Monday, February 26, 2018

My thoughts on the remake: Part II

A few days have passed, and I'm about to conquer my last Mana palace before Sage Joch/Tasnica/side quests.  You kids and your auto-saves.  If I didn't have them in my day, why should you?  You can read about the first part of my journey here.

Now that I've played a few hours of the game, I feel like I understand why they changed the tone of the prologue.  It does seem to suit this version better than if they had went with the original.  I'm not sure if I can find the words, but there's a certain mystery and feel to the SNES version that isn't present here.  Transferring the game to 3D means that locations such as fields and towns had to be reduced in scope given the small memory size of a cartridge---there simply isn't enough material to create a vast 3D world.  It's the reason that the size of the world map was greatly reduced, as we'll cover below.  This diminishes the sweeping feel of the original at times.  Somehow, even though it is clearly a remaster, it feels like its own game.

1)First and foremost, the world map is quite intriguing.  They've added many roads and locations which can not be accessed.  In fact, there's almost as many of these as there are actual locations!

Take a look at this:



The top picture is a road coming out of Northtown (no spinning whatever).  One leads to the bottom part of the continent near Southtown, the other goes to a defunct location.  In the bottom picture, we have a phantom village near Kakkara and the Fire Palace.

Very interesting...

But perhaps most interesting, is this:




Tasnica 2018.  Note that instead of a castle, there's roads galore, including roads that lead to some palace of sorts.  Not to mention a bunch of other locations, indicating a large kingdom.  Hmm...where have I seen something like this before?



The top photo is from the beta map, and the second is another prerelease map closer to development.  Note the amount of roads in the upper photo.  In fact, a look at the beta map as a whole reveals roads galore.  Perhaps there's more restored content to the 2018 version than meets the eye.  Tasnica was also reduced from a full kingdom to a mere castle in the SNES version.   Still, we can only land at the palace.

The world map, while certainly condensed because so much space was unused in the SNES version, seems to be closer to the intended concept for the game.  But the real question is: will any of these locations be part of extra DLC in the future?  Or are they just there for scenery?  A lot of new players have complained that it's too hard to find things on the world map.  These dummy locations don't make that quest easier, especially with no minimap.  Time will tell...

Finally, I find it amusing that the Lost Continent is not the unsettling place it used to be:


2)Like zhaDe, I really like the inn conversations.  Yes, there's quite a few, but I think that that's a good thing considering the lack of character development on the SNES.  This is certainly something that was intended for the original game that couldn't be realized.  The Inn makes sense as there aren't any new locations to have it take place in, and they may have wanted to leave the original script alone.  New players may not be able to appreciate it as much, but it is one of my favorite parts of the remaster.

3)Some parts of the design seem like afterthoughts (like Tropicallo, yikes), but some are very well done.  I do like the fact that everything is 360 degrees now, instead of being limited to four directions.  At Gaia's Navel, the ability to show height in 3D really paid off.  Water and fire are very well depicted in the remaster, as they are in all games these days.  But to someone who played this some time ago, it's a very nice update.  The Water Palace feels like one.  The lighting of interior locations is a striking enhancement to the original.  The same thing goes for the Enchanted Forest; being up on a hill is now being up on a hill.

4)There are some serious bugs/annoyances in the game, which at times add up to being borderline boycott level.  Including, but not limited to:

---A glitch where my main character turns a strange color and stays that way.  Can be fixed by resetting.
---The game crashing (good thing for auto-saves after all)
---An extremely annoying glitch where you can't switch between allies (for example, while casting spells). You have to go out of the menu and come back again. I took a lot of extra damage this way.
---A very strange glitch where a character is actually dead, but the game treats it as alive. They have 0
HP, but are still able to fight, and can't bring up any menus. You can cast Cure Water on them and give them some HP, but then they arbitrarily die again at some point, and still can't bring up menus.
---I'm not sure if this is a glitch, but the game seems to have a lot of trouble making up its mind as to which battle actions come first. Magic, healing, attacking, and dying all seem to happen in a different order given the occasion.  Many times I tried to heal in the middle of a battle only to have my character die anyway because they were being attacked.  Same thing with the Cup of Wishes.
---This may be an intentional glitch as an homage to the original, but come on, it's 2018, and our characters are still getting stuck being collision tiles.
---Characters continue to take damage with medical herbs when poisoned.
---I don't know why we have to wait so long for enemies to die.  Or find out if they're dead or not for that matter.

