The secret's out: Secret of Mana remake coming in February
Will Square Enix fill out this unfinished classic or suffice to give it a new coat of paint?
In an alarming addendum to Jeremy's How Can I Play It? entry for Secret of Mana, Square Enix announced just this morning that a remake of the Super NES classic is headed for PlayStation 4 and PS Vita (but it's Square Enix, so expect it on Steam, iOS, and Android in the fullness of time). Set to release worldwide on February 25 next year—barely two years after Adventures of Mana, the remake of the first game—this version similarly recreates the Super NES classic in full 3D graphics and a newly arranged soundtrack. Given the announcement specifically advertises local multiplayer, online seems to be a no-go, which is honestly a bit of a shame considering how much of Secret's appeal lies in its knockabout three-player action. Based on the brief trailer, Secret's cut scenes seem headed in a more ambitious direction than those of its predecessor: While Adventures mostly kept its cut scenes fixed to the same overhead camera angle used in gameplay, Secret indulges in cinematic camera movement and even voice acting (whereas Adventures' drama played out silently).
The inclusion of a voiced script appears to bring with it a retranslation of all the game's text. The mobile versions of the game used text lightly punched up from Ted Woolsey's original 1993 localization—a job he infamously had to perform under pressing circumstances, including a deadline of just thirty days. With English being a much less efficient language than Japanese, memory limitations at the time also required that a great deal of information be left on the cutting room floor, paring down much of the game's character development and world-building text to the bare essentials. In addition to giving the game an audiovisual overhaul, this remake should give English-reading players their first-ever opportunity to enjoy a complete and uncut form of the story.
Of course, "complete" is a relative term when it comes to Secret of Mana, as a great deal of the game's content was infamously excised during development when the Super NES's CD add-on failed to materialize and the project had to be downgraded to the standard cartridge format. The game's remaining development time was also rushed, resulting in a final product that feels very much patched together at times: Inaccessible areas tease the observant player's eye, subplots abruptly stop or never get off the ground at all, and the back half of the game largely gives up on the idea of an explorable overworld in favor of a collection of isolated flight destinations. The hooks remain, but nothing's hanging on them. The nagging feeling that something's missing has also been vindicated by fans who have dug into the game's memory and found a treasure trove of assets sitting around unused.
The effort Square Enix is placing in this remake raises the question of whether they'll reincorporate any of this material back into the game, but I wouldn't bet on it. The game's original staff have long since scattered, and even they might not remember what their plans for the lost CD version actually were. Many of their concepts were recycled when Square made Chrono Trigger, too, so for better or worse, it feels like the moment's passed. This being a remake, it wouldn't be out of the question for Square Enix to include some cursory extra content, which could bear some influence from the game that never got made; by and large, though, I expect them to approach this simply as a new treatment of the game as it was released.
That's not such a bad thing, either, as Secret of Mana, while not all it could have been, remains one of the most beloved action RPGs of all time. Much of that praise comes in spite of many mechanical shortcomings, such as dodgy hit detection and a dire need for grinding, which a modern remake poses to patch up easily. The revitalized presentation should also expose the game to a wider audience, which will hopefully lay the groundwork for a continued revival of the Mana series.
At this point, a remake of Seiken Densetsu 3 is far from out of the question, as current series producer Masaru Oyamada noted it in the same breath as Secret when discussing projects to follow Adventures of Mana in 2015. And with Secret slated for a simultaneous worldwide release, as Adventures was, the dream of the third game finally seeing an official release outside Japan may come true after all. The pain of Seiken Densetsu Collection getting passed over for a Western release still hangs in recent memory, but for the first time in years, it's actually an exciting time to be a Mana fan.