Friday, May 26, 2017

Odds & Ends Part III

When I first started this blog, I didn't think it'd receive much traffic, but here we are one year later with almost 10000 pageviews.  Unfortunately, these Odds & Ends articles are the least read so maybe I need to think of a better title for them.  This is the third article on things that don't warrant an entire post.  You can see the first two here, and here.

The "Veedios"

In the Lofty Mountains, there is Mandela, home of Sage Joch.  Joch is one of the few guides the player has in the second half of the game, if they even know to look there.  The player
is directed to seek out Joch, and when they arrive, they receive a different clue depending on where they are in the game.

But in the town of Mandela proper, there is a shrine that gives rare insight into the background of Secret of Mana.  This temple dates from the Mana Fortress war:

The orbs inside store data from that period.  The ancients called them, um, "Veedios," I think.

This temple is from ancient times, when the Mana Beast battled the Mana Fortress.  These are orbs that are also a sort of machinery.  They are a record of things from the time.  In ancient times, I believe they were called, "Veedios."

"Machinery" makes more sense than "data" since the point is that the world doesn't have this technology anymore... how would they know what data is?  These were already retranslated by swedishchefbork in 2010 and I'll be using that as my source.  Ted Woolsey worked some serious gymnastics to make things fit into a small space:

...Gzzz...Oh, my heart brea-ks when she's not a-round,  And I mi-ss her......Gzzz...

My darling~ so lovey-lovey!  [my peach-!] Catch my burning heart~! [my peach-!]

A song?  Or someone's personal video diary?

Gzz...zegazega...This one's broken!

twang... spark-spark...This one's broken!

Whoa! Exploded!

Uwa-!! It blew up!

Okay...

...Gzzz......Who was Abe Lincoln?  Correct! That makes you our new champion..!

... Question 7! Q~~! Ding-ding, co-rrect answer!
Ma'am, you're really good at this...

In the midst of harvesting Mana for their evil purposes, the Ancients watched American television quiz shows.

[Person 1]: We must restrict the use of Mana energy!
[Person 2]: What utter nonsense!
[Person 1]: We're using it up!
[Person 2]: Ha! You can't USE up Mana!
[Person 1]: Argh! You don't understand!

[Person 1]: And -now-, the discussions surrounding the management of the precious little Mana Energy remaining between the countries just aren't gonna end.
[Person 2]: It never -actually- decreases. Nonsense!
[Person 1]: W-Wait a sec, just what never decreases? --You! You cheeky little...!
[Person 2]: This is the last straw between you and me!
[Person 1]: What are you doing? Ah - hey - stop it

...

...evening news. At dawn Lorima launched missiles at the Empire......which had threatened to take Lorima's capital by nightfall.

Time for the news. Before dawn this morning, the Country of Lorimar began missile strikes against the Empire Army pressing northward. The Empire, in retaliation, announced that it will attack the entirety of Lorimar's capital Wendel within 24 hours...

This is interesting since the videos are supposed to be from Ancient times, but it says that the Empire attacked Wendel here.  So was there an Empire in Ancient times?  I thought the trouble began 15 years ago...or was this some other trouble?  Lorimar and Wendel make many appearances during the Mana series, but it is unknown where they were intended to be in SoM.

Gzzz...zzz  THERE! You can see the Mana Beast! Just moments ago it hit the Fortress...Oh! It's coming this way!  We're going off the...Zazaza...Gzzz......Gzzzaza...zzzz...Beeeep!

... Television viewers! Look at that! That's the Holy Beast of Mana!  Ah! The Mana Fortress has been ripped apart by the Beast! It's falling into the sea!  Ahh-- The Beast is heading this way... We cannot continue broadcasting, goodbye world, goodb..."

I saved this for last, because it's the most telling.  Here we have Randi and friends going up to an old recording device and finding out things about an apocalyptic past caused by an insanely powerful being.  Hmm...where have I seen this before?


Cannon Travel Locations

The ROM has far more Cannon Travel locations in its memory then what is used in the game.  Most of them go nowhere.  Here is a screenshot from a program that my fearless colleague, zhaDe, put together:


Neat, huh?  The memory locations on the right are all of the programmed Cannon Travel routes.  Each one has a starting point and an ending point.  Anything with an, "x" next to it was not used in the game, although the last two were not used either.

The strange thing is that almost every route starts or ends near the Pure Land.  The distance between all of these locations seems to be constant, so I imagine this was used for testing.

There are actually only a few unused routes which may be of interest:

78AB 78AB --- As the designation implies, this route starts and ends at the same spot: the cannon travel in the Upper Land.  This is the only one deactivated in a long block that are used in the game (see picture).  Other than a lost quest where there wasn't enough gunpowder to get you somewhere, I have no idea.

B163 4070 --- This one launches you near Kakkara, and lands you on the edge of the Empire's continent.

3BF6 BA77 --- You're launched from the waterfall near Southtown to the ocean south of Mandela.  This is also near the Pure Land, but it's a very different combination than the other routes in that it lands you north of there on the other side of the map.

70F0 94AF --- This launches near the Upper Land cannon travel and ends at the coast south of Kippo.


Another Early World Map




This has been making the rounds.  It was posted on a forum not too long ago.  I already mentioned the earlier version of Tasnica, but also notice how Kakkara had more land.  And this is yet another early map which obscures the bottom right corner.  Maybe they just couldn't figure out what was supposed to happen here?

Sudden Armor

One of the many peculiar things about Secret of Mana is the stats distortion in the final act.  Suddenly, the enemies get much harder, and the available armor takes a giant leap in power to catch up.  If we rank the armor in the game from lowest defense to highest defense, it looks like this:



Gold City

Gold City is a peculiar place.  It's part of the Empire, and its King (Manmon) recalls Queen Zeal and
the Mammon Machine from Chrono Trigger.  However, it appears that there was a lot more intended for this place.  For one, certain dialogue foreshadows something bad happening to the island:

This island's sinking under the weight of the gold!  Many have left here, and gone north to the Ice Country.

Although it's not happening fast, the island is sinking more and more due to the weight of the gold.  Eventually, it will fall into the sea.  Some of our people knew this, and secretly went north to the Ice Country.