5)There are some issues with the camera angles.  The Water Palace steps almost look like the Water Palace ladder, for example.  Throughout playing, I consistently wanted the camera angle to be just slightly lower; it feels as if it's a bit too far overhead.  That would also allow some more view of the backgrounds, which are extremely well done here.

6)The retranslation is much closer to the original Japanese, and have led to things like Mara's box being depicted.  Several nuances that we uncovered in the blog are there again.  I'm trying to find a script dump to compare...

7)It may have been best to ditch the battle concept, and go with a more Zelda-like approach.  It gets a bit monotonous charging up to 100% over and over again.  What happened to the allies' gauge?  For
some reason, it didn't seem so bad in the original.  If attacks could be instant, one-on-one combat with enemies would be more interesting, and it may actually give you a reason to charge your weapon.  Speaking of which, I see no incentive to ever do so.  The remaster seems to have a problem targeting after you charge, and it takes long enough to begin with.

Combat often seems to be unbalanced, with some fights too easy, some too difficult, and some downright tedious and annoying.  Chobin Foots inflicting heavy damage at long range in the Enchanted Forest?  Being endlessly engulfed in the Fire Palace?  Sometimes, the boss AI seems to box one character into the corner and endlessly attack them, ignoring everyone else.  And man, are those Gold Palace boss fights unusually tough.

On the other hand, battles like the Werewolves when we get Purim, or Spikey Tigle have become laughably simple.

8)There are many animations that were almost certainly supposed to be part of the original.  For example, I enjoyed seeing Watts working and the transports in the Enchanted Forest.

9)They really should have scrapped the ring system.  Yes, I know that we want to be true to the original, but it's quite cumbersome to maneuver by contemporary standards.  Also, why isn't the ring not over the ally it applies to?

10)I've been saying, "Dyluck" right all these years!

11)Neko's voice---no thanks.

12)Once again, it's 2018, and the character AI is somehow worse than the original.  I wish I could just set them to attack whatever's around.  So many times they just stood there as they were being rent
apart by the enemy.  You should be able to set the priority, and then have it fall back on something other than do nothing.

13)The stage room at the Underground Palace is above ground...

14)I'm reminded yet again how dense the first part of the game is, up until defeating Geshtar's monster in the Water Palace.  Nothing is this detailed or complete for the remainder.

15)Speaking of 2018, they worked at least one, "oof" into the dialogue.

16)The Empire's "lauded" Southtown still consists of...four houses.

17)Serge asks you to hit him up when you might need a pirate like him.  Hmm...

18)They didn't fix the incorrect dialogue from the development phase.  For example, Geshtar still acts like he's meeting them for the first time in Kakkara.  Speaking of which, Geshtar sounds like an old arcade villain during his boss battles.  Makes me want to play X-Men '92.

19They're still doing the thing where even though you know the element of an orb, you still need to guess which particular spell in some cases. 

~

I have to say, I'm enjoying the remake a lot.  There are certainly things that have been lost from the SNES version, and it does have its flaws, but it's quite good for what it is.  When I first started playing, I figured it'd be boring since I know where everything is, and was sad that I wouldn't have the fast forward button of the emulator.  But there's enough new material to really keep me interested.  I'm looking forward to finishing, and will have more to write here.

Credits:  Square owns SoM.

To contact me, please use the e-mail link in my profile.

Friday, February 23, 2018

My thoughts on the remake: Part I

I started playing the remake tonight.  So far, I have only made it as far as the Water Palace.  I am more motivated than ever to write on the music of the game, and I will save that discussion for future articles.  So no music talk yet.  Here are my thoughts:

1)The style of the new prologue, while certainly detailed, is not effective on several levels, and makes me wonder what kind of feel they're going for.

The original was downright stygian.  First, we see a hint of some massive structure with all kinds of electronic goodness hovering over dark clouds.  We learn that it's the Mana Fortress.  Right off the bat, it's like, man, I have to play on and find out what this Mana Fortress is.  The next picture is now the interior: the huge room that we'll see here and twice later.  This dark image and the preceding hint at the scope of the Fortress and the depth of the original conflict.  Then, we end up with a dimmed overview of the Pure Land, and are told of a war that wrecked havoc over the world.  The only sign of life here are the occasional moving waterfall as the camera pans right.  Damn.  Next comes the image of a tree dwarfed by a dark sky in the background, with mountains too.  What is the significance of this one lone tree in the midst of this massive landscape?  It seems to be quite impressive on its own with those rivers well beneath it.  Then, the most famous line from the entire game, haunting, and poetic in its own right:

"But time flows like a river, and history repeats..."

