Game Title: Secret of Mana
Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: No
Back when I reviewed Adventures of Mana for the PS Vita, I dived into the realm of a reality when it comes to remakes of old, classic games. It was an exact replica of its original form with updated visuals, and it came with all of its own deadly faults. It is very much a message that when all of these RPG fans want remakes of old games like that with no changes, it isn’t what they really want.
Now we have a remake of another Mana game in the same sort of form, and it only reinforces my thinking of that exact message of remakes with little change isn’t always that good of a thing. Secret of Mana, heralded as one of the greatest SNES RPGs and arguable any RPG of all time, is now available on the go via the PS Vita (and in console form with the PlayStation 4) and we are going to take a look at it.
Here is my review of Secret of Mana for the PlayStation Vita!
Although part of the Mana series, SoM stands on its own two feet, needing no knowledge of the other games. Long ago, the power of Mana was abused by humans in creating weapons of mass destruction, leading the Gods to send monsters to annihilate them for their arrogance. Ages later, with the powers of Mana dwindling and humans still recovering from the war with the monsters, a young boy finds the Mana Sword, the instrument that saved humanity, and is chosen to weild it to prevent another war from happening.
The plot of Secret of Mana is enhanced in this version with some better dialogue and translations than the original had along with fully subbed and dubbed voice acting. Although you can definitely tell the game’s age in how the story is told, it is definitely told and understood better in this version than the original game.
This is an Action RPG, featuring real-time combat and overworld exploration. As you go on your journey to restore power to the Mana Sword, you will be traversing a large overworld, towns, and dungeons, along with fighting off monsters that attack your party in almost all of those locations. It is very similar to Adventures of Mana in this regard.
The biggest question is how the remake is different from the original. Outside of dialogue, not a whole lot is different. The UI for the customization menu has a bit of a different look, but it navigates mostly the same as before. The main difference, though, is combat. In the original game, you only had one physical attack per weapon, but in this game, you have a few from a simple slash, a stabbing technique for the sword, and a finishing jump attack depending on your angle when you attack.
Onto the actual game, progression is done as you explore the World Map and head towards story objectives to not only push the story forward, but get you tools needed to get to further areas, such as having to run through Gaia’s Navel to get the Axe so you cut down the Trees in the Haunted Forest that leads towards its main dungeon and boss. Like Zelda, you have a lot of progress points of going through one place to get the tools needed to access another. Otherwise, you are free to explore the World Map as you see fit, whether you are progressed in the story or not. Just know that you will have to go back to where the story tells you to go for tools needed for later areas in the game.
Of course, finding these places is the hard part. NPCs give you a general sense of where things are, like heading West from this town to get to this dungeon, but actually getting there is a matter of moving around and memorizing the map as it’s never as simple as just heading West and you suddenly appearing exactly where you need to be. There is a lot of exploration involved and the vague hints do lead to a lot of confusion considering dungeons are not labeled on the map or when you enter them. Going into a dungeon might not even be where you need to be and you won’t know until you traverse it and find no new story segments.
Next, let’s talk about the combat of this game. This is mostly unchanged. You have a Stamina Gauge that slowly refills. Whenever you attack, the gauge empties and any attacks you make while it is charging will be significantly weaker than by waiting for it to refill. It is like the difference between doing 5 damage per attack and 40 damage per attack, so it is always best to wait for it.
This being unchanged leads this system to feel very slow and sluggish. Although this can be balanced through using spells from other party members while you recharge, you essentially run up and attack and then wander around, dodging and waiting until you can do a single attack again. Just like in the original game, this can lead to frustration with the harder bosses considering there is no dodge mechanic and whether you dodge their big attacks is completely dependent on whether your evasion stat has been leveled enough to have a higher chance of them missing.
Of course, this means that this is just like the original game with a graphical facelift. For some fans of the original, this is a good thing as the classic remains just like the classic was with the 3D enhancements bringing the game to life. Even the pacing of movement and attacking remains unchanged from the original, truly bringing the same feel the original game did despite not being 2D in the nature of the sprites.
As with the original, this game is decently lengthy for an RPG. Over the course of the entire game, it should take you somewhere between 20 and 30 hours to finish it, which mostly depends on how easily you get lost and whether or not you rely on a guide during those times. Either way, you will get plenty of time out of this game, considering it is not full-price on the Vita, coming it at $29.99 instead of the standard $39.99.
Controlling the game isn’t too hard. However, unlike Adventures of Mana, this game is Not Compatible with the PlayStation TV. There is no reason it can’t work. They just decided not to do it, which was clear when the websitte for the Japanese Version has been throwing this information around for months now. As unfortunate as it is, you can’t play this game on your TV without a hacked PSTV or buying the PS4 version.
As far as the actual controls go, it’s not terribly complex. The Left Analog Stick is used to move around and the D-Pad for navigating menus. The L and R buttons are used as shortcuts for weapons, items, or spells. The touch screen isn’t really used at all in the game.
That just leaves us with the face buttons. X is used for physical attacks, Circle can be held for dashing, Square pulls up the main customization menus, and Triangle pulls up alternate menus, like the Spell List.
This scheme isn’t really hard to use, but like exploration, none of it is explained to you. I figured all this out just by randomly hitting buttons. This is an older game, but that still doesn’t make it less confusing.
Graphically, this remake looks pretty nice. The 3D style of the Adventures remake showcases itself here and the Vita’s graphics doesn’t look that different from the PS4 version’s graphics. I didn’t see a single jagged edge as I played through the game,
The only thing I don’t like about graphics is how little the renders actually animate. The game has cinematic cutscenes where the characters are shown as they talk, but nothing about them moves. Their eyes don’t blink. Their lips don’t move as they talk. They just kind of stand there making a pose as the voice-acting plays out for them, which is rather strange.
With performance, there is also something to be discussed. The game tries to maintain 30 fps as you play through the game, but it just can’t. In some rooms, it does stay steady, but if you’re anywhere near any body of water, the frames dip in the 20s very easily. If you throw a ton of enemies on top of that, it tanks even lower than that which is very rough considering this is an Action RPG with a heavy emphasis on real-time moving and attacking.
In conclusion, Secret of Mana arrives in today's gaming world with minor and useful changes that help flesh it out without damaging any of the core gameplay that made the original worth playing. However, the fact that they didn't shows how dated it is, with its controls and progression style creating a lot of confusion and throwin in the animation-less character renders and performance issues makes this a playable, but rough RPG for Vita fans.