Monday, May 30, 2016

Fanha and Geshtar

It's time for Fanha and Geshtar.  I was excited to see Fanha's name come up in many Japanese forums, but then realized that most of these were fanfics.  Apparently, an obscure character from an obscure game can also have a cult following.  Fanha can tell us things about the other bodyguards.  Like them, her sprite is strikingly different than any other in the game.  Below is a representation in a Japanese magazine:




Here, we get more of a feel for what she's supposed to look like.  We meet Fanha four times.  She's merely present when we approach the Emperor at Vandole Palace.  We see her again at the Tree Palace before we battle Sheex.  In the Grand Palace, she taunts us and runs away with the Emperor, seizing the opportunity to fight us after he's dead.  All dialogue is here, with my retranslation.


The taunt:


Ted Woolsey:


FANHA:Look who's here!  Prepare to...


EMPEROR:Enough, Fanha!  We've no time for these children.  Think what the Mana Fortress will do to them!  Let's go!


FANHA:...Ha!...coming...Oh, I'll get you little beasts yet!


ManaRedux: 


FANHA: I see you have come.  Well, this time, you will suffocate…like this…!


EMPEROR:  Stop, Fanha!  We have no time to spare.  If we can get our hands on the Fortress, these brats, along with the Republic, will be blown apart!  Let's hurry ahead!


FANHA:…Ha!…Certainly…! Randi, you will surely be buried by me...


The Emperor mentions, "the Republic."  It's been forced into the background of the final game, but this means that, "the Republic" (presumably Tasnica) is still as much of a threat as Randi and friends.  We'll cover the war in a future article.


Later, the trash talk before the battle.  The Emperor has been found dead, leaving only Fanha standing.


Woolsey:


FANHA:You made it!


BOY:Did YOU beat the Emperor?


FANHA:I'm afraid so! We'd rule the world if we had the Mana Fortress!


BOY:"We?"  Who else is here?


BOY:  Thanatos!


THANATOS:  Aha! Long time no see, little one!


GIRL:Where is Dyluck?  Is he safe?


THANATOS:Of course! He's just about to become my new body!


GIRL:What are you up to?


FANHA:Never you mind!  Now, Thanatos, to the Fortress!  Revenge is SO sweet!  Bye bye forever!


ManaRedux:


FANHA: Is that you, Randi?  You've finally come.




RANDI:  You did the emperor in, didn't you?


FANHA:  Just part of the plan.  We'll be rulers of everything in the world if we get control of the Mana Fortress.


RANDI:  We?  There's someone besides you?


THANATOS:  It's been a long time, Randi.


PURIM:  What about Dyluck!?  Is Dyluck safe?


THANATOS:  Of course he is, my little lamb.  I've taken good care of him as he is my soon-to-be reincarnation!


PURIM:  What do you mean!?


FANHA:  There's really no need for you to know such things.  Come on, exalted Thanatos, get to the fortress!  Sheex and Geshtar accepted a difficult challenge, and will be avenged.  Now I'll accomplish our goal, and that is for you to die here!


We then fight Fanha's alternate form which she acquired from the Underworld.  According to the Wiki of Mana, "she uses the power of Mavolia to transform into Hexas and does battle with the party."  The Underworld will be dealt with in Thanatos' article, but I did
From Tom Guycott of the Spriters Resource
want to mention a few things about Hexas, an entity with the upper body of a four armed woman, and the lower body of a gigantic snake.  Her animation is extremely intricate compared to most other sprites in the game (see picture).  She essentially appears two other times in the Mana series.  One is in Seiken Densetsu 3 as the naga that the Fenrir Knight summons.  The other, according to the Wiki of Mana, is as Malyris in Sword of Mana.  


Of course, Hexas is unsuccessful and:


Woolsey:


FANHA:What the..? Thanatos!


ManaRedux:


FANHA:  So much foolishness…great Thanatos…why?


You'll note that despite Fanha and Sheex being different characters, their role in the game is almost identical.  It's as if the Sunken Continent was used as a dumping ground for underdeveloped NPC's. 


Now that we've experienced the entirety of Fanha's dialogue, we can see that the original Japanese does not teach us anything significant.  It is clear from both versions that Fanha was in on Thanatos' conspiracy to overcome the Emperor and take the fortress for himself.  Why they had to overcome the Emperor is unknown, but it could be that they're just evil and didn't want to share what they could have to themselves.  We see parallels to this in Final Fantasy VI, where Kefka throws an injured Gestahl off the floating continent.  Gestahl protests that, "there will be no one to worship us...", but that does not stop Kefka from throwing the world out of balance, just like Thanatos sees no reason not to revive the Mana Fortress and destroy the world in the process.