Hold that thought.

Finally, we get an overview of a vast, detailed world, with an angelic choir in the background.

This is amazing.  Must play all the Secret of Manas.

25 years later...

First, they decided to eschew the dark concept of the opening for some 3D avant garde line drawing that looks like something out of a children's storybook.  Note that in the SNES version, we actually see the areas as they would be played in the game (where applicable).  In the remaster, The Mana Fortress looks like some evil troll's castle rather than a sharp nightmarish figure over dark clouds.  Yes, it is quite an intricate illustration, and is very cool and very well done, but doesn't nearly have the impact of the original opening, nor seem appropriate here.  Then, here comes a (or the?) Mana Beast.  Why give this away here?  Part of the original experience was seeing what a Mana Beast actually looks like well into the game.

The animated fire transition to the next image is extremely cool.  But then, the illustrated fire on the next page is once again part of a line drawing with pastel colors, and doesn't convey a powerful impression like the SNES version did.  We still haven't come close to the mood of the original.

And we're already at the final image, which is a closeup of the Mana Sword next to some flamingos(?) and a rather ornate background implying the landscape.

But here it is:

"But as time passes...so history repeats..."

...what?

The most famous line from the game...changed.  This is like when they retranslated, "You spoony bard!" from Final Fantasy IV.  You don't mess with Tellah and his Meteo and his trash talk, just like you don't mess with one of the most memorable lines in video game history.

"As time passes" is what you expect time to do.  Pass.  "Time flows like a river" is a metaphor which leads to...

"So history repeats" implies that time and history move together.  As you would expect them to.  But, if time flows like a river, then we have a tactile sense of history as being this current that moves swiftly, slowly, rocky.

Of course, time and history have been spoken as a river many times outside of SoM, but at that moment, in that place, it really meant something.  That, and the nostalgia factor.  If you're going to make a game that's so much of a tribute to the original as to include doors that don't actually go anywhere, then you must keep the most important line exactly as it is.

Additionally, the voiceover sounds like something out of an IMAX nature film.  The voice actor is extremely talented, but I wish they would have had him go for a more solemn delivery, to fit the tone of the war.

2)The waterfall sequence is an example of why the 3D concept they went with is flawed.  Considering the pause between text boxes, the voice acting just doesn't come off as very natural.  We're not getting a continuous, fluid scene, we're basically just getting a voice for the text, and not very effective ones at that.  As a result, the delivery comes off as disjointed, and voices such as Elliot's don't really match the character.  Also, in an effort to be close to the original (or just to save resources), certain actions don't look right in 3D.  Like when Randi falls off the log into the waterfall.  Elliott's motion does not imply the slightest attempt to help (or really do anything significant), and the fact that Timothy and Elliott just look at each other and run may have worked in the SNES version, but here, looks very underwhelming.

This is not so much the case with a top down view, but during the more "cinematic" sequences such as the one above, the flaws are quite obvious.

3)I'm torn between whether I like the characters running off the screen at scene transitions, or if I like the fade out when crossing a trigger.  I understand that it has to be that way for the longer loading times.

4)What's with the trees, flowers, and lilies moving laterally back and forth?

5)I thought that the animation of the characters getting out of bed at the Inn was downright adorable.  Very well detailed, and a vast improvement over the original.   I hope there are more animations like this in the rest of the game, and less like the ones in the log sequence.

6)As so many others have complained...no being launched out of a cannon on the world map, and landing somewhere.

"Time flows like a river..." may be the signature line, but if there was any signature touch to the original game...

I think I know the reason for this---recall how detailed the original world map was with regards to the active view.  That's not the case here, so it probably would not have been as effective, and of course, would have been expensive to produce.

Doesn't mean we can't miss it though.

Credits: I borrowed a few screenshots from the LP archive.

