Note: While I’ll be talking in depth about the game and its flaws, I don’t want to call this a true review because I’ve been unable to check out the three-player local co-op. The co-op in the original game is one of its unique features, and being unable to check it out in the remake makes me feel like I haven’t truly experienced the game as I should have. I have completed it alone, however.

It’s hard to know sometimes when a video game company is truly out to please its fans, and when they’re just out for money. These two outcomes often serve the same goal, and usually play into a lot of the decisions made. What I’m trying to describe is the difference between these two outcomes – whether the hyped product is really worth it, or just pushed out to make a profit. This is important, because it speaks to the care being put into the product. Certainly, the developers working on a video game care because they’re sinking their time into it, but does this mean the company itself cares?

To illustrate what I mean, let’s take a look at another attempt by Square Enix to please fans – Kingdom Hearts III. Though the game is not out yet, It’s been discussed and teased for over a decade. Ask any fan of Kingdom Hearts, and they’ll tell you how long they’ve been waiting, usually measured by how young they were when the second game released. Square Enix knows their game will likely be a hit, so they’ve given the developers the time they need to make it right – while along the way teasing it with multiple HD remasters of the older games, and countless spinoffs that are sidestories to the overall saga.

This shows a lot of confidence in the development team, trusting they’ll do what they need to make the game correctly. This also shows trust in the brand, that it can sustain itself on spinoffs and nostalgia (and the Disney name) to last until the game is ready. Lastly, this shows trust in the audience – that they’ll be there no matter the length of time, cost of development, and the process it takes to complete the game.

In comparison, recent hype for Square Enix’s Mana series has been lacking. Though Secret of Mana was re-released globally last year as a part of the Super NES Classic Edition, Square Enix failed to take the Seiken Densetsu Collection they released for the Nintendo Switch last summer out of Japan. If there’s interest in reviving the Mana name, which there seems to be with this string of re-releases, localizing this collection would help.

It not only features Secret of Mana; it also features the first Mana game, released here as Final Fantasy Adventure, as well as Seiken Densetsu 3, the third game, which has never been previously localized outside of Japan. Finally localizing such a game might bring the attention of more people to the collection overseas, especially if they’re part of the group that’s been waiting two decades to play it.

While one explanation here is pretty obvious – Kingdom Hearts is a popular franchise that makes a lot of money compared to Mana – I would still appreciate if the different branches of the company in charge of the IP were in agreement over how to handle it. I think that localizing the Collection on Switch would work well. There aren’t an amazing amount of RPGs on Switch, so competition is limited.

I realize this is only part of the story – Square Enix also released a 3D remake of the first Mana game, called Adventures of Mana, on Playstation Vita in 2016 and had a mobile game called Rise of Mana a year or two before that.

But, the overall message for the series here is one of uncertainty – is there a new game on the horizon? Are the string of releases in the series over the last few years merely a coincidence? An attempt to keep the series alive? A commitment to reviving it? How come only some of the re-releases and remakes get localized outside of Japan, while others do not? Why release one 3D remake (Adventures of Mana) as a downloadable Vita title, while allowing the other (Secret of Mana) to also come to PS4, and have a limited release of physical copies?

All these questions, and yet the kicker is the remake of Secret of Mana itself. To be blunt:

It’s not good.

While there is a fundamentally fun aspect of the action-RPG based combat system, and a thrill of excitement when fighting the game’s two dozen bosses, that speaks for the soul of the original SNES game that lives on. However, here, in 2018, the new elements like HD graphics, voice acting, and the existence of the game itself, all feel muddled and cheap. Numerous hard crashes made me feel like I was playing Skyrim, while many other bugs popped up repeatedly. Party members would disappear from the screen for hours, even though their stats were still displayed. Half of my screen would dim randomly, except during cutscenes. And, for a glorious moment, I even witnessed the magical abilities of my two companions completely switch places.

Beyond that, the graphics, while pretty to look at, are not very detailed. None of the character models have moving mouths during cutscenes, and NPC animations repeat so often that some of them became annoying to look at (like the dancing shopkeepers). These elements make the game seem as if it were meant to be played on a smaller screen, like a Vita, where these complaints might not be as noticeable. But blown up on an HDTV, they’re hard to ignore.

Whether on a big or small screen though, the voice acting is inexcusable. More than anything else, from the just-fine music score, to the simplified HD look of the game, the voice acting will turn people off. It’s worse than what you’d find in dubbed animes like Pokemon. It harkens back to the infamous days of the first Baten Kaitos and Chaos Wars. I think the voice acting is executed so poorly, even with the option to switch to the Japanese language track, it sets the example for what this remake is.

The “new” parts of this Secret of Mana remake, all seem to exist just so they can be vague bulletpoints on the box:

  • All New 3D graphics! (Though they are simplified and limited in scope)
  • Voice Acting! (Though it is amateurish and ruins most emotional moments)
  • Re-released for the first time on PS4 and Vita! (Though the PS4 version at least seems horribly optimized and crashes a lot)

…I could go on, but frankly, this is embarrassing. This is not how you celebrate a franchise’s 25th anniversary and reintroduce it into the world. It’s not terribly surprising, considering how muddled the series is in comparison to something like Kingdom Hearts, but it’s sad for the fans who came looking for  a good Mana game to play, or who came back looking for a new glimpse at a game from their childhood. If we’re judging whether this is a project that’s for the fans, or one thrown out to make a quick buck, I vote for the latter. I just hope these fans one day find their solace, and that whatever Square Enix has in store next for the series, that it finally lives up to fan expectations once again.

Until then, I hope you’ll join me in asking that the Collection on Switch gets localized. As for the Secret of Mana remake. Well, honestly, it’s best just left alone.

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