The Secret of Mana remake should have been an amazing video game.
After all, it's one of the most beloved JRPGs of its time - it's battle system still holds up as unique and different after all these decades - and it's a fun game that takes you through a fantastical story! It's the quintessential RPG experience, and a remake had such potential.
So what happened? Secret of Mana just tanked. When I played through over this past weekend - i was treated to a broken, garishly designed game that lacked the same kind of fantastic feel that the original captured. While the story still kept me enthralled enough to keep moving forward, the game itself became ever more frustrating and confused.
Still, I can't deny that I played it for hours and at times had at least a little bit of fun. That's something, right? Is it? No, seriously, I'm asking.
Secret of Mana is a remake of the SNES action RPG of the same name, released in 1993. It takes place in a fantasy world that contains a magical essence called Mana - and you control three unnamed heroes as they fight against an evil empire, trying to harness Mana and take over the world.
The remake features new, 3D graphics, a slightly modernized battle system, and a design that almost feels too saccharine for its own good.
The good in this game lies with what wasn't changed - the story. The story is simple, and features many typical tropes that have become iconic in JRPGS. You quest as three unnamed (or player-named) heroes across this unnamed world to retrieve and seal the powers of the Mana Seeds - because if the evil Empire gets them, they will recreate the evil Mana Fortress. Thus, mana will come back to the world and the evil Empire - lead by an evil, undead wizard named Thanatos - will control it all.
It's not groundbreaking. Even for the time, this plot was definitely one gamers had seen before, but that didn't matter! The story is engaging, because it's a typical hero's journey. You are able to gain fun magic powers and fight crazy large beasts and win! It's both an escape and even a form of wish fulfillment for some - and that's why we still continue to love these games.
Sure, a complicated, powerful story is great, but there is something to be said about the power of simplicity.
There are some other fun additions - the small conversations that party members have at the Inns are nice. It adds a level of character to these typical trope-y characters that we're given. Sure, it doesn't add a lot, but it adds enough.
Was this enough to make the game good, though?
No. It wasn't. At all. The game is broken, guys. Like bad. I'll start with the awkward AI and sprite movements. I was on my way to the Dwarf Village, and my party members were constantly getting stuck at turns. Often, I'd find myself asking, "Where the hell did the Sprite go?" It's not the worst thing, but when you're a relatively low level and traveling somewhere new, things get really hairy when your party is about three of four movements away fighting a wall for dominance.
You guys remember how in old games, whenever your sprites were preparing to talk to someone, they would come together and disappear within the protagonists body and then line up. Now, I want you to picture that, but a couple of seconds slower and instead of disappearing, everyone becomes this weird amalgamation of all three characters before making a line. It looked atrocious and made me regret actually getting information from anyone in the game. It's almost as annoying as the battle system.
Listen, the original game was definitely not the perfect system by any stretch of the imagination. But the point of a remake is to fix the game's problems and make them better. That's now what Secret of Mana did - instead, it made the game look pretty(?) and didn't bother to change anything else. This makes battles an absolute slog to get through.
The action bar mechanic is fine, and it definitely works in this action-RPG setting, but it also suffers from feeling a little too dated. Combine that with the delayed reaction from enemies in the game (by about two seconds) when they got hit, and the awkward move from 2D battles to 3D and you've got a mess. Not unplayable, but definitely annoying.
And finally, we have the awkward design elements. I don't know why they decided to go for this sweet and cute chibi-esque design - but it definitely made the game feel less fun and vibrant and more grating and childish. I know that this game is meant for a younger audience, but young kids don't need cheaply designed chibi characters.
I could go on and on, but unfortunately, I don't have a whole month write this article.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Don't waste your time on the remake. It's not worth the $40 that they charge, and that's an incredibly disappointment. The game is mired by all of the choices it didn't make. Instead of giving us a remake the changes with the times, we are stick with a 3D-ed, almost carbon copy of the original game with all of the problems and issues that came with plus even more.
A remake is not a carbon copy and needs to change with the times. This game didn't do that - and that's incredibly disappointing.
Here's hoping they'll let someone else try it again further down the road.
Shann Smith is a lover of video games and has played games since he could hold a controller. He is a freelance writer, playwright, screenwriter, and also writes the Video Gay-Mer column on Popdust! If you have any games you'd like him to unpack, hit him up!
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