To contact me, please use the e-mail link in my profile.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Checking in with zhaDe on the remake

There is no one in the world (outside of the original designers) who knows how Secret of Mana works more than my friend, zhaDe.  He has ripped the game apart and put it back together so many times that he’s been able to write programs that effectively troll it any way he wants.   His name has popped up a lot in this blog, and today, we’re going to get his perspective on the remaster.  
Hit it, zhaDe:

Gameplay:  Gameplay wise, they stayed very true to the original it seems.  The CPUs get stuck at the same exact spots.  Seriously, this is unforgivable.  They kind of changed what people liked (the sense of wonder at the beautiful colorful environments and the music).  I understand that had to change or it wouldn’t be a remake, but the same style in cartoony 3D would have been great.  I feel the atmosphere is not the same with those graphics.

The gameplay would have been a good place to make it stand out from the original instead.  This could be better AI (its better than on the SNES, but still way too inept), something more to the combat system, and something about magic too.  

At least the way it is possible to hit in all 360 degrees is something new.  The bow is is more fun to use that way.  The AI probably has less of a problem with this since they don’t have to move to be in line with the enemy, or run in walls trying.
Content: They did re-translate the text it seems.  At least the few bits that I knew were missing for a fact: the witch talking about the herbs being the source of her power and Undine explaining how Randi can’t use magic because he is bound to the Mana Sword from a powerful spell that would cause catastrophic results.

There is a new scene at the inn each time you complete a new bit of the story.  I really like some of the scenes.  The characters talk about stuff related to what is happening in the story or just kid around.  It really makes their personality stand out.  Often, it is kind of childish, but I don’t know.  Popoie saying to Purim that it’s a good thing she doesn’t have attack spells because using those repeatedly will make her skin go as bad as old Elinee and Purim replies with something like, "Oh you think you are so funny, eh? I won't use my healing on you then!"

I don’t know; it just made me smile.

I think it’s actually a very good idea since normally, the story is kind of serious.  Yes, there is the scene where Popoie is fighting and then arguing with Gnome that has some character interactions where their personality comes out but after that, the story is more focused on other characters having something to do with one of the party members.  The party doesn’t interact with each other very often.  This new element just adds a little more detail on the world and the characters’ motivation, etc.  Like Purim going on about Dyluck.  We don’t end up knowing more about him in the original.  Now, he is still the “damsel in distress” but it’s kind of clearly said by the others like, “What’s so special about Dyluck anyway?”  Which is kind of the feeling I get in the original.  I don’t care; let’s go save the world from the Empire and all...but Purim is always, “Oh Dyluck!  We have to save Dyluck.”  

I don’t know if he is supposed to be like that just so Purim’s attitude is funnier. That whole reviving the Mana Sword can wait a bit, our friend needs our help right now!  

Instead, it’s something like, "I don’t have time for that dude right now, I need to go in the cave for world-saving matters", and Purim is like, "Then you are on your own, I need to go find Dyluck!"  And the first few times we see him, he is just there with his mind absent and doesn’t do anything to make you feel like rescuing him is important.  He is just used for Thanatos to show how evil he is and that something should be done to stop him.

Anyway, I think my opinion of him might be biased since when I first placed the game with a friend as a kid, we didn’t read the story since we didn’t speak English and actually, the first time we didn’t even know how to read at all, I guess since we were still not in the first grade.  So, the animations were the only thing that we had to make you understand a bit of the story and we just couldn’t figure out what Dyluck was doing there doing nothing.  We were finding it funny each time he showed up anticipating how he would not be of any help and seeing him just stand there and disappear or something.  We found it so funny to see him on the Fortress at the end of the game.

So I guess what I'm saying is: the new conversations at the inn add an element that I always thought was needed.

Music and Sound: The instruments don’t sound as exotic.  There are really better fan-made interpretations of these songs that kept the original atmosphere.

I personally don’t hate the voice acting that much.  Sure, it does look very odd like it is not really the character speaking because of how it’s not in sync and the mouths don’t move.  And the acting seems to be of the same quality of a YouTuber playing the original and voice-acting the dialogues on the fly.

One final thought: I find it interesting that the “carousel” thing on the world map is absent from the remake.  As much as I don’t really like what they did with the remake as a game.  I still find it interesting because it adds some story bits and there are many places that I was curious about what they were going to do.

~

For my part, I will break down and play the game on Steam when I have time, and post a comprehensive review.  I found my notes on Odds & Ends Part IV, and (stop me if you’ve heard this one) should have it up soon.  It’s really just three or four things as there’s not a whole that can be said about this game.

