As Square Enix’s beloved role-player celebrates its 25th anniversary, GameCentral looks at what other games can learn from it.
The road to perfection is a long and winding one. With so many forks in the road these days, it’s easy to lose sight of where it all began and the once clear identity the genre had. As the consoles and controllers we use have become more complex, so have the systems they interact with. Not all of these changes have necessarily been for the better either.
So, with the 25-year anniversary of Secret Of Mana upon us, and the remaster having just sneaked onto shelves, we thought we’d take a look at the lessons that were lost to time as our favourite genre continues to grow more and more ambitious.
Simplicity in execution
There’s something beautiful about having one button do nearly everything you need. In Secret Of Mana all manner of weapons can cleave enemies in twain with one input. It’s beautifully simple and wonderfully rewarding. You can even hold the button down and charge up your attacks for a devastating amount of damage, but it’s still one button. Latterly you will need to use some radial menus for magic, but your favourite spells can be assigned to one of the two shoulder buttons and reduce the amount of strain on your dear old hands.
Faster than a speeding bullet
Fast travel is a staple of the genre these days. From the more combat orientated Western role-playing games to the incredibly niche Eastern titles, everyone can travel the span of the world by pointing at a place on the map and teleporting there instantly. Even the games that don’t allow that kind of thing have some method of travel that reduces those long and gruelling walks, like Final Fantasy XV and the Black Regalia.
The thing is, it’s all kinda dull, isn’t it? Secret Of Mana has two main methods of fast travel: a cannon and a goddamn dragon. How cool is that? You either travel by speaking to a suspicious character promising impeccable aim and safety or hop on the back of a mythical creature.
It’s the kind of fun you’d expect from games chocked full of magic monsters and it’s something that often feels lost to the sands of time. I have a driving license, and I know what it’s like to drive a car, but I’d always dreamed of hoping on the likes of Falcor and trotting the globe. Obviously games like Final Fantasy have managed to keep some of the magic alive, but flying ships just don’t cut it.
A small team is an efficient team
I don’t know how many times I’ve decided I hate a character in a game, especially in those with a larger roster. That character will always be a good few levels lower than the rest and, to be quite honest, I’ll never really focus on their equipment. When you have to juggle and grind a team greater than your actual party size, there’s bound to be a lot of time spent trying to grind out levels and it’s largely unenjoyable.
However, in Secret Of Mana, you only ever need to deal with three characters. The same three characters that have stood by your side the entire journey will also be there at the very end. That means there isn’t a surprise section where all the good yins leave and you’re stranded with the wall flowers that would rather play their lute than fight.
Short and sweet
I don’t know how many weeks I’ve lost to Japanese role-players in my lifetime, but I do remember the first time I put 100+ hours into Lost Odyssey. Although I love it as much now as I did then, other role-players have sapped a similar amount of time from my soul and left a lasting impression that nothing good lasts. Knowing your run time, and just when to curtain call, is an art in itself.
Coming in under 20 hours means that Secret Of Mana is perfectly suited to those with busier schedules. Even when I was riddled with whatever hot topic flu is doing the rounds these days and had very little energy to play, I was able to sit down and see the end within a week.
It didn’t feel like I had signed up for a second full time job, nor did I have to sacrifice any sleep, I simply made it to the end. As the sun set on Potos for the last time, I had a full day left to go out and enjoy the world. It was refreshing. Normally the completion of a Japanese role-player comes in the dead of night after hours of fighting countless bosses upon bosses, but that’s not the case with Secret Of Mana.
A party of players
All the great role-playing games, and indeed high fantasy stories, of our times focus on groups. A load of friends embarking on a big quest or a collection of rogues forced together to take on an unknown evil. It doesn’t matter what they are fighting, it’s the fact that they are fighting together that matters. I think I can count on one hand the number of co-op role-playing games that exists and I can count even less that I’ve actually sat and played to completion.
Turning a solitary journey into a shared experience is slowly but surely fading as generations pass us by, in fact even when you do have friends to play with they are probably online. Well, not with Secret Of Mana. In Secret Of Mana you can share the experience with others and fight alongside one another as opposed to slogging through with some less than modern AI. It’s so simple, but wonderfully effective. I just wish more action-based role-players would implement it locally instead of relying on MMOs for a similar experience.
Stay true to yourself
If there’s one major criticism of the Secret Of Mana remake, it’s that it lost its identity. Over the years graphics have grown and developed beyond the 16-bit era, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hold a place in modern games. On the SNES, Secret Of Mana dared to be colourful and presented a unique look that the remaster fails to capture. To add insult to injury the character models are now 3D and have some pretty egregious voice acting. With so many role-playing games on the market, identity is everything and it’s to be cherished. This is even more relevant when you realise that the Final Fantasy VII remake is just around the corner.
The Secret Of Mana is far from a perfect remake. We’ve touched on the visual failings of the remaster, but ultimately it all boils down to the game being 25 years old. Gaming has evolved beyond the SNES era and with it so has the scope. But that doesn’t mean we should cast aside the lessons learned from this generation, even with some questionable choices there are still some great elements to Secret Of Mana that could help shape a whole new generation of role-playing games.
So, do you have any lessons you think other role-playing games could take away from the remake? Why not tell us in the comments.