Also from the Spriters Resource.  Furthest to the left of these summons.

So if Fanha was assisting Thanatos, what about Sheex and Geshtar?  Sheex was with the Emperor and Fanha at the start of the Tree Palace scene.  Instead of getting to the altar, they're conveniently standing there, waiting for Randi and friends to show up.  If Randi had not shown up and ended their cocktail party, we can presume that they would have been successful in reviving the Fortress.  And then would Sheex have had to go like the Emperor?  Anything I can come up with is little more than a guess; I could see it going either way.  And did Thanatos use Fanha to stall Randi and friends, telling her the importance of his pending reincarnation, unable to do the job himself?

  

Thanatos, Fanha, Sheex, and Vandole all had a, "contract" with the underworld, according to the game script.  But what about Geshtar?  The dialogue that describes him to the player indeed establishes that he is known as the machine rider, which is how he fights us---in human form.  (The Mech Rider concept reminds me of Magitek Armor in Final Fantasy VI.)  All of the other bodyguards switch to their Underworld gift.  This means that we may able to distinguish Geshtar from the others in that he was seriously out of the loop on what was going on.


BUT, as we saw in the Sheex article, Geshtar's Mech Rider sprite is the same as the other knights in the game:  



 

When you defeat them, they don't leave a carcass like a lot of creatures; they vanish into thin air.  This may be to tone down the violence in the game; the developers may not have wanted to show dead humans.  But if the Emperor's army was indeed full of human-like monsters, was Geshtar even human in the first place, or was he just a special clone?


Other than Thanatos, he's the only bodyguard who has significant screen time.  We meet Geshtar four times: in the Water Palace, in Kakkara, in Northtown, and finally as a zombie in the Grand Palace.  


In the Water Palace, Geshtar is our first look at a member of the Empire.  We did encounter Thanatos, but the connection was downplayed at that point, and as stated in a previous article, he seems to be distinct from the rest of the operation.  After going through a harsh wilderness, a witch's castle, and the Pandora Ruins, he's a hint of something big to come, but as we know, the Empire as a concept is a bit thin in the final game.  Here is his dialogue at the Water Palace:


Woolsey:


BOY:Luka!


LUKA:Get out of here fast!


GESHTAR:Who have we here?  I'm Geshtar, of the Empire!  Hand over that seed or Luka's had it!


LUKA:DON'T!!


What will you do?

(Hand it over Run )

GESHTAR:Atta boy!


(GESHTAR:Idiot!)


BOY:Ouch! Can't move!


GESHTAR:So glad the seed's here. Too bad we have to break the seal!


LUKA:Stop it!


GESHTAR:Well, nice to have met you all!  As a little gift I'd like you to have my little pet! Remember to feed him!


ManaRedux:


RANDI:  Luka-sama!


LUKA:  Get out of here fast!  [I can't best Ted on this one]


GESHTAR:  Don't waste your time, friends.  I'm Geshtar of the Vandole Empire.  Come

on, give me the seed if you want to help Lusa Luka.  [Lusa is Luka's first name, left out of the USA translation.]


LUKA:  Don't!  Get out of here!

What will you do?

(Hand it over Run )

GESHTAR:  Good boy!


(GESHTAR:  Fool!)


GESHTAR:  Getting the seed won't be any trouble as it's right here!  But the seed itself is in trouble as I will have to unseal it.


LUKA:  Oh, you must stop this.


GESHTAR:  So...I suppose I'll have to be impolite and head out.  But in gratitude, I'll try giving you a pet.  It needs lots of love.  Hahahahaha!


Geshtar is a generic cartoon villain here.  Did you notice how every Imperial villain uses the same strategy?


1)Send someone else after Randi

2)Leave
3)Assume it all went according to plan
4)Repeat as needed

Let's go to Kakkara:


Woolsey:


GESHTAR:Hm...didn't think I'd see YOU here!  You must be the ones Thanatos warned me about.  How 'bout a little game?!


GESHTAR:So long, chumps!  Surrender!  


[after the battle] Nuts!


ManaRedux:


GESHTAR:  My God...I never thought I'd see a close friend [gentleman] like you in a place like this.  You came up quite a bit in Thanatos' report.  Okay, let's just get right to a little game.  Let's go!


[after the battle] Damn it!




This is brief, but Geshtar seems slightly more reputable and less generic.  I think Woolsey
made a mistake in his translation as he implies that Geshtar had never encountered Randi and friends before.  In Japanese, it seems like Thanatos debriefed the Empire on his ruin at the Ruins, and they realize more and more just what a threat Randi is.  

In Northtown, we get a little more from Geshtar:


Woolsey:


GESHTAR:Sir! One more chance, please.


EMPEROR:...Why not? Finish them up and come to the palaces.


