Secret Of Mana Hands-On: Still Satisfies After All These Years

Secret of Mana still delivers sword-swinging fun. Square Enix

Originally released for Super Nintendo in 1993, Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2 in Japan), is a childhood favorite of mine. An updated remake of the game was available at the New York Comic Con Square Enix press event. I got to take the 16-bit classic's modern makeover for a spin and came away feeling pretty optimistic.

Like many an old-school RPG, Secret of Mana places you in the shoes of a spiky-haired teen boy, Randi. (Yes, his name seems better suited to an older lady who enjoys bingo and rhinestones, but just go with it). You and the local fat kid are up to no good on the outskirts of your idyllic peasant village, hunting for treasure, when Randi takes a tumble and winds up alone at the base of a waterfall. At the center of a pond, he sees a sword thrust into some stone. A creepy ghost voice urges him to take it (seems legit), which he promptly does. A legendary hero is born!

SECRET OF MANA And what's a sword doing here?
Randi discovers the Mana Sword. Photo: Square Enix

The updated 3D environments, character models and dialogue sequences are crisp and easy on the eyes, but it also retains a retro, sprite-like feel. The proportions aren’t especially realistic (who could stand up with a head like that?!), but the revamped art style perfectly suits Mana’s cheerful vibe. This remake doesn’t have the polish or grandeur of modern SE offerings like Final Fantasy XV, but it doesn’t really need it, either. Even after the demo, I still don’t remember much about Secret of Mana’s story -- it’s not like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI in that respect. Even so, I do remember it being loads of fun to play, exploring some very cool dungeons and being able to ride a dragon.

Anyway, after taking the sword, Randi must make his way back to the village, which gave me a chance to reacquaint myself with the game’s real-time combat. After a few lackluster swipes with my legendary blade, I quickly recalled that timing slashes are key. Below your HP bar, you’ll see a percentage gauge, which rapidly fills up after you attack. You’ll want to time your hits to get as close to 100 percent charged as possible for maximum damage; a perfectly timed chance will result in a critical for double damage. I soon got the hang of charging forward, then ducking back to recharge my attack strength, and was eager to dig into the variety of weapons and enhanced attacks acquired as the game progresses.

SECRET OF MANA local wildlife
Testing out that legendary sword on some local wildlife. Photo: Square Enix

After the customary scolding from the village elder, the demo ended with a straightforward boss battle, where Randi must save his portly frenemy from a giant ant in a cave below the village. The demo got a little frustrating here. The item/weapon menu, which I hadn’t needed before that point, began spinning and scrolling spasmodically of its own accord for about 10 seconds as I stared blankly and tried not to touch any buttons. This happened a couple times in this brief boss battle, basically anytime I needed to use a healing item, so it was pretty noticeable. Assuming that little quirk gets tweaked, overall I’m excited to revisit the fast-paced, lighthearted fun of Secret of Mana once it hits stores early next year.

The final version of the game will feature more expressive character models and fully voiced dialogue, including NPCs. You’ll also have the option to play with Japanese audio and English subtitles. I was surprised to still recognize some toe-tapping bits of the soundtrack during the demo, and a SE rep informed me that the current build still retains the original SNES audio. While I was kinda digging the sweet '90s jamz, the score will get a new arrangement for the updated release.

Secret of Mana comes to PlayStation 4, Vita and Steam on Feb. 15, 2018. The PS4 and Steam versions will have an MSRP of $39.99, while the Vita edition will retail for $29.99.

Will you check out the updated Secret of Mana? Would you try it for the first time, or is this strictly one for the Nostalgic Olds (like me)? Let us know in the comments!

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