The Secret of Mana needs little introduction to retro gamers. In the early 1990s, Squaresoft developed a number of high-quality RPG games, the most famous of which is the Final Fantasy series. However, when transferring these games to the western markets, there were concerns that audiences wouldn’t respond to them as well. This lead to a whole slew of issues with the numbering and title system between the regions.
Secret of Mana was originally a sequel to Final Fantasy Adventures on the Game Boy (or for the Europeans among us Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest). The game was greatly lauded and is held in high regard even now. For that reason, the now-renamed Square Enix announced an HD remake for 2018. Fans speculated on how the remake would look; many were skeptical, some optimistic. The truth is that many will feel this remake fell far short of its full potential.
The game focuses on mana and magic as a gift from higher beings and the restoration of mana to the land. While there is no mention of specific religions there are discussions of a magical nature, such as mages, spells etc. There are also references to “gods” who sent demons and monsters to the world to combat the humans who developed the mana fortress.
Characters use traditional weapons (swords, spears etc.) to attack a variety of enemies, who disappear as clouds of smoke when defeated. Gore and blood are nonexistent.
There are outfits that show cleavage and suggestive comments such as “I’m not as filled out as her.” There is also an enemy that is an open book; the image appears to be that of a centerfold picture of a woman laid in the nude on her front, though no details of a sexual nature are seen. The enemies also appear embarrassed at this and quickly flip their pages.
Drug / Alcohol Abuse
There are no real references, but there could be a link made between potions and drugs/alcohol. This reference isn’t made in game but could be inferred
Characters encourage each other and the general theme of the game is good triumphing over evil. However, the main theme of success centers around using violence to meet this end.
Fans were excited when Secret of Mana was announced for an HD remake. The classic SNES title has touched the hearts of gamers for years, and is frequently mentioned in top ten lists as one of the most popular titles of its generation. It was groundbreaking in many ways and really set itself apart from other RPGs of the time. From its shift away from turn-based combat to its novel use of a heads-up inventory, the game was thought of as the epitome of the classic SNES RPGs.
Anyone familiar with the genre will quickly pick up on the general story. The world once relied on mana until a corrupt organization built a giant weapon. This angered the gods who sent monsters to combat them and remove almost all mana from the world. Flash forward and your character unsheathes the legendary mana sword causing monsters to return and leading to your exile from your home. Your adventure unfolds as you traverse the land, restoring mana to the mana sword.
For all intents and purposes, this feels like a cheap port. There is some quality of life upgrades, but very little has changed from the original. There are arguments as to why these were left in. Was it to keep the traditionalists happy or was it to make a quick buck by simply pumping out a port as is becoming more and more common?
One of these upgrades is in the graphics and the visual representation in general. The pixelated sprites have been replaced with more HD style cartoon graphics. When comparing the art style, it is closer to I am Setsuna than say, Final Fantasy XV. The game also has cutscenes built into it, unfortunately here is where my first major issues arise. In terms of the animation style, it is really off-putting when the characters mouths do not move. Combine this with the second main issue, the lacklustre voice acting, and you get cutscenes that make you wonder why they are even there.
The gameplay hasn’t changed much since the original really and this creates another issue. You roaming the world with your party and attacking your enemies is standard, and the HUD is also unchanged. The issue comes where you compare it to how RPGs have progressed since the SNES era.
The more modern gamer will feel frustrated when navigating menus and assigning attributes to party members. The traditionalist will remember their way around the menus, but if they are like me, they will wonder why the aspects that made it more user-friendly were removed. The ring system doesn’t hover over the character it relates to, and there is no memory of previous spells, making repeated casting more time consuming than is needed.
The audio has had a quality of life upgrade, but to be honest, the original soundtrack was beautiful. The composer tried to match the beauty of these areas and sometimes it works. But the inconsistency in matching the music to the mood of the area quickly made me switch back to more familiar tunes. Thankfully, the original score is there as an added feature.
Combat hasn’t changed from the previous version, with the small addition that you can now attack in 360 degrees. The use of a stamina system prevents the game from being a hack and slash adventure and encourages you to think about your party’s skills and needs. The enemies and bosses also haven’t changed from simple creatures to more complex demons as you progress through the game.
The final nail in the coffin of this remake are the glitches. A number of patches have been introduced to reduce this, but the in-game bugs were so bad that the game had to initiate an autosave just to prevent backlash.
Ultimately Secret of Mana was and is a fun game. The thing that makes this review appear so negative is the price point attached to it. The game simply does not validate the price being asked of it. By all means, purchase the game in a sale, or use up some funds from your e-wallet if you have nothing else in mind.
But quite simply, this is a budget game trying to pass itself off as a high dollar remake. There are two things that kept cropping up in my mind while playing this game. First, when you compare it to the slew of ports and remakes coming to the current generation, the amount of effort just doesn’t seem to add up. Second, for the price being demanded of it, I honestly felt that you’d be happier buying an SNES classic edition, which comes with more games, and doesn’t contain the negative aspects brought in to the remake.
The Bottom Line
Secret of Mana was a groundbreaking game in the 90's. But considering the advances even in top-down RPGs in the recent years, the game had so much potential. What has been made feels like a quick cash grab that seems to lose the appeal of a port and disappoints, as a remake. This is definitely a game to wait for a drop in price, or spend a little more money on an SNES classic and enjoy the original alongside more titles.