This Week in Games: Secret of Mana

by Heidi Kemps,

It's another one of those slow news weeks, which means I can take a bit of space in this column to babble about something I'm particularly interested in. This week, I've got the perfect excuse to talk about two things I really like: the mobile game Gothic wa Mahou Otome and the Namco Catalog IP program, both of which I think are a little less than well-known.

Gothic wa Mahou Otome (Often abbreviated to “Gomaotsu”) is a mobile bullet-hell shooter from Cave, the company perhaps best known in the genre. It's got a few visual and story ties to their Deathsmiles games, but for the most part, Gomaotsu is its own beast. It's a very fun game that winds up being far more skill-based than other gacha-driven titles: while you do roll to get new familiars that grant you new shot types and special skills, it still requires a good amount of experience in bullet-hell shooters to do well – though it also does a really good job of easing new players into the genre with its scaling difficulty, extensive tutorials, and appealing heroine (and demon-turned-heroine) characters.

Gomatsu has proven to be a success for Cave, and while it's not quite in the same tier as mobile juggernauts like Fate/Grand Order, Granblue Fantasy, and Monster Strike, it has a pretty devoted fanbase willing to toss money at it. (The frequent new outfits that get released for the heroines certainly help with that.) It's done well enough that it's had some interesting collaborations with properties that Anime News Network readers would find interesting: Vocaloid, Re:Zero, and Himouto! Umaru-chan R, among others.

The latest Gomatsu collaboration, however, isn't anime-based: rather, it's a celebration of old Namco games. And it's pretty great.

See, Bandai-Namco has a ton of classic IP on its Namco side that the company isn't really doing all that much with, aside from Namco Museum re-releases: familiar stuff like Pac-Man, Galaga, and Dig Dug, but also things far more fondly remembered in Japan like Tower of Druaga, Legend of Valkyrie, and Xevious. Still, they know these characters and concepts are capable of making them money in some way. Remember ShiftyLook? That was an early attempt to create something new with these old properties, but now they've stumbled upon something better: the Catalog IP Project.

Basically, if you want to create a new game (or add elements to an existing game) on mobile or browser platforms utilizing characters and imagery from Namco's back catalog of arcade and Famicom games, you are free to do so without requiring the constant back-and-forth between both parties that licensing usually entails. All you need to do is submit the project to Namco, and if they like what they see, they'll give you approval and let you do as you please from that point on. This has yielded some interesting results, including otome games with ikemen interpretations of classic Namco characters, a Xevious phone game from almost-forgotten developer Dream Factory and a new Mappy game (amusingly named Touch the Mappy) developed by some former Namco employees. It's a great program, and I'd love to see other big names in game development do something similar -- in fact, recently, numerous old Data East and Jaleco IPs opened up in the same way.

The Gomatsu collab is part of the Catalog IP project, and makes use of several of the properties it covers. As a result, we get several stages themed after classic Namco games, along with familiars based on Gil from Tower of Druaga, Valkyrie from her titular game, Pac-Man, and even an anthropomorphized Solvalou and Andro Dunos from Xevious. For a retro supernerd like me, it's fantastic, even if I'm sad Kissy from Baraduke and Hiromi from Burning Force aren't covered by the Catalog IP Project and thus not available for inclusion.

Also, I'm never not amused by the Gomaotsu interpretation of Mappy.

NEWS: SHINING RESONANCE IS COMING WEST

Hey, remember Sega's Shining series? If you replied “Oh yeah, Shining Force! That game was great!” then, well, you remember classic Shining. See, Shining is a lot like Sonic in that there's a pretty clear divide between “classic” Shining (as in, the stuff made by the developer that would eventually become Camelot and do Golden Sun) and “modern” Shining (everything after Shining Force III). People who like the classic stuff don't really care for the modern stuff, and vice-versa. Thing is, most of those modern Shinings haven't made the journey west: the last one was Shining Force EXA way back on the PS2 over a decade ago. Actually, scratch that: we did get the Steam release of the oddball spinoff fighter Blade Arcus from Shining, which features several Shining series characters – specifically, those designed by illustrator Tony Taka.

Okay, maybe that was a little bit confusing, but: we're finally getting a proper modern Shining game in English in the form of a remake of Shining Resonance, entitled Shining Resonance Refrain. The game's headed to PS4, XBOne, Switch, and PC, so practically everyone can get a taste of what they've been missing for the past decade. I can't really comment on this much, having not played the original – but I'm definitely happy to see current Sega take a stronger initiative in localizing games previously left by the wayside.

Fun fact: Did you know Tony Taka worked for Data East, and was doing art for a cancelled Windjammers sequel? Clearly, we're living in the darkest timeline.

DLC ROUNDUP: BARDOCK AND BROLY ARE CRASHING DRAGONBALL FIGHTERZ, ORBONNE MONASTERY BLESSES DISSIDIA

I feel like the announcement of Broly and Bardock as playable character DLC for Dragon Ball FighterZ isn't really a surprise. I mean, those two were practically a forgone conclusion since the game's announcement, being very popular fan favorites. What I'm more interested in is seeing them in action, and from the itty bitty bit we've seen thus far, they're looking just as spectacular as every other DBFZ character.

Square Enix, meanwhile, is keeping their support for Dissidia: Final Fantasy NT going strong with the announcement of a new stage based on Final Fantasy Tactics’s Orbonne Monastery. Interestingly, this stage just hit the arcade version as of this writing, meaning that the home update won't be very far behind. I'm interested to see if future updates to Dissidia NT will continue to feature very-slightly-delayed parity with the (still quite popular in Japan) arcade edition. I'm also hype for some sweet FFT music remixes.