GESHTAR:Now I reclaim my honor...


[after the battle] 


GESHTAR:I'm gonna burn up this whole place!


ManaRedux:


GESHTAR: Your majesty, please don't think I'm not good enough!  May I have another chance?


EMPEROR:  Very well.  We will continue to the temples ahead.  Straighten things up here as soon as you can.


GESHTAR:  Haha!  You left me in shame!  My failure was unforgivable!  Let's go!


[after the battle]


GESHTAR:  We'll go together!  Burn here!


Now we see something resembling character development.  Geshtar is an honorable military man, fiercely loyal to the Emperor.  He's even willing to sacrifice himself if it means getting the job done.  (Several unofficial Japanese sources claim that Geshtar was half cyborg after being injured in Kakkara.  I'm trying to confirm this.)


The final time we meet Geshtar is a rather perplexing scene in the Mana Fortress before it's activated.  Let's take a look at the dialogue:


Woolsey:


BOY:Geshtar!


GESHTAR:......


THANATOS:Mwa, ha...is it Geshtar, or..? Using my ancient magic, I've created a living...fighting machine!


BOY:How utterly evil...


ManaRedux:


RANDI:  Geshtar!  You're alive?


GESHTAR: …


THANATOS:  Hahaha!  You'd think it's Geshtar…except it's not Geshtar.    I resurrected him with my ancient powers, creating a living magical machine.  A pathetic doll which fights.


RANDI:  Such a cruel thing…


Geshtar meets an awful fate; his fierce loyalty to the Emperor is mocked by Thanatos as he is forced to work for the latter against his will.  Perhaps Thanatos knew that Geshtar would never stand for his treachery.  This also puts Geshtar at odds with Fanha, and possibly Sheex.  So again---assuming he didn't have a contract with the underworld, was he in on the conspiracy to off the Emperor and get the Mana Fortress?  Or was he like General Leo in Final Fantasy VI, appalled at the actions of someone in the Empire, oblivious to what was really taking place?  Fanha knew that Thanatos needed a new body, and was willing to die for him to achieve that goal.  She also spoke of avenging Geshtar and Sheex, two people whose role in Thanatos' grand plan is not given.  The entirety of the conspiracy against the Emperor: who was in it and how, is very unclear and can only be left to speculation.




It's sad that the bodyguard's background and full role was mostly lost in the removed and underdeveloped content of Secret of Mana.  We have only been able to get a better feel for the characters; anything beyond that is wild speculation.



No set of bodyguards color coordinates like the Vandole crew.  Note the absence of Thanatos here.



Next:  TBA


Acknowledgements:  Thanks to the Spriters Resource as always for allowing their work to be used in other projects, like this one.  A few screenshots came from Classic Gamers Paradise.  I'm still trying to pin down the original source of the Japanese magazine.   Everything is owned by Square.  





Sunday, May 29, 2016

Early World Map

Update:  This blog was updated on February 1, 2017 to add some much needed clarification.

A Japanese magazine featured this Secret of Mana world map before the game was released.  Clyde Mandelin of Legends of Localization was too kind to scan this map for me:



Wow!  What a difference.  Before we get excited about potential lost content, let's consider some caveats:

1)It could be a mockup --- they may have had an idea of where they were going, and decided to create a map to give a feel for the game.
2)It's incomplete --- the text in the lower right hand corner covers something, or they hadn't developed that part of the world yet.
3)The details of each location may be for illustration only --- just because we see landscape, doesn't mean it was the exact landscape intended
4)It's not clear --- it's hard to make out details on this page.

That being said, let's get to work.  Let's flip the map, remove the text, and see how it's closer to the final game than it seems at first glance.  



This is better, though many things are way off.  Here's the final world map for comparison, courtesy fantasyanime.com:



It is impossible to make definitive conclusions about similar areas, so I want to be clear that none of the following is anything but speculation.  This includes the possibility that I'm misidentifying locations.  The Pure Land was moved in the final game; it looks like it's where it is as a placeholder.  The shape of the volcano is almost identical.

This map more or less confirms my hypothesis from the first article that the overhead view of the world map was intended to be more detailed.  Look at how many paths are defined even though it's a rough draft.

In the lower left corner, we see that beta Tasnica was a full kingdom.  I'm going to assume this was Tasnica due to its location, and the castle being surrounded by water.


There's no isolation here, other than the Lofty Mountains.  Also note that there is a structure to the right, which I imagine was one of the Mana Palaces, or other lost area.  There are other locations in the vicinity that we can't make out.  Speaking of the Lofty Mountains, they appear to be mostly the same, with an extra open area in the middle.

