HAS YOUR CUP OF WISHES BEEN FULFILLED?
STORY TIME! Back in 2012 I was pretty late to jump on the Wii bandwagon when I bought one out of sheer impulse and desperation to play Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Metroid: Other M (I now know better). But as time went on it slowly went from being a game console and more like a £60, more legally binding emulator as I partook in the Wii Shop and finally played Nintendo classics that had past me by during my youth, being a Sega Mega Drive kid n’all. Through these means I stumbled upon the original version of Square’s 1993 classic Secret of Mana. The first of Square Enix’s SNES J-RPG Holy Trinity (alongside Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 6), Secret of Mana looked and felt like how a J-RPG should be, but stood out on its own thanks to its bright and audaciously colourful art style, a familiar style of gameplay that had enough unique mechanics to help set itself apart and a soundtrack that is widely praised as one of the best in gaming. After almost 25 years since its initial release, Square Enix have released a full 3D remaster of this classic title which takes what was already there and makes it look even more gleeful and crisp from a visual standpoint but suffers from several hiccups in the other departments.
Secret of Mana begins with a brief explanation of the world before the game takes place. When an ethereal energy source known as Mana was wrongly used by an ancient civilisation to create the Mana Fortress, a flying warship. This enraged the Gods of the world who sent beasts to destroy it causing a war which near destroyed the planet and lessened the source of Mana to almost nothing until a hero wielding the Mana Sword can restore it. Decades later the Empire have started searching for the 8 Mana Seeds to bring back the power of the Mana Fortress. This is when we meet a young boy called Randi (or whatever the hell you wanna name him!) who after entering a forbidden area of his village with two friends, falls and soon discovers a rusty sword in a stone which he pulls out through the guidance of a voice, which then unleashes monsters in hi village. After being banished from his home and meeting a knight named Gemma (who’s a guy…….yup) along with the help of the water sage Luka and his two travel companions Primm and Popoi, must imbue his sword with the 8 Mana Seeds to restore the power of Mana, which begins his adventure. To me this is an absolutely quintessential J-RPG story line that even 25 years on since the original, still holds up and continuously snowballs into something much grander as you keep moving forward with the game. And the characters you meet along the way are delightful and one of a kind in presentation with the villains having such a wonderfully old school dastardly feel to them.
The remake takes an absolutely visual leap through time in terms of presentation but still holds true to the original. The villages you visit along your journey are scenic, beautiful and soothing with well executed lighting to help commit each place to memory. And the dungeons you must pass through still have their great layouts, persistent monsters and their own challenges, one in particular being the Forest of Seasons which breathes diversity, depth, awesome creatures and an interesting way in which to make your way through it. All these elements will bring a sentimental feeling back to those who loved the original and brings something striking to newcomers to the game. Character models is where the game starts to falter. Yes, they are full of colour, reminiscent and hold a lot of similarity to the original sprites which gives them a certain charm but what they lack is a feeling of sturdiness. Many times during my playthrough I experienced being moved as I passed like they were hollow, running into walls and the three playable characters clipping into each other to a three headed mess (which I dubbed ‘Poprimmandi’). They also have very static facial expressions making it hard to connect with these characters for the people new to this game and they also have no mouth movement whatsoever, which doesn’t meld well with the hit or miss voice acting, my suggestion would be taking the I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear approach as it wouln’t have taken anything away from the game and would’ve helped retain the allure that this remake has so much of in its art style.
Secret of Mana is well known for its amazing soundtrack on the SNES but much like the remakes voice acting has its great moments and some eeeeeeerrr not so great at some points. The themes that fanatics know and love are all there and have been redone for the purpose of the remake and the grand overture ‘Fear of the Heavens’ dazzles you when you fire up the game, the Temple Theme gives a sensation of wonder and tranquility and ‘Into The Thick Of It’ makes the adventure feel huge, but the other side of the spectrum sounds dissonant and harsh to your ears. In recent years Square Enix has been known for its orchestral scores in games and a more string based score like the opener, MIDI or otherwise would’ve helped in my opinion.
As I mentioned earlier, Secret of Mana’s gameplay keeps the feel of a SNES RPG but goes a little bit outside the box. First of all, the movement appears to be more fluid and to me doesn’t feel as clunky as the original, which compliments its eccentric RPG like battle system, which firmly placed Secret of Mana within the genre and yet is one of the reasons why the original stood out to me. With your adversaries in the field and not opting for random battles the adventure doesn’t feel like it stops at any point and the fast pace gives the game a dynamic feel, and the impact of your attacks being determined by the percentile of your lead characters attack gauge along with creating shortcuts or your magic adds strategy to the upcoming skirmishes. The enemies you come across also have a steady difficulty curve to them which will hit sooner than you think (UP YOURS CHOBIN HOODS!) but this doesn’t feel like the case for the boss battles which seem to fluctuate in difficulty as you quest further into the game. There is also a distinctive menu system for equipping gear that you collect through your journey, organising your characters and checking your stats which honestly takes some serious getting used to but once you do can actually be quite fulfilling. However, though I found the gameplay mostly satisfying I found the AI of my two team party members to sometimes be a little clueless, however this can be remedied with localised Co-Op! where 1 or 2 other players can take control of the other players.