How The PS4 Secret Of Mana Remake Compares To The Original

While it's not quite as good as the original (yet), it might not be for the reasons you'd expect.

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The original Secret of Mana was one of my favorite games back in 1993. It's story is a tale of lost identity, it has a gameplay loop that revolves around upgrading unique weapons, and the game's quirky radial menu system still feels fresh today. This week, after playing several hours of an in-development build of the PS4 Secret of Mana remake, I found lot of things to like, a few things that aren't great, and several places I hope the developers can still improve on the original.

Obviously, the first thing you notice about the Secret of Mana remake is its graphical upgrade; and for the most part, the remake looks better. Despite the nostalgia I have for the 16-bit era, there are some details that just come through better in 3D. Take the opening boss battle against a massive mantis creature. The 2D sprite from the original game (the introductory boss never turns; you only ever see it from the front) is replaced with a version that not only looks more complete, but it provides a more enjoyable fight since you can circle around and attack it from behind.

With this graphical update, the main characters stand out, showing off minutiae in costume design that was lost in their 16-bit forms. And smaller enemies come to life in ways that, while not radically different, feel like they are free from the constraints of their flat-sprite animations. However, not everything benefits equally from the transition to more-detailed models. The manic dancing of the game's shopkeepers, for instance, is distracting and feels out-of-place. In the original, the movement helped bring those characters out of the background, but in the remake it just looks weird. And the re-used NPCs, a regular occurrence in RPG design from the Secret of Mana's original era, feel a little more egregious and harder to ignore when the game has gone through such a huge facelift.

But while the the gameplay looks better overall, Secret of Mana's cutscenes are a mess. Now, I don't mean the new introduction (which you can watch in the video above). The mix there of hand-drawn art with minimal animation is gorgeous and captures the beauty of the game's lush setting. But when the story begins in earnest and you're staring into the eyes of a character that looks like it was pulled straight from a mobile port of the game, it's hard not be disappointed. Secret of Mana's remake seems to use the same in-game models for both gameplay and close-up cinematics. And those characters that look great from a distance feel like '90s CGI cartoon models when you zoom in too close, with the stiff, plastic look of old shows like Reboot.

Part of that is because the characters mouths and faces don't move, so it gives the impression that everyone is wearing a mask. The main characters have a few different mouth shapes, and sometimes characters will close one or both eyes, but otherwise, you're watching passive faces read out overdramatic lines. That effect is especially jarring with characters like the bully with a wide, toothy grin that you meet in the game's opening. He always has the same wide-mouthed grin, even when he's angry or surprised, and it's endlessly distracting.

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The other problem with the cutscenes is something that should be a positive for the remake--this version adds fully voiced dialogue for everything, from the cut-scenes to the the ancillary dialogue of all the villagers. But at least in this preview build, it's not very good. The spoken lines draw attention to the sometimes weak writing and odd translation choices (why would you say you need a "weapon" to cut through bushes to get to town?). But the voice directing is just mediocre. There is one bright aspect to this, however; in the game's settings you can turn on Japanese voice acting at any time. It's still not great, but it is an improvement over the English cast and a really nice additional feature.

Another welcome option is the ability to change the game's music from the remake's arrangements to the original 16-bit soundtrack. To the game's credit, the re-arranged soundtrack is fantastic, but the original score still holds up beautifully, throughout the game's early hours.

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The sound and graphics see the biggest changes from the original, and although those options feel mostly locked-in at this point, there are some other elements that I hope have time for minor tweaks before the game's full release. The equipment screen has been altered in the remake into something much more intuitive, but when you're buying armor from merchants you're still given no indication whether or not you already own a piece of equipment, who has what equipped, or whether the item you're looking at is is any better for your party. In addition, consumables still have no description, so you also have to buy and use something just to find out what it does, and several items have very steep price tags for such trial-and-error shenanigans. This final omission is particularly odd since the remake adds a Guide option to the menu. But this extra info is limited to just characters, weapons, and enemies, and even there it just gives you a closer look at the models; there are no additional descriptions.

