Secret of Mana
A remastered version of Secret of Mana has always been one of those fan-wishlist items that Square Enix has had to deal with for many years now. Requests to Square Enix for remasters always began with Final Fantasy VII and Secret of Mana, and the latter became known as the SNES classic that just wouldn’t go away. With the release of Secret of Mana on the PS4 here in 2018, fans of the original and new fans alike will finally get to experience the magic that made the original game such a classic… or will they?
It’s been said before about quite a few titles, but it was never more true than with this one: how one will react to it will depend largely on your age. Those who are old enough to have been fans of the original SNES version will find much to like here, even with a couple of confusing design choices. Younger gamers will likely find themselves confused as to what the big deal has been all these years and why they didn’t push the features even further and make the whole game closer to what is expected in 2018. What makes this particular release so difficult to grade is that both perspectives are equally valid. Square Enix has done a decent job with what they deigned to do, but a lot more could have been done to make this game worth its price tag and not feel more like a “half-way” generational update.
The original sprite designs have been recreated from scratch with what is best described as PS2-era 3D character designs. The game runs in full HD with the most vibrant, candy-like color palette this side of Willy Wonka’s factory. Even with the game’s entire universe inflating from a 2D to 3D world, much effort was made to retain the original feel and soul of the SNES game and in this respect, the remaster succeeds. However, the completely lackluster voice acting and the lack of mouth movement from any character is both odd and, at times, creepy. There seems to be a strange dichotomy of feature improvements (or lack thereof) than run throughout this entire title, making what could have been a splendid remake into a confusing, awkward effort that feels like a real low priority quickie. Blank loading screens? Awkward wheel menus with no option to hold your last place? Yeah, they’re all here.
The in-game combat remains largely as it used to be, with a simple hack, slash and retreat offense design. Instead of the old school 8-direction attack pattern, you’re now able to attack enemies with a full 360-degree range of motion. This does make range attacks a bit more frustrating at times, but it is not a dealbreaker. Neither is the rather daft AI of your teammates, who can be very adept at fighting cute and fuzzy dungeon creatures but they cannot manage to stop sticking to walls like velcro, forcing the player to switch control of the playable character to free up the poor soul. The toughest boss in the whole game is the fierce creature known as “crashing to the PS4 desktop.” This happens at seemingly random intervals, but almost always right after a player has accomplished something important (or is about to). During the gameplay that resulted in this review, the game crashed out twice to the PS4 main menu. Thankfully, the autosave feature works pretty well.
When you cut right down to it, Secret of Mana has one serious issue: it isn’t fun (or as fun as one may remember). Whatever seemed like so much fun back in 1993 now seems like a chore in this version, and Square Enix wasn’t really of a mind to make it any better or, at the very least, prevent it from crashing before release (let’s hope this is patched quickly). What is likely going to happen with this release is that it is going to cause a lot of controversy amongst the fanbase, and the internet flame wars will rage on and on as to whether Square Enix really fouled up this remake or if the original was not as good as we remember it. Whatever camp you find yourself in, you probably already know if this title is worth $30 of your hard earned money, or if you will be perfectly fine leaving this game back in the SNES days where your younger self loved it so much.
Reviewed By: Russell Garbutt
Publisher: Square Enix
This review is based on a digital copy of Secret of Mana for the PlayStation 4 provided by Square Enix.