Let's look at Kakkara's area next:


This is a very early version of Kakkara, as hardly anything is present beyond the Moon Palace and what we can presume is the town itself.  The Moon Palace's surroundings are essentially a black hole, but here it looks like it's smack in the middle of the desert.  There is no detail in the landscape.

What I presume is the lighthouse is essentially in the same place with a bit more detail.  This looks more like what you would expect:



There are two islands that don't resemble anything in the final game.  I've moved them together in this shot:


The only small islands beside the Lighthouse's are Turtle Island and the Gold Isle, neither of which is represented here.  There are some other islands with no content that also have no correlation.

Onto the Ice Country's full continent.  Remember this area from the final game?


Maybe I was wrong about the clearing on the left being a port.  It could just be the remnants of the beta continent:


Notice how the ice portion slowly merges into the area on the right.  There is some similarity between this and Altena in Seiken Densetsu 3, seen at Fantasy Anime here.

Finally, the first area of the game, final and beta:



I had to flip things again to reconcile the two.  The area inside the natural mountain wall is the only portion remaining.  I have no idea what was lost to the north, but the Upper Land and Matango may be in here somewhere.  Also notice how the Enchanted Forest in the final game's map is very similar to the same area in the beta map, neither of which represent the Enchanted Forest once we get there.  Whatever the area is with the bridge and sand in the southern part is nonexistent in the final game.  It also appears that there was no transporter present, and one could simply walk to the Enchanted Forest, or whatever it was intended to be.

The good news about the first area is that we have screenshots of the active view during development!    Unseen64.net published this article about Secret of Mana pre-release in 2008.

They wondered about a square area bounded by a river, seen below.  It's actually near the Water Palace; you can see this in the beta map above.  The transporter near the Water Palace also seems to be missing in the beta map.  I've appended a screenshot of where this is located in the final game, as well as what happens if you land there.


As far as Northtown with the road to nowhere,


I personally could not find a direct analogue on our early map.  One of their screenshots shows an overhead view of the world with landmasses not in the early map, so there were already changes made by that point.  As for beta Gaia's Navel...


...this is more or less how it is in the beta map above, with just one large river flowing down the mountain.

After our journey here, I'm quite sure that there was a working incomplete beta of the game which was used for promotional releases during development.  The notion that the early game is more complete in the final version makes sense if this was the priority during the beta's development.  It is unknown how much of the beta map was actually coded, and what parts were intended to be replaced anyhow  It's possible some ideas made it into Chrono Trigger, but a cursory glance at those world maps does not reveal anything notable.  When the CD-ROM addition for the SNES was cancelled, they didn't have to alter part of the game, they had to mostly start over.

In other news, I'm glad I got through an article without having to translate any Japanese.

Next:  The Ballad of Purim and Dyluck

Acknowledgements:  Once again, a huge thanks to Clyde Mandelin for scanning the Japanese magazine.  Unseen64 allows their work to be used under this license.  Square owns everything.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Water Travel

We've established the idea that the first half of SoM seems more complete than the second.  From this, we have conjectured that when the game was altered to fit a cartridge (from the planned CD-ROM addition to the SNES), either the second half had the most cuts, or simply wasn't developed as planned.  I'll be covering aspects of this possibility in future articles, but for right now, let's discuss a related topic --- the possibility of water travel.

In the final game, there are three primary forms of transportation:

1)Through the wilderness --- Until the Upper Land, this is your way of getting somewhere.  Yes, you could travel by cannon, but that is more of a shortcut.  Nowhere else in the game do we
find the combination of tactics, multiple routes, and traveling by land to new places like we do here.  Yes, we do end up going through places such as the Ice Country and Kakkara but the detail and variety in these areas pale in comparison to the early game.

2)Cannon travel --- One of the more ridiculously fun aspects of the game, cannon travel appears to be quite a versatile means of getting somewhere, except that the number of locations it can transport you to is limited.  This would make sense, as it would be bad for business if eager daredevils were transported halfway across the world to someone's front lawn.  It serves a good purpose in the design scheme, too.  Cannon travel places you only where the designers want you to be, often in an area that has no way out other than another cannon.

3)Flammie --- Go anywhere, land anywhere (that was programmed) with your very own dragon.

That's quite a jump from 2 to 3.  It is nothing but well-intentioned speculation, but certain dialogue and situations reveal that the acquisition of Flammie after Vandole's palace may have been a tad premature.

The concept of water travel has occurred to me for awhile, and others have similar ideas.  It is explored in detail by user zhaDe of kafuka.org here, as well as at seikens.com here.  zhaDe gives a very clear exposition of the situation with many things I hadn't considered, though I don't agree with him on every point.

