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It seems Square Enix forgot the concept of "Remake"

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    Secret of Mana

    Rating: 1.5 – Bad

    It seems Square Enix forgot the concept of "Remake"

    When Secret of Mana was released for the SNES in 1993 in Japan and North America, it was a total game changer. It was praised for its real-time combat, easy to learn yet difficult to master gameplay, it’s colorful and detailed world and all around delightful whimsy. Even almost 25 years later, it still holds up surprisingly well. When I first saw the announcement for a remake in 2017, I had mixed feelings about it. Would Square Enix do a full-on remake, or was it just a 3D carbon copy of the original with new bells and whistles? Sadly, my worst fears were realized when I found out it was the latter. That is to say; keep your physical and digital wallets closed if you still have the original kicking around. At its core, it’s exactly the same game.

    Many aeons before the start of the game, an ancient civilization was able to use the power of mana to become powerful. They then constructed the ultimate battle weapon; the Mana Fortress. Because this insipid monstrosity consumed more mana than could be produced, the gods sent their beasts to destroy it. This started a violent war between them that almost consumed all of the world’s mana, leaving the world in a ruined state. But when things were looking their bleakest, a hero wielding the Mana Sword appeared and destroyed the fortress. Eventually, the world was able to recover from this horrible ordeal and mana was restored. But as time flows like a river, so history repeats. In the present day, a trio of teenage boys Randi, Elliot and Timothy explore the waterfalls just outside of Potos village, despite the elder’s strict orders not to. After Randi takes a tumble and finds himself at the foot of the falls, he finds a mysterious sword embedded in a stone, which he pulls out at the behest of a mysterious voice. Upon returning to the village, he finds that monsters have been on the rampage as of late and is soon attacked by a Mantis Ant. After defeating it, a knight named Gemma tells Randi to visit Sage Luka in the water palace. During a town meeting, the elder concludes the reason for the attacks is because the sword Randi possesses is actually the Mana Sword that was used the seal the monsters away. Under the villagers’ duress, the elder reluctantly banishes Randi from the village. After visiting Sage Luka and learning about the eight mana seeds, he meets Primm, a noblewoman looking for a knight named Dyluck to avoid an arranged marriage and Popoi, a sprite child from the Upper Forest who’s trying to return home. Together, they vow to restore mana and prevent the Vandole Empire from reviving the Mana Fortress.

    What made the original Secret of Mana great was its gameplay akin to Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past where, instead of turn-based combat, everything happened in real time. This made players think on their feet and react quickly to avoid running into trouble. Magic was an invaluable tool that could heal and buff the party, as well as do heavy damage to enemies with the right elements. Another contributing factor was the colorful environments that made good use of the SNES’s capabilities. It also had a superb soundtrack with music that really captured the mood of the environments and events of the game. The remake, however, looks like garbage. The graphics are boring and bland and the character models’ animations are bare-bones. The mouths of the characters don’t even move when they talk and the main characters are the only ones who change facial expression. Character models like Elliot look awful because he always has his teeth exposed. I’ve seen better looking 3D games on the Nintendo 64 and Playstation One.

    The new music is a double-edged sword. While some new tracks work well like the town theme, others like the Celtic remix for the Tasnican Castle are just full of nope. At least we can switch between the new and original music. The voice acting is also horrendous. It doesn’t matter if you set the language preference to English or Japanese; they both deliver lines with zero gusto and inflection that’s all over the place. A case of where nothing is better than something.

    The combat is still enjoyable. In fact, this is the only element of the game that’s seen some improvement. The 3D models give you some perspective of where your allies and the enemies are aiming and the enemies do look intimidating. In fact, they’re the only thing that actually benefit from the 3D makeover. The combat is also easier as the enemies are less aggressive than the SNES original and you’re able to move about as you please even if your allies are being stun-locked by a group of enemies so you don’t have to stand your ground when the enemy has the upper hand. In the SNES original, your allies would disallow you from beating a quick retreat which ended with them getting done in and you either having to use your Cups of Wishes to revive them or just simply tough through going solo until you could reach an inn to recover. There’s also a love it or hate it change to the battle system. In the SNES original, you had a checkerboard-esque grid where you could assign your allies AI to a mixture of attack, defend, approach and keep away. In the remake, you can only choose between 4 settings; attack the player’s target, assist one of the other two allies and attack freely. Some will welcome this while others won’t. There’s also a 16-bit mini-map of the area you’re in if you get lost, but I found this to be a nuisance and thus turned it off.

    The remake also has some technical issues as well. Remember how your AI-controlled allies would constantly get stuck in the terrain and run on the spot? That still exists unfortunately. The collision detection is also pretty wonky. There were times when I swung my sword at enemies and although I hit them dead-on, the CPU wouldn’t register it as a hit when it should’ve, thus forcing me to use a few spells to get the job done. Easily the biggest technical issue is that the game constantly crashes more often than cheap computer software. Having to replay a huge chunk of a level because I forgot to exercise common sense and not heal and save is something I can live with. Having to replay said sections because of technical issues is not okay in my book. And while the auto-save feature does something to alleviate this problem, it shouldn’t be there in the first place. The only reason I have the occasional technical issue with my SNES system and games is because they’re pushing 25 years old. I understand that games in this day and age are extremely complicated, but that’s no reason for this nonsense.

    The biggest issue I have with the Secret of Mana remake is that the ¡®new content’ is superficial at best. You got some cinematics during key scenes like when Randi pulls the Mana Sword out of the stone and even some chitchat between the trio when you rest up at inns which is a nice edition, but that’s it. If you look into the troubled development on this game, it was actually going to be a launch title for the SNES-CD add-on that was being developed between Nintendo and Sony. But because that deal fell through like a roll of coins through cheap wet toilet paper, it had to be reworked to fit on an SNES cartridge. Around 40% of the planned content had to be cut and the idea of multiple paths and endings was scrapped in favor of linear progression. The remake was an opportunity for Square Enix to resuscitate all the ideas that were left on the cutting room floor 25 years ago and allow us to see the designers’ original vision for the game. But I guess we’ll probably never know what could’ve been. Unless the Seiken Densetsu Collection for Nintendo Switch gets localized. I know the Switch is Region-Free, but not everyone knows Japanese, which is a difficult language to learn.

    I played through the remake from start to finish to see if there was any new content or extras in the Secret of Mana Remake other than the changes I already described. But there wasn’t. No extra side-quests, no New Game +, no alternate endings, nothing. I already said this but I’ll say it again; it’s an exact 3D copy of the SNES original with extra bells and whistles. And while the remake is enjoyable, it just doesn’t provide me with the same je ne sais quoi the SNES original still does even today. The concept of a remake is to build upon what works, fix what’s broken, and add new content thus making the original obsolete. The Secret of Mana Remake doesn’t do anything of the sort. Yes, there are some improvements, but they’re too superficial and the new issues make those improvements irrelevant. So if you still have the original SNES version in some form or another, it’s best just to hold onto it and give this ¡®remake’ a pass. Trust me; you’re not missing anything important in doing so.

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