One of the things I have been enjoying over the last few years, is the remaking of older games with new graphics. Sure, I love checking them out in their classic styles, but sometimes the same great game, with a new graphic style is appealing. Secret of Mana is a classic JRPG that I haven’t managed to play before, and now it can be checked out with a new lick of paint.
Secret of Mana joins Randi, a young man who finds himself rejected from his home in the Potos Village, for pulling a sword out of a stone to protect himself. It turns out the sword was the sword of Mana which has unleashed monsters on the town, but it’s still a ruthless punishment.
This leaves him out on his own to discover the secrets of the Mana Sword, power it up, and save the day with a couple of friends he finds along the way. For the most part, it has a fantasy aesthetic, with stone homes, swords and magic. About half way through the game, it takes a sharp left turn when the Scorpion Army gets involved. A supervillain costumed bandit group using advanced technology.
Speaking of sharp left turns, you save Santa Claus at one point, but I’ll leave that there.
The gameplay is classic Action JRPG, where enemies are dotted on the map, and you run around slashing, hacking and magicking them to death. Attacks consists of one button, as well as using magic from the menu wheel -which I will get to soon- so it’s simplistic. This is because it’s an old game, but the combat is fun enough thanks to its freedom to run around on the map as you fight.
Any of your party members can be equipped with any weapon, and when in battle you can switch who you control at the flick of a button. This does provide some variety in battle, and is crucial because your magic comes from Spirits you unlock and different allies do different attacks with each Spirit.
It’s clear how much of a literal visual upgrade this game is, because the battle system is fundamentally the same, and for the most part it’s not bad. It does get a touch boring after 20 hours, however.
The other old aspect that has been ported is the menu system. Using menus brings up an item wheel, and you need to use the D-pad to switch between wheels. This moves through item menus, weapons, magic and a main menu. It’s clunky, super easy to accidentally throw away items, and doesn’t even give items descriptions.
The visual overhaul that Secret of Mana has been given is nice. The chunky character design that looks like a blend between Final Fantasy 9 and Dragon Ball looks wonderful, and the world and enemy design gives a mid-budget JRPG vibe. This does get messed up with some cut scenes where characters mouths don’t move, which is horrifying.
One major annoyance, is the way subtitles are used. At times, it will show a classic JRPG blue bubble, which is fine, but occasionally it cuts aside to a scene that shows the characters faces, and subtitles appear without a name. This is fine if you are listening to the sound, but if like me and you turn it down thanks to some average voice acting, you’ll get lost.
The maps, which have you tracing back and forth through areas can be annoying as well. With the lack of a useful map, it can be confusing, especially in early hours, to tell where you have or haven’t been, or how to get back to an area. The maps aren’t too large, so it doesn’t take that long to backtrack looking for somewhere, but it’s a little annoyance that the upgrade could have been inserted to make life a little easier for newbies.
In some towns, when Randi was running along the side of buildings, it would get a little jittery. This kind of thing doesn’t bug me, but I found it hurt my eyes a little until I got used to it. This may be an issue exclusive to the Vita, as that’s where I played, but worth noting.
I would also be amiss to not mention, Secret of Mana was the first Vita game I have played that has actually made the Vita crash, multiple times I can’t guarantee it wasn’t my hardware, but that was more than frustrating.
For a newbie, Secret of Mana is worth checking out for JRPG fans. It’s a faithful remake in every other way, proven as I used old guides when I got lost occasionally and they were always accurate. This means elements of the game are dated, but for the most part it was a great game to jam on the go.