After the review and the Odds & Ends article, I hope to get started on a survey of the music of the game.

Credits: The image comes from Cycu's YouTube channel.
To contact me, please use the e-mail link in my profile.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Nadia Oxford's review of the new remake and my thoughts

I've linked to Nadia Oxford before, as she writes about the game from a perspective that I think we all can appreciate.  There are many reviews about the Secret of Mana remake, but none that I've seen capture this nuance:
I never expected Square-Enix to disassemble Secret of Mana's history and build it back up for the remake, but some extra content would mean a lot to fans. Something to remind us, "Hey, we know you guys love this game, and so do we, so we're giving it a little bit of extra content." It doesn't have to be anything special or costly; some new enemies, a new dungeon, some insight into the currently-tepid motivations of the Vandole Army—stuff like that. Instead, Square-Enix chose to be as faithful to the original game experience as possible. It's understandable, but disappointing. 

Of course, I don't have much room to talk as I haven't played it.  But forgive me for thinking that this is a massively wasted opportunity for Square-Enix.  It would be one thing if they remastered the game as is into something so striking to make players new and old
further appreciate it.  And $40(!)?  No remote cooperative play?  What is this, 1995?

We should talk about the music.  Some day, I will get around to writing extensively on the music of the game, but the remastered soundtrack doesn't even begin to have the delivery of the original, and is another wasted opportunity.  Why not get live musicians and recreate the soundtrack faithfully, just with actual instruments?  One the most glaring missteps is, "Into the Thick of It."  Compare the original:


with this:


The first one sounds like you're going into the thick of it.  There's a very slight but effective reverb implying the expanse of the landscape.  Also, perhaps due to socialization, there's the idea that flutes = forest that's quite successful in the original.  It feels like we're going somewhere, as this music plays along with the swift, graceful movement of characters in the 2D.  But there is nothing more striking in the original theme than the synthesizer that plays the melody of the bridge at :34 with perfect articulation.  Every remake of the theme I've heard since the original, including the official one for the PS4 version, leaves out this important detail.  After the opening theme, this is quite a haunting section that implies a mysterious character to the wilderness, contrasting with the lush vision of the A theme.  It's almost as if a protective musical veil has been lifted, and now we've been exposed to some unknown truth.  To my ears, there's also something about it that makes me want to play on---it's mysterious, but who knows what we may find as we explore the game further?  Not even the transition at 1:28 is as fitting as B, as this C section is just that---a transition back to the A theme after hearing the B twice; its existence giving the endless repetition a reprieve.  I'm getting away from comparing the two at this point, but I wanted to state why the original is so memorable.

Back to the PS4 version, the most ironic thing is that the instruments don't sound much better than the patch for the SNES.  Even though the same melody, harmony, and memorable key changes are present, the execution is tepid at best.  An understated accordion plays the melody, and it is buried in the mix to a point that often sends it to the background.  To make matters worse, the B section sounds exactly like the A, as the instrumentation doesn't change much, if at all.  "Into the Thick of It" has been reduced to "Into a jumbled mix of random musical ideas", lacking the elegant purity of the original.  

It's possible this was done intentionally to move things into the background, and let the new voice acting and gameplay take over.  But all this does is highlight the missed chance to improve on the realism of the original game.

As you can see, this is another part of a wasted opportunity to add something honoring the original game.  There is much room for improvement in the original considering that it was recorded with synthesizers, but all we got was an uninspired postscript.

Another thing are the visuals, and I touched on this when the remake was announced.  Now that I've watched a good portion of the game, I would say that overall, this is the best thing about the remaster.  I enjoyed watching the improved animations during battles, and the overall world map looks especially nice.  I noticed that the sunken continent is now just that, and the purple coral reef has vanished.  My original criticism of the design remains, but I was relieved when I saw more of the game in action.

Finally, I'll touch on the script.  From what I've watched, it does at times seem like a better paraphrase of the original, but just from having done my own amateur translation knowing nothing about Japanese, there are still a fountain of nuances that aren't present.  In fact, much of it seems to be the exact chopped up execution that was the original.   The script would have been a great place to add additional content without programming anything, as extra text doesn't cost much, and may have revealed more of what was originally planned for the characters.