One of the things you'll notice on the world map are occasional beaches.  Yes, they could be there as embellishments, but for now, let's assume they were placed for transportation purposes.  This is not a stretch as it's the same concept from Seiken Densetsu 3.  There are several throughout the world:


Some seem more straightforward than others.  The Mandala shore stands out along an otherwise green coastline.  An island next to Tasnica has a very prominent beach.  Gold City has an area out of the way for a possible water landing.  Turtle Island is surrounded by shore, which presents us with an interesting conundrum as we'll see below.  Kakkara Desert is one huge beach, and there are two areas in the Ice Country I've circled in red which seem like natural ports.  Matango also has a similar area nearby.

Mandala

zhaDe writes the following.  I've made some minor grammatical corrections:

There is a shore in the bottom of the Lofty Mountains...the area in the mountains is very small, only two areas.  I guess there would have been other areas leading to the crossroads of the village, the Palace of Darkness and the sage's place. On the world map, there are two palaces but the Palace of Darkness is in a cave so it should not be visible from the air.   I guess the cave was supposed to be part of the way you climb up there...
Also in the same area: Watts...says : "Whew! That's some climb huh !?", and another character in town says something like "I was impressed until you said you FLEW here.  The ancient temple north of the village is useless too...
I had always conjectured that you climbed the mountain from the bottom, but zhaDe makes some excellent points that expand on this.  The Lofty Mountains area is light on content.  And it would not be out of place to have a wilderness like we had in the beginning of the game with multiple paths that may take one to the Palace of Darkness, or Mandala, etc.  This scenario reminds me a bit of Mt. Hobbs and Fabul from Final Fantasy IV.  Both have an Asian martial arts setting with a mountain where you can prove your bravery.

You can travel from Mandala to the Palace of Darkness by walking all of about fifty steps down the mountain.  This is the entirety of the Lofty Mountains active view:



That literally is it.  So let's examine some dialogue from the Japanese script, and see if there are any clues as to the nature of the area.  What Watts says is closer to, "As you may expect, I'm exhausted from climbing this mountain!"  This doesn't prove that we were going to climb, however, since he doesn't have Flammie like we do.  Another townsperson says, "Relax here.  We are very welcoming to our visitors."  Relax after a long mountain trek?  We also get, "The Palace of Darkness was constructed by hollowing out part of the mountain.  You would think you're walking into a cave."
So perhaps the overhead view of the Palace of Darkness was shown to be a regular temple because you need to know where to fly.  But if you had to climb the mountain, it may have been depicted as a cave, or not at all.  The woman zhaDe mentions may have actually been impressed.

The final point of interest is the Ancient Temple, where we get to experience "Veedios" that were recorded long ago, and reveal more about the game's background.  These could have been actual cutscenes that weren't realized when going to a cartridge.  We get vague hints throughout the game of the great war that happened without ever getting a complete picture.  I'll cover this in a future article as I'm mainly concerned with the possibility of a water vehicle at this point.

Tasnica

Speculating here is a bit tougher.  Tasnica itself does not have a shore; the shore is on an island nearby.  But how does one get from there to the palace without a boat?  Is there a ferry?  Would they have forded a shallow lake?  It's clear from the overhead view that one can only get there by landing on a walled-in platform.  So how do Jema and the residents travel to and from the kingdom?  The whole point of Tasnica is to find a spy we didn't know was there before arriving, get a Sword Orb and see what the kingdom is all about.    Some really big things were left out here.

Gold City

If we docked on the shore northwest of the city, we would have to travel by foot from there.  It's possible that landing on the shore would bring up the active view of the city immediately, but there would have to be an entrance somewhere.  Hmm...



Note how there's a wall surrounding the entire city, keeping us in.  Said wall may have always been there, but could it have had an exit?  Look at the house in the bottom left corner.  It appears to be more like a gate or a guard tower, since all you do is walk through it.  Except...it doesn't go anywhere!  You walk through and hit the wall.  I've drawn an arrow to indicate how you could have gotten out.  I've also circled a few spots where the town's road ends at the wall.

I used no clipping codes (thank you Flying Omelette) to walk out of bounds and didn't learn anything I wouldn't have from looking at the rip above.



Note the break in the trees at the bottom of town.  I'm thinking that flying wasn't supposed to be the only way of getting here.

Turtle Island

Turtle Island itself is surrounded by a shore, indicating that a water vehicle could have been used to reach it.  Yes, a steep hill surrounds the village, but let's work with what we have.  There is a good deal of speculation that said vehicle could have been acquired at the island or is the island itself!  As explained at seikens.net:

It is possible that this turtle may be related to Booskaboo from Seiken Densetsu 3, a sea turtle that transports the heroes until they encounter Flammie.

