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          Square-Enix polishes another offering from their vault. Another classic comes to the modern era: Secret of Mana.


8/10
Action JRPG
If you were a fan of the original Secret of games from Square on the SNES this is as good as you remember
$40, PC
Bias Points: Nostalgia


          I did not have an extensive game library as a child. However, I did have access to a library. And they had a collection of gaming magazines. As I could I read these like storybooks. Later, a family friend dropped about fifty or so Nintendo Power issues on me. One of these was the issue detailing nothing but Final Fantasy. This solidified Square as a figure in my mind.
          While Final Fantasy VII was the first title in that series I owned, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was the first Square title that was wholly mine. I was aware of other games made by them but could never get my hands on them. Fast forward to the mid 2000s before digital marketplaces were mainstays. I was one who ‘shamefully’ grabbed an emulator and ROMs to gain access to games that I had dreamed of playing.
          Secret of Mana was among these. As with much of Square, now Square-Enix, works I was impressed by the solidarity. The game was a fun experience. But as I glutted myself with titles few of these were ever finished. As such, I am happy to revisit this game as a legitimate owner. On the one hand, I get to reminisce about “the good old days”, and on the other complete a game for the very first time.

Story Premise/Narrative

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          This world, as many, was hand-crafted by the gods. They left a verdant world for mankind to populate. Mana was a sacred resource, one Man learned to utilize. They built a structure known as the Mana Fortress, the hubris of which angered the gods.

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          As such, they sent out the Mana Beasts to destroy the Fortress. War scarred and poisoned the world, leaving it nigh uninhabitable. A hero wielding The Sword of Mana brought the Fortress down. These tales, and this sword, passed into legend. It is believed that many of the fabled swords throughout history were in fact this singular blade. Civilizations rise and fall, so do tales of heroes come to rest. Once more a hero will rise, sacred blade in hand.

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          Personally I had no problems with the story, but it didn’t have anything to particularly write home about either. I am certain that certain aspects of the ending would have been hard pills to swallow if I played it when I was younger. Other games in the Square-Enix library have similar twists. The story of Secret of Mana was internally consistent and is tied up without all the extra leg work of modern games.

Characters

          In the original version of the game, the protagonists were unnamed. The Boy, The Girl, and The Sprite were left as fairly blank slates. Now they are named as Randi, Primm, and Popoi respectively.

          The names do not impact the story as they are not used in the voice acting at all. Speaking of, there are no lip movements to go along with the new voices. The voice work serves well on its own. The lack of lip movement was just unsettling at first.
          Normally I would go into different elements of worldbuilding and themes here, but this title is very straightforward. There is not a lot of meta-commentary, self-reference, or the like. It is refreshing in this sense.

Mechanics

          This remake retained as much of the original game as possible. I think they did a good job of it. For instance, there is an SNES graphic of each area that serves as a minimap in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

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          Secret of Mana has three governing level systems, one each for Characters, Weapons, and Magic.

          Each of the characters gain personal experience for each monster defeated. Upon gaining enough experience points they level up. Not only are their base stats all improved upon, including HP and MP, but those values are restored to full in a “free heal”. Nothing complicated or unexpected here.

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          Also tied to enemies slain are Weapon Levels. Killing an enemy raises a percentage meter up to a maximum for the number of Orbs of that type that you have collected. At first these come from bosses, a few are scattered in chests here and there. The last few you will need can be farmed from enemies in the final dungeoun.

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          Each time you gain an Orb the appropriate weapon can be forged to a more powerful state. It is debateable if this is always the best course of action. At some levels of reforging, weapons gain an on-hit debuff, which can arguably be more valuable than expanded attack options. As you can see above, the best weapons are powerful, but naught else.

          Magic is accessible only to Primm and Popoi. From what I could discern, magic was leveled up whenever the respective character spent MP. As such, Primm is easier. Her magic is mostly healing and party buffs, and can be used nearly anywhere. I found The Wind Palace to be a solid training spot. Popoi is trickier. As the attacking mage, he requires a living target. If you are grinding out Fire elemental magic, and find enemies resistant to it, it should mean less running back and forth between areas.
          Even better, now having more buttons than the Super Nintendo controllers, Square-Enix was kind enough to add some additional functionality. The shoulder buttons will allow you to select targets for items, spells, or change equipment without needing to enter a menu. For me, this allows magic to be used more easily, making leveling the elemental spirits that much easier. Additionally, you can equip two of your favorite weapons onto your favorite character and swap them nearly seamlessly. If you are in an area that calls for heavy use of the Axe and/or Whip, you can use Shortcuts to swap between the utility and main weapons as needed.

Replay Value

          I do not find anything about the game worth replaying. There are only a few side quests, which profer items that can change your status. These allow you shift too and from a moogle, or change your size. Ideally, these help heal such status effects. But by the time I collected them no more enemies would hit me with the status effects, nor were they particularly debilitating to begin with.
          Many of the achievements come from slaying bosses and you will collect during story progression. Some require some grinding to collect items. There are missable items, so a guide can be handy to peg these down. Fortunately, it is not until fairly late in the game when these points come up. When I hit that point, I found that I could exhaust my magic on attacks and be close to a level up. Since you got a free heal whenever that occurred it let me just stay in the field without needing to worry about needing an inn or any form of restoration.
          If you choose to replay the game and retaining a completed file is of import you will need to be mindful. You are only allowed two save files, and a third for auto saves. Personally, I found this to be enough. Auto saves occur whenever you move from one area to another. The few times my games crashed I didn’t lose much progress. However, during my end game farming I made sure and for certain I changed areas as soon as I got something I was looking for. It is just jarring to come to a game with limited save files.
          The ability to change music at any time lets you have a more modern or classic take on the ambiance of this game. I found the original music to be completely in line with my memories.
          In the likely event that this is not your first playthrough, you will find the game perhaps… too intact, if such a thing is possible. One thing I remember is the enemy lag. I earlier mentioned Stun Locking. Enemies had weird pauses in their animation in the original. More or less, when you hit an enemy it enters a falling/ground animation. Any and all damage inflicted on them during this time will register when they arise, and often knock them down again. But it is hard to tell when.
          When I played the game previously I simply chalked it up to a quirk of the SNES limitation. The fact that it remains slows some aspects of the game, such as the grinding. However, this is balanced by the fact that your characters cannot attack at full power with complete abandon. There is a give-and-take involved in combat.
          By the by, the DLC for this remake is purely cosmetic. It may be good for a laugh or some novelty. It adds naught but that. However, if you have a thing for tiger stripes or moogle onesies, you’ll be pleased with the costumes.

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Glitches

          At one point my characters running animation did not register. No big deal, as it returned to normal when I changed areas. Equally benign was my in game timer.
          It is a good thing I was not trying to do a speed run of the game. A day after release my time read in excess of 1200 hours of play. Unless I left the game itself running from release time until the end of this month I would not hit that marker. Having completed the game at the end of February my time was…

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          …just shy of 6000 hours? Go me! I assure you, the grinding does not take this long.

Closing

          Secret of Mana is a well beloved title, and this is a faithful update to it. The voice acting brings it more in line with modern fare. While some aspects leave you feeling its age, and yours if it is a game from your youth, it displays the solid work that was done back in the 16-bit era. It is a strong showing of the respect Square-Enix can give our memories when the work is put in.

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