Friday Slide: Does Secret of Mana Need A Special Edition?

The iPhone 4G is on everybody’s mind and in everybody’s hearts right now. But my own thoughts and desires drift back to an announcement Square-Enix made at E3, and then, without pause, it drifts even further back to 1993. Secret of Mana is coming to the iPhone later this year.

Secret of Mana was one of my favorite RPGs on the Super Nintendo way back in the olden days. I still have my old SNES cartridge, and I have downloaded it for the Virtual Console. I have played both installments more times than I can count. I have played the game’s ROMs, including re-translations and hacks that dress up the main characters as clowns and other silly things.

And still, every so often, I plug in Secret of Mana and start up a new game. If you told me, “Nadia, never play Secret of Mana again or I’ll eat this puppy,” I’d hand you the salt and get back to plundering the Mana Fortress.

Secret of Mana is an action RPG, much in the vein of The Legend of Zelda. It’s a direct sequel to the strangely-named Final Fantasy Adventure for the Game Boy. Given my obsession, which is going on two decades now, I’ll be nabbing Secret of Mana for the iPhone unless Square-Enix programs it to directly infect the player with anthrax. But should I urge you all to share the same enthusiasm? Because, in all honesty, I’m riding pretty high on nostalgia. Secret of Mana has serious problems which will compound themselves on the iPhone unless they’re addressed by Squeenix.

For starters, Secret of Mana is infamous for its bugs. Anyone who’s half-determined to do so can break the game more completely than a three-year-old messing with a vase. Characters can vanish forever, get stuck, and get locked out of vital story points (I performed this one myself with little effort). If you even look at the game wrong, it freezes.

According to video game folklore, Secret of Mana has so many troublesome bugs because it was developed for Nintendo’s ill-fated CD system. Once that went kaput, Square hastily dumped what it had on a cartridge. If Square-Enix simply dumps that mess on the iPhone without doing some major retooling, it could seriously spark the apocalypse.

Second, one of Secret of Mana’s most beloved features is its loose three-player ability: three friends can play together and control their own hero. Definitely recommended, as managing the computer-controlled characters is a hassle. They’re as dumb as dirt, and get stuck behind every bump in the road. How will the iPhone port support the three-player option? Will it bother?

Third, the initial translation given to Secret of Mana was horrendous. Unfortunately, it remains the only official translation. It was done by Ted Woosley, a localizer I still admire very much. But he had to have a finished product in less than 30 days, so Secret of Mana isn’t an example of his most stellar work.

In short, will Square-Enix apply polish to a game that thoroughly needs and deserves it? Or will Secret of Mana for the iPhone be a heartbreakingly substandard cash-in?

I hope Square-Enix realizes that Secret of Mana deserves more than a few purchases by nostalgic fans. It’s a fantastic little game that should be experienced by all fans of action RPGs. Nostalgia aside, I have yet to play a game that gives me such a sense of adventure and immerses me in so much color. The graphics hold up well after all these years, and the soundtrack is still stunning. Square-Enix’s attempts at marketing subsequent Mana games have largely fallen flat because the company seems to have no idea what made Secret of Mana so magical.

That worries me a bit. I want everyone to play Secret of Mana. I just don’t want it to blow up in their hands.