Possibly, but we have to consider a few caveats.  First, if the island is the turtle, we would hope that it would downsize, as it would be very difficult to maneuver into some of the shores we've examined.  Second, as mentioned above, the island has shores itself.  If we acquired the turtle at the island, how would we get to it without another boat?  Cannon travel?  I'm fairly skeptical about this.  This is my translation of some of the dialogue here.  Again, I don't know any Japanese, and can only use translators and dictionaries.  This is the toughest dialogue I've attempted to translate yet.


We can only conclude that, like a lot of the game, there was intended to be more here.  I don't see any evidence that this was anything more than a sidequest.  It's also not clear if the island is literally a turtle shell, or just in the shape of one.

Kakkara

This part of the world is one huge beach.  The mountains in the northern part would prevent an early entry at the Moon Palace.  Since Kakkara's active view involves a lot of similar screens that add up to a one-dimensional puzzle, it's not far fetched to presume that there was more intended here.  As zhaDe points out, it would make more sense to take a boat here than backtrack to the Upper Lands to take a cannon.

Ice Country

We have a situation that's similar to Kakkara.  While there is sand all around the Ice Country, there are a few places that seem especially suited to being a port.  I've circled them here:



Next to the Scorpion Village is a large sandy area, though it is at the end of a narrow river.  At the southern end is a break in the rocks, which would be a perfect place to thrown an anchor.  I didn't circle it, but Toto village also has an area that may have been your first steps on the Ice Country.

Matango

Matango is reachable by cave from the Upper Land, so there is no need to take a boat there.  However, it would be a great time to acquire a boat.  zhaDe thought along the same lines.

So what would this version of Secret of Mana look like?  Let's consider the events from Matango onward.

1)From Matango, we get a boat, with instructions to proceed to Kakkara or the Ice Country.  We can travel from one to the other by the same method and complete the necessary tasks.  (We could go to the places mentioned in #4, but it'd be easy to make it impossible to complete the missions at this point.)
2)The Empire can't be reached with our boat, so instead we travel by cannon.
3)After the second battle with Geshtar, we're either bailed out by Flammie without getting him full time, or find another way back to our boat.
4)We now can head to Gold City, Tasnica, Turtle Island, and the Lofty Mountains.  
5)After completing Joch's test, we get Flammie.  This allows us to go to the sunken continent, where there are no shores.  I imagine the boat would just sail over it.  The game then proceeds as normal.

The final thing we'll consider is the Lighthouse.  Note how it's very close to the Ice Country, and not as out of the way as it appears on the world map:



This has no shores, somewhat ironically.  However, a look at the active view shows a huge area in
front that you can't help but picture a boat at.  It could be there just for completeness, but it seems to fit our hypothesis.  In the final USA game, Pecard only tells us about the sunken continent, but I could see him giving us clues about where else to sail.  We leave thinking that there is yet another serious loss of content.  I have attempted to translate Pecard's speech:

"I am the keeper of this lighthouse, Pecard, who watches the seas like an eagle!  The seas are rough, and boats don't pass through here much, but I continue to look at the sea.  You may have seen the enormous coral reef northeast of here, but did you know it's actually a continent which sunk in ancient times?  In fact, the Mana Palace [Mana Fortress?] 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!"

Nothing in the game points us at the Lighthouse, and it can be skipped as is.  We get yet another vague clue about the game's background, but notice how Pecard mentions boats in the Japanese script.  This is the only place in the world where this happens.  I'm quite certain that if there was a ship in SoM, we would be hitting up the Lighthouse more than once.

We've considered just about everything we can at this point.  An additional form of travel in SoM is not a stretch, and may simply be a concept with no place in the final game.  As usual, we're guessing, and can't conclude anything for sure based on the available evidence.  I have not played Seiken Densetsu 3 in over a decade, and have no time right now, so any information from there that would shed further light is appreciated.

Next: Fanha and Geshtar

Additional Credits:

As usual, the Spriters Resource and Galen Puronen's DeviantArt was my primary source for map rips.  Screenshots are mine.  Square owns everything; information here is provided only for educational purposes under the Fair Use Doctrine.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Sheex

Sheex is my favorite character, as if you needed me to tell you that.  I think he has the coolest sprite in the game, and it seems that what was planned for him may have been even cooler.  It turns out, there's a bit more we can find out about Sheex than what is revealed in the final American game.

Sheex's Japanese name is シーク, which according to Jisho.com, can be translated as Sikh, seek, or Sheik.  I doubt it's implied that Sheex practices Sikhism, so either seek or Sheik (Arabic word for leader of a tribe) seems correct.

We only meet Sheex three times.  Once is the sole part of the game that the Emperor is in the same room with his four bodyguards, during the assault on Vandole's palace.  He has no lines here.  The second time is as the Dark Stalker in Tasnica.  His lines here add little to his character.  Finally, he makes a stand in the Tree Palace, where he drops very important information about the Empire.  This is only the time we directly confront Sheex as himself.  The fact that I chose this character to be my favorite says volumes about me...