This never happens of course, but if we're using Zeal as a parallel, that kingdom was destroyed as a result of its greed.  We spoke of the oasis these folks headed to in the last article.  It's interesting that this resort is still mentioned even after it reverts to being uninhabitable.

The main attraction in Gold City is the light elemental, Lumina.  She was imprisoned by the king to turn things into gold, but after you rescue her, his dialogue does not change.  In fact, you would expect that the town would notice after it no longer has its primary source of gold, but no one seems to care about that either.

However, according to regrs of GameFAQs:
Of note is that flag 37 can be used to despawn every NPC in Gold Isle, even though it's never used for that purpose. Wonder if it was supposed to be abandoned after you freed Lumina.
And a bit more information about Gold City can be found here.

Credits:  I borrowed a screen shot from the LP Archive.

Next:  Odds & Ends Part IV

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Scorpion Army


Well, here we are, once again.  The semester is over, both at the school I learn at and the school I teach at, so there is some time for updates.  I need to get out of the habit of letting this blog go for awhile, because it is a very difficult thing to get back into.  I have to go back and study all of the things I did before, and then try to remember what I was coming up with.  Further complicating matters is a new computer I got.  I kept everything on my last one, and had to transfer the important files over.  One of these days, I'll get into 2017 2010 and embrace cloud storage.

This article is on the Scorpion Army.  At first glance, they don't seem like they deserve an entire article.  The thing that makes this group stand out is not so much what they do, but where they're found.  Besides the heroes and the Empire, they are the only ones that find their way to some unusual places like the Lost Continent and the underground.  While characters like Watts and Neko do turn up in similar places, it is more as a gameplay element than a plot element.

Oh, and they have their own theme song.

We encounter the Scorpion Army three times.  The first is in the Underground Palace.  On the way from the Ruins, we must stop in the Underground Palace and recover the Water Seed that they stole.  They seem to be aware of the Seed's power as well, at least as a means of powering their ridiculous creations.  Not only do they have the technology to travel underground, but they also build robots:

Aha! The Water seed!  How'd you get in here?  You realize we can't let you leave...

BOSS:Welcome! We, the Scorpion army, will rule the world!

BOYS:Check it out!

BOSS:Shuddap!  WE took the Water seed......to complete our Super Deluxe Robot!  We call it "Kilroy..."

BOYS:Hubba, hubba!

BOSS:Do it!!

BOYS:Aye aye, Sir.

Ah ha!  The Water Seed!  Well…this is different.  How the hell did you get in?  How dare you discover our underground fortress!  What comes here doesn't return!

Boss:  Welcome, little urchins.  We are the Scorpion Army, who will soon rule the world!

Boys:  Cool!  Check this out!

Boss:  Save it!  It was indeed us who took the Water Seed...to transfer the energy to our Super Deluxe Robot!  The name of this invincible guardian is…"Kilroy!"

Boys:  Hehe…it's so cool!

Boss:  Now, let's get this robot going!  You need to get on it!

Boys:  Aye aye, sir!

Non-Japanese players like myself probably did not realize that the Scorpion Army was based on the Doronbo Gang, led by the villain, Doronjo, from the Time Bokan anime:

According to the primary Wikia:
[Doronjo] is an attractive blond known for her vanity, intelligence, and leadership...she along with her fellow Doronbo members...are sent on various missions...but end up getting in various battles...and losing each time and being punished for failures.
Sound familiar?

BOSS:Aiee! What's wrong?

BOYS: Too much energy...it's out of control!

BOSS:Nooo! Remove the seed!  Use the auxillary power!

Boss:  Wow!  What happened to it?

Boys:  Oh, no!  The energy is too powerful…it's no longer operational!  

Boss:  Aieee!  What!?  Remove the seed and go to auxillary power!

After the battle with Kilroy, the Scorpion Army is not even mentioned again until their next scheme.  They seem to have no connection with the Empire...so are just they a sidequest, or were intended to have further significance?  When we meet them the second time, they've imprisoned the fire spirit, Salamando, in a stove to thaw out a town in the Ice Country, making a tropical oasis in the midst of a wintry climate.  This town has a connection to Gold City, which I'll cover in the next
article, but let's take a look at the Scorpion Army here:

BOSS:YOU again!? Didn't you recognize them?

BOYS:Uh, sorry...

BOSS:Everyone's gone!  I was about to become rich!  Huh?  Fire Palace seed?  I haven't a clue.

BOYS:I saw an odd old guy when we nabbed Salamando!

BOSS:Don't HELP them!  See ya, bye!

Boss:  Oh my god…it's you again!  Didn't you slime notice them here?

Boys:  Sorry…

Boss:  Ahh!  It's over already!  After I went through all of this trouble to make money…everyone ran away!  Huh?  The Fire Palace Seed?  I don't know anything about it, and I'm already fed up with these Seeds…

Boys:  Hmm…when we caught Salamando, there was a weird old man...

Boss:  Eh, what?  What are you telling them?  Enough!  We will remember this…

The, "old man" they're referring to should be Santa Claus, but he's found in the Ice Palace coming up.  Unless they're referring to the Gigas in the Fire Palace, I don't know who this is.

Finally, in the Grand Palace, they show up out of nowhere to retrieve Randi's Mana Sword, which they just happened to find out about...

BOSS:Hey, you!

BOYS:You!

BOSS:I did some nosing around...seems this kid is the "Legendary Knight!"  Haw, ha! What a joke!  How could YOU have found that sword? Hand it over!

BOYS:Yeah!  We're gonna be rich, Boss!

BOSS:Shaddap and go get it!  Super Special Deluxe Robot, Type 2...with turbo!  "Kettle Kin!"

(after the battle)

BOSS:Too...strong! He's the REAL Knight! What idiot said he wasn't the Knight? Let's scram!

BOYS:Yeah!

Boss:  We've been waiting!  …you made it!

Boys:  It is so!

Boss:  I checked around and was told all about you!  This is the hero of the Mana Sword!  This child!  Ha ha!  THIS is supposed to be the brave knight?  So I see you do have the Mana Sword, but this must be some kind of joke.  Come on, hand it over to us!

Boys:  That's right!  I'm sure the Mana Sword is worth quite a lot, boss.

Boss:  Now, don't be stupid.  We'll have to take this by force!  Super Special Deluxe Robot, Type 2...with turbo!  "Kettle Kin!"