We are forced to be cynical, and conclude that this a money grab that can't force us to pretend that it's anything other than that.  Which is the point of entertainment in the first place, right?

Guess I need to play it to find out?  

P.S. One thing I did watch is that they still have the unreachable door in Northtown with no way of getting there.  I know this is supposed to be as faithful to the original as possible, but come on, is it worth making a whole new group of players confused?

To contact me, please use the e-mail link in my profile.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

More on retranslations

I thought I'd take a moment to discuss my retranslations of the original Japanese script.  As many are aware, the original script was a bare bones translation for several reasons.  One, Ted Woolsey, the original translator, was under a bit of a deadline with getting it done.  Second, the game used a fixed width font which meant that less text could appear in one window.  Since Japanese is already an intricate language, and a font was used in the original that allowed for many characters, this unfortunately meant that quite a bit was lost in translation.  There are probably others, but a final reason is the censorship of Nintendo at the time---swearing and adult themes/jokes were left out.

When I started this blog, I knew of no complete retranslation of the original script.  I have since discovered a partial retranslation, along with several retranslations of some of the more significant passages of the game.

For the purposes of this blog though, I needed to really dig deep with some rather obscure things, so I was forced to attempt to translate a language that I know nothing about.  I used some tools that you can find on the right, most notably Google Translate.

Japanese is a language with many nuances, many derived from a knowledge of the culture, and the complexity means that a machine translation is going to be lacking to say the least.  In no way could I dream of uncovering those nuances on my own.  But what I was able to discover, at least for myself, were additional details that were not present in the American translation.

In effect, what I've done is create a paraphrased retranslation, for better or for worse.  Obviously, even though Google Translate and the other tools were sometimes very confident, there are some rather surprising results.  For example, the dialogue with the Sprite and the Gnome in the Earth palace:

[GNOME :] You can't barge in here! We gnomes won't allow it!

SPRITE: What a wind bag!

GNOME:Little brat!

SPRITE:Take this!

GNOME:This is an outrage!

[GNOME :]Oh, no! You can't just selfishly barge in here and mess the place up! This is gnome territory! Now hurry up, get the fuck out!

Popoie: What an old sod! I'm here now! Why don't YOU go out!?

Gnome: Who died and made you king!? You're an impudent brat mocking me like that!

Popoie: Son of a bitch! How's this!?

Gnome: Dickwad!

"Oh no!" or an equivalent is left out of the English translation.  We can see that the original, "you can't barge in here" is lacking components about self-centeredness and a concern for the wellbeing of the palace.  There is a declaration of the gnomes' territory, and finally an extremely strong direction to get out.  Now, the translator probably interpreted "strong direction" as "get the fuck out", for lack of a better phrase in English.  So this is certainly where I'm at a weakness.  But notice how even using a machine translator and dictionaries, we're able to discover some additional nuances.

We can also take a look at the following phrase:

「帝国がスパイをおくりこもうとしているという、じょうほうが入った。
「ねんのため、いまは誰もここを通すわけにはいかんのだ。わるいが、かえってくれ。 

I translated this as:

The Empire has been trying to spy here.  Just in case, we can't let anyone through.  Try back again later.

And then Japanese speaker Clyde of Legends of Localization gave me a far more accurate translation:

We've obtained information that the empire is attempting [or "planning"...] to send a spy [or spies].

Just to be safe, we cannot allow anyone to pass through here for now. I'm sorry, but please leave.

As you can see, there are three sentences, and whereas my translation lacks the detail of Clyde's, I think the point does get across.

I don't know what the philosophy of the remake is.  I don't know if they attempted to retranslate the original script, or retranslated a new Japanese script created just for the remake.  Hopefully, whatever it is, we'll get a better idea of the original storyline.

To contact me, please use the e-mail link in my profile.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Here we are again...

Hello, friends.  Once again, I return to this blog almost six months(!) after my last update.  That's right; it's been that long since Odds & Ends Part IV was supposed to be uploaded.  Someday, I hope to have it up.  Really, there's just a few things, and it's nothing too earth shattering, but it's been so long, I have to go back to my notes which are somewhere around here.

The big news it that the Secret of Mana Remake is finally coming out this week.  I hope to play it, but reporting on it all by myself may be a bit of a tall order.  If anyone has any significant insight after playing it, or hearing about things, let me know.  I hope to post my thoughts as things develop.

