Game Design Analysis: Secret of Mana

Discussion in 'Games' started by Xylia, Feb 5, 2018.

  1. Xylia

    Xylia Tiy's Beard

    So... last time I talked about Game Design here, I mentioned the Breath of Fire series. While it was a childhood favorite of mine, it had its flaws.

    Well, I figured that it has been awhile since I've done one of these threads, and of course, we have the Secret of Mana Remaster that is due to be released on Feb 15th (that's just 10 days from now!).

    I will post my thoughts about the original SNES cart (the NA version) in this post, along with some thoughts about the remaster and what I hope to see, what I hope I don't see, and then later on, after the remaster has come out and I've had time to play it, I will revisit the thread, and update it with my thoughts after the fact.

    So... let's get into this, shall we?

    First off, I'm going to start off with the generic number rating. Everybody knows how these go; it's entirely arbitrary but yet I feel that the reader might have a better understanding of where I stand with this game, before we actually get into it, and then I will explain what I like, and don't like about the SNES version of Secret of Mana.

    I first learned about this game when I saw it featured in an issue of Nintendo Power before the game was released, and I looked at that, and I told my mom, "I want that! It looks just like Zelda and Final Fantasy put together! It will be so awesome!"

    I awaited it excitedly, and when I finally got to play it, I was ecstatic. It really was awesome! It took me awhile to actually figure out how to do stuff in the game (more on this later), but overall, it quickly became one of my fondest games from the SNES Era.

    It is, and always has been, sitting at a comfortable 8/10. Not a perfect game (no game is), but yet a darn good one. One that has given me hours and hours and hours worth of memories. I still own the original cartridge to this day, afterall. I play it on emulator nowadays when I do play it, usually a fan re-translation, but eh. Still.

    So, why did/do I give it 8/10? Well...

    1). Graphics. These are the easiest to talk about. When comparing this game to other SNES games of the time, its bright and cheery artwork stands out. Even back during the SNES Era, -Mana games were known for bright vivid worlds and visuals and cutesy characters. I rather enjoyed the aesthetic, and can think of pretty much nothing bad to say about the graphics of Secret of Mana. Today, they show their age, but yet they are still good for 16-bit. I've seen a lot of indie developers trying to capture and re-create the magic that was Secret of Mana, but yet I don't think I've seen anybody get it quite right. There's just... a charm to it.

    2). Sound. The composer (Hiroki Kikuta) did an excellent job of composing some of the game's more memorable soundtracks. I see some people criticize the game for having "bad" music, but I don't really understand where they're coming from to be honest. My favorites include Flammie's flight theme, the battle against the Mana Beast, the Town Theme, and the remixed adventure theme that plays in some places (like when you're assaulting the underground passage leading to the Life Temple). Some of the best music of the SNES Era, to be honest.

    3). Gameplay. Some people will criticize how one must wait for the multiplayer, or having to "unlock" the multiplayer (rabbidluigi among others), but that just makes sense from the game's storyline and lore standpoint. These people fail to see that NO RPG whatsoever had multiplayer of ANY kind. They should have been thankful that there was a multiplayer to begin with. But anyways, some people will complain about having to pause combat to cast spells or use items (which I can kinda understand), and some people will complain about how you have to wait to recover your strength after swinging in melee combat. The last point, I can kinda understand because at first I found it weird too, but then I sat and thought about all the times I stunlocked enemies in LoZ:LttP and I thought that it'd be kinda lame if you could also do that in an RPG. In fact, you still can with some enemies in SoM anyways. It'd be entirely ridiculous if you could just mash the button and pound something flat in a few seconds.

    The movement is smooth, and the menus took a bit for me to understand that you had to hit up/down to switch menus (that's what I meant earlier by 'took me awhile to figure out how to do stuff') so for the first few hours of the game I was doing things like not equipping armor or switching weapons because I couldn't figure out how to access those menus, but I eventually found out and was well on my way.

    I believe that once you get used to it, SoM is a very smooth experience once you get used to its oddities.

    4). Pacing/Grinding/Challenge. I feel that SoM delivers a rather smooth experience with only a few difficulty spikes, as long as you're willing to do a mild amount of grinding. You don't have to grind away for hours, mind you, but if you do then you will find the game rather easy. If you don't grind at all, it might be too difficult entirely.

