A Disappointing Remake Of A Role-playing Classic
When done correctly, remakes can bring back nostalgia of a bygone era and allow a new generation of gamers to experience a classic title. Unfortunately, when a remake falls on the other side of the spectrum it serves to exacerbate issues inherent in the original and in some examples, make them worse than they were before. Whilst Secret Of Mana does have some redeeming features with its unchanged story, charming visuals and excellent sound design, a slew of issues with the core game mechanics make Secret Of Mana a disappointing remake deserving of so much more.
The unchanged story plays host to some well rendered cut scenes
The story remains unchanged for the most part and faithful to the original with a few character cut scenes added that come complete with English and Japanese voice acting. After a brief wall of text detailing the backstory, the game opens with Randi, a young boy from a local village who stumbles upon an ancient sword that wields incredible power and with it, a host of monsters that threaten to overthrow the world. After being forced to leave his peaceful village, Randi sets off for lands unknown to restore the sword to full power and stop an evil witch and an army of monsters from destroying the world. Along the way, Randi joins forces with Primm and Popoi and together they run through a gauntlet of dungeons and bosses across the world to restore the sword to its original glory and banish the monsters whence they came. The simplistic story has a good pace to it but largely serves to showcase the gameplay mechanics and its here that Secret Of Mana stumbles.
Boss fights are the highlight of the flawed combat system
There’s a fine balance between introducing new elements while keeping key components of the original intact and Secret Of Mana gets caught in this trap, unsure where to innovate and where to stay faithful to the original adaptation. With no explanation or tutorial to guide newcomers into the world of Mana, this remake is geared strictly for those already accustomed to the original and even fans of that may run into their own set of issues here. After the brief introduction, more gameplay mechanics are introduced late on that encourage you to use different weapons including poles to vault across with the whip and rocks to crumble with the axe but a lot of this is trial and error. Unless you’re already expecting these moments, newcomers will surely be left scratching their heads, backtracking through dungeons trying to work out if something has been missed.
Mana encourages players to constantly traverse between areas and grind through enemies to reach the next place of refuge. Whilst ordinarily this would be fine, given this is precisely what the original game entailed, Mana’s repetitive, lifeless combat system makes this more of a chore than it should be. Most attacks lack weight unless fully charged and the UI serves to show just how charged your sword is but the wait times feel far too long. You’ll regularly find yourself running in circles to evade attacks before slashing and waiting again for the bar to fill up. Whilst its understandable this refinement was implemented to avoid hack’n’slash tactics, it lacks polish and comes off as more of a hindrance than it should. The hit detection is poorly implemented too, attacks feel floaty and weightless as you slash at enemies and your AI companions are less than helpful and sometimes get stuck behind obstacles. Running into a downed enemy physically moves them across the map too, the death animations are a little wonky and the menu system is difficult to navigate at the best of times. All these issues rear their ugly head the longer you play and although some of this was evident in the original, from a remaster you’d expect Square Enix to iron out some of these issues.
Battling multiple enemies does provide some welcome challenge to the game
The boss battles are where most of the fun and challenge can be found but there’s a real air of unpredictability with these fights that can sometimes swing the favour away from you, no matter how powered up you are. Sometimes a boss remains docile for large stretches of a fight, attacking with minimal fuss allowing for an easy finish but other times the exact same boss can come out of the blocks swinging and bombard you with a plethora of magic and physical attacks. Early on this isn’t so much of a problem but late on it offsets the momentum of the game when each boss should theoretically be tougher than the previous one to beat. The way Mana presents these battles makes it a disjointed affair, preventing a coherent experience playing through the game.
Combat feels weightless and unsatisfying to engage enemies
Visually, Secret Of Mana excels where the gameplay fails. Environments look great and the level design faithfully recaptures the top down feel of the old SNES title which is great to see but along with it comes a host of familiar issues. The dialogue is largely unchanged and the extra additions here serve to enhance the experience including the touched up enemy graphics which are just as imaginative and creatively drawn as they were before. Its such a shame that more care wasn’t put into optimising the combat and making this more accessible for newcomers because with a bit of polish and refinement, Secret Of Mana could have been a decent offering. Aside from the graphics and the sound design, Secret Of Mana is a poor remake, riddled with issues, bugs and core gameplay flaws making it a tough one to recommend to anyone but the biggest fans of the franchise.