Nearly 25 years after its initial release, the legacy of "Secret of Mana" stills reverberates in gaming. The music of the action role-playing game is some of the finest to come out of that era. The heroes, Randi, Primm and Popoi, are embedded in the fans' childhood memories. But more importantly, remnants of the gameplay live on in titles such as the modern "Final Fantasy" franchise.
That's partly what producer Masaru Oyamada learned during the remake of "Secret of Mana." For the game's silver milestone, Square Enix and Q Studios redid the SNES classic for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and Steam. It features visuals made out of polygons instead of sprites, a rearranged and original soundtrack and more in-depth story beats.
"When we were tackling this remake project, one thing we took care in is to not essentially ruin people's memory of the past," Oyamada said through a translator. "We want to be true to the classic experience. That said we want it to be an opportunity for new players to experience this classic game."
It's a delicate balancing act working on a project that is supposed to elicit nostalgia while also piquing the interest of a younger generation. The visuals will draw some of the younger set, but the element that translates across time is the gameplay. "Secret of Mana" was one of the first action RPGs that combined turn-based elements into button-mashing action titles.
As Randi, Primm or Popoi, players hit the X button to attack. They can mash it but realize that they'll be unsuccessful at delivering strong blows. To effectively kill adveraries, it's best to wait for the meter to climb to 100 percent before pressing the button. It a creates more deliberate pace to combat, one that was revolutionary for its time.
"When we dove into the development of this game, we realized that it's essentially active time battle that was generated through 'Final Fantasy IV' and the active time battle has been created seamlessly," Oyamada said. "That's what you see in 'Secret of Mana.'"
He said the original team further integrated command-based RPG elements in the form of the magic and inventory system. During combat, players can pause the game and select magic to power-up the heroes or cast spells to deal damage. Some of the incantations can even be used in puzzles to advance through a level.
Future titles carried the lessons from "Secret of Mana" and the game's influence can still be seen in modern series. Oyamada said he's amazed how designers Koichi Ishii and Hiromichi Tanaka came up with the systems.
Although the gameplay is still the same, Oyamada's team introduced other elements to make the game more modern. There's a rearranged soundtrack that echoes the original. (Players can choose between the two.) The "Secret of Mana" remake also has voice-overs for nonplayable characters, but not the heroes. The remake introduces more narrative elements to flesh out and make the storytelling more immersive.
The bigger changes can be seen in the autosave system, which wasn't in the original, and the ability to create shortcuts so players can easily switch out weapons or cast spells. It makes the gameplay more seamless. There's also the built-in ability to play with three players locally without a multiplayer adapter.
With all these tweaks, one interesting note is that the "Secret of Mana" had to change the localization in places. The original came out before the establishment of the ESRB and other ratings boards. Before video games became mainstream and global, developers didn't have to focus on regional cultural standards. Now in 2018, they have to make slight changes for cultural sensibilities.
Still, the "Secret of Mana" remake doesn't appear to stray too far from the source material.
"It's quite impressive that they created this game experience with the technology they had then," Oyamada said. "Making this remake made his team realize the difficulty further."
After examining the work of the original developers, he said he's in awe that they were able to develop this experience.
The "Secret of Mana" remake is scheduled for release Feb. 15.
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