    This is until you get magic and you find yourself having to level up your magic every time you empower a new Mana Seed. If you don't, you will find that your magic can't hurt a fly after a few dungeons, even against bosses who are weak against it. It isn't so bad at first, but once you get Level 6+ in your magic, then you're looking at 30, 50 casts to gain one level on one element (each caster gets 7 elements), so have fun with casting 350 spells to get 7->8 on all elements per character.

    5). Game Balance. For the most part, until you get magic, I feel the game is balanced decently well. There's a Wakeup Call Boss right before you get your first magic spells (that cat on the roof of the castle), but he's not too bad if you bring some healing items and have a Lv2 weapon for your hero and use charge attacks. He will go down without too much trouble. Once you get magic, though, the game quickly falls apart. Every boss is about knowing what he is weak against, and just using that to smash him to bits in a few seconds. There are a few bosses that are weak against elements you cannot have yet, but even then, you pick a cheap 2MP spell and just spam that until it dies which is still much faster and easier than meleeing anything. You probably don't want to spam magic on normal enemies, because you will want to save that precious MP (it caps out at 99... some spells cost up to 6MP and the only magic heal item in the game, walnuts, only give 50 and you can only hold 4 at once) for the inevitable boss at the end of the dungeon (some of them are ridiculously difficult if you have no MP). The Girl's healing spell is entirely overpowered; you will never have to worry about dying as long as you keep her alive and keep her casting Cure Water if you keep it leveled up.

    At max level, Cure Water heals ~700 to all three of your characters (more if you get a "critical"). The hero maxes out at 999 and the other two at 800 so... yeah. It only costs 2 MP so she can cast it 49 times before she runs out of MP.

    6). Other Thoughts. The SNES game had various glitches, bugs, a save file crash that could be very deadly to your cartridge, and the translation was absolutely rushed. Not blaming the translator, for he did an excellent job considering what he had to work with, but yeah, you can tell things were left out when you play it.

    So with that said... what are my thoughts about the upcoming Remaster?

    Well... first off, I hope they don't go tweaking the experience too much. Yes, I want to see updated graphics and what I've seen of the screenshots, it seems that most of the original spirit behind the artwork was preserved from what I can tell. Still the colorful, bright, cutesy quirky artwork that the original featured. I don't really like the gaudy kindergartner font that SE uses in all of their re-releases though, but meh. That's a minor issue.

    They talked about "revamping the combat system" and this is the part that has me worried the most. The combat in the first game had its charm. It had its flaws but it also had its charm. I'm kinda worried that they will try to get too technical, too micro-managy, or they will try to make it "too innovative" where they end up changing things so much that SoM is no longer SoM. I hope they at least preserve the spirit of the combat, and don't muck around with the difficulty/balance too much.

    They also talked about being able to cast spells without having to pause the action; I hope this means that spells will still be easily accessible because I'd hate to feel like I don't want to use spells because they are too dangerous to attempt to access during a heated boss fight.

    They also mentioned that they are remixing the audio..... there have been good remixes (Cave Story!) and there have been terrible remixes (too many examples to name). Sometimes, I just like the original better. It is my hope that they either allow one to switch between the two styles, or, use .ogg so that we can replace the tracks with the originals if we so choose. But, in any case, I hope the remixes were done properly and right, and they preserve the spirit and don't just add a bunch of metal guitar ontop of everything or something stupid that other people have done.

    They also mentioned adding in more filler story, and redoing the translation, this is an awesome thing. I've played a re-translation (VSF?) ROM and I found it to be very pleasant compared to the original, so hopefully, this remaster goes even further and adds more to the story.

    And lastly, I hope there are no major bugs or control issues. Square-Enix re-releases are notorious for this kind of stuff. Hopefully, the fact it was rebuilt from the ground-up for PC means that we shouldn't be seeing any of this junk.

    So lemme know what you guys think, and when the thing comes out, I'm going to see what it's like, and come back and provide an update/review.

    See you then!
    Inferus[RF] and Waffle-Chan like this.
  2. Xylia

    Xylia Tiy's Beard

    So, this came out yesterday:

    And now we can see some actual in-game footage, complete with sound effects, music, etc.

    Now, granted, this is the Japanese version and they talk a lot over the game, but here's what I can tell thusfar:

    1). Things appear to be for the most part, about the same as it is mechanics-wise to the original game, except for the wolves seem a bit weaker than they did before. I wouldn't be surprised if some enemies were re-balanced and the difficulty curve smoothed out a little. Because face it, your first trip to the Ice Forest was downright brutal in the Original.