(after the battle)

Boss:  This one is too strong!  I guess he is the real Mana Knight!  Who are you, anyway?  Why didn't just say you're the hero?  Let's get out of here!

Boys:  Aye-aye, sir!

What's significant here is that the Scorpion Army somehow found their way into the most isolated place of the game---the underground city.  While this may be little more than comic relief, I find myself thinking about the post-apocalyptic future in Chrono Trigger.  You'll recall that Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana started out as the same project.  The designs of the ruined domes in 2300AD are very similar to the design of the underground city in Secret of Mana, and there are also quite a few robots.  I can see aspects of the Scorpion Army as a direct precursor to this concept.  They demonstrate technology in a world where there's little, possibly meaning that they come from the Lost Continent themselves, or are related to the, "Ancients" who built the Mana Fortress.  Many years ago, I read some fanfic that explored this possibility in-depth, but can not locate it now.  

Either way, the game tells us little about their background.  But there is no denying that they are the most offbeat plot element in the game.

I'll close with some insight from user regrs of GameFAQs:

Here's something interesting. 
Kilroy was supposed to make a grand entrance similar to Spikey Tiger. The doors in the back of his arena have partial functionality to open them.  [And no, there's nothing back there. You can walk inside the area a bit though.]  Looks like this:


DqypbTG

Next:  Odds & Ends Part III

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Coming up next...

UPDATE (x2) 3/31/17:  You'll notice this blog gets updated most between semesters.  The Scorpion Army article is almost complete, and it will hopefully be here soon.

School is back in session, but I do have the Scorpion Army article ready to drop on February 23rd (UPDATE: this weekend!).  Following that will be a few more Odds & Ends articles, and after that, there isn't a whole lot more we can say about Secret of Mana, barring any new findings or announcements.  On some distant day when I have my life back from educational and professional obligations, I will run through Seiken Densetsu 3 again; it's been at least 15 years.

I would recommend that everyone seek out the videos of various challenge runs on YouTube.  The way that players exploit the game's code really makes me wish I had known about these things as a kid!

zhaDe and I continue to work on our top secret SoM project.  Work is about 25% done, and although it shows much promise and progress, we are doing it on our own time, and it is unknown when (and if) it will be released.

If there is anything I've missed and you'd like to see it here, please let me know about it.

Until next time!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Lost Continent, the Mana Fortress et al

NOTE:  All featured excerpts from the script are my translations from the original Japanese.

We have arrived at the final article in our trilogy on the backstory of Secret of Mana.  You can read the first two articles here and here.  Back in August, I was writing this when I announced my extended break.  After returning a few weeks ago, I couldn't just finish it---there is so much complexity that it was going to require a review of where I was headed with things.  Making sense of the game when it is inherently patchy is not easy.

What we're about to embark on is a journey full of gaps and speculation, as there are some shaky concepts which can not be reconciled.

First, let's find out more about the Mana Fortress.  From the Prologue:

...people began to use the power of Mana in war, and this led to the creation of a huge ship called the Mana Fortress…But its enormous power touched the anger of the gods, and the Mana Beast was sent to the earth.

We see here that the Mana Fortress was the zenith of human Mana research.  Their advanced knowledge of Mana and technology allowed them to construct a floating megalith of immense power.  Unfortunately, the ship is quite generic on the inside, not giving us any clues as to its specific
capabilities.  Thanatos uses the Mana Fortress to destroy the Mana Tree at the end of the game, so it certainly was used as a weapon to keep someone in line.  But what else can it do?

We covered the war that ended the Fortress in the previous article, but what happened after the war, and how did we get to the beginning of SoM?  It seems reasonable to assume that after the Fortress was defeated, a sort of balance was achieved with Mana.  The various Mana Beasts who attacked the Fortress were scattered throughout the world.   Although the technology of human civilization had been lost in the conflict, humanity itself continued.  As Luka tells us in the Water Palace:

The survivors of the conflict were protected by the power of Mana, and rebuilt the world.

And as the Prologue says, time flows like a river, and history repeats...

At the beginning of SoM, The Empire has been at work trying to restore the Mana Fortress, seemingly because they're evil and that's the sort of thing evil people do.  As a result of their actions or some other phenomenon, Mana's power is weakening, allowing Randi to pull out the Mana Sword
near Potos.  When we first meet Luka, she gives us more exposition than we get at any point of the game, part of which tell us about the Empire's goal:

The Empire is trying to get the Seeds...you must revive the Mana Sword...you also need to visit all eight Mana Palaces. They are located around the world...the Empire seems to be trying to unseal the Mana Seeds in Palaces all across the world. 

These are snippets of dialogue from her entire speech, not all of which is given at once.  How Luka explains things depends on the dialogue options the player chooses when meeting her.  We can conjecture from this that the Seeds are "sealed", and that the Empire is trying to, "unseal" them.  But, Luka also says this:

The Water Seed is unsealed.  Use your sword to restore it!

So the Empire is trying to unseal all of the Seeds...but the Water Seed is somehow already unsealed. Next, Luka tells us:

The Mana Seed and the Mana Sword resonated together.  Now that it's done, wherever you are in the world, the power of the Seed will reach your Sword. 

If the seeds are unsealed, and need to be resealed by Randi, then why does the Empire need to do anything to them?  And if they're already sealed, why does Luka tell Randi to reseal them?  It is true that Randi's sword and his party's stats will go up with each Seed, but that has nothing to do with the Empire.  When we get to Tasnica, we finally find out what these seals really do:

Under the coral reef, the ancient continent of legend rests on the seabed.  It is sealed off by the seeds of each Mana palace.

Okay, well that came out of nowhere.  There was no mention of the Lost Continent before this, unless the player has already met with Joch.  Even then, this is quite late in the game.  If Luka was going to give all of that exposition, why not just talk about the Lost Continent?  I always thought that the Lost Continent itself was a very unsettling place.  Flying over it always gave me chills unless I had a reason to be there.   Let's take a look at it:
















Not a place I'd want to encounter while parasailing.  And this is an aerial view of a real coral reef:



This is actually pretty neat; the developers had a good concept in mind.  Back to the plot, Pecard at the Lighthouse tells us:

In fact, the Mana Palace is a switch that would refloat the continent.  The power of that ancient civilization was incredible, but I'm sure whatever lies underneath the continent is unfathomable!

