Secret of Mana is a beloved action RPG that was released way back when on the Super Nintendo. It never reached the heights of Final Fantasy’s popularity but has a passionate and dedicated fanbase that continued to bombard Square Enix with pleas to remake the game in HD. Square Enix, finally, delivered.
Starting up the game you’ll be greeted with a gorgeous HD version of the original game’s title screen, with roaring music that will make your heart swell with excitement. Secret of Mana has never looked and sounded this good. Succeeding is the opening cutscenes detailing the history of the world, which is beautifully drawn and is sure to bring tears to every Secret of Mana fan out there. Yes, Square Enix did deliver, but that can only be said for the first five minutes, as everything else to follow isn’t quite what we hoped for.
Platform Reviewed: PS4
Platforms Available: PS4, PS Vita, PC
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: February 15, 2018
This review is based on a review code provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
The Secret of Mana remake is more of a 3D conversion of the title than an actual remake, which is what makes this title ultimately disappointing, especially for longtime fans of the game. The game adopts a similar visual format that was used during the Final Fantasy remakes on the Nintendo DS, by retaining the chibi look of the older title but using 3D models.
The environments translate well, where everything pops and areas are lush, especially due to the bright color palette used. The characters themselves, however, are where the visuals fall short. At a distance everything is serviceable, but since the game uses cutscenes during character interactions, you start to see the blemishes. There aren’t any bad textures to the models, but when shown up close, the lack of any facial articulation or animation makes characters seem lifeless and dead. It’s apparent that the game didn’t get a big enough budget to service more complex animations and articulation.
The way Secret of Mana’s characters look during cutscenes isn’t the only problem, but the use of cutscenes is poor as well. There aren’t any proper artistic shots or angles when you watch the characters interact. Instead, all we get is the camera being brought down to the characters’ level, where shots are stagnant, thus showing no necessity for the cutscene itself at all.
A plus for the presentation, but will come down to personal preference, is the music of Secret of Mana. For the remaster, the game also went and did a complete update on the game’s soundtrack. No melodies were changed, but the music now has multiple layers — mostly accordions — of different instruments to make the soundtrack fuller and brighter, too. Of course, for fans of the original, who would prefer to hear the original soundtrack, an option is available for you. It’s not the 16-bit music itself, but uses a similar number of layers and keeps the simplicity of the classic title.
Another thing the game gets right is giving the player options in how they want to experience the game. Secret of Mana not only offers an option to listen to the original soundtrack over the remastered version, but you can also switch between character voices — between English and Japanese. It’s good to know, too, that the English voice acting doesn’t fall flat compared to the Japanese voices. There is a difference between the two, however, where the English voice option continues to omit using the canon names of the characters — Randi, Primm, and Popoi. The Japanese voices, on the other hand, outright use the canon names, even though the original title was always vague about the actual names of the characters.
It’s a nice touch and one that all remakes should always consider. The only step further that would’ve been appreciated is if the game gave the option of using the original 16-bit graphics, which is similarly done in the upcoming Dragon Quest XI, where the game simultaneously shows the modern 3D graphics and a classic 16-bit art style on the 3DS’s top and bottom screens, respectively.
In terms of gameplay, Secret of Mana keeps the fun and simple action RPG elements of the original. Animations are a bit slower, but nothing to the game’s detriment, and it’s barely noticeable unless you were to compare the two back to back. It’s nothing as complex as most action RPGs today, but it’s simplicity isn’t to be scoffed at as it still holds up, especially when playing with a friend. Sadly, there’s no way to play with a friend online, so you’re stuck with calling them over the old-fashioned way. My only gripe with the gameplay is the game’s menus. Square Enix failed to do any quality-of-life improvements to how menus work, thus going through them is a complete clunky mess. The game uses a menu wheel that takes up the entire screen and pauses your game, which can bring your momentum to a sudden halt. Not only is navigating the menu a pain, but there are no descriptions detailing what is shown in the menu, but only item names and numbers, nothing else. For first timers this can come as a huge turnoff, especially since it isn’t apparent what items do what. This feels like a step back and is a huge misstep for what a remake’s goal should be: improve on what the classic couldn’t.
Ultimately, Secret of Mana is a letdown that the series doesn’t deserve, and nor does its fans. The remake has lost some of the charm that made the original have such a cult following since 1993, due to its bland transition into 3D and certain gameplay mishaps. The experience isn’t entirely for naught, but it’s sure to rub some fans the wrong way. For newcomers, it’s best to steer clear and stick with the classic version, especially for the steep asking price of $39.99. Perhaps it’s best to keep the remake a secret and pretend it didn’t happen.