March 14, 2019 at 7:13 AM #797
Secret of Mana
Rating: 2.0 – Poor
This is Square-Enix’s "The Room".
Another way to put it is working your way through your first can of a new kind of soda even though you found the original formula it’s based on to only be OK, and by the time you finished the drink coming to the conclusion that not only is the new formula somehow *worse* despite its added sweetness, but realizing that part of the reason the experience was so bad is because they accidentally mixed it with some really bad LSD.
It is worth pointing out I got it for free, though not through a gift or anything like that. I bought it from Amazon, there was an issue with the code they gave me, when I went to support about it they immediately gave me a refund because it was a widespread issue with their preorder system for the PS4 version of Secret of Mana. I tried the code the next day and it worked, I went back to Amazon, explained the situation, told them they could re-charge my account the cost of the game if they wanted since I no longer qualified for the refund. They said enjoy the free game.
I’ve never found the original to be more than a 7/10 at best, and I’d only give it a 7/10 if my life were on the line and I wasn’t ready to give that up over something so petty. Realistically I wouldn’t give the original higher than a 5, mainly due to how grindy the weapon and magic systems are. This version removes the stunlock and fixes the party AI so it doesn’t get stuck on terrain as often, your party also has smarter offensive AI than it did in the original release. Both of these fixes alone make the game much easier to play.
What also makes it easier is that enemies aren’t as aggressive as they were in the original release. They will still move near you, but won’t initiate attacks as often. Spawner-type enemies don’t spawn enemies as often, and though I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone did and discovered that enemies give higher XP and Gold payouts. I spent five minutes grinding after getting the Sprite to get up to speed on levels, and since then I’ve just been killing as I go along and often skipping encounters entirely. In the original release, this would lead to being underleveled and underequipped due to being unable to afford better gear and keeping items stocked (you can also cap item counts at the original 4, or set it to 8 or 12 through an option in this version). I’m always finding myself killing enemies with ease (even the bosses are no trouble), and I always have an abundance of gold. You can also dash *much* longer than you could in the original, and now retain full directional control while doing so. This isn’t something that makes the game easier, but it does make the backtracking less tedious.
Magic is slightly less of a pain in the rear to levelup, as you can assign spells to the L1 and R1 inputs, so when you need to grind magic, put one on each and spam away. For some reason L2 and R2 are not used at all in this game, and they could have been used for further hotkey joy. This oversight would make no sense, except it’s coming from Square-Enix.
The visuals did get an overhaul, but I wouldn’t call it an improvement. It very much feels like a mid-grade phone game resbumped with 60fps, not like a Vita title that takes full advantage of that hardware and then gets an improvement on the home console release. All this is to say that the visual presentation is very, very poor. The animations are also lacking in personality, the animation that plays when you’re charging your attacks especially has no life to it whatsoever. It all screams factory "artistic" production values: Get it done quick and dirty and on the market ASAP.
There is a technical plus here – the music tracks no longer get cut out by sound effects that share the same track as that instrument. This was something that plagued the NES, for some reason Secret of Mana SNES had it as well even though it came out two years into the SNES’ life so shouldn’t have been an issue at all. Most other (I can’t test them all) AAA SNES games didn’t have this issue, because the improvements from the SNES audio and adapted programming methods to ensure this wouldn’t happen made it a thing of the past for Nintendo consoles, if developers programmed their games properly. I tested with Super Castlevania IV, an SNES game that came out 2 years prior to Secret of Mana. Sound effects don’t cut out the music. I also tested with Link to the Past, which also came out prior to Secret of Mana. Sound effects don’t cut out the music. I also tested with Final Fantasy IV, which came out prior to Secret of Mana, and Final Fantasy VI, which came out after Secret of Mana. Sound effects don’t cut out the music.
The SNES version of Secret of Mana had bad audio programming.
Secret of Mana is the only SNES Squaresoft game programmed by Nasir, and in fact it was Nasir’s only SNES game. That to me explains it. He likely programmed the audio like it was an NES game – keep in mind his last project before this was FFIII on NES, after which he took a long vacation, perhaps when he came back he wasn’t up to speed on SNES methods – which would explain why previous Square games on SNES didn’t have this issue, then did all of a sudden when Nasir programmed SoM for them, and then when they went back to whatever they were doing prior, proper SNES audio programming resumed. The only reason I go into detail on this subject is to try and rationalize why it ever occurred in the first place, but it is one thing this remake brings to the table that is an all-around inarguable improvement over the original release.
The new music is extremely hit and miss, the original music is way better (even though I wasn’t a fan of many choices there either), but hey, at least you can finally play Secret of Mana without having your jams ruined by sound effects temporarily eliminating instrument tracks which further ruins flow. Thankfully you can switch to the SNES soundtrack, but I played with the new soundtrack, because that coupled with the new visuals is what this package was supposed to be, and is essential to the intended experience. If I wanted the undiluted SNES experience, that isn’t difficult to relive. I got this version for a dose of new.
Secret of Mana feels very much like an honest hard effort at doing something well, but turns out to be mediocore in its raw form (the SNES release) and somehow worse in the "improved" remake. Despite its positive changes, it ends up feeling like an unintentional parody of its original content, which in itself seemed like what "The Room" was to Tommy Wiseau vs. what the audience ended up receiving – something he very much wanted to be very good, but ended up being a sometimes hilarious, but mostly boring disaster to people who viewed it. The SNES release of Secret of Mana only shares *some* similarities with "The Room" – it’s definitely unintentionally mediocore – but this remake nails it home. Despite their efforts to improve – and it’s very clear that Square-Enix made efforts to improve on some of the shortcomings of the original – the game ends up being an unintentional comedy piece because a remake cannot save an inherently mediocore game. Putting more effort into fixing something that was broken and incomplete (read the history on this game’s development) can only make it more obvious how broken the original work was, by showing that efforts to improve beyond minor technical adjustments (ie. uninterruptible music) are utterly worthless.
Regardless of what the intent behind this release was, and despite its quality dip compared to the original even though they made some changes that are genuine improvements (if you like streamlined gaming at least), I’m enjoying it. It’s mostly boring, but there isn’t a lot to play, and it isn’t every day a AAA developer releases a product this unintentionally bad that ends up being enjoyable to romp through for that reason alone. It isn’t buggy bad, it isn’t broken bad, it’s just a mediocore formula they definitely tried making better, and ended up making it worse.
I really, *really* wanted to like this, and I suppose I found a way.
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