The classic ‘90s SNES game celebrates its 25th anniversary with a full-blown remake – but does it do the original justice?
It is a shame that video game remakes are still so rare. Remasters are more common than ever, but few companies ever spend the time and money necessary to remake an old game from scratch. That’s understandable, but it’s still a pity when you consider the high quality of remakes like Resident Evil, Tomb Raider Anniversary, and the recent Shadow Of The Colossus. Although it’s not like every remake turns out quite as good as those…
Secret Of Mana is an old SNES game from 1993, which is fondly remembered as one of the best titles on the system. Unusually for a role-playing game it was released in Europe the first time round, and it no doubt owes that fact to its emphasis on real-time, rather than turn-based, combat. It’s often described as Square’s answer to The Legend Of Zelda, but while the two games do share a lot of surface details that’s about as far as it goes.
We imagine this remake has come about because it’s the series’ 25th anniversary this year, although none of the other games are anywhere near as well known and many have never been released in the West at all. But if this remake is meant to excite interest in a brand-new game then we think Square Enix are, much like existing fans, in for a disappointment.
Secret Of Man’s plot and mythos was never very complicated, and centres around an evil Empire trying to resurrect a giant floating battleship named the Mana Fortress – which is powered by the titular magical energy. In order to stop them a generic chose one is granted use of the Sword Of Mana and has to power it up by visiting eight temples from around the world.
The plot may be completely forgettable but the interplay between the three main characters can be amusing. Although the English voiceovers are pretty awful, and even the Japanese voice track doesn’t seem to have much more effort expended on it. Thankfully the music – either remixed or original – is still great, but the game often struggles to hang on to the original’s ‘90s charm.
Although you start with the Mana Sword, each of the three characters can gain a variety of other different weapons, but all are used in the same basic fashion: press the button and wait for a little meter to build up to 100% before you unleash the most powerful attack possible. Sometimes you don’t have time to wait, and that, along with the use of magic and items forms the backbone of the action.
If that sounds just a little too simplistic for its own good you’re not far wrong, especially when you take into consideration that Secret Of Mana doesn’t really have an equivalent of Zelda dungeons. The Mana temple are the closest you get, but while some of them do have a few simple switch puzzles it’s primarily still just combat. Combat that can often seem repetitive and unfair, since monster attacks seem to land even though you were clearly nowhere near them and allies often don’t help out in any useful fashion.
The best way to play Secret Of Mana though is with three people, something the original managed via a multi-tap. This helps you forget how one-note the gameplay is and makes the fetch quests and other window dressing seem much more vital and interesting. But while getting three people to play at once is a lot easier in the remake that, and an autosave feature, is really the only advantage it has over the original.
Whereas Shadow Of The Colossus is a clearly a labour of love, benefiting from a generous budget, Secret Of Mana is a cheap and tawdry looking remake that rather than updating the game to the standards of modern titles barely manages to get it up to the level of the PlayStation 1. The original game had state-of-the-art graphics for its time, but here the low-detail, neon-coloured polygons are disappointingly primitive. The character models don’t have any kind of lip-synching at all, and animation in general is kept to a bare minimum.
The game is still flick screen, but moving from one to the other involves a bafflingly long loading sequence, that’s as frustrating as it is atmosphere-destroying. Secret Of Mana manages to present the original game in the worst light possible, removing the charm and intricacy of the original visuals and casting the simplicity of the combat in the harshest light possible.
If you can play the original version then we’d still recommend it, especially if you can get hold of it as part of the Classic Mini SNES. But this remake has less interesting visuals and presentation, and a general feeling of cheapness that makes it nothing but a curio for existing fan. Which is a shame, not just because the game deserved better, but because it means the chances of a good quality sequel are even more distant than ever.
Secret Of Mana
In Short: The original SNES classic deserves better than this overpriced and undercooked remake, which fails to recreate the original’s ‘90s charm.
Pros: With three players at once the game is still an enjoyable romp, with just enough in the way of role-playing mechanics and fun story moments.
Cons: The visuals are ugly and outdated, and the load times are very intrusive. Repetitive combat, with little in the way of puzzles or other distractions. Poor voiceovers.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PC, and PS Vita
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 15th February 2018
Age Rating: 7