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The Secret of Mana Remake Needs Some Spit Shine and Polish to Reach Its Full Potential

2.5D isn't such a bad look for this game after all, but the cut corners stick out like a Mana Beast at a cat show.

Analysis by Nadia Oxford, .

[UPDATE: October 23, 2017] A Square-Enix PR representative reached out to assure me many of the problems I address in my preview are being worked on. The build I played was apparently from August, so some of the bugs I encountered have already been squashed.

Moreover, characters' faces will become more expressive. Full lip-synching may not happen, but characters will reportedly emote better than they do in the preview build.

In other words, the Secret of Mana remake is indeed being polished ahead of its February 15, 2018 release. Cool!

I've talked at length (say, twenty miles worth of length) about how much I love Secret of Mana. Square's SNES follow-up to Final Fantasy Adventure for the Game Boy has definite flaws, but it also has lush graphics, a beautiful soundtrack, and loads of character.

Secret of Mana has already been upgraded and re-released once for mobile platforms in 2010. Another remake is coming in February: A "2.5D" re-imagining of the game for PlayStation 4, PC, and PS Vita, similar to the recent Adventures of Mana remake for mobile and PS Vita.

I'm very much looking forward to the Secret of Mana remake, but I'm not without worry. I'll play the game if Square-Enix includes a caveat stating I'm not allowed to access it unless I do so while wearing the south end of a dead skunk taped around my nose, but that doesn't mean I'm entirely happy with the game's visual direction. When word got out about the game, I was disappointed by its flat, seemingly lifeless graphics.

Give my regards to El-ahrairah, lagomorph.

I've softened my stance a bit since going hands-on with the game at Square-Enix's Suite Spot event held earlier this week in Toronto. I'm still not totally on board, however. Parts of the Secret of Mana remake demonstrate loving, imaginative rebuilds of enemies and towns, but other parts are plagued by stiff character movements and bugs.

We're still over four months away from the game's launch, so there's time for Square-Enix to perform some clean-up—but what I played showed off a strange but obvious imbalance. I played a little bit past the first boss, and I was surprised at the contrast. The first foes you go up against—the adorable but deadly Rabites—leap and bound with energy. When you whack them, their eyes reflect their shock. They're a joy to watch (and to kill. Ahem). Another early enemy in the game, the Lullibud, now walks around on its roots instead of simply sliding towards you. The Mushboom enemy sweeps off its cap before trying to dust you with spores. And the first boss you encounter, the Mantis Ant, now has a complete body instead of a two-dimensional sprite that always faces forward. Its mandibles clack and it jerks its head back and forth as it searches for you.

It's great stuff, but it's brought down by the events you witness beforehand. Most notably, the characters' mouths don't move when they talk. They don't even flap open and closed during cinema scenes, which is all I'm really asking for, here. Every character looks like they're psychically projecting their thoughts at you. It's a weird omission, considering there's a surprising amount of voice acting in the game.

"Shut up. You're not my real dad."

(The voice acting is uneven, incidentally. A couple are good, but most are just passable. There's an option to turn on Japanese voices, so no worries there.)

I understand this isn't a high-budget title and corners had to be cut, but it's odd how much care went into certain animations while others are just lifted from the SNES game with very cheap-looking results. In the opening moments of the original game, the main character is slapped around by the town bully. Said bully doesn't lift a hand during the scene (you see an impact flash instead), which is understandable given the limits of the SNES. However, he doesn't swing a fist in the remake either. You just see the same impact flashes.

Similarly, there's no animation when you climb into a cannon for fast-travel; you just "slide" into the canon sprite, same as you do on the SNES version of the game. Putting aside how we ought to see something here, the illusion of entry generated by two SNES sprites sliding behind each other doesn't translate well at all with the remake's 2.5D models.

You don't get to see a scaling overhead shot of the map when you travel by canon, by the way. You just get a loading screen. What a bummer. Seeing the world sprawl out under you as you cannonball towards your destination is Secret of Mana's first "Wow!" moment.

Then there's the bugs. I saw a few character sprites acting strangely; at one point I espied an old lady partway consumed by her own floor. She looked like she was doing the backstroke across her house. I had to laugh, but it wasn't as funny when my game crashed outright.

Little known fact about Flammies: They smell like angry wet cats.

We're looking at a February 15 release date for the Secret of Mana remake. That's quite a ways away, especially for a game that's not especially resource-intensive. In other words, there's still enough time for Square-Enix to address my problems with the remake's stiff characters, bugs, and lack of lip-synching. In fact, the literature I was given for the game promises a "A newly arranged soundtrack," but the build I played used the original score. If the demo's music is a placeholder, there's a decent chance some extra polish is still planned for the remake's NPCs.

(I asked some of the Square-Enix representatives on-hand if they knew whether the characters will receive mouth animations; they weren't sure.)

From what I saw of the Secret of Mana remake, it might potentially be a treat for people who adore the original game as much as I do. Despite my initial reservations about the game's graphics, I got pretty excited over getting to see fully-realized models of the enemies and bosses I've thwacked again and again. I'm still worried about the stiff NPCs, half-baked character animations, and bugs, but none of those problems are insurmountable between now and the game's release date.

I hope Square-Enix gives this game the love and care it deserves, and I hope that love and care is applied evenly throughout every aspect of the adventure. So until February, if a masked man named after the Greek personification of death asks you to exchange bodies with him, yell "No!", run away, and tell and adult.

