If you’ve been watching The Cartographers Guild stream lately, you know we played the recent remake of the SNES game, Secret of Mana. I wrote an article on the original game for my Favorite Video Games series, in fact, as soon as I heard about the coming release of the voice-acted, 3D remake.
Now, a lot of people have had a lot of complaints about this game. If you watched the stream, you know what ours are. But here, as the biggest fan of the game in The Guild, I’ll sum them up for you and talk about my personal reaction.
I know a lot of people complained about the graphics, the voice acting, and the new soundtrack. The graphics were rather faithful to the original, and certainly pretty, it felt like a proper homage to me. Because we don’t use headsets, the music wasn’t very loud, so I honestly couldn’t comment definitively about the new score. I will say there were only one or two times I actively disliked the musical choices, and sometimes I was pleasantly surprised. The voice acting on minor characters was honestly usually pretty bad, but for the most part, the main character acting was solid enough. As far as I’m concerned, these choices were re-imaginings that I did not think were particularly offensive. I often found something to appreciate in them, actually. I don’t think those choices detracted from the game.
Josh said in the stream (and my husband independently came to the conclusion when I told him about my concerns) that the game should have had a classic mode, where they changed nothing, and a director’s cut mode, where the changes/additions would be, and I wholeheartedly agree. It turns out they didn’t make enough changes, and the changes they did make detracted from the game rather than improving it.
Now, don’t think that I don’t realize they were damned if they did, and damned if they didn’t. They were never going to make everybody happy. Changing too much destroys the nostalgia. Not changing enough leaves it too lackluster for modern audiences. The two game modes solution could have gone a long way towards solving that, certainly.
Of the things they changed (which were mostly minor, technical things), the most glaring one for me was the ring menu system. If you read my prior article, you know how wonderful I found that menu system. I loved that it didn’t take you into a new menu– so common for RPGs of the time– and how it flowed so well into the story and gameplay, never taking you out of the moment.
What possible benefit was there to making the ring menu show up in the middle of the screen instead of around the character who called it up? Until they patched it to put the character’s face in the middle of the ring, we were often confused about who called the menu up. And even then, all right, I guess the icons were bigger, but couldn’t that have been done still centered around the character in question? The icons were too big, you couldn’t really see the screen behind them, so you might as well have gone into a different menu screen. And in the equipment screen, you did, and it was a black screen background. It felt lazy, and jarring. All the charm of the original ring system was edited out of the game. What was the purpose? I still don’t know.
Speaking of patches, they gave us one to lessen the number of game crashes. That didn’t stop us from getting eighteen in about twenty hours of gameplay. That’s pretty inexcusable.
The stream is up on YouTube, so the nitty-gritty of our analysis is there, especially in the final episode. Not that there were no improvements– the translation was less cryptic, the little inn skits with the characters were great, and cut scenes were a good addition although the characters not moving their mouths was jarring and there were a couple more story points that really needed cut scenes that didn’t get them for some reason– but there were just not enough of them to make this remake worthwhile for me.
Now that I’m older, I can see something I didn’t realize as a kid. This game was rushed. Now we know the localization was done in thirty days, causing much of the dialogue to be cut or changed, and apparently Secret of Mana was supposed to be for the SNES’ CD-ROM system, and when that decision was changed it was obvious they didn’t have time or room on the cartridge to do all the things they wanted to do with the game.
There are obvious places where side quests were supposed to be that don’t have them, like the island with the lighthouse where nothing happens and there’s no reason to go there. Or the Lunar Palace . . . there’s no dungeon! You just wander around for a minute, find a crystal orb, cast a spell on it, and poof! There’s the Luna elemental and the Mana Seed.
I feel like a remake of Secret of Mana, even if it didn’t change the gameplay very much, should have given us more. Secret of Mana was a story that wasn’t quite finished. There was their opportunity to give us the story that this game always meant to tell us, and they didn’t.
But there’s an even worse transgression, I think. The day I heard about this Secret of Mana remake, I went home and pre-ordered it immediately. Didn’t wait to see reviews, didn’t read about it. It didn’t matter. This was Secret of Mana. This was my bread and butter, a beloved game from my childhood. I logged onto Steam immediately and said, here Squeenix, take my money, no questions asked. I couldn’t wait to see how they would improve it, how they would lovingly give me the game as it was meant to be, now that they had time and money.
After this, I will not be doing that again. And I am a self professed Square fangirl. I’ve been a fan since the very first Final Fantasy. I am the target demographic for this game, the person who loved this game as a kid and now has disposable income. This didn’t ruin the game for me, but it was lazy. It didn’t honor the material. It played it safe, painstakingly recreating the game, flaws and all, and that’s a shame, because with a few tweaks this could have been something great.
The truth is, Secret of Mana didn’t age well. I’m still a devoted fan, but if this is your jumping on point, it’s slow, the gameplay is awkward, there’s no reason to do charge attacks, It’s button mashing and waiting for enemies to get back up so you can button mash some more. If someone doesn’t have the nostalgia love, this game will probably not hold the interest of the modern gamer.
Someday BabyGMR will be old enough for me to play this game with her, and I can tell you right now it’ll be the original version, either on my old SNES or on my recently acquired SNES Classic. This game is pretty, but it doesn’t do enough better to warrant it being her introduction into a treasured experience.
Squeenix, I know you can do better than this. You’ve still got it. Final Fantasy XIV is a great game. And I know great remakes are possible, because the Odin Sphere remake is incredible. If Atlas and Vanillaware can do such a stellar job, I know you’ve got it in you. I am among your most loyal fans, and this actually has burned me enough to where I didn’t instantly go out and buy the Chrono Trigger PC release when I heard about it. Me. Chrono Trigger. My favorite game of all time. If I’m the sort of person you’re trying to appeal to . . . I’m soured. I’m disappointed. Secret of Mana isn’t ruined for me, but this was a wasted opportunity. Please learn from it.