MINI-REVIEW: SECRET OF MANA

Let's begin with the good news: the Secret of Mana remake isn't bad at all. In fact, I liked it a lot – but that's mostly because of how close it keeps to the original game. See, this isn't as much of an overhaul as you might have been led to believe, and that's both a good and a bad thing.

The changes and (sometimes debatable) improvements over the original SNES Secret of Mana involve replacing 2D sprites with 3D visuals, an optional arranged soundtrack, adding in a few choreographed cutscenes and character dialogue bits, reworking the translation, adding voiceover, and applying a handful of small quality-of-life improvements to the gameplay and interface. That sounds like a lot of overhaul, but when you sit down and actually play the thing, you see just how closely it hews to the original: the same story beats in the same order, the same (sometimes tedious) progression with weapon and magic levels, even the combat feels pretty spot-on compared to the original game. (To give an idea of how similar things are, the game's minimaps are literally just screenshots of the original SNES area layouts!) It feels like the original Secret of Mana, and while that will make purists happy, it also feels like a missed opportunity.

You see, when Secret of Mana was first conceived, it was planned for the aborted SNES CD add-on, meaning that some of the grandiose ideas the development team had for the original game had to be scrapped to fit it on a cartridge. This meant that a lot of story and exploration bits, especially around mid-game, felt really truncated. With the remake, there was a perfect opportunity to revisit these ideas and flesh out more of the game. However, all the developers did was add a bit more dialogue and prop up character development of the main cast through little dialogue sequences at inns (which, admittedly, are all very well done).  

This leaves me with a question: if you're not going to try and really rework Secret of Mana, why put in so much effort to remaster it in the first place? The SNES original, flawed though it may be, is still an excellent game that stands the test of time, with beautiful sprite artwork, fantastic music, and an adventure that's fun and challenging. Sure, the main character and NPC models in the remake, based on the breathtaking art of illustrator HACCAN, are all gorgeous, but I can't say the same for the enemy and background models. (The fact that the devs went so far as to make these polygon models animate the same way in story scenes, despite how silly it often looks, feels like a serious case of misplaced priorities.) It's the same story with the remixed music, which has both some truly superb musical reworkings and some audio atrocities that I'm surprised got the approval stamp. And while some of the game's combat bugs have been ironed out (characters don't all have to be on the same screen anymore, thank god), the attempt to recreate Secret of Mana's sometimes-wonky combat system on new hardware has actually introduced a few new bugs, like the game stuttering during attacks and enemies staying downed for long periods of time.

Considering that the original SNES Secret of Mana is available, legally, through numerous means (Virtual Console, the SNES Classic, and mobile ports), the relatively miniscule improvements of this version don't make for a compelling argument to play it over the original. Sure, it's a nice excuse to play through a fantastic game yet again, but you have to wonder: why can't Square Enix invest the sort of effort put into this to remake and finally localize Seiken Densetsu 3, a game fans outside of Japan have begged for for over two decades? That's something I don't have an answer for, sadly. Maybe if this does well enough, a SD3 remake might be put on the table – but buying something in hopes of getting something  else down the line doesn't often turn out well.

To sum it up: Secret of Mana, the remake, isn't bad -- it's just unnecessary.

NEW RELEASES

OUT NOW:

METAL GEAR SURVIVE (PS4, XBOne, PC)

It's Metal Gear, without Kojima, and there are zombies in it. Look, I try to keep cynicism in check whenever I can, but it's really hard not to hate this on principle. It's a cash-grab made to capitalize on a beloved series after its creator was very publicly forced out of the company in an ugly standoff between creatives and executives, which is bad enough, but then you have to tack on the overused zombies theme to somehow make it even less appealing.

Or, to sum it up in a corny blurb: Looks like the zombies aren't the only things here that are soulless! Ho ho!

LITTLE WITCH ACADEMIA: CHAMBER OF TIME (PS4, PC)

Akko and friends finally make the jump to the realm of videogames in this all-new adventure set in the Little Witch Academia universe. The game plays a bit like an action-RPG mixed with a sidescrolling beat-em-up, though it's also got some more traditional visual novel/RPG exploration bits, and… wait, it's not out yet? But I thought the release date was announced some time ago…? Uh… oh, it came from a German PlayStation blog which has since amended the release date to be TBA? …Well, this is certainly awkward. I can see why fans are upset about the confusion, as the game looks pretty solid. I suppose if you want your anime-gaming fix, you'll just have to play something else instead. Something like…

OUT FRIDAY: SWORD ART ONLINE FATAL BULLET (PS4, XBOne, PC)

Yeah, I was wondering why it looked like Bandai-Namco would release two anime games in the same week. Guess that's answered. Anyhow, Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet is a sort-of-adaptation of SAO's second season, which takes Kirito, Asuna, and company out of the titular fantasy MMORPG and instead plops them into a shooting/survival game called Gun Gale Online. I say “sort of” because, while there appears to be a bit of crossover into the proper SAO timeline, the story mode's focus in on your Original Character (do not steal) and their partner, with you teaming up with more familiar SAO cast staples when opportunity arises. While the game retains a lot of the faux-MMO elements of previous SAO adaptations, it's considerably more action-oriented, mixing close-range combat and movement with tactical shooting.

Also quite interestingly, it's the first SAO game on Xbox One. They made a XBOne version specifically for Western markets. Guess these games have been doing pretty well!

OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES: Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 is making its way to Switch under the name Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 Plus. It's no Pac-Man CE DX (which is, in my opinion, the best Pac-Man game) but it's still quite a bit of fun. Yuri visual novel A Kiss for the Petals: Maidens of Michael is also coming to Steam and to MangaGamer's online store, where you can snag the adults-only unedited version. Yume Nikki, an enhanced reimagining of the cult favorite horror-RPG that helped inspire titles like Undertale, will also be hitting Steam this Friday.


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