In order to understand Sheex, we need to understand a bit more about the Emperor's other bodyguards.  I will cover each of them in future articles, but as an introduction, let's look at the Japanese word, 四天王, which is how they are introduced.  The translation of this is generally given as, "four heavenly kings."  This is a reference to the Buddhist tradition of four gods who each oversee a cardinal direction of the world.  However, it has been often been reinterpreted for use in Japanese popular culture. One notable example is in Sailor Moon to refer to Endymion's generals.  More recently, the concept was used in Final Fantasy Type-0.

Sheex has two forms with a complete set of sprites, only one of which appears in the game.  Despite having a complete set, they appear to be unfinished, according to tcrf.net.  Only the static version of Sheex is shown---his walking frames are never used.  UPDATE 2/20/2017: Celes Destiny has once again submitted a correction.  He is very briefly seen walking in the game, though only a very small subset of available frames is used.  His second, unused form involves his regular
sprite with a helmet.  An early draft of this article had me thinking that maybe Sheex was also a Mech Rider, but the helmet seems to be distinct from Geshtar's; it may even be closer to a mask.  We may also consider the possibility that the helmet was his original default sprite, and they switched to the helmetless version to reveal his enchantingly striking plum locks.

Let's take a look at the first time Sheex is mentioned in Secret of Mana.  I will post what Ted Woolsey translated from the Japanese script, and then attempt my own best translation as someone who knows diddly poo about the language (yay web machine translators, but I'm keeping the American names).  I've paraphrased a bit, and used online Japanese dictionaries like Jisho for words that the very limited translators couldn't handle.

Woolsey: 

The Emperor has some powerful bodyguards.  Sheex, Geshtar, Fanha, and Thanatos. They're capable of anything!

ManaRedux: 

There are guards called the, "four heavenly kings" that report directly to the Emperor.  They are: 


The leader, the knight of darkness --- Sheex

The machine rider --- Geshtar
The lone female --- Fanha

Then there is the magic knight, Thanatos.  I'm still not very familiar with him.


This final line was not translated by Woolsey; instead, he added Thanatos to the previous screen to save space (poor Ted).  We now have some information left out of the USA translation: Sheex was the main bodyguard.  There is nothing to be found about the machination of his leadership, but it is likely that his intended role would have reflected this status.  We also see that Thanatos was not on the same level as the others, and seems to have shown up recently.  I will conjecture that Sheex was responsible for the oversight of Geshtar and Fanha.  This makes sense, since Geshtar did most of the dirty work in the beginning of the game, sent as Sheex's subordinate while he presumably worked things in Tasnica and kept watch in Northtown.  Thanatos was off doing his own thing.  Speaking of Tasnica, this is what we have there:

Woolsey:

KING:Who are you?
You must be spies!

RANDI:Wait a minute...

GUARD:Silence, spy.

KING:Take them away!

GUARD:WAIT!
He's not the king..!

KING(?):Ha! Using the king,
I could have ruined this
realm...

But...I've failed.
Take THIS!

[everyone else disappears]

RANDI:What've you done?

KING(?):They're probably at
the castle entrance!

Think I'll have YOU
destroy the king!

RANDI:Think again!

ManaRedux:

KING: ...Who are you, coming in here like this?  I suspect that you are the Imperial spies we've been looking for.  Guards, these are the spies!  Save me!

RANDI: We're clearly not the spies.

GUARD:  You may remain silent, scoundrels.  To think that you came here aiming for the life of the king...

KING:  My life is in danger, and look at what you're doing!  Don't you think it's time [for what needs to be done] to take them away?

JEMA: Wait a minute!  You are not the king.  Look, he doesn't cast any shadows.

KING:  Hahaha, indeed, Jema!  As the king, I was going to surrender Tasnica to the Empire, but now that I've been discovered, it doesn't matter.  My plans have been spoiled.  But I will still deal with you now!


[everyone else disappears]

RANDI:  What did you do with [our friend] Jema and other others!?

KING:  Hahaha!  By now, they should be back at the entrance to the castle, helplessly scurrying around the area.  Now, let's all just use this opportunity to end the king...

RANDI: ...or not.  Just try to make us!

Note how Jema (who is not mentioned in the USA script) reminds Randi that the king does not cast a shadow.  This could simply be a contrived way of denoting him as a bad guy, but it seems possible that there is a lost explanation for this, given that Sheex is the "Knight of Darkness."  However, as we'll see below, Randi apparently did not realize that the dark stalker was Sheex before he escaped, so I may be way off here.

