Secret of Mana is the second 3D remake for the series and the first one to release on the PS4 and PC. This is basically a 3D remake of the original Secret of Mana that was released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It was known in Japan as Seiken Densetsu 2 and was considered the second entry in the series. The first game is Adventures of Mana, or formerly known as Final Fantasy Adventure in the West.
Secret of Mana Remake received some controversy due to its shaky nature of 3D art style, however after playing the game, it is clear that the art style is not the worst part of the game unless you are a diehard fan of the series or prefer the old-school 16-bit pixelated look for it. The thing is, the game has some other issues that affect it more than the art style and unfortunately some of these are tied to the original release of it, which seems to have carried over to the remake as well.
The story in Secret of Mana is one aspect of it that might feel dated now. It is a simple tale of a boy who turns out to be one of the legendary hero tasked with saving the world. This all happens on one fateful day when he is exploring outside his village with friends after hearing rumors about a treasure. While they never manage to find the treasure, he is separated from his friends and stumbles on a legendary sword which was previously used by a hero to get the world rid of evil creatures. As soon as the boy grabs the sword which is firmly fixed in a stone, it loses its shine and you will soon find out that the sword has lost its power. This sets the boy on a journey to recover it by getting all the eight Mana Seeds. Parallel to his journey is the empire on a quest to claim the Mana Fortress thus spelling the doom of the world again. At its core, this is a fairly basic premise that has been repeated countless times, although it was still something new when the game launched back on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Secret of Mana HD is a co-op focused action RPG and it was one of the first attempt at such a game from Square Enix. The co-op remains intact for the remake and simply on the basis of being on a modern platform, it works without the need of any accessories for multiple controller support. The player can carry a party of 3 characters at a time and they can be controlled by the computer AI or by a human. If you decide to play the game alone, it is possible to setup the AI for the computer controlled characters in case you don’t find them useful in battle, however despite this, the AI has a tendency to get stuck or perform action that ends up killing them or putting their life in danger.
If some aspects of the game design were updated, Secret of Mana HD would have fared a lot better. It remains a mystery why Square Enix decided to spend so much effort on creating a full blown 3D remake yet left the gameplay intact with its flaws. This could have been fine however some mechanics are still dated like the menu and inventory system that relies on a dial-based selection. There is no description for items so you will have to test them based on their name, and more importantly, if you try to purchase new items or gear through the shop, the selection process is confusing in the start. I found out through accident that to purchase something, you will need to confirm a selection two times but the game never tries to clear it, let alone show you how your current stats compare to an armor that you are interested in for an upgrade.
Despite its flaws, I still found the combat enjoyable however the switching between weapons feels a little dated. You assign two different key short cuts to each weapon and can switch between them with the press of a button. The actual combat is actually pretty fun once you learn to keep an eye on the stamina bar that needs to be fulfilled in order to deal a large amount of damage. It will take some time to fill after each attack and quickly timing your attacks between the refills is key to success in a battle. The characters and weapons both will gain level getting more powerful in this process so just sticking to a single weapon is not the best strategy here if you want to maintain a good grip on the combat.
Secret of Mana HD is not a long RPG by any means. It has a world map but to travel from one part of it to the next, you will use a canon to blast your party to the target location. Looking back at the classic release, It seemed like this was used by the developers to showcase the amazing looking mode7 graphics while in this case here, it unfortunately is a rather boring journey with a loading screen that simply respawn you to the new location. Speaking of which, instead of being seamless, the game is littered with loading screens that do disrupt the gameplay at times, however they are also incredibly short so most people likely won’t notice them.
There is a lot of potential for a remake of Secret of Mana HD however I feel like most of the issues that fans had with the game could have been fixed if Square Enix decide to make some quality-of-life changes, and this isn’t the case here resulting in a weird mismatch of old gameplay aesthetics with the newly updated visuals.
Secret of Mana HD Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: The memorable adventure of Randi, Primm and Popoi is reborn as Secret of Mana! Originally released in 1993, Secret of Mana is by far the most popular title in the “Mana” series and has now undergone a much-awaited full 3D remake!
Secret of Mana HD has retained its charm after all these years however some of its dated gameplay needs to be overhauled in order to make it one of the better remakes released by Square Enix.