Nostalgia can be an awful thing.
Before we begin, this article contains spoilers for Secret of Mana.
Again, do not read on unless you want to spoil the ending of Secret of Mana.
With that out of the way, I’m writing today in an awkward situation. Back in 1993, Secret of Mana was first released on the Super Nintendo. I wasn’t even a teenager yet and this new game was absolutely amazing! Even back then I loved leveling up in RPGs and this action based title was just what I needed. Even better, if I got stuck on a boss I could just spam magic like crazy to win the day.
As the story continued along I fell in love with the Dark Lich battle at the end. The theme music, the awesome looking boss, it was great! Finally, I went out to save the world from the final threat, the Mana Beast. Earlier in the game (at least in the remake, I haven’t found reference to this yet from the original, and it was 25 years ago) I’d been told that all of the monsters would combine together to form the Mana Beast. So regardless of what this final boss was, it looked like my dragon companion, my airship, a friend. In canon too that meant Flammie, my dragon friend, was part of the Mana Beast. For some reason I remember it as a more solemn affair. Even soft piano music playing in this battle that no one wanted to fight. Yet, checking YouTube that wasn’t the case.
Fast forward to the remake released just a week ago on PlayStation 4. Despite struggling through crashes to the PS4 menu system on several occasions I’d struggled through to the end of the game. I say struggled because the difficulty seemed to have been awkwardly ramped up at points. Fighting my way through the Pure Land was almost impossible. For two hours in a tired daze I figured I’d just grind some levels to take on the challenge. Maybe I was under leveled. That’s fine. Ten levels later I was still getting wasted by the enemies. Frustrated I ran through the areas and strangely was able to take out the bosses throughout the Pure Lands. Fine. Upon reaching the Mana Fortress however, the very next area, I was back on top of my game again. Let alone the first enemies inside the fortress were dropping new armor for us. Was this how the original went? I’d read online this version is harder.
All that aside, the games pacing got weird. I had memories of renting the SNES version before I bought it. Originally I’d made it half way through the game, and then used another save to get to see the rest before I had to return the game. Clearly I missed quite a bit and in my actual play through I’d long forgotten the second half of the game. In the remake I was stunned to see an almost on rails trip to the end of the game. Again I hopped on Google to find that potentially the original game was designed for the Sony / Nintendo crossover console that became the PlayStation, so content had to be cut to fit it on a SNES cartridge. Fine, but… nothing was added in for a remake? Are these just rumors? This is 25 years later. So places like the Moon Palace were basically a speed bump on my way toward the dramatic finish. This was a stark contrast to the slow pace of the intro. As a child, that’s probably what caused me to skip ahead to another save game because I’d grown bored with the constant back tracking to say hi to Luka and ask if the world was still ending.
So all these years later I’m playing the remake. Or really just a remaster it seems. The game feels like it actually uses the code from the original and just places a new coat of 3D paint on it. I hadn’t played SoM in forever, so the clunky way to take out enemies suddenly felt ancient. Damage would only be registered after an enemy got back up. So grinding was an incredibly slower task than it needed to be. With three characters you could probably chew through most foes. In this sense it’s a shame the game wasn’t remade instead of just remastered. Even then, if my hits didn’t miss so much on bosses I may have felt more inclined to yet again not just spam magic.
Even this ground to a halt when I reached the third Mech Rider boss. He’d put up a shield. Okay, well internet how do I get rid of that, I thought. Checking online I was told to use dispell magic on it. Cool! Except it didn’t work. Suddenly I was in a real boss fight that I was replaying over and over. It sucked to keep losing, but I was finally being legitimately challenged. I had to heal up after some strong blasts from his bike, avoid getting run over by it too, and finally getting in my hits when I could. I hated that this part seemed to be changed, but really it’s a memorable part for me now because it was a struggle. Even my beloved Dark Lich battle was a cake walk. Yet I’m sure the monsters of the Pure Lands would still destroy me.
