Anyone who is fan of the RPG genre will doubtless have heard of the Mana Series, and anyone who is a fan of Secret of Mana will no doubt remember the first time they fired this game up and witnessed Hiroki Kikuta's orchestral masterpiece.
From the second you hear the haunting cry of the wolves, you know you're in for a real treat, and this feeling is only amplified when the screen finally stretches fully open and you are treated to the sight of the Mana Tree in all her crowning glory. As the epic story scrolls on by, the glorious musical score (performed by actual instruments - then a first on the SNES) weaves a tale all of it's own and shows how Square were quite simply on a different plane to everyone else. When the music finally reaches it's angelic crescendo, accompanied by a flock of birds flying across the screen, you get the feeling that what you've just seen is beyond epic.
The most amazing thing about Secret of Mana (or Seiken Densetsu II to coin it's proper name) is that as good as the intro sequence is, the game is even better. Released in the UK way back in 1994, Mana went a long way to satisfying a rabid hunger that had grown within British gamers. With competition being thin on the ground, and coming mainly in the shape of the vastly underrated Soul Blazer and the near perfect Zelda III, Square aimed for the top with their long awaited ARPG and achieved it with consummate ease. Boasting a story that would put most traditional RPGs to shame, an ingenious battle system and the ability to have two friends join you for the ride, Mana literally wiped the floor with anything that came sniffing for it's crown.
Visually and sonically stunning in every way, Mana showed it's true class by remaining one of the greatest games on the SNES for the entire life span of the little 16bit wonder, and indeed it was only usurped as the little grey box's finest ARPG by the eventual release of Enix's majestic Terranigma in late 1996.
Perhaps the greatest testament that I can pay this incredible piece of cinema though, is that even by today's standards, it still looks and sounds genuinely inspired. And while Hiroki Kikuta may have never topped his work on Secret of Mana, he can rest assured that there is a place in the history books reserved for him and his piece of audio perfection.
A more in depth look at Square's finest action adventure game (to be released in the west anyways) is on it's way, but for now...help yourself to a look at one of the finest pieces of video game cinema ever conceived.