“But time flows like a river . . . and history repeats . . . ”
August 26, 2017 11:21 PM   Subscribe

Oh my god Secret of Mana is being 3D remastered for PS4, PC and Vita by Robert Purchese [Eurogamer] “The best game in the world ever, Secret of Mana [YouTube][ Announcement Trailer], is being 3D remastered for PC (Steam), PS4 and Vita, and will be released 15th February 2018. Why Switch isn't included I don't know, especially given the game's Nintendo heritage, but as Xbox One is excluded as well, it could be a Sony exclusivity deal. Remember, the Secret of Mana series landed on Switch in Japan in June, albeit in a retro re-release anthology which isn't confirmed for the West. The Secret of Mana 3D remake will have a complete new visual style as well as voiced characters (a choice of English or Japanese), some new dialogue scenes, and a newly arranged soundtrack. It looks like a much newer game now, albeit a slightly more cartoony one. There is mention of upgraded gameplay but no details on how it has changed.”

• 20 Years of Mana: Secret of Mana's Enduring Influence by Christian Nutt, Douglas Wilson [Gamasutra]
“In terms of gameplay, Secret of Mana hits this nice sweet spot between the strategic menu-based combat of RPGs like Final Fantasy, and the real-time control of action-adventure games like A Link to the Past. You enjoy a feeling of accomplishment as you level up your weapons and spells, but you also face the raw physical challenge of executing your attacks at the right time, in the right spot. It's mental and physical. It's also worth noting that the "game feel" is solid. Secret of Mana hasn't aged perfectly, but the real-time combat certainly felt fresh at the time. The animations and the sound effects feel juicy and satisfying. Executing special charged attacks feels badass. You can even dash, giving you something to "do" as you're navigating space. And there are lots of smart audiovisual details. Take a look at how damage is rendered, for example. The font of the number text gets bigger as you do more damage. So, as you progress through the game and face more powerful attacks, you get this subtle yet satisfying piece of feedback that the "stakes" are increasing. Final Fantasy VI, by contrast, always renders damage in the same font style, even those big "9999" attacks -- how boring!”
• Why We Love Secret of Mana Jason Schreier and Chris Kohler [Kotaku]
“Short answer: The music. Long answer: It’s one of the all-time greats of the golden age of 16-bit RPGs that showed what the Super Nintendo could do technologically and artistically. Beautiful, colorful visual aesthetic, a clever combination of Final Fantasy RPG elements and sword-swingin’ action, an extraordinary soundtrack that really sounded like nothing else at the time. And just barely enough plot to string it all together. Yeah, it’s full of that sort of freewheeling imagination and weird shit that was possible in the old days, and since it wasn’t a Final Fantasy it could be a little more playful and ridiculous. [...] As much as I love Secret of Mana, I can admit that all of the complaints people have about it, including the busted-ass magic system and the many bugs, are legitimate. I have to imagine they’re going to clean that up for this release. ”
• Secret of Mana composer sought to push the limits of hardware by Alexa Ray Corriea [Polygon]
“Secret of Mana [YouTube][OST Soundtrack] composer Hiroki Kikuta sought to push the limits of sound when it came to new console hardware during his time working on Famicom and PlayStation games, according to a Reddit AMA with the composer. In response to a question about composing for the Famicom, Kikuta said it wasn't a question of scaling back compositions to meet hardware limitations, but more about working with what was possible and pushing forward from there. "Of course, there were limitations to what could be done with the Super Famicom," Kikuta said. "However, as long as you can come to terms with the limitations of whatever equipment you use, great music can be made. "Consider art as an example," he explained. "Using a lot of colors does not make an art piece greater. When it comes to ink wash painting (sumi-e) which utilizes only black color though, great art can be created. Thus, even with limitations, great music can also be made. That is why, someone like Koichi Sugiyama (composer for the Dragon Quest series) can make amazing music with Famicom hardware." For PSOne action RPG Soukaigi, Kikuta used live instruments for the game's background track recordings. When asked if the use of live recordings resulted in the game having very few tracks, Kikuta confirmed this was case due to time and budget constraints.”
• Games That Changed Our Lives: ‘Secret of Mana’ by Michael Riser [Goomba Stomp]
“For me, Secret of Mana was an experience that signaled something very important to my pre-teen self about what games had the potential to be. I was already in love with games and had a sneaking suspicion that there was something unique and important lingering just beneath the surface. It was a medium that I had largely used merely as an instrument for “having fun,” but Secret of Mana finally gave me a glimpse of what I had expected might be possible all along. A year before the US release of Final Fantasy VI (as Final Fantasy III), and two years after the release of Final Fantasy IV (as Final Fantasy II), neither of which I properly experienced at the time due to a prejudice against menu-driven combat, Secret of Mana was a more mature story than anything I’d experienced up until that point. I’d come from a line of relatively terse action-adventure games like Zeliard on the PC and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the SNES, but it wouldn’t be long before I’d experience more verbose narratives in games like Betrayal at Krondor or little-known shareware gem The Aethra Chronicles. Secret of Mana occupied a small place in between, and there was something beautiful about its simple, earnest characterizations that have stuck with me to this day even when I’ve forgotten characters in much more complex games. It remains one of my all-time favorites, and its characters are dear to my heart.”
• Secret of Mana: A Good Game With The Great Cut Out by Liz Finnegan [Escapist Magazine]
