’t that why we play games in the first place?