    2). The music appears to be remixed fairly well, the bits I could hear between their talking sounded pretty much spot-on; they didn't just jam a bunch of heavy metal guitar in it and call it a day. It sounds like they took the original chiptune music, and smoothed the edges out and made it much smoother and more pleasing to the ears from what I can tell. However, I could only make out 3 of the tracks (Ice Castle, Boss Battle, and the theme at the resort), so we'll have to wait and see what the rest of the soundtrack sounds like. But if these 3 tracks are the norm for the rest of the game, I will be rather pleased with it.

    3). Animations are so butter smooth! I was amazed at the fluidity of the animation quality. The 3D character models aren't anything to write home about, but wow, the smooth animations. Also, I am convinced that the game is indeed full 3D now, just with a fixed camera angle to keep it faithful to the original.

    4). They seemed to keep the layouts the same; I recognized all the rooms and terrain, all of that seemed exactly the same except for that stove that they were keeping Salamander in; its platform is slightly different than I remember. But I could be remembering that wrong; I'd have to boot up the SNES and see what that platform looks like.

    5). Oddly, I saw the game pausing when they stopped to select spells.... weird, I thought that they said gameplay shouldn't pause when casting spells? Maybe that requires something like hotkeying common spells? Not sure.

    6). They seemed to get rid of that neat mechanic where damage numbers displayed on screen got bigger/smaller depending on the damage thresholds (50, 250 IIRC). A small thing, but I thought that was rather neat.

    7). They changed healing numbers from Blue to Green with white outlines (damage numbers vs enemies are yellow while players get hit with orange numbers). Not entirely sure why they did this, perhaps to be more in-line with the Final Fantasy games?

    But from what I saw in this video, I think I will be quite pleased with the game. I pre-ordered so I get to watch Primm running around in a bikini. Yay me.

  3. Xylia

    Xylia Tiy's Beard

    So, as promised, I played SoM for 5 hours today.

    First, I will say that the soundtrack ranges from "OK" to "Fairly Decent". I have come across tracks on Youtube that sound even better. There is one exception "Did You See the Ocean" which I felt was very nicely redone, I very much enjoyed that one.

    Second, the gameplay is butter smooth. Movement feels great, combat feels good for the most part, and your AI controlled characters..... wow, did they get an upgrade? There's less AI options, but there's this setting I've fallen in love with, where your characters will not attack anything until you do and they will fixate on it until it dies or you attack something else. The fact you can go off-screen means you will never get stuck in a situation where you NEED to move NOW but can't because somebody's hung up on something.

    NPCs still get hung up on terrain, but meh, not that big of a deal now. They seem much easier to get unstuck now.

    You can hotkey 1 spell per caster and hotkeying is easy to do, takes just a second, so I found myself keeping Cure Water on the girl hotkeyed, and I would hotkey whatever battle spell that I would use for the next boss on the sprite and just leave it at that.

    They tweaked a lot of hit detection; enemies do not have anywhere near as many I-frames as they did in the original, which means you can actually hit stuff now without that dreaded "TING!" sound, or just plain whiffing for no apparent reason. If you are missing because it has too high defense/evasion, the game will actually say "MISS!" so you know that the miss was intentional (due to stats).

    And again, your AI controlled characters are savages. Seriously. They plow into stuff with a ferocity. For this reason, early game, you will definitely want to give the Sprite a Boomerang, Bow, Javelin, or Spear to keep them away from the combat. The girl is a bit more durable, so she can handle whatever other melee weapon.

    The AI is actually rather good with a bow; but I found that trying to use myself was very difficult. I use a 360 controller and it is very difficult to aim projectile weapons with a 360. A target lock would have been nice, but meh. Minor issue. I can just use a melee weapon and let my NPCs handle the ranged stuff.

    Faithfulness-wise, the maps are identical, the layouts are identical, even down to the tile-by-tile basis. Stats are the same, enemies have the same health, damage, HP, etc. There's a caveat though, and that mobs have different attack patterns now, and with the fact your allies are savage ferocious beasts on a murderous rampage, stuff will die faster, especially combined with the lack of i-frames.

    Yes, this will reduce challenge a bit. But then, who ever said that SoM was actually hard, once you got magic? It was never a hard game to begin with, so I see this as a QoL change that just makes it smoother.

    All in all I am thoroughly loving my time with it. Looking forward to my next playthrough; I just got to the Wind Palace.

    There are sadly bugs, but every new release has bugs. Let's see how fast they get patched up.

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