July 17, 2019 at 2:58 AM #639
Secret of Mana
Rating: 4.0 – Great
It’s pretty risky to take a classic 2D RPG and remaster it in 3D… so, how did Square-Enix do?
To many of us older gamers out there (wait, I’m how old?!), the Super Nintendo game "Secret of Mana" is a classic. It came out in America in 1993 and was an Action-RPG hybrid that kept the player engaged while also having plenty of role-playing elements in it. 1993 was a long time ago though, but thankfully (or for some of us, not so thankfully) the Square-Enix of today just loves to re-release games. Phone versions, Console versions… if Square-Enix can make another dime on your nostalgia, chances are they’re going to do it.
And that my friends is how we got the "Secret of Mana Remake" for the PS4 in 2018. This isn’t a simple port though! This is actually a 3D remaster, made from the ground up, which is a drastic change from the 2D version we all know and love. So… the real question is, how did they do? After playing through the game (and platinuming it!), let’s go through everything you can expect out of this JRPG classic remake!
Well, I guess it’s destiny!?
The story of Secret of Mana starts with our main character, a young boy named Randi, up to some mischief with some village kids near a local waterfall. Boys will be boys of course, but Randi seems to be a bit of a klutz as he falls off a log spanning a large gap and plummets out of sight.
Instead of breaking his leg though, Randi ends up discovering a talking sword and pulls it from its rocky perch… like some sort of Excalibur, right? I mean… you are basically forced to pull this rusty sword from this rock to make your way back home (overcoming grass is hard…), but as it turns out this particular talking sword is the "Mana Sword" and has chosen you as its champion. Your village doesn’t seem to agree though, as pulling the sword has led to an increase of monster activity, forcing you to fight for your life and being exiled afterwards. This starts Randi’s journey through the world of Secret of Mana, as he eventually meets up with Primm (a tomboy-ish princess) and Popoi (a mischievous sprite child) as they investigate the mana seeds around the world and get caught up in a much larger story.
So yeah, that’s pretty much it story-wise, as the tale is a fairly generic "Mana against the forces of evil" affair. Very little "moral grey area" here. The story itself will pull in our three character’s back stories every now and again, but it’s never too detailed or deep (Primm and the kingdom she is from is, by far, the most involved back story), which results in our three main characters never having all that much depth. Despite that though, these characters are still easy to root for. A big part of that stems from all of the "party banter" that you get whenever you stay at an Inn, although you never really have to do so (I usually only rested at Inns for the party banter, to be honest).
All in all, this is just a classic plot line through and through, so don’t expect anything too memorable or shocking here. I’ll also add that they didn’t change anything here from the Super Nintendo version and kept the tale faithful to the original.
That old familiar feeling!
Speaking of whether or not things changed, one thing is for sure: despite the graphics being in 3D, the game play hasn’t changed a bit. The battle system in Secret of Mana was always a bit weird, to be honest. We said earlier that this is an "Action RPG", and it is. You run around whatever environment you are in and attack enemies with one of several weapons. Swords, Spears, Axes, Whips… there’s a lot to choose from here, and many of them have secondary affects (for example, you need the Whip to cross certain gaps, or the Axe to clear rocks out of your way to continue). But what sets the game apart from other action RPG’s is the charge system.
You see, after attacking an enemy, a bar at the bottom of the screen will start to automatically charge from 0 to 100%. If you attack again before the bar fills up, you won’t do as much damage as you normally do. So, as you can see, this bar literally makes you pause between attacks just to deliver fully-powered attacks. Plus, as you level up our weapons skills (which you do simply by using weapons), you can hold the attack button to get to 200% (or 300%, or 400%… you get the picture) to do special attacks with your weapon. This "partial waiting" system definitely isn’t for everyone, but the pausing isn’t too bad, honestly, especially when you have two other party members who can attack in the meantime. It’s definitely unique!
As you play through the game you’ll encounter the world’s mana seeds and the sprites that guard them, who will give you magic abilities (only Primm and Popoi can use magic, however). Magic is all menu-based here, and you can literally spam magic attacks and abilities until you run out of MP. I will note that one addition new to this version of the game is shortcut buttons (L1 and R1), which you can assign weapons and magic to (which is awful nice… I wish there were more shortcut buttons though!). Magic also levels up and becomes more powerful as you use it (which you really want to do!).
Other than those quirks with the battle system, this is really just a solid action RPG system. You level up and get stronger. Your abilities with weapons and magic level up. You find and buy new armor to increase your survivability. There are Inns you can save and rest at. All fairly standard stuff. The only other stand-out thing here is the "Item Ring", which gained fame when this game first released for how easy it is to use. Your pause menu is basically a ring of options that you can rotate around and use, and the reason it is so notable is how easy it is to see all the items you have in one easy interface (although this system does limit how many pieces of armor you can own, which makes armor-collecting impossible and inventory management frustrating by late-game).
