Published on May 14th, 2018 | by Brando Quiring0
Secret of Mana
Square-Enix reaches back in time to ruin Brando’s childhood with a remake of Secret of Mana that does nothing to grow its fun gaming legacy.
Hollywood is full of remakes. Typically, that is as awful as the new technology that permeates movies these days, and it often sucks the soul out of the original, leaving audiences feeling ripped off and wondering how the original was ever popular in the first place.
I’m looking at you Evil Dead.
When it comes to video games however, the advances in technology can sometimes offer an avenue to expand on the source material, and take it in a new direction, or fix things that were broken or rushed in the first version.
And sometimes they suck the soul out of the original and leave audiences feeling ripped off and wondering how the original was ever popular to start with.
I’m looking at you Secret of Mana.
When Square-Enix made the announcement that to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the iconic Secret of Mana, they would be doing a graphically overhauled re-release with new music and 3D graphics, I got pretty pumped. Secret of Mana was a total classic on the SNES, in spite of all of its flaws, and I have fond memories of renting it from Family Video often when I was young. I was super happy when I managed to find a copy of my very own when I was older, and it is a game I return to every year or two as it is lots of fun and a real trip down memory lane. When I heard the announcement, I promptly went to the store and pre-ordered myself a copy and proceeded to wait excitedly by the door until it arrived.
I now regret my decision.
The original Secret of Mana was a brightly coloured adventure with great music and fun areas to explore. The graphics were charming and fighting the crazy monsters, that ranged from dragons to ninjas to haunted chairs, was satisfying and fun. The story was a mess and there was zero character development. The three protagonists didn’t have names and the villains’ motivations were only sort of explained. Hell, one of the main villains is only on screen once and is immediately defeated after he turns into a giant, homicidal watermelon. All of that was forgiven, however, as the game was simple and fun and it really was all about the journey. The where and why of where you are going is unimportant as you just have such a good time getting there!
When the remake was announced, I figured they would flesh out the story (read: add one) and fix some of the annoying glitches, and Secret of Mana would finally be the game it was in my head.
Graphically, the new version looks like a high-end mobile game. The sort of thing you could play for free for an hour each day before you have to pay money for more energy so you can swing your weapon more times. The textures are sort of bland and much of the charm has been sanitized right out. The sparkle in the frozen forest isn’t there, and you can no longer feel the scorching wind blowing sand in your face when you land in the desert. The final dungeon looks like they just copied and pasted ‘UFO template #12’ from some clipart site and called it a day. The characters, once vibrant, cool looking and totally visible, are now generic and hidden by the perspective change brought on by the move to 3D, as you now spend all your time looking at the tops of their heads. Who would have thought that looking down at the top of a mushroom-man would be uninteresting…
But we all know that it’s not all about graphics. It’s about compelling gameplay and engaging stories. Bland graphics can be overlooked and forgiven if the game is good. It is nice to be able to say that the gameplay itself has made it through almost completely untouched, with the exception of the move from 4-directional combat and movement, to full 3D analog movement, which just really boils down to a lateral move at best. Another change is they seem to have tried to increase the challenge of the game by making the accuracy of your physical attacks to something resembling a blind kid with one arm trying to hit a water bear with a bow and arrow, but that might just be me.
The story is where the collapse really becomes apparent: there still is only part of one. The original SNES version was the story of a boy with no name, finding a sword and then fighting monsters until he is on a UFO, and then he fights a dragon and then the game is over. There is mention of an evil empire, and a resistance of an ancient civilization that once destroyed itself, but most of those things are only vaguely hinted at and never fleshed out to a degree where you care about them. None of the characters are given any real development either, the three leads don’t have names, personalities, or any other distinguishing traits other than their appearance.
In the new version, all of this is still true. They have given the lead characters names this time around, but nothing else, and their development continues to be lacking. The boy is a dope who doesn’t seem to know what he is doing, the girl is totally obsessed with finding her missing boyfriend, and the sprite likes to play tricks. That’s it. You don’t care about them at all, so when things happen to them, there is no impact. There are also some added scenes where you stay at an inn and your party talks to each other, but the banter does little to expand anything. The gameplay remains mostly the same which gives it a dated feel in an updated shell, making the lack of story and characterization no longer excusable sins.
The final change was a fully rerecorded soundtrack and the addition of (oh goodness help us) full voice over dialogue. The soundtrack from Secret of Mana is iconic and rightly so. I have it on my iPod and listen to it often; the music that plays in the Kakkara Desert is one of my top 10 favourite video game tracks of all time. The new music, happily, is really great and hot on all of the notes it should. It even manages to add a little drama to some of the too-happy tracks that play during the game, so no complaints there.
The voiceover however…
Now THAT is some trash. I have talked lots already about the lack of story and depth in the game, so a good way to make that even worse is by having the story voiced by a crew of people who either don’t care about what they are doing or have never done it before. Maybe they just pulled random voice clips off of videos on the internet, who can say? The moral of the story is this: it is terrible and really exemplifies the lack of care that was put into the script of this game. There is a castle with dozens of people in it and everyone of who lives there says the same line of dialogue in different but equally uninterested voices. After a short time it grates on your nerves and makes you yearn for the sweet, low-tech 18-bit era.
At the end of the day, the modern Secret of Mana remake is everything that is wrong with modern remakes: it lacks depth and character, and all the quirky charm that made the original the classic what it was. This particular remake takes it a step further. With its shallowness and lack of any real meat, it actually manages to highlight the issues with the original, to a point that it not only tarnishes the legacy of the game, but makes it seem like a less fun adventure in the first place, and that is really one of hell of an accomplishment. Thanks Square-Enix.
I guess I’ll just have to wait for 2023’s yet-to-be-announced Xenogears remake.