As always, thank you for your support!  In the time I was away, this blog was read quite a bit.   Pageviews have doubled to c. 20,000.  Not bad for in-depth analysis of an obscure game from 1993.

To contact me, please use the e-mail link in my profile.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Series of Mana --- Interview with Ross K. Foad

Please consider donating to the Indiegogo campaign for the Series of Mana.  £1000 are needed for the project, and with your help, the remaining funds can easily be acquired.

Secret of Mana, like many other fine games, has inspired decades of fanfiction, tributes, artwork, and now, an upcoming webseries called The Series of Mana.  The one responsible for The Series of Mana is writer, director, and actor Ross K. Foad.  Mr. Foad has been in the industry now for almost a decade and has quite a presence on Youtube, acquiring almost 5,000 subscribers.   He is clearly passionate about Secret of Mana, as we will soon see, and this project will allow the game's story to be introduced to another generation of fans, as well as give seasoned fans a new take on the game.  With the 3D remake launching early next year, this is quite an exciting development in the SoM world.  The series has begun filming with production well underway, but help is still needed in realizing the full project.

Today, we are going to talk with the man himself, but first let's take a look at this video in Mr. Foad's own words:



So we're here today with Ross K. Foad, Secret of Mana enthusiast extraordinaire, and from what I can tell, someone who's quite passionate about the arts.  Tell us the basics---who you are, and how you came across Secret of Mana.

Hi Tim, Thank you very much for allowing me this time and space on your blog!

I am from Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, England.

I first came across Secret of Mana around 1996 when I bought my Super Nintendo second hand out of a newspaper.  It came bundled with a few games and one of them was Secret of Mana.  I had never heard of the game before and knew nothing about it.  At the time, I was only interested in playing Donkey Kong Country!  But after popping the cart in the console all thoughts of apes were quickly abandoned.  I fell in love so hard with this game and this feeling has not waned ever since.  Everything about the game enthralled me.  It was a lengthy quest (especially given many games could be beat in an hour back then), the gameplay was addictive, the soundtrack out of this world, the story drew me in, the characters were hugely memorable, and it had co-op multiplayer!  To date, it is still my favourite game of all time, and I doubt that this will ever change.  The emotional impact of the story cannot be forgotten either.  I recently completed another play through a few weeks ago and the ending still has me in tears.

Wow, that's really amazing.  

It has been a massive influence in so much of my life.  I am a very spiritual person, and I would say that it was The Secret of Mana that was responsible for really opening my heart to this way of thinking.  Mana is life and life is Mana.  It just resonates so much for me.  In addition, it taught me concepts of love, loss, and friendship to a point where they actually meant something.  That might sound overdramatic, but at age eight when I first played this, I had not witnessed or known anyone close to me who had died or really left my life at that point.  Mana made me consider these things in more detail.

The music has always stayed with me too.  I listen to it when writing, walking, and just needing to think about things.  There is something quite magical about it that really takes me to another world.

Though my love for the game went beyond what was confided to the television screen.  I was always the imaginative kid ­– the one who didn’t play football, but engaged in imaginary make believe games.  I would pretend to be Randi (the game’s protagonist) as I explored forests looking for Rabites with my stick (sword) in hand.

It's funny you mention that, as I think many scenes from the game realistically resemble picturesque scenery.  This is really quite a story you have; it seems that if there's a good candidate to create a webseries for Secret of Mana, it's you.  Now that we've discussed the game, let's talk a bit more about your background in the arts.  How did you develop a passion for film?

Both of my parents are actors, so some of it is probably just in the blood!  But I first started as a script writer on comic strip for a local newspaper when I was thirteen years old.  I spent five years doing that before my artist friend and I went onto creating a double comedy act and getting into performing live comedy sketches.  Then Youtube came about and we started to convert some of the live sketches onto there!  Slowly learning the craft of film making that way. I went solo in early 2010 and everything else has really spun off from there!

Besides the Series of Mana, what else have you been involved with, and what else may we expect from in the future?

If we are talking about projects that I have personally overseen in a similar fashion, I am best known for the creation of No Place Like Holmes (2010-present) which was the first ever, and longest running, Sherlock Holmes web series.  This was really was my training ground for what helped get me where I am today.  The evolution of that show from series one to series seven (which I am filming now) is like night and day.  That is something that has opened many doors for me including getting a spin-off book publishing deal and audio book based upon the series, getting invited to give talks at Sherlock Holmes related events, and it even led me to being invited to a private cast/crew screening and party for the final series of Foyles War by the aforementioned Anthony Horowitz.