Combat is more complex in the remake, though it needs some modifications to make it more consistent. For example, in the original Secret of Mana, your one major sword attack was simply a wide, sweeping blade arc. In the remake, you can alternate between that same wide swing or a forward jab, but sometimes even when you're standing still and expecting to execute a wide arc swing, your character throws out a thrust instead (the pattern seems to be two big arc swings followed by a thrust, regardless of whether you're moving the analog stick or not). It's better to have control over what kind of attacks you'll throw out than to feel like your character might do something unexpected.

And one minor (but very missed) element not included in the remake is how the the original Secret of Mana indicates when you're back at 100% for an attack. In the combat system, there's a quickly replenishing stamina gauge; you can throw out a flurry of attacks, but each blow you land before getting back to 100% is substantially lower in power. Both versions of the game have an audible ding when you return to full strength, but the SNES version also made your character flash slightly until you were at 100%. It's such a small difference, but it made knowing when to attack much clearer, and let you focus your attention on your character and enemies rather pulling you away to look at the stamina gauge.

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But beyond that lack of attack consistency and the flashing indicator, combat is better in the remake. You can switch between party members with a tap of the directional pad. The game has added a customizable hot button for quickly using items--you can set a restorative piece of candy to R1 or R2 for a quick pick-me-up without completely pausing battle. And the drop-in, drop-out local multiplayer works just as well as it did back when I was a kid.

The Secret of Mana remake isn't out until February of next year, so there's still plenty of time for refinement from the preview build that I played. And while there are some genuine improvements from the original, there are also a few weird missteps that make it difficult to recommend its predecessor--especially when the original is readily available on the SNES classic. But we'll be keeping a close eye on this version as it progresses. If nothing else, the remake holds a lot of promise for a future of 16-bit remakes done right.

Justin Haywald on Google+

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SortingHat

Most (young) programmers only know mobile and think that's all there is too it so it's easiest to port from a phone graphics engine and these companies are ran by financial people who only know money and are scared to take risks. Yes they (phone graphics engines) exist and have a similar look when a game is released even on more powerful hardware. We went thru this in the Commodore 64 era where dedicated games/software often came out better where as ports from the Apple II was easiest to make but graphics were god awfull with only 4 colors (if you can call them that)

It's harder and harder to find someone that doesn't think that they have a "PC in their pocket". There actually is a LOT of difference between phones and PC's or even among powerful game consoles but it takes too long to get into and if you never lived the era when Windows (or Mac) was actually useful up to Windows 7 and 8 you won't ever understand as that era is long gone. It's like trying to describe color to a blind person and the industry has pushed it into thinking you want something old like 78 rpms if ever brought up

Heck look at the PS1/2 library compared to today where it's mostly the same kind of thing shoot and kill (and you wonder why the world is so violent with the media downplaying it). In the PS1/2 era while the hardware was weak the amount of variety was strong. It was hard to be bored or angry for too long

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umfan36

Why doesnt this game have sprites u ask?, cuz your a sprite

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umfan36

This looks way better than 16 bit, u people are on crack.why is everyone on 16-bit graphics nuts? I played this back in the day, this new vesion looks way better

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Fia1

where are the sprites? why is this game not a sprite game? or at least make it like one of those cell shading anime games, this looks so awful...

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jenovaschilld

If you have not played SoM - and love games with a story, then by all means get this game.

This port or remake may not be 8th gen graphics quality but you will enjoy it nonetheless.

Just enjoy the artistic set pieces and backgrounds, as even with today's standard, they are still brilliant, and again a great story. I think the price is too high, but again if you haven't ever play SoM then the cost will be well worth the dollar per hour the game provides.

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datriax

Leave it to SE to do everything WRONG with a remake. lol

Looks like mobile shovelware.

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Thanatos2k

Only Square Enix can make a game worse when remaking it 20 years later. Did they put ANY effort into this?

All the while Seiken 3 remains unreleased. What are you doing, Square?

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SortingHat

@Thanatos2k: Vote with your wallet. That's all they see now.

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lostn

Looks like a PS2 game running via emulator in HD. What a shame of a 'remake'.

