The Mana Beast
Feburary 28, 2021
It’s easy to overlook the magnificence of the Mana Beast as an end boss. Thematically, it’s the culmination of so many threads in the game, not the least of which is humanity’s great failure to control its use of Mana. Just the appearance of the Mana Beast is a grisly testament to this fact.
In order to understand the Mana Beast, we have to go back to the game’s first lines in the Prologue:
In the distant past…Through the power of Mana, advanced civilizations came to flourish across the earth. In time, humans turned to Mana’s power to wage war. An enormous vessel known as the Mana Fortress was born. Yet its excessive might was such as to draw the indignation of the gods. By their command, the Mana Beast was dispatched to the earth.
In these opening screens, we don’t know what Mana is, but we see that it’s powerful enough to bring civilizations forth. Mana was a gift of the gods, possibly for this purpose. But when humans started using it for nefarious reasons like building the dominant Mana Fortress, the gods had to make things right, and that’s why the Mana Beast was sent to the world.
Also from the Prologue:
The fierce battle between the Fortress and the Mana Beast plunged the world into fire and poison, and Mana was lost from the earth.
At that moment, the Fortress was struck down by a hero bearing the Mana Sword, and with it, the Mana Beast vanished from the sight of mankind.
The Mana Sword hero sealed the Fortress with eight Mana Seeds, effectively ending the battle. With this, it seems that the gods were satisfied by “good” humans responding to the ill-natured humans’ warlike trends, and the Mana Beast ceased to be. The Sword is powered by Mana itself, so it was a sign that humans could still use it correctly. The scars of this conflict were deep and humanity was devastated, but the Beast disappeared and the world was at peace again.
At the time of Secret of Mana, the Mana Beast is long since gone, but its memory lives on in those who have studied Mana. Most realize that it would be a fool’s errand to abuse Mana again, and cause the Beast to return.
The Mana Beast is referenced in Matango when a citizen explains a connection with other flying creatures that are still abundant:
I expect that you already know the legend—the battle that engulfed the world in flames, between the Mana Fortress and the Mana Beast…Seems they’re different from that Mana Beast, but in this world, since Ancient times, there’ve been living things that were called “beasts of the gods.” Sometimes, out in the middle of forests and such places, some incomprehensible, dark thing goes flying by, right? That’s them.
Later, we visit Mandala where there are video records of Ancient times, including an eerie documentation of the Mana Beast in action:
Television viewers! Look at this–that’s the Mana Fortress! Ah! At last, the airborne fortress Gigant has been obliterated by the Mana Beast! It’s crashing down into the sea! Ahhhh! The beast is coming this way. We can’t continue the broadcast, farewell everyone, farew–
Gigant, by the way, is also the name of the airship used by Altena in Trials of Mana. This scene is reminiscent of the Day of Lavos in Chrono Trigger.
Unfortunately, Thanatos is successful in reviving the Mana Fortress. How it’s in perfect shape at the time of Secret of Mana after being smashed by a hero in the ancient past is unknown.
The Mana Tree explains that the Mana Beast is coming back:
The revived Mana Fortress has caused Mana to be all but lost from the world. In but a moment, beasts from throughout the world will gather, and transform into a single gigantic Mana Beast…This Mana Beast can restore the Mana that has been lost. Among living things, it is unique. But if Mana is depleted too quickly, in response it will go mad and begin to rampage. When the Fortress and the Mana Fortress clash, the world will face its final moment.
The Mana Fortress uses so much Mana, and there’s so little left. Since the Mana Tree dies, the only way Mana will be rebalanced is if the Mana Beast sets things right.
I can’t think of a more tragic boss than the Mana Beast. It’s not evil; it’s just trying to save the world from itself. So much so that it can’t control its rage and might annihilate the planet. Before that can happen, Randi and his friends must destroy it.
From a technical perspective, the Mana Beast is actually programmed as part of the background, an obvious fact in the screenshot above, but not so much on CRT screens of the past. Like the two Slime bosses that proceeded it, the battle uses Mode 7 graphics to achieve otherwise computationally expensive events in the game’s code. This allows the Super NES to depict the Mana Beast’s huge size, its fly-byes, its rotation animation on the fire attack, and the skewed graphics needed for the defeat animation. Still, the Mana Beast’s animations are few, with only three frames for its wings; this is still a taxing order on the hardware despite the developers’ efforts.
The remake depicts the Mana Beast as menacing, but the cutesy Mana Beast of the Super NES is far more effective. We are more sympathetic to this rendition, whose terrible cry signals a possible doomsday for the mythical paradise that’s Secret of Mana’s world.
Once it’s defeated, it’s unknown if the gods will create another means of restoring Mana. Perhaps due to Randi’s heroics, that will never be needed.
- In Japanese, the Mana Beast is the Godbeast.
- The “fire and poison” line in the Prologue is likely an allusion to nuclear weapons, and the advanced technology of the Ancient world. For obvious reasons, this and similar references are generally left ambiguous in Japanese scripts.