After its predecessor received a full 3D remake, we can finally enjoy a modern interpretation of Square's classic action RPG Seiken Densetsu 2. Invite a couple friends over and let's go on a magic-filled adventure!
It's hard to review a game that's basically a 3D version of a 25 year old classic RPG and not constantly compare it to the original. Therefore, I'll save the comparing for later. If you're unfamiliar with Secret of Mana then allow me to explain what it's all about. Basically, you control three characters who each have their own strengths and weaknesses. I'll refer to these chums by their default names seeing as you can name them whatever you wish. Generally speaking, Randi is a master of weapons, Primm excels at support magic, and Popoi can cast a wide array of attack spells. You can either swap characters on the fly while the rest are controlled by the computer or have a couple friends control the supplementary characters which is far more enjoyable. When you factor in the wide variety of weaponry with a whopping 8 different types, unique collection of enemies, basic puzzles, and assortment of memorable bosses; you're left with an impressive adventure that you'll think fondly back on for years to come.
The gameplay loop basically involves trekking through the world from point A to point B in order to talk to key NPCs, explore dungeons, and fight bosses. Meanwhile, the combat is quite unique in that it happens in real-time although you can't attack constantly because you won't cause much damage. Instead, you have to wait a short while for your attack gauge to replenish between blows which gives the fighting more of a turn-based feel than most action RPGs. As you battle and journey through the land, you'll level up, acquire better equipment, and learn new spells. A lot of the progression is reliant on advancing the story in that you mostly acquire weapon orbs (which enhance your weapons when you trade them at the blacksmith) and new spells upon destroying bosses and obtaining key items. It's fantastic to see an RPG handle progression in such a satisfying way that actually ties to the story.
Of course, this iteration of Secret of Mana looks and sounds a lot different to its 1993 version. For starters, the 3D visuals are colourful and well done. However, there are a few downsides that are hard to overlook. First of all, the 2D 16-bit original holds up beautifully and 3D graphics just don't retain the magic in this instance. On top of that, there are tons of graphical oddities that frequently took me out of the experience. Seeing characters overlap each other or watching animations become choppy and interrupted by missing frames makes this remake feel rushed. Once, a weird shadow filled three quarters of the screen and I had to quit to get it to go away.
Another strange occurrence is when the timing of onscreen events is off. For example, an enemy may start to cast a spell and after you transition to a different area, your character will then get hit as if they were in the initial area. Enemies seem to randomly take damage, too. You can strike a foe, have them fall to the ground, then hit them again and they'll react a few seconds later with the damage number showing long after you strike. I don't recall if these timing issues were in the original but either way, it's still shoddy.
When it comes to audio, the redone soundtrack manages to update the retro tunes in a satisfactory way although purists can always switch to the original music if they want to relive some gaming memories in a more authentic soundscape. This remake features voice acting, too, and a lot of it. Even insignificant characters that you wouldn't expect to have voices come to life with a rather talented cast of actors. That being said, the fact that characters' mouths don't move when they talk is pretty weird.
Finally, the adventure presented in Secret of Mana is significantly lengthy as it'll likely take you from 20 to 30 hours to complete. Even after you beat it, there's bound to be tons more left to see and do. Exploring the world to fully upgrade all your weapons, level up your spells, and unearth all the equipment can add hours of fun to the journey. This is something that the original had going for it yet this remake is especially rewarding due to its trophy support and a handy collection guide that you automatically fill out as you play.
This Secret of Mana remake is a solid new way to relive the classic although the original is clearly the better of the two options. Whether you enjoy it or not, here's hoping Square Enix announces a Seiken Densetsu 3 remake soon.
- + Same enjoyable action RPG gameplay that you can play cooperatively with friends
- + 3D visuals and voices are well done
- + Lengthy campaign with lots to see and do
- - General lack of polish with a lot of weird graphical bugs and timing issues
- - The visuals simply aren't as charming as its 16-bit counterpart