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Secret of Mana

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Feb. 15, 2018


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PS4 Review - 'Secret of Mana'

by Fran Soto on Oct. 1, 2018 @ 2:30 a.m. PDT

Embark on an action-packed, worldwide adventure in the 3D remastered version of Secret of Mana, now with revamped high-def. 3D graphics and voice-overs.

Buy Secret of Mana

Originally released in 1993 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Secret of Mana has been a staple of JRPGs for decades. We follow a young boy, Randi, as he finds the magical Mana Sword and begins his adventure to stop the empire from using magic for evil. Its original debut on the SNES was nothing short of revolutionary, as it introduced new concepts to the JRPG genre. Whereas previous RPGs used turn-based battle systems, Secret of Mana introduced real-time combat with a fluid Ring Command menu to pause mid-battle and manage items and equipment. Drop-in/drop-out multiplayer was also an integral part of the game and allowed friends to play an RPG together. Apart from its gameplay, the title also had a gripping storyline set in a high-fantasy universe. Secret of Mana definitely solidified itself as a necessary addition to gaming history. To commemorate the game and keep its story alive, Square Enix has released a Secret of Mana remaster, a full HD rework for the PlayStation 4, PS Vita and PC. With the original being such a critically acclaimed work of art, how does this remaster stand on its own?

The original Secret of Mana is regarded as a work of art. Beautiful, vibrant graphics with a rich soundtrack were highlights of the original game's composition. While 1993 did not have the power of today's graphics, it was some of the best for the time. This remaster brings those well-loved visuals to the next level. Regardless of choosing Japanese or English voice acting, it's a job well done. With 3D character models and fully voice-acted dialogue, the Secret of Mana remaster freshened up the game for a new generation.

Square Enix continued building on Akirya Toriyama's art style for a new, but familiar, look. Some may not know that Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana were actually part of the same project at one point. Seeing his visual style remastered in high definition is a joy. Characters are in his unique style and, due to the remaster, also have deeper dialogue and facial reactions. The remaster creates a more relatable cast than its sprite counterparts. This new version keeps with the original theme of vibrant graphics in an immersive world — flora and fauna in the environment have been freshened up to provide even more details than before. The soundtrack has also received an overhaul, utilizing actual instruments alongside synthesizers for a classic feel. Having also played the original on the SNES, this Secret of Mana for the PS4 does go out of its way to create a new experience for more modern times.

While it's already been established that Secret of Mana is a superb title with an amazing story, the biggest flaws I encountered in this updated version come with the battle system. As much as I love and appreciated the original iteration of this title, the battle system of 1993 does not hold up as well in the year 2018. By today's standards, real-time battle means something completely different. There are more mechanics in real-time battle that gamers are used to. The fact that players can't dodge attacks or have any control over how enemies are engaged can lead to frustrating moments in the remake. The charge gauge for attacks was a key component in the retro version that doesn't fit as well here. Instead of making a separate stamina bar like many other titles are using these days, Secret of Mana continues to use an outdated system. Only being able to hit an enemy once before having to wait for a recharge makes combat slow and, quite frankly, clunky. A stamina bar would've kept with the charge gauge in some way, but allowed for multiple hits that don't decrease in power. This can make slogging through areas feel long and tedious. It also draws out boss battles too much and makes them feel one-sided.

Boss battles in this remastered title are rather rage-inducing. I never seemed to mind it in the SNES version, only because I didn't know any better at the time. That was the technology we worked with, and it was fine. Now, having bosses spam unblockable attacks until you're dead brings a whole new meaning to "rage quit" for me (and I regularly play Dark Souls, but at least you can dodge). The only thing that players can do is pull up the menu to use recovery items and hope for the best. The computer-controlled characters have adjustable settings to make them more adept, but this still does no good against unstoppable, successive attacks. It was a disappointing moment when I realized I wasn't having as much fun anymore. Instead, gameplay in this remaster was long and tedious. It's one thing to update graphics and gameplay, but this remaster has only thrown a fresh coat of paint on an outdated play style. Remasters need to look beyond visuals and evaluate whether the gameplay needs to be updated as well. It's not enough for the game to look gorgeous; the playability also needs to fit a modern style.

I've been a lifelong fan of Square(-soft) Enix and all of its work. Having played almost every RPG it's released, I was looking forward to a classic game for a modern system. As gorgeous as the visuals are and as much as I appreciated the high-quality voice acting and soundtrack, this Secret of Mana remaster seems lazy. Yes, there are amazing components to the game, but these are mostly on the surface. Personally, remasters mean that a game is rebuilt from the ground up with scrutiny. How can a classic game from a different generation be brought into a new era? This is the year 2018, with current-generation consoles that are vastly different from what many of us used to play in our parents' basement. This should be the main focus with any remaster. This iteration of the title seems like nothing more than a very high-quality HD port.

With as much critical acclaim as Secret of Mana has received in its past, it deserved better than what has been brought to current-generation systems. If anything, it seemed like it was too late for a remaster like this. This would have gone well with the PlayStation 3 system, or even the PlayStation 2. Despite this being a remake, it still very much feels like it's stuck in the past. Additionally, with Nintendo making the NES and SNES Classic systems (the mini Nintendo consoles with pre-loaded games), a Secret of Mana remaster also seemed unnecessary since it is one of the games on the SNES Classic. In fact, this remaster was released very shortly after the release of the SNES Classic. With the title already confirmed for the Classic system, it seemed like an overload. Anyone who may have been a fan of the original could stick the cartridge into their system or buy a SNES Classic. With many being upset that Nintendo's mini console didn't have Chrono Trigger, it seemed that an opportunity was missed.

Yet, despite Secret of Mana's technical blunders, this new version is a faithful re-creation with a lot of reverence for its source material. For those who may have missed out on Secret of Mana the first time around, it also serves as a solid introduction to a classic from the Golden Age. At a time when local co-op is difficult to find on most current-gen consoles, it gives a fresh option for those wanting to play with others. Secret of Mana'sremasteroffers a magical, vivid tale for the current-gen library.

Score: 7.8/10

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