Fans were immediately excited when Square Enix announced that they were working on a Secret of Mana remake for PlayStation 4 and Vita. After all, the 1993 release is considered an all-time great in the role-playing genre, and the series has been largely absent in North America since Legend of Mana came out on the original PlayStation. There’s a lot of high expectations for the remake, and I got to play the first chunk of the game leading up to the very first boss fight.
If you’ve played the SNES original you’ll know that only equates to about 15-minutes of gameplay. That’s obviously not a ton of time, but it was still enough for me to get a good grasp on what to expect from the 2018 remake. The first thing that stood out during the introductory cutscene were the graphics, and it wasn’t in a good way. Secret of Mana still retains the colorful look of its predecessor, but unfortunately there’s a real lack of detail present for a game by Square Enix, who typically is a technical powerhouse.
Characters moved stiffly during the opening scene. The most telling moment was when the main character, Randi, was grabbing onto a tree bridge and about to fall to the ground. The kids he were with didn’t even react to the event until second later and were seemingly unconcerned that a small child was about to fall dozens of feet to the ground. Further hurting matters was the lack of mouth movement when dialogue occurred. It just doesn’t match the level of polish that one would expect from a modern day PS4 title, let alone one that’s a remake of a beloved classic.
Things got a little better once I could actually control Randi. The opening sequence of the game has the boy getting drawn towards a mysterious sword stuck in stone, and as luck would have it, he’s able to take the legendary sword without any issue. Unfortunately for the player, doing this actually unleashes a ton of monsters. Thus it sets off a grand adventure where the fate of the world is tied to a small child. It’s a bit on the nose in 2017, but there’s still an undeniable charm to the story.
Once the player has a sword in tow, they’re able to destroy the shrubbery that is blocking their way. This leads to the game’s first enemy encounters, and these don’t provide much of a challenge. There’s a bit of a down time before the player can get multiple sword strikes in, which is something I forgot in the years since I played the action title, and that was slightly confusing at first due to how it’s communicated on-screen (you’re slicing an enemy to no effect after all). Once I got used to that quirk, the gameplay felt totally fine.
Since I complained about some of the production value earlier on, I do have to note that the map display in Secret of Mana is incredible. It uses the sprites of the original game, and it’s a really cool throwback. It also allows the player to immediately see how the remake has changed the graphics, and it’s shockingly faithful. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have the side-effect of making me wish I could just play with the original sprites, but nonetheless it’s a very cool nod to the original.
My demo ended with the game’s first boss battle, which has the player taking on a huge monster. In fact, it actually managed to trap me in one of the corners of the small battle area, and I couldn’t get away from its attacks for about 30 seconds due to my character being unable to get past the monster’s giant model. Once I got out of that corner, the fight was pretty simple, as I was able to dispose of him with minimal issue. That’s when the demo ended, so I didn’t get to see any of the later sections.
Despite a disappointing amount of polish in its production value, Secret of Mana still holds plenty of value as a faithful remake. It plays exactly how fans of the original would expect it to, and that’s a damn fine base considering it’s one of the most beloved SNES role-playing games. We’re also a solid ways out from its 2018 release, so a lot of my issues with voice acting and animation could be fixed by then. I’m not sold yet on this remake, as it might just be best to play the original game, but we’ll find out soon enough.
Secret of Mana remake preview conducted at PAX West 2017. Played on PlayStation 4.