“The game is an exciting wonderland of exploration and discovery. Yet, once you meet Flammie, the adorable child of the legendary white dragon, the script and story just.... stops. You are abruptly launched from a game of adventure to "fly here, do the palace, move along." Sadly, this is because North American players like myself missed out on a large portion of the game. Secret of Mana was originally designed to be released in North America via SNES CD add-on. Near the end of development, the deal between Nintendo and Sony fell through, with Sony deciding instead to develop the SNES CD into PlayStation. The designed game was salvaged by cutting a significant amount of data in order to make it fit onto an SNES cartridge. A large portion of the story's script was cut after a certain point, as well as possibly a few mini-games (the carousel, for example) and sprites (like the melting snowman.) Various different routes which would lead to different endings were removed and substituted with linear gameplay. Designer Koichi Ishii estimated that roughly 40% of the game's content was cut, and producer Hiromichi Tanaka has stated that the original storyline had a much darker tone. Due to the drastic cuts, there is virtually zero character development present.”
• Super Nintendo and me: growing up, recession and role-playing adventures by Rebekah Saltsman [The Guardian]
“My parents lived through the recession in the 1980s … and then here was the VERY FIRST real digital escapism for children where they were in control of a world that needed saving. Secret of Mana and the games like it were products of the culture we lived in. They were a mirror to the joy and terror we experienced as we grew older. There are parallels to the types of media kids are gravitating toward today – video games fill a need for us all. With their elaborate stories, multi-gendered characters, astonishing musical scores, and countless hours of gameplay, the Super Nintendo role-playing games certainly reflected a need in me. I was a 12-year-old girl from the Midwest, feeling, but not understanding, the effects of the auto industry collapsing in Detroit, the economic uncertainty of my parents and friends’ parents, the shrinking of the world through satellite TV and globalisation. Yet with Secret of Mana, I had this one place where I was in control.”
• A Second Look: The Secret of Mana by John Romero [John Romero Blog]
“I can still vividly remember the first time I saw the game. Somehow, I was already excited about it before it was released. Maybe it was because I was waiting for a Zelda-like game on the SNES from Square (that was one of the team's important design decisions - to make a Zelda-like action RPG), or maybe it was the already great reviews of Final Fantasy 6. Square was a company to watch. I put the SNES cartridge in, and for the first time, I heard Angel's Fear. Back then, this caliber of music was rare. The song portended quality and an experience not to be missed. Then, as the opening lines appeared with white swans flying across the screen, I saw the credits begin...... PROGRAMMED BY NASIR. That stopped me. For so long, I wondered what had become of my game programming hero, Nasir Gebelli. I didn't know that he had moved to Japan in 1986 to program the Final Fantasy games, and that he almost single-handedly saved Square from extinction. I didn't know how many games he made at Square before Final Fantasy I. This was the first evidence I had that he was alive and well and still making games. Jumping into the game, I immediately noticed the innovative ring menu system. Everything was crisply programmed, Nasir-fast, and the graphics were at the height of SNES quality. They would be bettered in subsequent years by only a few games, Seiken Densetsu 3, Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger among them. So far, everything was what I had hoped for.”
• Secret Of Mana (1993): “Ruins Of Pandora” by Steve Heisler - A textbook villain demonstrates the importance of putting on a good (evil) show. [ The Gamelogical Society]
“Villains know how to make an entrance. The hero of the story, any story, is the star of the show by default: We started with this person, which immediately gives them the benefit of the doubt. We are privy to their backstory, to the moments where they make difficult decisions for the good of humanity, to their failings and the lessons they learn. The villains, however, get none of that default cred. They’re pigeonholed. There is good, and there is evil. And they are evil. There is a pageantry, then, to the way a villain behaves. Because if they’re going to be branded and abhorred, they might as well do so with flair. You know the classic flourishes: Capes are worn, mustaches groomed into hilarious spirals. Their bankrolls are as deep as that of the Monopoly guy, and they spend every pretty penny on ironic dungeons or pet saber-toothed tigers that shoot fire spells from their claws. They are the brand ambassadors for the ad campaign of evildom, and the best villains know how to sell it. The villains in Secret Of Mana are a ragtag bunch loosely affiliated with the government. They seek immense power, wishing to control Mana, the magic of the world, and to create an unstoppable fortress from which to rule. [...] But while the good guys skulk around in caves and temples, quietly and doggedly gathering strength, the villains’ havoc is visible merely by looking up at the darkening, lightning-filled sky. That’s the distinction between these two sides: showmanship.”
• Ring of Fire: How Secret of Mana Perfected the Action RPG by Nathan White [Retroware]
“Released as Secret of Mana in 1993 for the Super Nintendo, the game was much more then a simple Zelda clone. Secret of Mana was (and remains) an example of the action RPG perfected. With it’s bright colorful graphics, detailed sprites, and top-down perspective Secret of Mana may seem on the surface to be a sequel to The Legend of Zelda, and in many ways Mana does borrow heavily from Nintendo’s action staple. However, it’s obvious after spending any measurable amount of time with the game that it is a different animal. Secret of Mana, true to Square’s nature, incorporates into the Zelda formula a complex JRPG-style levelling system and a completely unique combat mechanic. Rather than just simply hacking and slashing your way through static screens jammed with enemies, Mana introduced a combat percentage gauge for each character. Using your weapon (successfully or not) causes the combat gauge to fall to zero, it’s recharge speed based upon what type of weapon is equipped and the characters individual stats. The gauge represents the percentage of damage dealt with each blow, so it is imperative that you plan your strikes for maximum efficiency. Unlike The Legend of Zelda: A link to the Past, where guns-blazing was often an effective strategy, this method rarely worked in Mana and the player is more likely to be punished for eschewing strategically coordinated attacks.”
posted by Fizz (22 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Given what Square Enix has done visually with the remasters of various Final Fantasy games (3/4/5/6) I can't say as I'm enthused by the new look. Still, if it means there's a chance of an official English release of its sequel all will be forgiven.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 11:42 PM on August 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

