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.

There’s that bastard right there.

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.

I don’t know what the boy’s name actually is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not Joe.

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’ve been waiting for this for a long time, my purple friend.

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?

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