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Comments 15

  • Avatar for chilon #1 chilon A month ago
    I'd be happy with almost identical 2d graphics and zero voice acting if they'd just make the combat fun. It was always a weak point in an otherwise amazing game.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #2 riderkicker A month ago
    This is one convoluted way to stop Americans from playing SD3 legally.

    It's was an alright first impression but wholly unnecessary.
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  • Avatar for moochan #3 moochan A month ago
    If I could point to something it would be they made Final Fantasy 3 DS a HD treatment. Where things a pretty stiff and just head bobbing. That might be fine since Mana isn't that much of a text heavy story. The two things I'm not looking forward to is fighting that Tiger boss and hearing the Dwarf song on repeat. I'm more forgiving of the game than a few others but I do agree I wish it had a bit more money to do more things.
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #4 Gamer-Law A month ago
    @nadiaoxford - The concerns you expressed about this remake when it was first announced were spot on and they are every bit as valid today. No need to soften your criticisms as many of us are glad to see fans of the original game calling this remake out for what it is—a flawed cash grab. The graphics in this remake are on par with a mobile title and the voice acting fails to rise above the Saturday morning cartoon level.

    I would have been happier with a console version of the up-res’d game released on mobile devices a few years ago. Absent that, I will stick to my recently acquired SNES Classic version of the original release.
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  • Avatar for Vaporeon #5 Vaporeon 30 days ago
    @nadiaoxford Hi Nadia, great article! Your point about the lack of mouth movement when speaking reminded me of a real bother in Pokemon Sun/Moon. While all the characters in the game expressed personality through a variety of facial and body movements, your own avatar maintains the same vapid expression and stiff form throughout the entire game! Receiving your first Pokemon? Wide open eyes and half-smile. Sucked into Ultra Space? Wide open eyes and half-smile.

    It was a huge inconsistency that really dragged on me by the end scene with Lillie on the dock. No amount of fashionable clothing options can cover up that my avatar wasn't just a hollow shell in a world otherwise filled with fun and interesting characters.

    ...I'm still getting Ultra Moon, though, heh. Just wanted to agree with you that it's the little things that really matter sometimes. Dare to dream!
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  • Avatar for matt-b #6 matt-b 29 days ago
    the truth of the matter is i will buy and play this game to completion if for no other reason than supporting secret of mana in the hopes a NEW mana game can be made and made well.
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #7 cldmstrsn 29 days ago
    @mattb0527 Thats always my thinking as well.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #8 Funny_Colour_Blue 29 days ago
    ...I dunno, what gets me was that like most jrpgs, Secret of Mana was a 2D Jrpg shot from an overhead perspective - you would think that this would translate well to a 2.5D environment since most of the original SNES game leads itself to achieving this perspective - but it doesn't.

    ...I'll still get it though. The world needs more Mana!!!! aaaaa!!Edited 5 weeks ago by Funny_Colour_Blue
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  • Avatar for davedalrymple11 #9 davedalrymple11 29 days ago
    All I can say is that I hope the final version is more like the Mantis Ant battle than the cannon travel.

    With the original version so widely available now, there is no way that they should get away with half-assing the remake.
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  • Avatar for camchow #10 camchow 29 days ago
    @Funny_Colour_Blue yeah my first thought after seeing it in motion is thinking they really need to do that little trick Nintendo did with the 3DS Link Between Worlds. The 3D here feels half assed (nevermind the lame cutscenes).
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #11 Funny_Colour_Blue 29 days ago
    @camchow Yeah! Like, What bugs me the most is how like, on the SNES, it was an overhead perspective in 2D right? but everything was clear and distinct, like when you moved Randi to the left or right, he is clearly in profile.

    There's probably a much better way to remake Secret of MAna, but this just isn't it. I was hoping for something more in line with like; legend of mana or something, I don't know.Edited 2 times. Last edited 5 weeks ago by Funny_Colour_Blue
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  • Avatar for Thad #12 Thad 29 days ago
    @Gamer-Law "the voice acting fails to rise above the Saturday morning cartoon level."

    Huh? I can honestly say I've never heard "Saturday morning cartoon" used as a pejorative for voice acting before. Animation, sure. Writing, sure. But acting? Mel Blanc, June Foray, Daws Butler, Paul Frees, Bill Scott, Don Adams, Frank Welker, Michael Bell, Townsend Coleman, Rob Paulsen, Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeille, Dan Castellaneta, Kath Soucie, Cam Clarke, Billy West, Cory Burton, Keith David, Ed Asner, Gary Owens, Janet Waldo, and Kevin Michael Richardson would like a word. To pick a few names off the top of my head.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #13 Flipsider99 29 days ago
    @Thad You know, that's actually a really good point. When we think of "Saturday Morning Cartoon," we think of badness on every level. We think of the bad writing, bad animation, bad stories. But those voice actors were often all pros and often did great work. I guess since we tend to think of the storytelling as horrible, it's easy to forget that.
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  • Avatar for Zephyrius #14 Zephyrius 28 days ago
    @nadiaoxford — In case you were tharn about your effort, I made an account to give applause and show appreciation for making a Watership Down reference. Frithrah, but that caption was unexpected!

    I'm curious to know how Flammie flight looks compared to the SNES Mode 7 style. It seems so distinct that actual 3D graphics might feel a bit over-the-top.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #15 nadiaoxford 26 days ago
    @Zephyrius Frith bless and keep you.
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