Let’s Talk About Mana (And Remakes)

If you were an RPG fan during the SNES era, you undoubtedly played (and probably loved) Secret of Mana. For as much love and adoration this title alone has amassed over the years, there are still many people that have never experienced the follow-up to Secret of Mana – Trials of Mana, or Seiken Densetsu 3. The West never had the privilege of receiving this game in any official capacity, at least until the Collection of Mana that released just a few weeks ago. My experience with the game prior to this release stems from a short romp with a fan translation, which I ultimately shelved in hopes of, one day, experiencing the game in its “intended” form. No offense to those that, undoubtedly, worked very hard to translate the game well before we’d ever see it officially, but this sentiment rings true for me in regards to all fan translated games (like Mother 3).

So, the original Seiken Densetsu 3 is finally (officially) available in the West for the first time, and you better believe I’ll have some extended thoughts on this title once I’ve actually rolled the credits. But for now – and this will be a very unpopular opinion – I’ll just say that I’m a bit underwhelmed by the game in general. Discussions around the water cooler over the past two decades had me believing that this game would surpass its predecessor in almost every aspect, and I’ve just found that to not be the case – so far, at least. It is still a good game, just not quite what I had built up in my mind about it, but perhaps these feelings will change as I progress a bit further in my quest.

While I’m still very much looking forward to completing the original game, I’m also preparing myself for the full-on remake next year. But with that remake, I hope that things change for the better. You see – another unpopular opinion – I did not mind the Secret of Mana remake as much as the general populace did. Sure, the new soundtrack was poor in comparison to the original, but you could opt out of it in favor of the SNES version should it have tickled your fancy. The new coat of paint was a bit odd, but I still found it to be adequate for my personal tastes. My biggest takeaway from the Secret of Mana remake was not either of those things though – it was the realization that “staying true to the original” is not necessarily the best course of action for every remake. Let me explain.

While some elements of modernization were infused in the Secret of Mana remake from a gameplay perspective, it still played fairly close to the original. And this was my biggest problem with the game – even as I play through the original right now in the Collection of Mana, I can’t help but loathe the magic level “grind”, the dull weapon-charging system, the dreaded “stunlock,” and the awful A.I. in combat. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one that feels this way too – it is easy to look back at the things we once loved, and even easier to unconsciously push the flaws aside for the sake of “mah nostalgia.” But I’ve accepted the fact that some things I grow out of, while others are just not as fun as they once were to me.

Now, the Trials of Mana remake already looks much better design-wise than that of its predecessor, and it is my hope that they figure out a way genuinely tie into the roots of the original while improving upon its systems by way of modern design and technologies. For starters, the original game tends to be quite “spammy” in combat, to the point where it feels like a simple hack-and-slash at times, even during many boss fights. I was certain that the departure from the longer “wait” times in between weapon swings from Secret of Mana would make things feel better, but now I’m not so sure. Additionally, items and magic use, in the original, also completely halted the flow of combat until their respective animations ran their course. This was likely done to cut down on the magic chaining possibilities in the previous game, but I feel it could have been implemented in a better fashion. Regardless, the E3 trailer of the remake makes me believe that I won’t have to fear either of these things in the new version.

But there’s still a myriad of other quirks I hope to see ironed out in the Trials of Mana remake. And as a precursor, I realize that many of these things could be due to technical/design limitations from that time, but that is all the more reason why I’d love to see them step up their game with the new one. The original Trials of Mana used a hybrid menu system that combines a more traditional menu with the ring component found in Secret of Mana. The ring portion is fine, I guess – I’ve never been the biggest fan of it though it does work – but for the love of God, please improve upon the traditional menu system. It is a mess, and anyone that has played this game will know exactly what I mean. I don’t really care what it ends up looking like, just make sure it performs and functions in the most efficient way possible. The A.I. could use another tune-up as well, although it is still much better in its current form than what was available in Secret of Mana. Advancements in technology lead me to believe that improvements here will be a given, but not if it holds on too tightly to its roots.

While we’re at it, give an in-game explanation of the various stats and their importance, and make sure all of them actually work. The original version of the game features a handful of stats that either don’t work, or are only beneficial to certain characters. If they continue the trend of allowing you to allocate your own stat points upon each level up, these things must be addressed in the remake. This kind of awkwardly rectifies itself in the current version, seeing as you attain the maximum possible stat points each time you change classes (regardless of prior choices), but it still feels sloppy. Lastly, assuming it somewhat stays true to the original like Secret of Mana remake did, I’d like to not waste items when you clutch heal a party member with an item. I can’t tell you how many times I healed a character at the last minute, only for that item to be used and the hero die anyways.

Please don’t get me wrong though, I’ve always been a fan of the Mana series. I adored my recent playthrough of Final Fantasy Adventure, and I’m looking forward to wrapping up the second and third entries in the Collection of Mana very soon. I, like I’m sure many others do, want the Trials of Mana remake to be the best it can possibly be, and I feel that this can only be achieved by improving upon the original without losing sight of the core values. Whatever we end up getting next year, I cannot wait to experience it for myself. What are your thoughts on the Trials of Mana remake and the Mana series in general? Let’s discuss!

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Timothy Taylor
Staff

Great piece. This is probably why Square and Nintendo are so hesitant to pull the trigger (pun intended) on remaking Chrono Trigger. How do you live up to expectations in a different era? Same goes for the Mother series and FF6? I’m sure.

Chad
Guest
Chad

Helpful piece. One thought I would put forth is this: I think that we end up evaluating games like this based on the context of gaming in which we now exist. The reality is for their time Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3 were incredible games. As we now replay Secret of Mana and play SD3 for the first time in a modern context I think our ability to appreciate/evaluate them properly is hampered by what we now know they could be capable of. However, at the time they were created they were some of the greatest games of… Read more »

SQLViolist
Member
SQLViolist

Clickbait! Good. It will bring traffic to the website. And here’s a secret: I agree with you! The entire Mana series has been one long “I know that I am SUPPOSED to revere this series! It’s good for me, like spinach and liver.” Especially Seiken Densetsu 3, which I consider as a classic case of being overly ambitious. They did not have the technology at the time to realize their vision. It’s like many of those old PC rpgs from the 80’s and early 90’s that suffered from the same problem. Amazing vision but limited megabytes. This meant that tons… Read more »