There's also a lot of conclusions that are jumped to Tasnica.  First, we hear there is a spy, and need to search the palace to find him or her.  But, all we have to do is walk into the throne room.  Instead of providing some old fashioned Tasnican hospitality, the king immediately orders our heroes to be taken away.  Then, Sheex does not even attempt to elude the fact that he's the one they're looking for, once it is discovered that he doesn't cast a shadow.  I will presume that originally, the search for the spy was more involved, and the mere presence of the triumvirate in the throne room would not cause the dark stalker to reveal his hand.

Let's do what we always do, and examine some other Square RPGs of the time for possible insight.  The concept of a dark knight shows up a lot.  It is known that Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana started out as the same project.  The closest character in that game to Sheex is Magus.  But despite their similar dispositions, there's not a whole lot that can be conjectured from this.  Similarly, Cecil from Final Fantasy IV was a dark knight, but has little in common with Sheex.

But, there is one very obvious place to look --- Secret of Mana 2.  Never localized in the USA, I played this about 15 years ago on an emulator, and admittedly don't recall much about the game.  But a search through the Mana wiki reveals the major antagonist known as the Darkshine Knight.

Compiled from a rip by davias of the Spriters Resource

He is essentially presented as Mech Rider's sprite with a nice facelift, and a palette very close to Sheex.  In fact, in SoM, Mech Rider's body sprite was used with a different palette for the dark knight enemy.  How much of Darkshine Knight's story, if any, was inspired by Sheex's intended background is impossible to determine, but it is worth nothing that the sequel to SoM had a very prominent similar character.

So whatever Jema was referring to is not known, but it does reinforce the darkness theme which was completely excised from the USA version.

A Japanese source depicts Sheex with a long sword.

The final time we encounter Sheex is in the Tree Palace.  The Emperor asks who wants the "job" of ending the triumvirate, and...

Woolsey:

SHEEX: I owe them one since the Republic!  Leave it to me!

RANDI: You?  You're the Dark Stalker?!

SHEEX: Behold! Have a taste of my true power!

(change screens to the battle with Sheex's alternate form)

SHEEX: Ha! The underworld gives us its strength.
I'll squash you!

SHEEX:The contract we signed with the underworld gives us control of THIS world!

To keep humans under my control, we're reviving the Mana Fortress!

Now your time is over...

ManaRedux:

SHEEX:  Your majesty, leave us please!  You and Fanha should hasten to the altar ahead.  They dared to interfere with me in Tasnica...

RANDI:  You were the dark stalker then...?

SHEEX: Yes, but that was before what you're about to witness.  Behold!  My true form!

(change screens to the battle with Sheex's alternate form)

SHEEX:  Hahaha!  The forces of the Underworld gave us a power that children such as you will not stop.  There is no way you can beat us!

RANDI:  Wait!  Even the Emperor...?

SHEEX:  Isn't it obvious?  In exchange for handing the planet to the Underworld, we were bestowed with great powers.  And humans will not dare go up against the Mana Fortress, which the Emperor can now revive with our new power.  As for you, take a long rest here...

I don't know if this qualifies as lost in translation, but it seems that Randi is expressing surprise that Sheex was a particular dark stalker in a group of many, rather than the dark stalker.  After all, the dark stalker is a common enemy later in the game.

Sheex drops the bombshell here that they've been working with the, "Underworld", which is not explained much in the USA version.  Randi and friends then battle Sheex as Aegagroplion, which, according to the Mana wiki is derived from the plant known as the marimo.  Upon further research, I learned that these are large green balls of algae which form at the bottom of the ocean.  They do resemble the Aegagroplion monster's central sphere, sans teeth of course.  You can even grow them in your kitchen, feed them and have your very own alternate underworld form.  According to user regrs of the GameFAQs forum, there was an attack left out of Aegagropilon's sprite, involving some chomping on our heroes:



Aegragropilon is weak to Sylphid, which makes sense as he's a water creature, but the dark stalker was weak to Lumina.  Since Sheex was still in human form at Tasnica, it fits together well.

We'll explore the concept of Secret of Mana's underworld in Thanatos' article, and will reference back to Sheex at that time, but for now, we'll have to be content with the limited information we can find---a common theme when exploring what was actually released in this game.

Also of interest:

I'm not sure what going's on here, as I don't understand Japanese, but it appears like they're trying to get Sheex to function as a main character.

Next:  Water travel

Additional Acknowledgments:

The Spriters Resource graciously allow their work to be used.  The Japanese magazine screenshot has been on my hard drive for awhile, and I regret that I can not find the site (in Japanese) that it came from.  Any information would be appreciated.   Everything is owned by Square, and is used for educational purposes under the Fair Use Doctrine.