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.

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