To harmonize the previous two statements, if the seals on the Mana Seeds are broken, then some seal on the Lost Continent is also broken, and something about the Mana Palace (a vague reference to either the Tree Palace or the Grand Palace) is a "switch" that will bring the continent to the surface.

But let's consider the events when Randi goes to the Lost Continent.  First, he's too late to prevent the Empire from reaching the final Mana Seed.  This, in itself raises the continent.  But wait!  Didn't Randi just spend the entire game resealing each Mana Seed?  When did the Empire's mass unsealing of all the other Seeds occur?  Just listen to what the Emperor tells us in the Tree Palace:

Once I break this final seal, the Lost Continent will float!  I've already broken every seal around the world, this will be the last, and the Mana Fortress will be revived!  

In the English script, he says, "Once I break this last seal, the Mana Fortress will rise", but I believe this simply means that the Fortress will rise with the Lost Continent.

But if the Seeds are unsealed by default, then shouldn't the Lost Continent already have risen?

Let's take a look at what Jema tells us:

Randi, you're here!  The Lost Continent where the Mana Fortress sleeps has risen to the surface!  The Republic has come to keep the Empire from getting to the Fortress.  It seems that there is an ancient city underneath this Palace.  We have no choice but to get there.  

When did Jema find out about this ancient city, and why is he telling us about it now?  We can conjecture that the Mana Fortress was stored somewhere in this ancient city, but the script offers us no help on how any of this fits together.

Speaking of the Mana Fortress, here's the biggest plot hole among all plot holes---if it was "smashed" by the Mana Sword in the ancient war, how is it still in perfect condition at the time of Secret of Mana?  The characters refer to the Mana Fortress, so it is unlikely that there is more than one.  Did the Empire repair the entire thing in the span of a few hours?  Or was the Fortress not obliterated, just merely captured?

Thus the Lost Continent comes to the surface, exposing the Grand Palace.  What happened to the poor coral is not explained, but I digress.  Randi needs to find a way in, and proceeds through an underground entrance nearby.  This takes us through the ancient city, featuring a working subway,
escalators, and electronic panels.  Flying Omelette points out that the ghosts on the subway are very similar to those on the train in Final Fantasy VI.  Also, it's not hard to see that this entire area was the prototype for 2300 AD in Chrono Trigger.  I imagine that everything they were going to do with the ancient civilization here was later worked into that game.  After making our way through here, we find the entrance to the Grand Palace.  The result of all of these events?  We end up back in...the Tree Palace.

This means that the Tree Palace and the Grand Palace are actually one and the same.  The fact that we can not enter the Grand Palace when we first come to the Tree Palace is an arbitrary plot device.  Once we get back to the stage room to find the Emperor dead, a corridor has appeared behind the stage.  Entering this corridor, we eventually find ourselves in this massive room of the Mana Fortress:



This room appears to be the most important room in the entire Fortress, with all kinds of epic technology afoot.  We end up here right before the final battle at the end of the game too.  How is it that this was behind the stage of the Tree Palace this whole time?  Randi fails to stop Thanatos from flying off with the Fortress, and this mysteriously causes the continent to sink again.  But, wasn't it the Seeds that do that?  And if the Fortress was so close to the surface, why go through all the trouble of finding the ancient city?

Do you need a minute?  It's okay, I'll wait here.

There's one final place in the game where the seals are mentioned.  It's after the Mana Tree has been attacked, and she's speaking to Randi:

With the last of my power, I shall unseal the power of the Seeds, and they will resonate with the Mana Sword once again!

This throws the whole thing wide open again.  Didn't the Empire unseal the seeds already to access the Lost Continent?  The game doesn't seem to be able to figure out exactly what "sealed" and "unsealed" mean.

The fact that the Lost Continent and associated content is so jumbled leads me to believe that it was a last minute invention to tie up loose plot ends and bring about the final act much faster than what was originally intended.  It's the place that sees the end of Sheex and Fanha and the Emperor, as well as the place where almost every NPC in the game suddenly turns up to show us what happened to them.  I highly doubt that the Tree Palace and the Grand Palace were supposed to be the same place originally.  I have some support for my position:



On the left is the Grand Palace after the Lost Continent surfaces, and on the right is the Tree Palace when the Lost Continent is under the ocean---both before and after the Grand Palace events.  Therefore, the developers reused the same map with only the events and sprites different.  Note how there is an incomplete representation of the Grand Palace at the bottom that one can never see normally.  This YouTube video errs when it says it's a glitch:


It's simply incomplete.  Either the developers started with the Grand Palace map and then went through a huge amount of trouble to change it to the Tree Palace, or the Grand Palace and Tree Palace events were messed with, and the maps changed at the last moment.

How the Mana Fortress, the Grand Palace, the ancient city, and the Lost Continent are connected form the heart of the game's backstory, and the various concepts are not reconciled as they appear in the final game.

Simply put---Secret of Mana makes no sense.

Next:  I didn't even get to the Scorpion Army, so that's the next article.

Credits:  Square owns SoM.  Also, a HUGE thanks to CelesDestiny once again for spotting errors.



Monday, January 23, 2017

Popoie

The last main character we have not examined in depth is Popoie the sprite.   One can see from the Spriters Resource here that Popoie is an exceptionally detailed character.  He has animation frames for a wide range of situations, depicted in an exaggerated way suitable to the character.  Popoie (or Popoi) has a bit of an odd role in Secret of Mana.  From a gameplay perspective, he's the black mage.  From a story perspective, he provides comic relief with the most exuberant personality of anyone, but also turns out to be one of the most tragic characters.

There is even debate as to whether Popoie is a he or a she.  It seems that in the original Japanese script, it was not stated, but due to the way the game was translated into English, he was clearly referenced as a, "he."  Since that's what I grew up with, and I always had the sense that the Sprite was male, I'm sticking with it for the purposes of this blog.

Popoie is mentioned for the first time before we reach Gaia's Navel:

I saw the floodwaters sweep some kid into it!!
In a recent flood, I saw a child flushed into the cave.  He just kept going…the poor thing...

Once there, we find him in a racket with the Elder of the Dwarves Village.  After washing up there in
a flood, the Elder wanted to help him get back, so they put on a show in which they claimed he was 50000GP in debt.  Note that even though he hadn't officially acquired magic yet, he can still do, "magic tricks."

