While I’ve never considered myself a “hardcore gamer,” the videogames that I’ve played throughout my life, I’ve played exhaustively, and Secret of Mana is one of those games. Over the past 24 years, I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing through this adventure-RPG, and although certainly not a flawless game, its visuals, music, combat system, enemies, and sheer fun make it one of my favorite videogames of all time.
A few weeks ago, I was ecstatic when I learned that a remake of Secret of Mana is scheduled for February 2018. While the trailer for this remake reveals, among a few other things, updated graphics and voiceovers, there are still many unanswered questions regarding what will be redone for the new version. I’m not expecting, nor do I want, a complete overhaul of the SNES game, but there are some things that I hope the re-designers have considered and improved upon. Bust out those tiger bikinis and fire up some fairy walnuts, because here are my top 10 hopes for the Secret of Mana remake!
10. Better A.I.
The reason why something so important is this low on the list is because it’s such an obvious problem that needs correction. Everyone who has played this game has likely encountered a situation where a quick escape was impossible because a party member was stuck around a corner. We’d hit that invisible wall, unable to advance out of harm’s way because of faulty A.I., and it was game over. Unnecessary backtracking on a screen in order to get a character “unstuck” or having to switch characters in the middle of intense action is an enormous annoyance. Hopefully the production team solves this seemingly simple problem, because I do not want to encounter the subpar A.I. that I’ve been dealing with for over two decades when I play solo.
9. Reduce the use of recycled sprites
While this is surely still a common practice, in the 90s, this trope was everywhere in videogames. The slightest color change between characters meant that they were completely different characters, even though they otherwise appeared identical. For example, while Tropicallo and Boreal Face are likely related, shouldn’t the latter look a bit more intimidating, considering it’s a stronger boss? This might seem like a small point, but increased size, meaner facial expressions, fangs, spikes, and other additional features, would cause enemies to appear more threatening as the game progresses. I don’t think the production team needs to create completely new characters, but since so many enemy and boss sprites are reused, I think more than a color change is necessary, feasible, and an opportunity to make enemies look more interesting. Modern games can display plenty of detail, so I hope the development team takes advantage and updates enemies’ physical traits.
8. Improved weapons
As weapons are upgraded, it becomes increasingly time consuming to charge them and execute powerful attacks. Why even bother doing this when a spell takes seconds to cast? Sure, magic points are limited and so are magic-replenishing items, but during later-game boss battles, weapons are nearly useless. Although the player can somewhat control the A.I.’s behavior with the “action grid,” if all three characters charge their weapons simultaneously, that may leave the party open to attacks, and definitely slow progress. By shortening the amount of time it takes to charge weapons, the game can move at a pace suitable for the battle system. If weapons were more effective against bosses, players could truly work in unison and avoid the effective but mundane spell-spamming system.
7. Improved Magic
I don’t believe that the original system to level up magic is a bad one, but near the end of the game, it takes an unreasonable amount of time to completely level up different elementals. Having to cast a spell nearly 100 times in order to fully power up a single elemental is a pain in the ass, but that has to be repeated multiple times for the two characters who wield magic. I would like this task to be even just slightly easier, instead of the tedious chore it becomes on the SNES version.
Furthermore, the spell animations and the types of spells themselves could be improved. “Evil Gate” sounds very sinister and scary, but the actual animation is just a weird portal that spins, makes a creepy sound, and then disappears. Perhaps a claw could reach out of it and grab an enemy. There are plenty of different possibilities for different spells, so I believe that creativity could be applied to much more magic in the remake. Also, instead of 3 spells per character’s elemental, why not 4 or 5? If enemies’ weaknesses are tweaked, this could add a lot more fun to an already cool and creative magic system.
6. Careful with the music
The remake will apparently contain “new musical arrangements.” Does this mean the original compositions will be replaced by completely new songs? Does this mean the same songs from the SNES version will simply be updated with fuller sound? Does this mean a bastardization of the original music? While the song in the new trailer is fantastic, at this point, fans can only speculate about the rest of the soundtrack’s quality. Secret of Mana certainly doesn’t have the enormous soundtrack of something like Earthbound, but this game has some of the most amazing music on the SNES. Each track, though varied in style and instrumentation, invigorates each scene and area with perfectly fitting music, and regardless of the variety of musical styles, the entire score still feels cohesive and complete. Each composition is a goddamn masterpiece, so I am very defensive and a little nervous about the remake’s music. I hope that each track remains largely the same, perhaps only complimented with more vibrancy.
