PAX West 2017: Secret of Mana Updates its Look for 2018

Secret of Mana was one of the most beloved SNES RPGs yet has been neglected in the multitudes of classic Square games that have either been remade, rehashed or just re-released, save for a few ports to mobile devices. No disrespect to developers or fans of mobile games, playing a classic console game on a phone can be enjoyable, but it’s just not the same as leaning back on the couch with a controller in hand watching the action unfold on the TV. Someone over at Square Enix must have realized there is still milk in this cow that there are fans of Secret of Mana that would love to see it remade in 3D glory for current consoles but without, you know, drastically changing everything to the point of enraging the title’s legion of fans. Fans who want to get their hands on the original game can order the Japanese only Seiken Densetsu Collection for the Switch that came out earlier this year or hope that Nintendo releases more than one thousandth of one percent of the demand for Super NES Classic.

Upon starting the playable demo, it is apparent that this is a faithful to the original re-imagining of The Secret of Mana. All the characters and environments are in 3D but the basic character designs look true to the original form. The dialog appears to have received a new translation when it also inherited some voice actors. The main idea of Randi, Timothy and Elliot are looking for something shiny despite being told not to go there because of a ghost remains intact, but the script is not verbatim to the original in what is presumably an attempt to flesh out the story.

In the original SNES version this sequence takes place in the same visual field as the rest of the game. In the new and shiny Secret of Mana the camera zooms in to create a more cinematic effect. This moment is a bit cringe worthy. Timothy and Elliot, while looking true to their SNES counterparts do not look like they belong in the same world as Randi. Their lips do not move when they speak nor are they very animated at all, which makes the spoken interaction that much more painful. This is a common criticism of localized translations, but the option to switch to Japanese voice audio may be a preferable option. Secret of Mana didn’t need any voice acting to amass the fans it has so this isn’t exactly a deal breaker. What strikes me as odd about this remake is even though voice acting was added, the music received a minimal overhaul, almost sounding identical to the SNES version. This isn’t terrible since I do enjoy some SNES soundtracks but making a more orchestral arrangement of the game’s score was something one would almost expect to be automatic.

Getting into the substance of The Secret of Mana, the gameplay remains to be the same Legend of Zelda/Final Fantasy hybrid we all remember, assuming we were actually born when this was first released. Battles take place in real time but Randi can’t button mash the attack button to rattle off dozens of strikes every minute. His attack meter fills after each attack, and if he acts before it reaches 100 percent he will do significantly less damage. Eventually Randi will be in a party of three, and the player will control one character while the others act on AI. The wheel menus from the SNES remain and is how players will manage equipment, spells, items and all the other menu based things we have to take care of in RPGs, which pauses the action but minimizes the disruption party management can bring to battle. The boss monster at the end of the first area seems more animated than I recall, but despite its movement the play mechanics are about how I remember them on the dusty old cartridge.

The Secret of Mana does not appear to be given the same big budget remake treatment a certain numbered entry from another Square Enix franchise is receiving, but this is much more a cult classic than that particular game is. Up to three people can play the game together through local multiplayer, just like in the original version. The remade version will feature completely redone high definition 3D graphics and new dialog sequences to help tell the familiar story in a new way. Voice acting has been included, though hearing voices on games with no previous voice acting usually seems strange, at least to me. The soundtrack doesn’t sound much different, but the demo only featured a limited selection of music so that statement could end up not being entirely true. The gameplay felt exactly how the 1993 version is remembered, though there are some unspecified upgrades coming to the game that are designed to make it feel more like a modern action RPG. Certain elements like the lack of facial animations during NPC dialog and minimal reworking of the music make me suspect this may be a remake on a tight budget. Graphically it looks fine, though not something that pushes the PlayStation 4’s processing power and the NPC character designs during the intro looked out of place next to Randi. People expecting The Secret of Mana to be remade with the AAA title treatment are likely to be disappointed, but tempering our expectations to something more realistic this will still likely be a must have RPG. The Secret of Mana was well reviewed when it was released, and if this remake keeps the important elements intact such as story and gameplay, we will have a winner on our hands.