DWARF: Step right on in! It's the Dwarf Village's world famous exhibit hut!  It'll be 50 GP!  The show's just starting!  First, cast your eyes on this Rabiteman! The only one in the world!  Take one Rabite, and one man, and its...Rabiteman!  Hey, you! Pipe down!  And now, presenting an actual and very rare, Sprite Child!

SPRITE: Boo, hoo, hoo...Ah!  Won't you please help me?

DWARF: Yes, folks, it's pure tragedy! Weep as you hear his story.  This poor child has a 50,000 GP debt to pay off!  It's here, working off the debt bit by bit. Oh please, gentle people.  Please help it! Even 100 GP will help.

SPRITE: Oh, joy! Thank you!  I'll take that, thank you so much...

or

Geez! A lot of nothing.  These poor people just aren't going to cut it!

Dwarf: Yes, welcome…to the Dwarf Village's famous hut of spectacles!  Our show can be seen for only 50 GP!  (We'll see it We're done here)  It's the start of the show!  First…an exceptionally mysterious Rabiteman!  Take a Rabite, then take a man, and you have the Rabiteman! Huh? You don't think he's convincing? As expected from such an audience! Your eyes are too good!  Then I guess it's time to show this rare, ineffable Sprite child!

Sprite: *sob* Oh…gentle, kind audience! Please help me!

Dwarf: Come on! Please sympathize with him! There will be many tears as you hear him speak!  This poor child is in debt! He owes over 50000 GP!  We're getting the money back little by little. We hope someday he can repay all of it! Come on, friends! I know you have big hearts.  Just 100GP will go a long way!

Sprite: Wow! Thank you! I'll take that right now.

or

Seriously? That's asking too much? What a bunch of fuddy duddies!

After confronting him backstage, they come clean about the whole deal:

SPRITE: Aiee! Did you overhear what we just said?

ELDER: P...please forgive us!  This child really IS a sprite child.  It used to live in the Sprite Forest, but a flood brought it here. I thought I'd help it earn the money to return home...

SPRITE: Good idea, huh?

ELDER: Hey! You have to apologize, too!

SPRITE: Harumph! Okay. I was wrong!

ELDER: I'm ashamed of myself. I'll return your money...

ELDER: Sorry!

SPRITE: Didn't mean any harm!

Sprite: D'oh! Were you listening to us now?

Elder: Oh no…please forgive us! This child really is a sprite child.  Up until recently, he was living in the Sprite Forest, but was swallowed by a flood and carried here.  I thought I'd earn travel expenses for him to return to the forest. I only had his best interests in mind. It was his idea, too.

Sprite: Pfff! What a gifted genius I am! Hehehe…

Elder: What…won't you apologize too!?

Sprite: Pssh! Okay, I was wrong!

Elder: My reputation is very important to me. I will return your money.

Elder: My behavior was inexcusable. Please forgive me!

Sprite: Shit, I really messed up.

I always thought this was a bit of a weak excuse for a racket.  Why not just come clean about why he needs the money in the first place?  If they're going to fork over cash for a huge debt, they'd most likely do so to get someone back home.  If the Elder wanted money, he could take a commission off that plus the proceeds from the show.

In a game with mostly one dimensional characters, he's a rare example of personality.  Take his exchange with the Mana Spirit, Gnome, for example:

[GNOME :] You can't barge in here! We gnomes won't allow it!

SPRITE: What a wind bag!

GNOME:Little brat!

SPRITE:Take this!

GNOME:This is an outrage!

[GNOME :]Oh, no! You can't just selfishly barge in here and mess the place up! This is gnome territory! Now hurry up, get the fuck out!

Popoie: What an old sod! I'm here now! Why don't YOU go out!?

Gnome: Who died and made you king!? You're an impudent brat mocking me like that!

Popoie: Son of a bitch! How's this!?

Gnome: Dickwad!

After falling on his head at one point, he remembers that he's from the Upper Land, and the party travels there to take him home.  Unfortunately, he hits his head on the landing from the cannon travel, and suddenly forgets where he's from yet again.  Indeed, his character brings out the sillier aspects of SoM.

Once at the Upper Land, the heroes realize that they're too late, and the Sprite's village has been ransacked by the Empire.  The Wind Palace to the north contains the only survivor, Popoie's grandfather.  Grandpa's speech is a bit more graphic in the Japanese:

GRANDPA: Uhh..sounds like...'Zat you, little tyke?!

SPRITE: Grandpa, can't you see me?

GRANDPA: Empire's men came and undid the Wind seal...A bright flash stunned me!  The others...they're...

GIRL: This is awful!

SPRITE: NO! They must have escaped!

GRANDPA: I...suppose so...Uwa, ha, ha!

SPRITE: Graaandpa!

Popoie:  Grandpa!

Grandpa:  Oh…that voice…is that you, little one!?

Popoie:  What happened!?  Can't you see me?

Grandpa:  Some of the Empire's men came to break the wind seal.  I was in the Wind Palace at the time...I was lucky to only lose an eye.  The others didn't seem to fare as well…

Purim: This is terrible!

Popoie:  I won't believe it!  I'm sure everyone must've escaped to somewhere else!

Grandpa:  …surely, so…Ugh…cough cough…

Popoie:  Grandpa!

We get the sense after this that Popoie is of a very special breed of individuals, directly connected to Mana.  He now has extra motivation to avenge such a horrific attack on them.  When we get to the
Mana Fortress, we have a most interesting exchange before the final battle.  It is revealed that by defeating the Mana Beast and mana disappearing, Popoie will disappear as well:

SPRITE:…...Whaddaya mean? I'm NOT gonna kick the bucket!  My world is separate from this one.  It just means I won't...see you again.

Popoie: What are you saying!?  I won't die!  This world has been divided into two---where the sprites live, and where you live, and they will be unable to meet [without Mana].

Thus, the sprites are connected to the world through Mana.  When it disappears, they can no longer be part of Randi's world, and can only live in their world.  But what precisely does this mean?  Let's circle back to something Grandpa said earlier:

GRANDPA:Gwa, ha! Okay, okay!  Tyke! We sprites are a part of Mana. That beast couldn't have beat us!  But humans are breaking seals, and releasing monsters......which are consuming our source of life...Mana!