*heavy breathing*
posted by Literaryhero at 11:55 PM on August 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

It looks like a much newer game now, albeit a slightly more cartoony one.

I beg to differ, it was pretty damn cartoonish to begin with. I remember it as a goofy, fun romp with some serious dark bits at the end.
posted by deadaluspark at 12:03 AM on August 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I remember being amazed at the beauty of the water temple when I was a kid. I called my dad to see, to be amazed at the intricate color cycling animations. But he wasn't impressed.

I'm more to my dad's way of thinking now: video games and movies pale next to the real world we so easily take for granted. But it did make an impression.
posted by billjings at 12:06 AM on August 27, 2017

Meanwhile, I still wait for the Cryamore kickstarter to deliver.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:48 AM on August 27, 2017

I agree with the Escapist article that the cuts show in the latter part of the game, which can be a bit grindy too. The soundtrack was amazing though. If they decide to bring it to Switch too I'll be more likely to bite.
posted by ersatz at 1:38 AM on August 27, 2017

Well! This is one of my favourite games. I'll pick this up even if my SNES pre-order comes through, especially on vita. That means trophies, yes? YES!
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 1:59 AM on August 27, 2017

posted by ELF Radio at 3:16 AM on August 27, 2017

The original game is still incredibly beautiful and certainly much better looking than this, so what's the point?