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TacticaI

This is a joke, expect to see a steep discount one or two flash sales post-release . Unless you mean to tell me people around the world would pay that ridiculous price.

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Redsyrup

Those graphics look like an iOS game not a PS4 title. Is Gamespot sure those aren't the iPhone screenshots?

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Wraith3

Is that one character George Lucas?

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Heqteur

I don't complain often about graphics, but seriously, those graphics sucks real hard. That game is an insult to cartoon styled visuals.

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onehitta323

Haven't played this since back in the day. Great game.

Avatar image for deactivated-5a26032528a9b

I honestly didn't care for FF XII. Repackaging the heavy politicizing that worked so brilliantly in Tactics only turned me off in this game. But when my team started beating up high powered monsters and hitting double level ups off the bat, I just gave up.

Now I'm playing Xenoblade Chronicles X and having a blast. Walking down the streets of a city that looks like it got ripped straight from the SDF Macross. Exploring a huge alien world full of freakish monsters that look wild and wonderful, almost natural looking but with specimens that look like they could still kick my ass if I was at the wrong level. But none of this would matter without great characters, and from what I've seen of the early hours I've played, the characters I've met all feel like characters I've known my whole life. Even if the story takes a south turn, the world of Mira makes me want to fully immerse myself in it with my party members. All with graphics that are typical for an "underpowered" system.

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scatterbrain007

@deactivated-5a26032528a9b: What system is Xenoblade Chronicles 3 on? I'm having trouble finding that game on the site. Is it turn-based combat, or is it like Secret of Mana and Zelda game play?

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SupaMasterGamer

I think I rented this game 2 or 3 time as a kid but I never could finished it... I remember liking the music from this game a lot and it's one of the first games that really got me into RPG's. I will play this Remake for sure just to finally complete this game! The art style does not bother me that much.

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xOmniCloudx

It looks like a cheap mobile game. Why not finally localize Seiken Densetsu 3 and Front Mission 2?

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lostn

Looks ugly if you ask me. The remake should have been 2D. Make it look like Legend of Mana art style.

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Thanatos2k

@lostn: Seriously, Legend of Mana was the pinnacle of graphics for this series. After that they went 3D and it looked like trash. Then they went back to 2D for some of the handheld ones and it looked worse than Legend of Mana. How does a 20 year old game look better than what a AAA publisher produces now!?

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lostn

@Thanatos2k: Agreed. LoM was an absolutely gorgeous game and a shining example of how PS1 games have aged better than N64 games despite having inferior hardware. I can't think of a single N64 game that doesn't look like total garbage today.

If Square made a new Mana game with LoM's art style, or even if they were able to remaster LoM to HD (which I doubt) I'd be all over it.

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Thanatos2k

@lostn: It's like...Legend of Mana was the culmination of their sprite graphics getting gradually better since the SNES games from Secret of Mana to FF6 to Chrono Trigger to Final Fantasy Tactics . After that Square Enix inexplicably never made another game with 2D graphics better than Legend of Mana, even when they made 2D games. It boggles the mind how inept this company has been over the last two decades.

"I can't think of a single N64 game that doesn't look like total garbage today."

Mischief Makers!

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lostn

@Thanatos2k: There is one other game, SaGa Frontier 2. I'm not sure if it came before or after LoM. But it is also gorgeous. The SaGa games that came after it were not very good. Neither was Dawn of Mana and other Mana games.

The PS1 was Square's golden age as far as visuals in comparison to the competition. Square's games were cutting edge. Games like FF8, FF9, Chrono Cross, which blend 3D and 2D, still look great today. They hold up better than anything on N64 where all games use the same generic art style.

After that, the competition started outdoing Square. And yeah, 2D became more or less a thing of the past. They had some 2D games on DS, but that system really didn't have the space to handle good 2D art like the PS1 did.

Worst of all, Square's ability to make games with good gameplay declined.

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Thanatos2k

@lostn: SaGa Frontier 2 did look pretty good, but the graphics were intentionally storybook watercolor style, so they weren't as sharp as Legend of Mana.

Unlimited SaGa for what few graphics there were looked good too, but the game is a steaming pile of garbage so it didn't really matter....