Grandpa:  Hehe…please listen carefully.  We sprites are a part of Mana.  When humans break the seals on Mana seeds, they are trying to resurrect the demons of old times.  When Mana disappears, Sprites will disappear from the world too.  It's quite a sad thing...

While this does provide some explanation, it does not really tell us who the sprites are, or what their world is like.  It's a shame we did not get to learn more about them, as I think it would have made the ending, and Grandpa's ordeal all the more powerful.  Also, despite Popoie's promise, there is no reason for the player to return to Grandpa, although doing so restores the party's HP and MP for free.  I do see some similarities between the sprites and the other games in Square's great trilogy of the 90s.  In Final Fantasy VI, we have the Espers from a separate world who are exploited for their abilities, and in Chrono Trigger, the Kingdom of Zeal is a far off place where those who can use magic live.  I'm very disappointed that I haven't been able to find anything else significant about Popoie, even on Japanese sites.

This story would also be the perfect segue into a sequel---Randi and Purim need Popoie back for some reason...but how to do so?

Next:  I will finish the article I was supposed to months ago, and complete the trilogy on the background of SoM.

Credits:  Square owns SoM.  


Monday, January 16, 2017

Odds and Ends, Part II

That awkward moment when you return to your blog after five months, and forgot where you were headed...

Unfortunately, graduate school and piano teaching take priority over this, and weeks easily turn into months when you want to update again.  I've been going back over my notes and catching up.  Since I lasted updated, Google has released a new translation algorithm to reduce errors.  The result is more coherent sentences, but not showing a translation of individual words hampers my ability to gain a deeper understanding of the text, so I will still have to use other means of translating.  

To be honest, there's only a handful of articles left and once those are done, I think I've covered most of what can be said about this game.  It's up to Square to reveal the rest!  In the meantime, here's Odds and Ends, Part II.  For Part I, click here.

The Extra Character

There's been a lot of interest in this unused character that can be found in the ROM data:



It can be found among the Emperor's bodyguards, so there is some speculation that there was a fifth one originally.  I doubt that's the case, as we've established that the game follows the tradition of the Four Heavenly Kings.  This character may be unfinished, as evidenced by the simple palette and lack of defining features.  It could just be an early attempt at representing a bodyguard that was scrapped.


However, recall this page from a Japanese promotion:



The inset image is of Thanatos' final form in the game, but the art shows Thanatos' gown as being white, not dark grey as depicted.  If the extra character is an early version of him, perhaps the drawing represents the character in a transitional phase between the two?  At the end of the day, there's no proof that this character was Thanatos.

My esteemed colleague, zhaDe, reminded me of this animation in the memory:


zhaDe's opinion:

"I still think he must have had something to do with the temple full of bald guys (which is of no use at all really) in the mountains. He looks bald too.  He looks kind of like a priest or some religious important figure and from the side view, it looks like the things on each side are wings (don't know why he would have wings.. but makes sense that he would live high up in the mountains if he did)."

I looked through the sprite table for both Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, and could not find other possibilities.

Moon Palace growing?

One of the most mysterious places in the game is the Moon Palace.  It is a Palace surrounded by...a bunch of nothing  Take a look at the world map:



Having a Palace surrounded by impassable darkness is very similar to concept of the Dark Palace in Seiken Densetsu 3, the Tower of Bab-il in Final Fantasy IV, and Magus' Palace in Chrono Trigger.  However, these are different concepts altogether.

The existence of the Palace is strangely hinted at the first time we're in Kakarra with flashing stars placed near its geographic location.  However, there is an impassable barrier, and the player can not proceed any further.  The Moon Palace is so rarely mentioned that I doubt many players would figure out the significance of this area.  Looking at a prerelease version of the desert, we see that the entrance was added later.  If you were just going to fly there anyway, why add something that ends up making no difference?  It is highly unlikely that you're going to walk there the first time since you'll have have Flammie by then.



Surrounded by mountains in a prerelease shot.  A southern passage through was added for the main release.

In order to cross the whole lot of nothing, one must ride a ferry piloted by a chobin foot named Karon.  Karon is a reference to Charon in Greek Mythology, whose ferry carried recently departed souls across the river Styx to Hades.




Let's see what Karon has to say about the void (my retranslation in blue):

Welcome to Karon's ferry.  Next stop: Moon Palace.  There's a lot of nothing in the palace. Don't get lost!

Welcome!  Welcome to my ship; I am Karon.  We will go to the Temple of the Moon.  Inside the Temple, the universe may continue indefinitely for all I know.  Don't get lost!  

After disembarking the ferry, we find a Palace similar in appearance to the rest, with hardly any content inside.  The only puzzle is to find an orb sealed by Lumina's magic, break the spell, and enter the stage room.  The orb is in a room full of nothing; we can presume that this is the same nothing from the desert.  There are no enemies or anything else here.  When we meet Luna, she says the following:

I, Luna the moon spirit, have awaited you.  So sad this place has grown...but enough!  Take with you my powers!  GO! Mana is fading...

I am Luna, spirit of the moon.  I've been waiting for you for what seems like forever.  Come, I will also give you my power.  Mana is being lost from the world.  Let's hurry!



Note the mention in the English translation that she's "sad" about the "place" growing.  Is it possible that the void is spreading?  Or is the Palace inside a link to some ever expanding universe? 

There is only one other mention of this area---when we're dealing with Sage Joch:

Surprise...went to the Moon Palace.  It floats eerily in the Sea of Wonders at Kakkara Desert's end...

"Eh? The Temple of the Moon? It's a strange place that seems to float in the sea of outer space [or ocean of the universe] on the outskirts of the Kakkara desert.

For a concept so fascinating, it hardly has any effect in the game beyond this simple scenario.  I'll close with one last thought---what is the precise difference between Moon magic and Dark magic?  Shade's magic appears to be derived from dark elements (Evil Gate, Dark Force), as opposed to Luna's Magic (Change Form, Lunar Boost, Moon Energy).  I could just as easily see the Moon Palace as the Palace of Darkness.


The Unstoppable Phallic Geshtar Machine

Have you ever stopped and looked closely at the shape of Geshtar's vehicle?  




Things that can't be unseen...

