In 1993, Square Enix, then known as Squaresoft, released Secret of Mana on the SNES. the follow-up to the Game Boy action RPG, Final Fantasy Adventure. Known as Seiken Densetsu 2 in Japan, this game went on to become a much loved favorite of fans the world over, and eventually established the Mana series as we know it today. After twenty-five years and various ports, Square Enix finally delivered a full 3D remake for the PS4, Vita, and PC.
Secret of Mana follows the story of Randi, Primm, and Popoi as they journey to save the world and its Mana from a tyrannical empire seeking to gain power and unleash the fabled, destructive Mana Fortress. While the story doesn’t really stand out against today’s competitors, it stays true to itself and the time that it originated from, presenting us with a solid, charming story that stays consistent from beginning to end.
One of the most defining aspects of Secret of Mana is its action-oriented combat system, which takes place in an open world with a variety of weapons at your disposal, and ended up becoming a staple of the series. While the original only let you attack in four directions, the remake allows for combat with 360 degrees of movement. This is both a boon and a bane, as it allows you to fight your enemies in a way that you couldn’t before, but also gives them this freedom as well. Early on, it is apparent how detrimental this can be when you find yourself constantly being pelted by arrows and rapidly losing health. Only being able be attacked in four directions in the original allowed you some reprieve if you were able to just scoot to the side. This could have been easily rectified by slowing down the rate at which certain enemies attacked you, although even that wouldn’t have mattered, as any enemy that is just slightly off-screen can also cast a barrage of spells on you without a second thought.
A remake should improve upon aspects of the original game that were flawed. While most things were changed for the better in the remake, there were times where it felt as though for each aspect that was improved, there were ones that weren’t. Aside from the occasional bugs and freezing, the party AI is still just as bad today as it was twenty-five years ago. While this is a game designed to be played with friends, it’s also designed to be played alone. If you don’t have someone to play with, your computer-controlled allies shouldn’t be getting caught on the same walls and corners that they were nearly three decades ago. Not only that, but the ally AI options were completely reworked. Instead of the grid from the original that worked well most of the time, we now get a peculiar list of options that frankly don’t function as they should. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t find the best setting so that my allies would attack more often and stop running into a wall for no reason.
Though these aspects are annoying, it’s mostly because they weren’t fixed from the original and just popped up again in some other way. It’s just a shame that the issues that existed from the SNES’s limited technology are still prevalent today. But the game is still perfectly playable from beginning to end. Despite the issues, there were changes made between the two versions that really allow the remake a chance to shine, even a little bit. For starters, the camera stays focused on your character in the center. No more awkward camera shifting when you get close to the edge and are suddenly smacked by something off screen that you only just saw as it finally moved.
The Ring Command system is iconic for Secret of Mana and a few of its siblings. While it is odd that the rings aren’t focused on the characters and are just in the center of the screen, the fact that they added in shoulder button mapping for spells and items is wonderful. The Ring Command is great and all, but constantly having to open it to cast the same spells can be daunting.
One of my favorite additions to the remake is the new inn room scenes. As memorable as the characters of Secret of Mana were in the original, it doesn’t change the fact that they didn’t get as much characterization as one would hope. These scenes in the remake change this, as every time you rest at an inn after a significant point in the story, your characters will have a small discussion about what they recently experienced. These can range from serious to humorous and shed more light on our heroes than what we formerly knew.
The visual aspects of the remake are somewhat controversial, as many people love the original sprite style over the 3D, myself included. But while the game may look like an HD port of a PS2 game, I do feel like the world is just as wonderfully vibrant now as it was back then. The only thing I honestly dislike about the 3D style, aside from character mouths not moving in cutscenes, is how awful some of the textures can be; they can range from lazily done to downright ugly.
Secret of Mana’s soundtrack has always been remarkable, even for those who have never played the game before, so I was worried about how the arrangements for the remake would hold up. At first, I was impressed by the pieces for the title screen and the opening sequence. But shortly after, I found myself disappointed. The first few tracks I heard after the opening cutscene were really unimpressive. I worried that this was how everything would sound throughout the entire game. Pleasantly, the game subverted that expectation with the soundtrack as a whole; I found most of the tracks on-par or even surpassing the original. There were very few that felt lackluster. It’s to be expected that the arranged soundtrack would have this effect, seeing as there were fourteen composers involved. Thankfully, if you prefer the original soundtrack over the arranged version, there is an option built into the game to use the original instead. No DLC required.
When the remake was announced, I was both excited and skeptical, as I didn’t know how to feel about the game now being fully voiced. When it was mentioned that you could turn the voices off completely, I didn’t feel so concerned anymore and originally opted to play without them. One thing I wasn’t expecting was for the game to have voice acting for even all of the NPC dialogue. This was off-putting at first, but I quickly grew used to it and ultimately left the voices on. The English voices are fitting and better done than most dubs I’ve heard, but there are a few moments where the acting feels like it is lacking. Thankfully, as a whole the characters are well cast.
One fault of the original’s localization is that it was very underwhelming, to put it politely. The translation process was packed into a one month period and suffered from text limitations that prevented the dialogue from being more elaborate. Bless Ted Woolsey for doing his best, but it significantly hindered the game. No longer is that a problem, though, as the remake now provides a proper translation that is sure to make fans of the series happy.
When it comes right down to it, the remake of Secret of Mana is a flawed but good game. It could have strayed a bit from the original and been even better, but it’s not a bad game by any means, despite its problems. As for which version is best, it’s hard to say. If you’re nostalgic for the original, chances are ridiculously high that you’re going to just prefer the original, and that’s perfectly fine. If you’re new to Secret of Mana and aren’t sure which version to play, it really depends on your preferences. Do you like 2D sprites or 3D models? Are you hoping to get fully invested in the story or are you fine with the bogged down translation of the original? If you want to start the series with the remake, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If the SNES version looks more your thing, then by all means go for it. Although if you want to get it on the Wii Virtual Console, you should probably act soon, as Nintendo is discontinuing that service in 2019 and will stop letting people add funds in March 2018. But if not, the smartphone and SNES Classic versions are perfectly suitable replacements.
Pros & Cons
+ Charming story
+ Enjoyable world and characters
– Few improvements from the original
– 3D environments are lacking in presentation
A good remake that acts as a fine entry point for new players, but ultimately will not be held in as high regard as the original for the nostalgic.
PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC