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 must revive the Mana 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.  It is very possible that some Seeds are sealed, and some are unsealed, but the game is not clear.  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 it 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.

Going back to previous discussion, if the Seeds are unsealed by default, then shouldn't the Lost Continent already have risen?  Again, this may go back to the point that at the start of the game, each Seed did not have the same status.

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.  

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, perhaps both making up the "Mana Palace" mentioned earlier.  That's quite a lot of Palace to keep track of.  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?  I suppose it's possible the fortress "rose" with the continent, and since it's apparently in perfect working order, it could have been parked behind the Tree Palace.

I don't understand why they bothered having the team get back to the Tree Palace.  Why not just have the scene with Thanatos and the Mana Fortress happen in the Grand Palace?  It would have kept the events separate, and given the Grand Palace more purpose than just a simple dungeon.

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.  Maybe there's something else about the Seeds that was sealed?

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.

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  1. I first played this game at my aunt's house shortly after it came out... she had gotten it for my older cousin for Xmas and she saw him play it and was interested. She'd never played a video game before, but armed with the manual and strategy guide she made her way through it. I was maybe ten years old at the time, and she helped me start a new save file and got me through most of the beginning of the game (getting the party together, etc.) before turning me loose.

    Immediately I had questions about why we needed to seal the seeds, why they were all unsealed already, and if they were unsealed why isn't the fortress already revived, etc.

    My aunt had no answers, nor did my cousin. Nor did the strategy guide or manual.

    I guess we'll never know :P

  2. I Notice that when replaying, when was a child and my english was not that good, i got the idea you were energizing the sword with the seeds(before learning the orb) and the antagonist were releasing too much of their magic to broke the seals, but seems nobody make sense, or maybe ther are different seals and when mana fortress was broken, the need the desesperated measure use even more mana to stop it?