Have you ever seen a cute, fluffy dog and said to yourself, "I'm going to pet that dog?" And when you put your hands on the dog, you discover its coat is a little greasier than you expected? Not that the revelation spoils your playtime with the pupper, which you thoroughly enjoy. But whenever you think back to your first meeting and the good time you had, you automatically recall the texture of dirty dog coat.
That's how I feel about the upcoming Secret of Mana remake for the PlayStation 4, PS Vita, and PC. I'm honestly stoked for Square-Enix's 2.5D remake of one of my favorite games, and I'm glad an English localization was announced from the get-go (hey, still waiting on word about a translation for Mana Collection, Squeenix!). But Secret of Mana is already a very pretty game, and I'm not confident its atmosphere is well-suited for the "polished plastic figurine" treatment.
I may be unjustifiably jittery about this. The debut trailer for the game only shows off a tiny bit of story footage. Granted, said footage looks flat and lifeless, especially the shot of the game's heroes flying away on the dragon, Flammie. But most of my worries about the Mana remake are cordoned to that one event. There are some still shots of the game on the official PlayStation blog, and some of it looks OK: I dig the muscle detail on that stupid idiot jerk of a tiger boss that fights you early in the game (too early). I'm also glad to see the new models are based on the character re-designs commissioned by Haccan in 2010.
I guess the question on my mind is, "Why 2.5D?" Square-Enix re-did Secret of Mana's sprites for the game's mobile re-release (the same project Haccan cooked up the re-designs for). Why not re-draw the sprites one more time, with more detail and a higher resolution? Heck, the mobile version of Secret of Mana has yet to hit any platform outside of mobile; just getting it on PS Vita and Switch would be a nice start. I honestly have no idea why the Mana Collection doesn't contain the 2010 remake of Secret of Mana, but I digress.
While I wonder aloud at Square-Enix's design choices, the studio's motivations for going 2.5D with Secret of Mana aren't hard to suss out: The new Secret of Mana is a direct follow-up to Adventures of Mana, a recent Final Fantasy Legend remake for phones and the PlayStation Vita. And, to be fair, I enjoyed Adventures of Mana quite a bit. However, former USgamer Editor-in-Chief Jeremy Parish was a bit taken aback by its plain, bland visuals. In his analysis of the game, he states "Adventures of Mana kind of feels like watching a colorized version of It's a Wonderful Life — an entertaining work either way, but not actually improved by its 'improvements.'"
Ironically, Secret of Mana's heritage as a soulful, beautiful game might work for its remake as well as against it. Adventures of Mana is admittedly a plain-looking game, but it's based on a Game Boy title from '91. Final Fantasy Adventure is a great action RPG, but its featureless, repetitive dungeons weren't destined to translate well into a 2.5D space.
With Secret of Mana, however, Square-Enix has some prime source material to work with. Iconic locations. Cool bosses. Bright woodlands filled with cherry blossoms, dark castles, and twinkling ice-forests. I still don't believe 3D models embody Secret of Mana's world as skillfully as sprites, but with so much great material to build upon, I hope the remake looks not-hideous at the very least.
I suppose we'd all do well to remember graphics aren't everything, anyway. Sword of Mana is one of the best-looking entries in the series, but oh man, what a flavorless slog. If nothing else, I'm confident Secret of Mana's gameplay will hold up. Bonus points to Square-Enix if adds a bit of extra content to the original's clearly-rushed endgame, but I'm not wagering any money on the prospect.
(Note that I don't necessarily want to play the game as Squaresoft first envisioned it for the Nintendo PlayStation: I've already gone over why it might not turn out to be as cool as I make it out to be in my dreams and wishes.)