Secret Of Mana Remake Review: A Rapid-Fire Retro Delight Gets A Spiffy New Look

8
  • Playstation 4
  • Windows
  • Action
  • RPG
Review Secret Of Mana
All aboard the Flammie train! It's our Secret of Mana remake review! SQUARE ENIX

Secret of Mana releases on PS4 and PC today, a visually revamped 3D remake of 1993’s much-loved Super Nintendo action RPG. While it retains some of the annoying quirks of the SNES original (and brings a few new ones to the table), the Secret of Mana remake is still a rollicking good time for old-school RPG fans.

I was excited to revisit Secret of Mana, unable to remember much about the story compared to other RPGs from same time, like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. As it turns out, there isn’t a whole lot to remember. A boy finds a sword in a stone, then decides to save the world. A spunky princess abandons restrictive royal life for adventure. A sprite of indeterminate gender joins you for the lulz. Your party must reseal the eight Mana Seeds, gaining the support (and spell arsenals) of elemental magical entities along the way. There’s a trio of comedy villains, a little love-interest brainwashing, and even a floating fortress. Newly created scenes during visits to inns give a little more insight into the relationships between the main trio and the people they meet along the way. It’s a nice touch, but as with the Tales series, sometimes I found myself blowing through the optional interactions. And by “sometimes,” I mean “often.”   

As much as I’m a stickler for story (looking at you, Lost Sphear), the paint-by-numbers plot didn’t bother me here. Secret of Mana’s world and NPCs serve up plenty of lively, colorful nostalgia to sink your teeth into. The graphical facelift gives the greens, pinks and yellows of outdoor environments a vibrant new life. The Forest of Seasons, with its autumnal coppers and bubblegum cherry blossoms, is a particular delight. Boss and enemy designs are kooky and fun, inhabiting a midpoint on the oddness spectrum somewhere between Earthbound and the Persona series. Some of the towns are a little generic, but I’m willing to forgive this entirely due to the inclusion of a snowy village populated by walruses and a neighboring burg full of sentient mushrooms. (All the dialogue in the game is fully voiced in English or Japanese, and the goofy shrooms are particularly chuckle-worthy.)  

Walrus Town Todo Village Mana
Good walrus to you, sir! Todo Village in Secret of Mana's Upper Land. Photo: Square Enix

Combat is far and away the most enjoyable aspect of the game. The action is consistently fast-paced, especially in later dungeons, with a broad spectrum of enemy types requiring different strategies. Secret of Mana gives you loads of opportunities to change up your playstyle on the fly, whether you’re focusing on melee attacks, offensive magic or buffs and debuffs. The ability to freely toggle between characters almost instantaneously allows you to work fast -- unleashing a sword attack, a fire spell, then a defense buff takes only a second or two, if you’re using hotkeys. These are a welcome new addition, allowing you to assign items, weapons and (most useful of all) spells to a single trigger. Even with hotkeys, though, you can’t just button-mash your way through. The battle system has such depth and complexity that wading through hordes of baddies -- or even grinding for levels and cash, and you will need to grind -- rarely feels like a chore.

Here’s an example of what I mean by depth: all eight of your weapons are interchangeable between your three characters. Each can be upgraded up to eight times by Watts, the gruff dwarven blacksmith who’s apparently stalking our heroes as on their journey. Enhancing weapons makes them grow more powerful and gain new attributes, inflicting status effects like sleep or confusion, or boosting your critical hit rate. Each member of your party can also up their skill level with each weapon to perform charged attacks for progressively higher damage. You can have some party members attack from afar with long-range weapons like the bow or boomerang, or utilize the Action Grid to instruct your AI party members to hang back for charged attacks while you blitz the enemy. The characters don’t seem to favor one weapon type over another, so if you’ve been relying on close-combat items and suddenly encounter a flying boss, you won’t be completely useless once you change up your gear. The magic systems offer similar richness, rewarding time spent strengthening each element with more potent damage and powerful debuffs.  

Mana Forest of Seasons
The delightfully bright Forest of Seasons in Secret of Mana. Photo: Square Enix

While my time with the new and improved Secret of Mana was mostly a delight, a couple old and new annoyances rubbed me the wrong way here and there. I’d previously groused about the ring menu system after an early demo, but hoped I’d get used to it after a bit more time with the game. But even after 20+ hours of gameplay, I still found myself cycling through menus each time I needed to do anything I hadn’t assigned to hotkeys: use an item, check my stats, or swap weapons. What’s more, just like when I played the demo, I again managed to accidentally trash a piece of equipment I’d just purchased, prompting a reset.

Another weird holdover from the SNES original: there’s no in-game world map. Once you gain the ability to fly around the world around mid-game, it can be difficult to figure out where to go, even if it’s somewhere you’ve already been. I found myself looking through old SNES-era maps on Google. It just seems odd not to include this feature, even if you can toggle it on and off.

Strangely, there’s only two save slots for the game. I realize older games didn’t let you keep dozens of save files in the manner of Persona 5 or FFXV, but it would be nice to have the option to revisit earlier points in the game without starting over entirely. A third slot is dedicated to autosave, which comes in handy for tough dungeons. I also found myself relying on this feature more than I would have liked, as I experienced six or seven crashes during my playthrough. Thankfully none lost me more than 10-20 minutes of progress, though all of them occurred while I was fighting enemies. Square Enix says a planned day one patch should address this, so be sure to download it.

A few caveats aside, I enjoyed the heck out of this spiffy new Secret of Mana, and could see myself picking it up again for another playthrough in the future. The enhanced graphics retain the colorful, light-hearted spirit of the original, with a welcome modern polish. If you enjoy RPGs but don’t want to slog through loads of cutscenes, or don’t have 40+ hours to invest in a game, give this retro charmer a look. If you’re a fan of the original, it’s a no-brainer. Save your SNES Mini for Earthbound instead.  

Secret of Mana is out now for PS4 and PC.

REVIEW SUMMARY
Secret of Mana
8
A Retro, Rapid-Fire Delight
While it retains some of the annoying quirks of the SNES original (and brings a few new ones to the table), the Secret of Mana remake is still a rollicking good time for old-school RPG fans.
  • Exhilarating, addictive combat
  • New cutscenes at inns add depth to characters
  • Delightfully weird towns and NPCs
  • Lovely new look stays true to the original, with modern polish
  • The ring menus
  • No world map
  • Only two save slots
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