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Secret of Mana Review – The remake fails to capture the magic of the SNES

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was easily one of the best systems released thanks to a library of amazing titles including the Golden Era of JRPGS. Square Enix was untouchable with titles such as Chrono Trigger, three Final Fantasy titles, and Secret of Mana just to name a few. While Square Enix has gone on to re-release or even remake a few of these titles on various consoles or handhelds, Secret of Mana hasn’t gotten much attention (in the West) until the release of the Super Nintendo Classic last year and just recently a remake of the game for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.

Secret of Mana is easily in my top 15 JRPG games of all time, the battle system at the time was something truly awesome and different. The gameplay, especially the ability to have a friend control a second character, just made the experience so much better. So let’s take a look at how this 25 year old game stands out with new graphics and a few new additions.

Very Familiar and yet slightly new…

The Secret of Mana remake updates the entire look of the game replacing the original 2D sprites from the original game 16-bit game and completely updates it with 3D models. While the characters models are much more detailed they yet still somehow look quite bland which is a bit of a disappointment, it lacks quite a bit it bringing that radiant world from the original SNES game to the PlayStation 4/PlayStation Vita. If anything, this remake of Secret of Mana looks more like it could haven been released in the PlayStation 2 era or even on the Nintendo DS but it works.

It’s easy to get lost in the game, there are plenty of locations to visit and a lot of backtracking to towns and various locations. The game adds a map in the top right screen and best of all it’s the 2D map from the original Super Nintendo game. It’s not exactly useful that often but it’s a nice addition none the less.

If you’ve never seen the original introduction for the game, I’d definitely recommend watching it at least once. The opening cutscene does a great job of getting you excited to start your adventure. As you start the game, you meet Randi (or you give him a much better name) who, while reluctantly out with friends, ends up coming across the legendary mana sword. Forced to now travel across the world and restore balance to the world he comes to meet Popoi and Primm who join him in his adventure, more importantly both can be controlled by your friends in co-op play.

So what’s new in the remake? The game features an auto-save feature so you won’t have to worry about dying to a boss or group of stronger enemies, which is good for those who don’t save often. The game features also adds both English and Japanese voice acting, a few cutscenes as well as some short skits when you sleep at an inn which is worth watching just for the funny moments of watching your team interact.

The only thing that really was taken away from the game and is a shame is the short scene when your characters are shot of of the canon, as you watch your characters fly above the map and bounce off the ground upon landing. It’s something I would have loved to see at least once. Shame it was removed.

It could have been so much better…

One thing that made Secret of Mana pretty unique was it’s ring menu. It was a quick way to equip your characters, switch weapons, access magic and change how your characters act in battle on the fly, you knew who it was because the ring opened around them. The SoM remake drops a ball on this by making it a bit of headache to use, to be precise using the square button opens the ring of the character you are controlling, while the triangle button activates the ring of the character on the second slot. At times it’s confusing to navigate since the ring opens in the middle and if you need to use your third characters magic you’d need to play around in the menu.

I did find a way around this, later in the game when you are able to use magic you are able to hotkey two spells to the L1 and R1 button. By using this method you can actually cancel out of the spell while selecting your target and jump into that character’s ring to save some time in the menu.

I spent around 25 hours completing the game trying to max out my weapons and magic levels, I had almost given up on the remake a few times mainly due to the game constantly crashing. Every so often when I enter an area and start fighting the game would just stop and it happened to me around 1o or 11 times, while this is something that should have never passed QA testing in the first place if it wasn’t for the fact that the game auto-saves every time you enter a new screen I would have quit this game and waited for a patch to release. Games should never release in such a state and hopefully should be patched very soon, but it’s very disappointing.

Final Thoughts….

While I still have some hope that Nintendo and/or Square Enix will eventually choose to localize the Seiken Densetsu Trilogy (Secret of Mana Collection) on the Nintendo Switch, the remake isn’t too bad (especially when the crashes are fixed) just not everything I was hoping for. The 16-bit release was filled with so much personality, that it’s a shame that remake made 25 years later couldn’t achieve the same. It’s not to say the game isn’t worth playing because it actually is, at least once, especially to hear an updated version of the original music in full orchestra or if you were a fan of the original soundtrack you can listen to that too.

For players already familiar with the series, it’s a nice way to enjoy the slightly new content added in including a few cutscenes and voice acting which is a plus but I still prefer the original overall. While the visuals are a bit more bland than it’s 16-bit counterpart it’s still easy to enjoy quite a bit of the 3D elements including Popoi’s hilarious facial expressions and flying on Flammie, aside from that it’s the same game you enjoyed.

Even if this is your first entry into the Mana series, while this remake has some issues, it’s still a great experience than can be enjoyed in either form.