Upper Area in Grand Palace (whip area)

This one has always bugged me.  I got stuck up here awhile back, thinking there had to be a way out, but it seems that there is no peg on the lower level to whip back to.  Probably something unfinished, but why leave it in the game where a player could get stuck?




Magic Rope at the Lighthouse

I don't know if I've ever seen this mentioned.  If one uses the Magic Rope in the Lighthouse, they're magically whisked away to...the same room.


Neko


Years ago, I made the acquaintance of someone who was an intern for Square's art department in the early 2000s.  When discussing the development of Secret of Mana, he was told that there was no way to appropriately localize Neko for a foreign audience.  





It did not take much searching on the Googles to discover the importance of cats in Japanese culture.  Neko is Japanese for, "cat", which are said to bring fortune and good luck.  The Maneki-neko figurine is one that is often placed in shops a symbol of beckoning customers.  I have a vague recollection of reading about a Japanese legend which corresponds to the Neko character, but am coming up blank at the moment...

Nevertheless, Neko made far more sense in Japan than it did elsewhere.  

Water Travel Revisted

Awhile back, we talked about the notion of a water vehicle that was intended for Secret of Mana.  While reading the script one day, I came across this dialogue from the pirate, Sergo, regarding the state of the seas.

I'm Sergo, pirate and scourge of the 8 seas!  At least I used to be...The oceans have grown too stormy...I stowed away 'cause I missed my ship so much.  Wonder if the oceans will ever be safe again!?

And later...

The ocean's suddenly grown calm! And Meria's had a complete change of heart!

Yes, Sergo does help us escape in the desert, and helps illustrate another obscure minor character, but why is he necessary in the first place, especially as a pirate?  Also recall what Pecard told us in the Lighthouse:

The seas are rough, and boats don't pass through here much, but I continue to look at the sea.

This seems like quite a bit of exposition for nothing.  Were they supposed to sail the eight seas with Sergo at some point, or is he just an attempt at making this incomplete game somewhat deeper?

Next: Popoie

Usual Disclaimer:  Square owns everything, and the Spriters Resource is amazing.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Yay updates

Hey, friends.

Updates are coming soon.  During the last month, I have been working on an extremely exciting (and laborious) SoM project with my new friend, zhaDe, which I will be able to announce as it nears completion.  You're going to love it, I promise.

Blog updates coming later this week!

Update 10/24/16:  Blame midterms and a project proposal for the subsequent delay!  I will try to get the next update up this week.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Time for a Break

I've been on a tear lately, but work and school obligations have preempted the next few articles for the time being.  Thanks to everyone for the glowing feedback  The next update is especially intricate, and will require much work.  Look for it in September.  I can be reached by e-mail in the meantime.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The War

This article is the second in what has turned out to be a trilogy on the backstory of Secret of Mana.  This will most likely be the shortest one, but that's due to the very limited and broken chain of information we can deem from the script.

You wouldn't know from the look of things, but there's a war going on in Secret of Mana.  A huge war between 1)The Empire, Gold City, and allies, and 2)Pandora, Tasnica, Matango, Kakkara and allies.  There's a rebel alliance led by a young lady named Krissie, and a huge sandship in the employ of Tasnica.  There's a brave attack on the Witch's castle by a group of...five from the Kingdom of
Pandora, whose King is then devastated by the shocking news of their defeat.  There's a massive assault on Imperial forces at the Grand Palace consisting of eight soldiers walking back and forth, in glorious combat against...something.

What I'm saying is, there's supposedly a war, but little visual cues as to what exactly this war is.  We have a few hints, and a few descriptions of the action, but we don't get to see it, even if it's happening right in front of our eyes.  

On one hand, I know this was 1993, and technology was limited, but Secret of Mana was designed by the same company that had no issue depicting battles in Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI, or Chrono Trigger.

Final Fantasy IV Tank Battle
These give us a taste of what could have been with Secret of Mana.  Despite all of the attacks, missiles, and sheer horror, there is hardly any battle damage shown, or visual signs that any conflict is occurring.  When the Mana Fortress is launched at the end of the game, the sky goes dark, but no one on the ground references anything that has changed.  Nor does Northtown realize that their entire leadership has been dispatched by a teenage Mana Knight, and that their army is going up against one of their former generals and his huge Fortress in the sky.

And this, is more than just my personal take on the situation.  The designers said the game was going to have a darker tone, but they did keep a huge struggle against truly evil forces.  We have Imperial generals making contracts with the Underworld, the protagonist's mother being obliterated in front of him, and an ancient body snatching sorcerer about to destroy creation as we know it.

So how did this whole conflict begin?  It turns out, there's actually two wars in question in Secret of Mana.  One is the current war, which seems to have been going on for fifteen years, and the other is the ancient war involving the Mana Fortress, which is mentioned even less.

We'll start with that one.  The ancient war is first mentioned in the prologue.  I have retranslated the Secret of Mana script from the original Japanese.  Red is the original, blue is my translation.

Using the power of Mana, a civilization had grown strong...In time, Mana was used to create the ultimate weapon: the Mana Fortress...This angered the gods. They sent their beasts to destroy the Fortress...A violent war rocked the world, and Mana seemed to disappear...Before all was lost, a hero with the Mana Sword smashed the Fortress...Though the civilization had been destroyed, the world was peaceful again. But time flows like a river...and history repeats...

A very long time ago, in ancient times…a civilization that evolved through the power of Mana had prospered across the planet.  Before long, people began to use the power of Mana in war, and this led to the creation of a huge ship called the Mana Fortress…But its enormous power touched the anger of the gods, and the Mana Beast was sent to the earth.  A violent conflict between the Fortress and the Mana Beast wrapped the world in fire and poison; Mana was lost on the planet.  At that time, a hero came with the Mana Sword, and the Fortress fell.  The Mana Beast vanished from the face of the planet.  The civilization was destroyed in the war, but once again, there was peace.  Time flows (or streams, makes a current)…History repeats itself…

So, there was Mana.  And then humans began using Mana for destructive reasons, including the creation of a giant Mana Fortress.  The gods sent a Mana Beast to destroy the Fortress.  But wait, here comes a hero with a Mana Sword, who smashed the Fortress, and as a result, saved the world from the destruction it had coming.  The hero probably showed the gods that there were some good humans who wouldn't abuse Mana, and that the world was worth saving.  The Mana Beast was no longer needed by the gods.  The civilization was destroyed, but humans began to build anew, and probably were determined not to mess up again.

