Secret of Mana Remake – Review
PS4, PS Vita, PC
A tree of life, a sword, an unsuspecting hero – they’re all troupes of the JRPG and fantasy in general, and have hailed from an era well before the original release of Secret of Mana in 1993, however it was with that title that the pieces came together to form one of the great JRPGs of all time. A sublime merger of mechanics and majesty, Secret of Mana was adored for its beautiful world, a loveable cast of characters and innovative take on tried and true JRPG systems, that included the Ring Command system and much more. 25 years on and Secret of Mana has been reborn, but does this remake capture hearts in the same fashion that the original once did?
Unlike the recently released, Bluepoint developed Shadow of the Colossus remake, Square-Enix has opted to make some changes and inclusions to the game to “revitalise” it and expand on the original concepts to ensure it jives with modern expectations. Secret of Mana is a story about Randi, a young boy who when out exploring a forbidden woodland outside of his hometown of Potos Village slips from a bridge and falls down the face of a waterfall. Thought by his friends to be dead, and left abandoned Randi awakens to find himself drawn by a mysterious voice toward a sword left in stone. By drawing the sword from the stone, Randi has set into motion a series of events that will change the face of the world, as his story intersects with the stories of two (soon to be) allies, an evil empire, thieves, and an entity, long thought to be something of myth and legend.
Square-Enix has gone significant lengths to improve the narrative in this remake, with the dialogue having largely been revised and expanded to give us a little more detail about the story, from extended conversations with key characters to new dialogue that plays about between your party every time you rest at an inn. These exchanges have been incredibly beneficial in adding depth to the storytelling and in building your relationship with your party.
Mechanically, the Secret of Mana remake doesn’t differ too greatly to the original game that preceded it, many facets, the good, the bad and the ugly all remain in this remake. AI controlled characters still have an all too frequent tendency to get stuck in the corners of the environment and don’t do anything to get themselves unstuck. Hitboxes are far more predictable in this remake, both when you’re attacking, and being attacked, but the difficulty has a habit of spiking at moments it never did before, and at wildly inconsistent and inappropriate moments. You’ll unfortunately need to take the good with the bad in this space, but the core combat that underpins the experience is as fun as it was 25 years ago.
Of course, one of the most often discussed facets of Secret of Mana is the incredible presentation, but it is in this space that this 2018 remake is most likely to divide its audience. While (in this reviewer’s eyes), the remake fails to recapture the same 16-bit beauty of the original, I cannot deny how taken aback I was by several locales in the world, as well as the impressive recreation of some key characters. The remake still boasts the same gorgeous colour palette that featured so prominently in the original game, though some of its personality has been lost in transition; the same can be said for the musical score, which in Square-Enix’s attempts to freshen it up, has also lost some of its charm. Should you be entering Secret of Mana without the nostalgia however, you’re likely to be impressed by both facets of the presentation.
When breaking down a product such as this remake it’s important to look at the game through the lens of the two different audiences. If you’re an established fan then this remake is a mixed bag, it refines and improves the game in some ways, but is a backwards step in others. If you’re new, then you’re a small purchase away from experiencing one of the truly great JRPGs of all time, not carrying the baggage that others bring with them. Both audiences, however, get an experience that possesses a lot of fun, a brilliant story, deep RPG systems and incredible life and colour – and you’ll be better for picking this game up.