There are incredible 2D games coming out all over the place (Ori, Hollow Knight, Dead Cells) so this cut rate 3D rendition is such a waste.

Anyway, if you always loved Secret of Mana I'd recommend you track down the fan translation of Seiken Densetsu 3 as it's in some ways an even better game.
posted by selfnoise at 4:22 AM on August 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

It’s impressive to see what they can do on the PS3 nowadays

it’s for WHAT
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:50 AM on August 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

Wow mana seems like a bad choice for a game to remaster. Its graphics are so good it might be in the Earthbound category, where its artistic choices embody the game so much that it would be madness to redo the art. Even beyond that, Mana's gameplay and characters are not very compelling. It's not even close to a "perfected" action RPG like the RetroWare article claims. It's super fun if you play it multiplayer, but a lot of things are super fun multiplayer, and I doubt the remaster is going to have netplay.

IDK maybe remake/reskin Landstalker, or Brave Fencer Musashi, and brand it as a new retro Mana game. If you can't make something new, at least make something good.

Still, if it means there's a chance of an official English release of its sequel all will be forgiven.

SD3's art was bad though, so I wonder if they would make it even worse? Or maybe they will regress it towards the mean and it will get better.

(Whatever look SD3 was going for, it didn't work out so well. The backgrounds are often dulled and brown, and the character designs are weird hard to read blobs often twisted into bizarre positions. (Like, this vs. this. Then there was Secret of Evermore which was too ugly to play.)
posted by fleacircus at 8:21 AM on August 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have a lot of childhood memories tied up in Secret of Mana. I played it multiplayer with a friend who's since passed, so it's something of a treasured memory and little hard for me to be objective. I remember the environments with the same warmth I remember the park by my house, or my best friend's living room. I've played it a couple times since, and design holds up really well, considering that pixel art has advanced a lot in the intervening 20 years. It's imperfect of course, but it forwarded the craft noticeably. It's still a little like visiting the house you grew up in, though. It's smaller than you remember.

If they were granting my wishes, they'd leave the original SNES art, maybe tweak it to look right on a LCD screen, and just update the combat system so you don't have to pause to use spells and can't stunlock bosses. Maybe rebalance the weapon/spell leveling grind, but I've played and enjoyed much worse. No matter how beautiful the 3D spaces they make, or how good the voice acting, (and neither in that trailer look like anything uncommon,) I expect it'll make a very different artistic statement.

I mean, I'm still gonna buy it, and I'll probably enjoy it. My weakness for this kind of thing is well documented. I'm just gonna have Strong Opinions.

(I actually really liked the general look of SD3, but I do have to agree about the character sprites. I'm not sure what they were going for there.)
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 10:51 AM on August 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

My soul craves an exhaustive article series like this one for the Chrono Trigger franchise that would explain just what the hell was up with the latter Mana games. People have already mentioned the uneven art direction for Seiken Densetsu 3, but I found the rest of the game left me similarly ambivalent: the build-your-own-party system and the multiple parallel storylines impressed me in the abstract, but the way the game actually plays left me cold for some reason. Every few years I try to go back and give it some serious time, only to bounce off after a couple hours.

Then there's the sequel, Legend of Mana.

Legend of Mana came out during Square's "Summer of Adventure" on the Sony PlayStation, and like its contemporaries SaGa Frontier 2 and Chrono Cross, it is to this day one of the most gorgeous games ever released, as they had now completely abandoned tileset-based map construction, favoring animated illustrations for their backgrounds. They clearly couldn't work out how to weave these maplets into a coherent environment, though, because this is the era in which there was the most disconnect between the gameplay maps and the "world maps" of Square's RPGs. SaGa Frontier 2 tried something akin to the world maps we use on Earth, but Legend of Mana... well. Legend of Mana's map looked like THIS.