All that aside, I reached the Dark Lich and… what was this muted quiet tune? It was still there but it wasn’t the exciting wooshing record scratches and clanging bells of the original. This was the final boss! I’d been overwhelmed in conversations with loud involved music challenging the voice actors and now the ending was just kind of muddy. It could just be how the new music mixes with all the sound effects but it was this just wasn’t right. All these years later there are even remixes of this iconic tune on YouTube and this version that I’d waited the whole game to hear (yes I’d even often switched to the remake soundtrack to make sure I wasn’t missing the experience I paid for) was just so quiet. This is it! The final showdown!
Finally with the Dark Lich finished, we stepped outside into a cut scene. I hadn’t realized until I looked it up but the dialogue was quite a bit more detailed. Again, 25 years later, my memory of this scene wasn’t the best. But the remake takes the mention in the original of, “It’s a Flammie!” which to my young mind was “I’ma gotta destroy my airship! So sad! Much cry!” to, “Hey that’s just some other dragon. Lets go stab it a bunch with the Mana Sword!” I felt irked. Unlike my past article about the ending of Final Fantasy VIII which I still maintain is the real deal, there was no denying this. I’d been wrong all those years ago. The heartbreaking ending of basically putting down your loyal pet wasn’t that at all. Yeah sure, magic would be gone, mana would cease to exist, and Sprite would go off to another land. But… I’d been WRONG? Sure, I was a kid but… the ending WASN’T to slay Flammie? Just “a” Flammie?
I was let down by my own nostalgia. The game I loved so much had this chance at a second life. Instead it was just tacked on to this unfortunately broken and harder version of it’s former self. No new additions like some Square Enix titles, no new dungeons to explore, nothing. What would it matter anyway? Some of the dungeons were just a few rooms. The harder difficulty had given me more time with an old friend that was better when it was shorter. Because the pacing, or potentially editing down of the original SNES version, was faster anyway.
It’s so conflicting. I had fun. Overall it’s a good game. Even when I had to sigh at another crash and go reload the latest auto-save that seems to trigger any time you go into a new area. There was even a time when the Sprite just ceased to exist early in the game. Switching to them just took me to a black screen. Finally a few areas later stepping into water crashed the game.
All of this left me feeling so awkward. I’d spent over $50 on a bunch of 3D models of my old friends. Sadly from a mobile port it seemed since the polygon count is so low in this version. Nothing was fixed like the sluggish combat and there were new problems like these crashes. Did I want combat fixed? At times yes because some enemies would fall down and STAY DOWN. I’d wait and wait… finally they’d hop back up after I defeated a few other monsters and my latest hit would register so I could gain their precious XP.
Am I happy? I don’t know. Part of me just relived my childhood and it feels great! The Dark Lich is slain! Randi and Primm have grown up and now live in a new world. Plus there’s the more obvious glimpses that the world in SoM could have been a more modern day society before the first battle with the Mana Fortress. Perhaps even an intriguing futuristic world. It irks me so much that we could have explored that somehow instead, or even had that as additional content. A couple posts on a forum could have netted this remake so much material to draw from that it could have been a HUGE deal! Instead it’s almost like Square Enix handing us Secret of Mana again and saying, “Here’s that weird toy you like so much. We don’t get why you love it but we just made it look pretty for the newer age. The joints have rusted and it’ll crash quite a lot, but you can play it again.”
I don’t know why this happened. If Final Fantasy VII was rereleased like this there would be anarchy in the streets. I get it. This isn’t the first remake Square Enix has put 3D characters on and released. It’s the next in a long line of remakes like this. But maybe Secret of Mana was something that could have been something more. The Kingdom Hearts engine for example was action based. I get that it’s probably not easy at all, but exploring the world of SoM in that engine would have added new life to this series. The additional cut content would have brought so much more magic to an old friend. This is a relatively expensive port of a classic. While I did love looking at the new visuals, in the end it was a struggle at times. Something felt different. I don’t have time sadly to replay the original, but this trip down memory lane could have been better.
Thanks for the voice acting and for some of the new music. Thanks for remaking a beloved classic so others can enjoy it. Just please, don’t let this franchise die. I’m a game reviewer and I still went out and supported this title because I love it. Don’t let the magic fade.