5. Let Flammie fight
Don’t get me wrong, I love Flammie and he is very useful in the original game, but I think adding a few assists in battle would really make him a badass. Come on, he’s a dragon! Perhaps instead of directly entering a fight, he could simply help the party attack an airborne enemy. Even if it’s just once in the game, let Flammie destroy a castle or stomp on a boss. My point is that he has a lot more potential than just a convenient mode of transportation, and I think this remake is the perfect opportunity to prove that point.
4. A bigger world/more exploration
While the world of Secret of Mana looks pretty big and some of its locations are beautifully detailed, there are only so many places to go, and some of those places are very small. On the SNES, areas may appear huge while the party flies over them, but up close, those areas are either inaccessible or simply consist of a few screens. I think that this can, and should, be expanded for the remake. It’s well documented that Secret of Mana was originally intended for the SNES CD add-on, but much of the game was scrapped when that peripheral was cancelled. Among other things, many areas and paths in the game were deleted to save space for an SNES cartridge. Nearly 25 years later, limited cartridge space is not a concern. I hope there are expanded towns and routes between them, and even new areas, castles, and dungeons.
3. Cutscenes for more story
The Mana Tree’s origin, Serin’s final battle, Popoi’s village, Primm and Dyluck’s history – there are so many chances to embellish the story of Secret of Mana with cutscenes and additional dialogue. As I’ve mentioned, a lot of content was removed from the original game, and Ted Woolsey allegedly had only 30 days to translate Secret of Mana. Since there are no longer such constraints, I think it would be amazing to see visual accounts of events that took place before the beginning of the game, and additional dialogue between characters as the game progresses would serve to enhance the experience. I don’t think movie-length cut scenes or a novel’s length of prose are necessary, but the developers of the remake have a chance to truly enrich the story that this game can definitely deliver, which ties in with my next point.
2. Make the Generals less general
Something that I’ve wished since I was a child is more focus on the villains of Secret of Mana. I’ve always loved interesting villains, and while this game has its share, none of them are characterized very well. Sheex, Geshtar, and Fanha stand around most of the time they are present and don’t feel like they are true threats until they transform into monsters. Was Sheex trained in Ninjitsu as a part of the Emperor’s army? Did Geshtar have to get a license to ride his flying motorcycle? As a primary antagonist in the game, Thanatos most definitely deserves an origin. Has he always liked eccentric headwear? I hope each of these villains is granted a spotlight and history, because interesting characters lead to better storytelling.
1. A better final fight
The evil empire and its generals have been defeated, but there is still one thing left to do in order to save the world: defeat the Mana Beast with the Mana Sword. The visuals and the music during this fight are amazing, but unfortunately, the combat is lacking, and the small platform on which your party can move hinders the climactic battle of the game. I hope that there is something larger to stand on than a handful of small squares, and more to do than cast Mana Magic on Randi, only for him to stand around and charge his weapon. Perhaps a large section of the Mana Fortress could be designated for the battle, or even the entirety of it. The battle could move around the Fortress as the Mana Beast tries to attack from different sides and angles. Allowing all three characters to get more involved offensively would certainly make this battle more fun, especially if it’s multiplayer.
In the original game, the Beast casts “Wall” in order to negate offensive magic, even when your party dispels it, so perhaps this can be changed. Allowing the other characters to consistently attack with both weapons and spells, albeit damaging to a much lesser degree than the Mana Sword, would make the battle a lot more engaging. Even Flammie could be utilized here. This is the end of the game! The final fight! Make it more unique and fun!
So there are my top ten hopes for the Secret of Mana remake. What do you want to see in the new version? Is there anything that I missed? Did I ask for too much, or too little? Leave a comment and let me know! In the meantime, I’ll be endlessly pacing back and forth in anticipation of February.