We'll examine the implications of this war in the next article, but this is all I can find about the conflict itself.

Fast forward to the present time of the game, and we have a war that began 15 years prior, and is still going on.  Information about this war comes from all over the place.  I'll try to place each piece of information in chronological order.

Northtown Resistance Member: All the trouble started about 15 years ago.
Northtown Resistance Member: The Empire was always a peaceful country.  But something went wrong 15 years ago.

The Empire was a peaceful country, but then something went wrong.  It may have been the influence of the Underworld, as we learn later that the Empire would give something to Mavolia in exchange for immense power.

Mana Tree:  Your father, the legendary knight, Serin should be standing here, now.  He was
badly wounded 15 years ago by the Emperor, but vowed to stop him.  On his way to a final showdown, he fell and never got up. That was in Potos.
Mana Tree:  Your father, Serin, was a Tasnican knight, who one would expect to be here [instead of you].  He fought the Emperor during the war 15 years ago.  Both were wounded, but the Emperor had the power of Mavolia.  With his last ounce of strength, Serin came to the forest near Potos, but must've have expired around there.  

We don't see it firsthand in Secret of Mana, but the Emperor has deep powers of his own.  So much so that he beat the Mana Knight.  This was at the start of the war.  

Pandoran Villager: The Empire attacked us once about 15 years ago.
Pandoran Villager:  Once, there was a big war with the Empire…15 years ago.

Pandora was attacked when the war started 15 years ago, but seems to have been relatively peaceful until Thanatos and the Witch made their move.

Tasnican Resident: Jema was the commander of the King's troops. His best friend was the hero, Serin.  When Serin fell in battle, Jema stepped down and never fought again...
Tasnican Resident: Although Jema was originally leader of the Knights; he himself discarded the title.  I believe he was shocked when his rival, Serin, perished in the previous war. 

As stated in the previous article, the Japanese word I've translated as rival is raibaru, which means just that.  We can assume it was a friendly one.  So after Serin fell, Jema took over, though Jema himself is not a Mana Knight.  Sword of Mana has a character named Vandole who was also an Emperor.  He was brought down by three, "Gemma Knights."  Any connection between that Vandole and the SoM Vandole is a loose one, but it's possible that one served as the inspiration for the other.  Jema does not deny being a Mana Knight, he simply tells Randi in Potos that only the person who takes the Mana Sword can power it.  The extent of Jema's powers in SoM are unknown, but it's clear that before Randi and friends, he was a key player in taking on the Empire.

Northtown Citizen: We once fought the Republic.
Northtown Citizen:  I lost my father in the war with the Republic 15 years ago.

MAN:Krissie's dad founded the Resistance...When he was caught, she kept us together.
Man:  Krissie's father was the leader of the Resistance, but we lost him in a fight with the Empire.  Seizing the opportunity, so we didn't fall apart, Krissie became the leader.

Krissie's dad probably founded the Resistance after the start of the war.  Given Krissie's young age, his death must have occurred recently.

MARA:Jema's friends, right? See, I'm really a Tasnican spy!  So was my husband 'till he got...caught.  I'm continuing his work.
Mara:  I guess you're Jema's friends?  As a matter fact, I'm a Tasnican spy.  My husband was one too.  He had an Imperial secret and tried to run away…but fell into the hands of the Empire.  I'm following in his footsteps by lurking around this Imperial town.  

Family who died fighting the Empire seems to be a common theme in the game.  Both Mara and her husband worked for Tasnica, which means she most likely knew Jema and Serin, a possibility that is never explored.

MARA:My husband was caught stealing a secret key on the Gold Isle.  Look! Here it is! Found it hidden in his things.  I'd gladly exchange it to have him back...Here, it's yours. I'll get my revenge!
Mara:  My husband was…was caught by the Emperor stealing this secret key of the Gold Isle.  Alas, I've cherished it in this small box as a keepsake of my husband.  I would gladly exchange it for my husband, whose life was stolen.  But, it doesn't have to be for nothing.  I will give it to you guys.  It will be delayed revenge.  Hehehe...

This is Mara's very purpose in the game; other characters reference her small box.  

JEMA:   Once I was one of Luka's followers. I studied the power of Mana, which sustains everything in this world.
Jema:  I formerly studied under Master Luka.  At that time, I learned the power of Mana which sustains the world, and is now being lost.

Jema studied Mana under Luka, but did Serin do so as well?  If Luka is teaching the Empire's allies about Mana, it makes sense that they would attack the Water Palace multiple times during the game.

KING: Jema's studying the power of Mana.
King:  Jema has continued to research the power of Mana all over the world.

Yet another character speaking of Jema's studies.

Tasnican Resident: We used to have a strong navy. But now only our sandship is in service.
Tasnican Resident: Tasnica was a naval power originally, but can not sail the rough seas after what's been going on with Mana recently.  Instead, by using a land-based sandship in the Kakkara Desert, we can effectively be on the lookout for the Empire's movements.

This is very interesting. The seas have become rough, so no ships can sail...is that why there's no water vessel in the game?  I'll explore more of this when I cover Meria, Morie, and Sergo in a future article.

JEMA:The Imperial forces have drawn back.  We managed to defeat their monsters in Pandora, too...I'll return home, and stop the Empire there.
Jema:  Way to go!  It seems the Imperial forces are in retreat.  The Empire had used their monsters to seize Pandora, but we managed to turn them back...I'm returning to Tasnica, and
will do as much as I can to halt the Empire's movements.

What exactly this entailed is not revealed.  Clearly, Jema is still on the front lines.

JEMA: If the Empire is being this aggressive, it means they almost have the Fortress.  I'm off to fight the Empire wherever I can.
Jema: If the Empire was aiming directly for the life of [Tasnica's] king, then they've begun to make their move.  I need to leave immediately and cut off their movements in various locations.  You also…please hurry.

So the war that began 15 years before hit a stalemate, and is now heating up at the time of SoM.  But of what of the ancient war that got events moving in the first place?  We will backtrack to that next time.

Next:  The Sunken Continent, the Mana Fortress, et al

Credits:  Additional material from Papers and Pencils.  Square owns Secret of Mana.