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lostn

@Thanatos2k: Agreed. But imagine if they could make a Saga Frontier game with watercolor art that didn't suck.. oh my.

If they were to do that today it would have to be sold as a downloadable $20 game. But I would be A-ok with that. It would probably excite me more than any Final Fantasy game they make.

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Lembu90

I miss the pre-FFXV Square-Enix and their last great game is FFXII on ps2 in 2006. SE sucks now as they continue to milk the boyband rejects instead of making proper RPGs.

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Fia1

@lembu90: square legit died the moment they merged with enix, rip square soft...

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datriax

@lembu90: FF XII was still mostly Square'soft'. SquareEnix's involvement really, was just putting their name on it, and the finishing touches for release.

No coincidence that it's the last, truly good FF game to be released.

SE is pretty much a cancer draped over the FF franchise. The level they've whored out the IP, and the dump trucks of shovelware carrying the name these days, are just comical.

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lostn

@lembu90: Do you mean Pre-FFXIII?

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Lembu90

@lostn: I know lots of people hates XIII but I personally loved it, I mean the first game that came out it 2009 and not the sequels came after that. In fact it is the only FF game to have a female characters as the central character unless I count X-2 which was a spin-off to begin with. XIV Realm Reborn is a decent MMO and I believe FF start to suck with FFXV where SE ditches turn based battle for hack and slash real time combat as well as having no permanent playable female character also trading romance for bromance. In other words I already lose faith with SE unless they decided to make a turn based Front Mission again, which is not going to happen anytime soon.

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DecadentDescent

@lembu90: FFVI is arguably the first FF to place a female protagonist as the lead. Actually two of them when I think about it.

Avatar image for Lhomity
Lhomity

This is also coming to PS Vita, btw. =)

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justinhaywald

@Lhomity: Yeah, but I only got to try the PS4 version. So the preview focuses on that one! (though I can't imagine the other version will be very different).

Staff
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DaVillain-

@Lhomity: I thought you left Gamespot.

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Lhomity

@davillain-: I came back for you.

Avatar image for davillain-
DaVillain-

@Lhomity: Heh, it's nice to see a familiar face around here so hey, welcome back :)

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geobaldi5

@Lhomity: It's also coming to the PC as well.

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James_xeno

@Lhomity:

That's good to know.

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Millionsedge

Tell me the original Japanese voice actors will be an option...

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justinhaywald

@millionsedge: Yup, Japanese voiceovers seem available from the very start.

Staff
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ninja2481

Remember when Sony "won" E3 with games such as Shenmue 3 , Final Fantasy VII remake etc Lol that seems like ages ago, and still those games are nowhere in sight...."nostalgia".

Avatar image for onehitta323
onehitta323

@ninja2481: no where in sight? Shenmue 3 2018 release. Nice try though.

Avatar image for deactivated-5a26032528a9b

@onehitta323: Hopefully Ryo will have stopped controlling like a tank by then. There have been many advances in videogames since his last outing. I don't even mind if there are still QTEs and arcades and forklift racing or if the martial arts is still Virtua Fighter style.

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TacticaI

@onehitta323: 2018 isn’t a release date. Did they specify?

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onehitta323

@TacticaI: "In order to achieve the game concept you supported, and my sixteen-year long personal dream, we have revised the development schedule. We are moving ahead with a plan to release the game in the second half of 2018."

Next time use Google. Takes a couple seconds.

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somberfox

I can live with minor gameplay inconveniences if they aren't fixed, especially since mods will probably fix them in the PC version. All I really care about it that it'll have new content.

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wicked_laugh

Not a deal breaker, but I hope they bring in the menus from part 3 instead of the completely ring menu UI of part one. It was fun and unique back in the 90s but now, having to scroll through a different ring menu per equipment/magic part is tedious.

Avatar image for justinhaywald
justinhaywald

@wicked_laugh: In this version, it looks like equipment is traditional menu based, but all the items and spells are stil on the ring. But you can at least add hotkeys for some items.

Staff
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wicked_laugh

@justinhaywald: If the equipment is indeed traditional, that's awesome.

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