When companies try to decide on games to remake or remaster, there should be some key requirements. Firstly, the game has to be a stone-cold classic within its genre, whether that translated to commercial success or not. Secondly, there has to be a reason for returning to it such as finding a new audience, or because new technology allows the developers to make good on their original vision. Finally, and perhaps most crucially, the remake should be something that has been asked for, slavered over on internet forums or been a point of interest at every dev interview panel. Secret of Mana is undoubtedly a classic, but while they’ve used new technology to some degree, it does nothing but rob this beloved tale of any charm. Undoubtedly, nobody wanted this.
Right away the art style feels incredibly generic, and that’s not helped by the fact that so little effort has clearly gone into certain components within it. With abundantly colourful but clichéd anime-infused visuals, your central character is fairly robust – in as much that some of his features move and there’s some clear shadowing and shading on his character model – but the majority of other non-player characters are unblinking, low-poly affairs that barely seem to be in the same game. Some of them aren’t even in proportion, either with themselves or anyone else. That’s not to say that the entire project is a total crapshoot; the mini-map which appears in the corner of the screen uses the art from the original game, which is a lovely touch, if largely useless thanks to being too zoomed in.
Where the improved technology has been leveraged is in the audio, and the addition of dual language speech throughout really helps proceedings to come alive. The delivery is also mostly solid, and for once the English audio is an actual option that won’t make your ears bleed. The remixed soundtrack is something of a mixed bag, and while the more haunting elements come out of the process improved somewhat some of the more upbeat tracks now grate far more than they did as a bit-tune. You can at least opt to play through with the original soundtrack if you’re unhappy with what’s been done.
You’ll be leading your self-named protagonist and his two companions on the same quest as in the original, and in fact the game is practically a scene-for-scene replica of your journey to restore the Mana Sword that you freed from its resting place, in a bid to prevent the rise of the Mana Fortress. Just as before, combat is in real time, but a power meter lends encounters a different feel to games such as Zelda: A Link To The Past, creating more of a halfway house between an action RPG and a turn-based one. Later encounters allow you further depth with access to various spells and buffs.
Anyone that has played the original will easily recognise and fall into the old rhythm, but in a modern light the whole process feels underwhelming. Add in the Ring Command options system which I continually found confusing and easy to make mistakes with and you’ll be removing those rose-tinted specs extremely quickly.
Things have come so far since 1993 that everything just feels archaic. While that works in some cases, when a game’s mechanics are simply timeless, here it doesn’t. You can at least still play the game in multiplayer – and you no longer have to root around for a Multitap – but it doesn’t suddenly make the whole endeavour more exciting.
On top of everything else, the game doesn’t even run smoothly on PlayStation 4, which given the ‘modest’ requirements I expect the visuals need makes no sense at all. There are frame skips here and there, and at least once the game froze completely, warranting a restart. One benefit of having to backtrack through the same areas was that I had saved often and didn’t lose much progress.
Perhaps the game’s biggest crime is simply its utter lack of ambition. In light of the Shadow of the Colossus remake we’ve seen just what can be achieved when updating a classic game. Admittedly, when compared with Secret of Mana, there was less of a leap to be made between the original and its remake, but it’s clear that so much more could have been done when updating this classic, from tweaking the combat and menus, through to a more noteworthy visual upgrade.
Unwanted and unasked for, Secret of Mana does the bare minimum you’d expect from a remake, and when you consider the original’s beloved status, the fact that it’s been given such a lacklustre treatment is stupefying. There are some elements of modernity that are welcome – the dual language voice options for one – but taken as a whole, they’ve reassembled the base components of the game, but somehow lost the original’s charm in the process.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 Pro