Overall though, the game is just plain fun to play. The power meter may not be for everyone, but with three characters you can switch between, different magic for two of them, and multiple (8+) weapons to equip and level up… there’s a lot to love here for an RPG fan (you are constantly improving in some way and the action aspect of the game keeps you engaged at all times). The game also features some puzzles to solve here and there, but most of them are fairly simple to figure out. So yeah, if you can handle the slight ebb and flow to combat, the game play itself is quite fun.
A whole new dimension!
And with that we come to the biggest upgrade in this remaster: the graphics. I’ll admit, taking a game like Secret of Mana and remaking it to be entirely in 3D is a huge undertaking. And yet here we are! Every single screen of this game has been redone in 3D and it is all faithful to the original (often with much more detail, given the age difference between these two consoles). Very impressive overall, really. I knew going into the game that they’d do a faithful 3D translation though, as they did the same thing with the PlayStation Vita game "Adventures of Mana", which is the first Mana game (Secret of Mana is actually the second Mana game), which they also did a faithful "one for one" 3D translation of. All of the 3D character models in the game look fantastic, from our main heroes to the enemy designs (even though they do palette-swap fairly early in this game, but they did that in the original as well).
One thing I absolutely loved though was the inclusion of the mini-map. Now, lots of games have mini-maps, but this one is really cool as it actually uses the 2D backgrounds from the original SNES game. So you get to see the original game’s graphics as you look at the remastered version. Very neat. It’s also helpful to give you a screen-view of the area you are in, but I really enjoyed the nostalgia factor of it as well. Note that it’s just the area graphics, and doesn’t have any sprite work.
All in all, this is a fantastic job they did, graphically. The animations were good looking and smooth, and I didn’t see any graphical glitches or crashes at all. Plus, the mini-map idea was a fantastic addition. More importantly, they stayed very faithful to the original while adding more detail, and as a result everything just looks great.
Do you dare to "improve" what isn’t broken?
Speaking of staying faithful (yes, I’m the king of smooth transitions!), the audio in this title is… interesting. First of all, much like their remake of "Adventures of Mana", you have two choices for the audio in the game: you can choose the original soundtrack or the remastered soundtrack. The original soundtrack is, for the record, a masterpiece. It’s just got so many good tracks and melodies in it… so many catchy pieces that even to this day I’ll through the OST up on YouTube to listen to while I do busy work on the computer. It’s fantastic.
The remastered version… eh, not so much. They’ve remastered everything with a full orchestra, but they also took many liberties in remixing the songs as well. Now, whether you like that or not is largely a matter of personal preference, but many of these classic tunes were just changed too much for my taste (they made "Color of the Summer Sky" way too busy, for example). I ended up listening to the classic soundtrack for the entire game. I’d like to think I’m not alone in my opinion, especially given that I enjoyed the remastered "Adventures of Mana", but since you can switch between the two soundtracks this isn’t that big of a deal.
One more thing that bugged me though: Secret of Mana now has voice acting… and I really can’t stand the English voice actors. The main character is way too whiny and just doesn’t sound right. Thankfully, the game also has Japanese voice acting, and you can switch between the two as well. I dislike the English acting so much that I played through the whole thing (with subtitles) in Japanese. Another swing and a miss, in my opinion, although I’m baffled how they thought they made good voice casting decisions…
Well… time to get to grinding yet again!
One of the biggest reasons I was so excited to pick up this game (other than having an excuse to play through it again) was the opportunity to actually gain trophies for this classic game. Secret of Mana does have a full trophy list, including a platinum on PS4 (as did Adventures of Mana). Normally, this game is about a 16-20 hour game to beat, but if you want to actually platinum this thing, you are looking at 30+ hours. Why? Random equipment drops, with a very low chance of items to drop. Yeah, the grind is very real. Not only grinding enemies for equipment drops, but grinding out maximum magic levels too!
For actual re-playability though, there’s very little here. There’s not an awful lot of side quests in the game as a whole, and you basically visit almost every location through the main story, so even when the world does open back up to you, there’s little to go do. The game does have a "Guide" section though, that always points you in the right direction in the story, as well as chronicles all of the game’s items (which is nice, especially for completionists).
In the end, this is an impressive 3D translation to one of Square’s classic titles. The game’s graphical translation was just flat-out excellent, and the game play still feels largely the same (with those additional item shortcuts). The decision to allow a choice on which soundtracks and voice acting you wanted to hear was also very smart, as many people didn’t care for one or the other.
If that’s what you’re looking for, then great. If you have fond memories of this title, you’ll likely enjoy the remastered version as well, but just don’t expect any huge changes here (outside of the voice acting and obvious graphical overhaul). Overall, I had a blast playing through Secret of Mana again, and I’m glad they took the time to give this classic game some love (even with a few missteps along the way). Here’s hoping they actually continue this trend and bring Seiken Densetsu 3 to the US (in any form at all… as unlikely as that is). Have fun and keep playing!
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