In a move that only served to reinforce how little they were concerned with geographical verisimilitude, each location in LoM was reduced to an icon on a grid, and the actual position of each icon was chosen by the player. That's pretty artificial, but it could have been cool if those environments were sewn together somehow in-game—what actually happened was that when you exited an area, you were kicked back to that cupcake-tray of a map again, and you then got to pick another area to enter. Whenever you finished an area's storyline, you'd get another location's cupcake to put somewhere new; there was some sort of elemental macro-game where you could change the enemies and items you'd find depending on what kind of landscapes you put next to each other, but since locations were fixed once you placed them, it really felt like the only correct choice was to look up a guide so you didn't make things hard on yourself.

The micro-game was fine, as I recall. The hard delineation between combat and exploration turned me off a bit; when enemies were encountered and you pulled your weapons out, you were stuck in that encounter until it was resolved, which didn't feel much like Secret of Mana to me. I remember really enjoying a lot of the individual stories, but eventually I ran into one that I couldn't complete ("go find Selkie"), and despite consulting guides, I couldn't figure out how to progress. I'd either missed an intermediate step somewhere or my game was bugged; I put the game down and haven't been back.

I would love to read a postmortem on some of those decisions.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 11:56 AM on August 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

It almost looks like they're using the original SNES graphics (or maybe the iOS remake) for the minimap, which in theory sounds like a cool idea.
posted by straight at 11:57 AM on August 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Chrono Trigger was one of the first JRPG games that I ever picked up and completely finished. It led me on the path to Secret of Mana, which I never finished.

Mostly because my friend owned the game and he wouldn't lend it out and would only allow me to play it when I was at his place. He was kind of jerky like that, but I get it, games back in the day would sometimes disappear and never return.

I'm really looking forward to this release. And I'm very pleased that the Vita is still being supported. The Vita is a JRPG fanatic's best friend. Sadly, I do not see it getting too much more support over the next year or so. I have a feeling that I'll be shifting over to the Switch in order to satisfy my JRPG needs.

Speaking of which, it's weird that this has not been announced for the Nintendo Switch. I mean, what the hell?!!
posted by Fizz at 12:27 PM on August 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh man, I had an immediate negative reaction to the screenshots I've seen of the remake so far. Just totally kills the feel of the game. I'll still play it, because Secret of Mana was one of my absolute favorite SNES games (although, yeah, where is the Switch version), but I think the art direction is universally going to be seen as a misstep. Sometimes this kind of shift works (e.g. the new Stryder game that Capcom released a year or two back, which admittedly wasn't a remake), but the art was so vivid and memorable in SoM that this just feels like a voluntary forfeiting of one of the original's best aspects.

(It's not really similar in any direct way, but when these games were contemporary I always associated SoM with Paladin's Quest. Highly recommended if you haven't played it and are looking for good RPGs from around the same time.)
posted by kryptondog at 1:39 PM on August 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

It seems like everyone is in a rush to go back and re-release and update these kinds of legacy games. Quite the money-making trend. And we're all caught up in the nostalgia and older with disposable income, so of course we're going to take a bite of this pie, no matter how expensive it is. That desire to go back to our youth is too tempting.
posted by Fizz at 2:09 PM on August 27, 2017

And I'm very pleased that the Vita is still being supported.

What is dead may never die, but rises again, because portable Don't Starve never seems to get old for me.
posted by asperity at 3:06 PM on August 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it’s pretty clearly meant as a Vita game being ported to far, far more powerful platforms.

If you’re going to do 3D graphics, they could have done a lot worse, but on the other hand so much of the charm of the original WAS the 2D art, so.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:55 PM on August 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ugh, this does not scratch the remix/remake itch for me. Blah.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:37 PM on August 27, 2017

I think I'm particularly annoyed at the art change because Blizzard's remaster of Brood War just came out and showed just how good a remaster that mimics the original art can be.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 5:49 PM on August 27, 2017

Secret of Mana is fantastic, but I always found it (at least the cart I played back when) to be pretty buggy compared to its American cousin, Secret of Evermore.
posted by cellphone at 8:15 PM on August 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

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