Tell me something: Have you ever just stopped and LOOKED at Secret of Mana's cover art? Like, just sat and really gave it a proper once-over? If you haven't, here's your chance:
SoM Cover Art
Now is it just me, or is that a ludicrously good piece of art for a video game cover? I mean, look at the damn thing. Look at the complexity of it! Save the picture and then zoom in on it if you want to. Look at the lines in the bark, the detail given to the individual leaves. I'm no artist, so describing this properly is not a task I'm likely to succeed at, but the dedicated level of detail in this piece alone is way beyond almost any other RPG official art I've seen to date, and certainly far, FAR advanced of any RPG of the 16-bit era Secret of Mana hails from.
Beyond just the skill and depth, though, the art for this game's impressive also for its size. It's not just that it's a great piece of work--it's really quite big, to the point that Squaresoft unfortunately had to crop out a fair chunk of it for the actual game cover and instruction manual. A shame, really, because the quality of the picture is consistently high from top to bottom. This is no small, simple picture; this has not only the quality of a real piece of art, but the size as well.
Lastly, I'd like to note that SoM's cover art also has merit in true artistic value. I mean, so far I've mentioned the technical qualities, and those are impressive, but this scene is more than the sum of its parts. It directs your attentions and imparts meaning, even emotion. Look at the way it's arranged. The entire thing is meant to express the incredible grandeur of Nature, embodied in the monumental central figure of the Mana Tree. This is a picture that gives exactly the sense of awe that standing before a massive tree of life should.* While the game's major characters are present in this picture, they are dwarfed, and so removed to their corner at the bottom that I daresay no one who sees this will realize at first that they're even there. That's certainly a different perspective to have in a game's main art piece; usually any characters who make it onto the cover art are thrust to the center of the picture's attention, sometimes in an almost painfully crude manner (see Breath of Fire 1 and 2's cover art for a couple of examples of this). Here, however, it is the power of the scene itself that is emphasized as important, and by extension, the overall theme, tone, and purpose of the game, rather than just the actors that see its events through. To supplement this idea even further, the first colorful, non-plant thing the eye is drawn to in this picture are the flamingos flying past, again putting a stronger emphasis on the natural world, and hence the scene itself, than on the human factor.
It's very different, very artistic, and very, VERY far above the norm for RPG cover art. Hell, half the time the cover art for RPGs is just the game title done up all fancy, maybe with a little uninspired background design. Even when you do get a proper scene or character shot or something, it's never anything you'd really call art, at least not on the level of Secret of Mana's. I suppose it doesn't really matter too much as long as the art attracts the attention of potential buyers, or whatever function cover art is supposed to serve. Nonetheless, the one for Secret of Mana is really just awesome, and deserves some praise.
* Ironically, the actual scene in Secret of Mana in which the party reaches the Mana Tree not only fails totally to recapture the moment's majesty that this picture depicts, but seems to basically not even bother to try to.