Remasters are great and all, but there’s a special place in my heart for remakes. It’s great to take an old bit of nostalgia and make it new again – just look at the drastically improved Shadow of the Colossus, for instance. I’ll be especially thrilled when we finally see a remake of Final Fantasy VI, but for now I’ll have to settle for another favorite from my childhood in Secret of Mana.
When a youthful adventure into the wild goes wrong, unassuming villager Randi is led to draw the magical Mana Sword from its resting place. The Sword’s in bad shape, coated in rust and falling apart, and what’s more, drawing it has agitated the local monster population. Randi and, later, a pair of companions are saddled with a quest to restore the Sword and battle an evil group trying to use Mana to destroy the world.
There’s a fair chance you’ve played the original Secret of Mana for the Super Nintendo. For better or for worse, from a gameplay perspective this remake tries its best to preserve that experience. You’re still hacking and slashing away in real time; each attack, as before, forces you to rest briefly while a percentage meter recharges before you can swing again for full damage. This lends a certain rhythm to combat; you’re encouraged to move and dodge between hits, ensuring that defense should always have a place in your tactics. Later, Randi’s companions, the girl Primm and the sprite Popoi, are able to cast magic spells to shake things up even further.
The remake isn’t entirely faithful to the original gameplay, though. While combat was originally locked into the four cardinal directions, for instance, in this release characters have full analog movement and can attack in any direction. This has some implications in ranged combat, making avoiding enemy ranged attacks somewhat more difficult but making the previously-iffy bow and javelin somewhat more powerful to match. Further, while time was paused during magic animations in the original release, here combat can continue while spells are being cast, so locking enemies in place with magic is less viable – in particular, the classic “spellchaining” strategy is gone, meaning it’s no longer possible to cheese bosses to death by spamming magic.
Most of Secret of Mana’s other changes revolve around presentation. The new graphical style is obvious; I found it to be pretty effective for the game’s generally cutesy approach and I appreciated being able to see that Gemma wasn’t just a guy in hooded armor. Voice acting has been added to cutscenes and combat alike with varying degrees of effectiveness. Generally speaking, though, the remake goes for accuracy even where a little touching-up would have been nice, like in the obviously unfinished dungeons that show up in the latter part of the game and the fact that there’s no online co-op.
With that in mind, this is a nostalgia bomb that’s going to particularly appeal to adults who grew up playing the original Secret of Mana. Newcomers to the game might find it lacking somewhat compared to more contemporary efforts; Secret of Mana was an influence in many action-RPGs to follow and can feel somewhat dry by comparison. Personally, I loved the original release and have few complaints when it comes to this remake; if you’ve got some friends to join you for co-op play it’s an even better choice.