When you think back to all the classic SNES RPGs that still hold up to this day, it’s easy to immediately pick out the likes of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI and Earthbound. If there’s one other game that more than deserves a spot within that revered company too, it’s Secret of Mana.
Originally released back in 1993, Secret of Mana has been lauded for its grand and expansive storyline, exciting real-time battles and forward-thinking co-operative multiplayer. It is, undoubtedly, a classic of the genre, and the multitude of re-releases it has seen over the years shows how it can still hold up today as a modern game.
Now, Square Enix has decided to take things one step further and bring a full 3D remake to consoles and PC with updated visuals and audio, refined gameplay and additional story scenes. We spoke to game producer Masaru Oyamada to learn how they’ve approached remastering a classic.
Square Enix has a vast back catalogue of iconic RPGs that many fans would love to see modernised. Why did you choose Secret of Mana?
Ever since I became the producer of the Mana series, I’ve been mentioning that I wanted to create a new title. A lot of time has passed since our initial release and we don’t have a lot of past titles that can be played on current generation platforms.
While new titles are important as well, I thought that it would be necessary to have people remember the beloved titles from the past (or find out about them if they did not know about them already) by making them available to play once again. With its 25th anniversary in 2016, we released Adventures of Mana, a remake of Final Fantasy Adventure. We decided to remake Secret of Mana at this time as it’s the most popular title in the series.
Why did you decide to not simply re-release Secret of Mana in its original form as other classic games have been in the past?
We understand that there are a lot of people out there who love the original version of the game, but we have also seen a problem where lots of players from the younger generation who see that version are turned off by the pixel graphic art style.
On top of that, due to the spectacularly rapid developments in frame rates over the past years, 2D game development would still take a very long time, even with modern development technology, and it would be exceedingly tricky to maintain the same feel of the original with the extra power available. For these reasons, we decided to go with a 3D remake, also with an eye towards preparing the ground for the future development of the series.
What are some of the elements or aspects of the game you’ve specifically set out to remaster or modernise, and why?
We did not want to change the story or musical performances from the original so we paid close attention right from the start as to how we could show them in an even more appealing light, while still retaining the same feel as they had before.
As far as the gameplay side goes, we have tried to make the kinds of adjustments that will enhance the playability of the game. We’ve eased up on the dash function that previously only let you run in a single direction at a time and the fact that battle would be paused when using magic. This last one was because we wanted Randi, who cannot use magic, to play more of a role in battle during multiplayer, where Popoi and Primm used to pause everything whenever they cast spells.
On the other hand, what were some parts you wanted to keep the same or leave as similar to the original as possible?
The story, setting and basic battle system were very much complete already and are much loved by the fans, so we did not consider changing these at all.
What qualities do you think Secret of Mana has that a newcomer to the game will really enjoy and appreciate?
I would say the way that you can play together co-operatively offline as you progress through the story. That feeling of achievement from each character having their own role to play and them all co-operating to forward the story really does double the enjoyment.
Secret of Mana is definitely a special game for anyone who grew up playing it. What kind of experience do you hope they have when they pick up the game again?
As we have not made any major changes to the game, I think that they will very much still be able to experience that same Secret of Mana world unchanged. This time we have also added in some special interlude episodes, allowing players to enjoy seeing what happened during the breaks between the three heroes’ adventures that were not covered in the original version. Because of this, I think that veteran players will be able to get both the nostalgia and a new experience from this edition.
Secret of Mana can also be played co-operatively with three players – how important was it to bring that option over to the remake too?
It was absolutely essential. We had some technical difficulties for the mobile port that we did previously and unfortunately had to discard the multiplayer option for that one. But, having that offline multiplayer together with people close to you is very important for making a game more fun – even in this modern era.
How do you think Secret of Mana has influenced the RPG genre since its release. Do you think any modern RPGs are still using it as a reference for their games?
I think that many RPGs have strongly reflected those action elements as the technical side of game creation has developed. I don’t know if the people who made Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy XIV had Secret of Mana in mind when they designed their games, but in my personal opinion, it does feel like the way they combined the active time battle system with free character movement is very much an evolution of Secret of Mana.
Have you approached any of the original development team to get their input on the project? If so, what’s been their response to seeing or working on the game again?
Hiroki Kikuta, the original composer, has been helping us with the entirety of the BGM. None of the other developers on the original title, aside from Mr. Kikuta, are on the development team itself. However, we did report to Hiromichi Tanaka, the original producer, and Koichi Ishii, the original director, that we will be remaking the title and have been consulting with them along the way. Other developers that were on the original title have been helping us as well, so there are many people who have been supporting us one way or another.
When we explained the concept behind the remake to Mr. Tanaka and Mr. Ishii they actually proposed the idea of expanding the system and story on a large scale as if it were a completely new game. However, we told them how we really wanted to keep to a policy of not affecting the memories people have of the original game. When we consulted with Mr. Kikuta about this, I remember him being very torn over how to further develop the music alongside the updated visuals.
If you had the complete freedom to remake any other classic Square Enix RPG of your choice, which would it be and why?
If they gave me complete freedom to do anything then I would do a completely new title rather than a remake. Doing remakes is always a battle with people’s memories of the original, so we really have to be very careful with them!
Secret of Mana is scheduled for release on February 15th for PS4, PS Vita and PC.