As far as projects I have worked on for others:  Voicing characters in video games such as CDF: Starfighter (XBOX/PC), StarCitizen (PC), and Dark Matter Hudokai (Steam) is a massive highlight. Growing up playing video games, I never once envisioned that I would get the chance to do that.  Ah, they are all special for their own reasons.

As for the future? Aside the aforementioned NPLH series seven, SoM is going to keep me busy a long while!

Also, and this is a very long way off, but should the series be popular enough, I have contemplated it eventually leading to adaptations from Seiken Densetsu 3.  The world of Mana is expansive, and there are many stories that I would like to tell.

Let's talk about some of your influences in film.

Oh, God! Hard question! Too many to list.  I admire certain people in very different walks of life, but to name but a few:

Jeremy Brett --- Greatest Sherlock Holmes actor of all time (closely followed by Basil Rathbone.) Outstanding mesmerising performance aside, he continued ploughing through filming the Granada series despite the death of his wife, his crippling depression, heart problems, and dealing with unkind comments about his appearance that was the result of medication he had to take for it.

Rik Mayall --- The Young Ones, Drop Dead Fred, The Comic Strip Presents, Bottom…they all played a massive part in shaping my sense of humour.  He also taught me that you should only write what makes you laugh, and  forget what everyone else thinks.  A sentiment I try and hold myself to.

Johhny Gioleli - Johnny is the lead singer of rock bands Hardline, Axel Rudi Pell, and Crush 40.  The latter being one people might be familiar with for being the band that performs many of the best songs for The Sonic the Hedgehog games.  He is just such a chill well tempered person with such a phenomenal voice.  He is about to come out with his first ever solo album.  All the proceeds go to helping his critically disabled neighbour, Joe Barbour, who is paralyzed from the neck down from an accident.  A man with a heart and voice of gold.

Mike "The Miz" Mizanin --- I am a huge WWE fan, but the wrestler I admire most on the current roster would be The Miz.  A former reality star, he was dismissed upon arrival for his background, but kept ploughing at it to get where he is today.  Anyone who defies critics and people telling them that they can't do it but then proves them wrong gets my respect.  Plus, being an actor, I just dig his "A -lister" hollywood persona.

As a musician, I can certainly admire how centered you are within the scope of your work and your influences.  So is there a specific film style or method that's important in this project?

Just the same style I apply to all my projects that makes them enjoyable for my actors to work on. Have fun, don't stress about anything, and just get on and get it done.  I am known for the efficiency I handle filming shoots in.

And I can't help but ask about special effects...

Of course! Magic spells and the like are an important part of Secret of Mana! So naturally there will be plenty of them.  I am quite proud of how we made Neko come to life too with the prosthetic effects.  I have amassed many tricks from my years film making, but without giving too much away, I will be looking to incorporate as much as I can.

That's going to be really fun to see!  Okay, so let's talk about the fundamentals of the project.  How exactly did it come about to begin with?

I actually thought of doing this series around five years ago, but then quickly dismissed it as not being achievable.  I believed that it needed far more money and the logistics were impossible for someone like me to create, but as time went on, and I continued to gain more experience, it really became clear to me exactly how I can do it, and I really had no reason not to do it.  After writing the series, the first person I approached was Kelsey Williams, who I have worked with for the past seven years on various web-series and films.  Kelsey was the only person I could have ever imagined playing Popoie, and thankfully, she is a big fantasy fan, so she couldn’t be more excited for it.  Once she was on board I immediately started pre-production, and here we are!  And, yes, I am well aware Popoie is meant to be a boy, but there is still some dispute over whether the rushed English translation was completely accurate. In addition, many would agree that the appearance is very feminine.

Ahh yes, one of the many ambiguities of Secret of Mana that we've had to examine here at Reconstructing Mana.  What are some of the challenges of the production?

Doing this on a such a limited budget means that not every little thing is going to be possible from the game, so I have had to be conservative when doing the writing of the show.  I only write it if I know exactly how I can film it.  In addition, showcasing some of the more elaborate monsters requires a bit of thought over how to tackle it or have them represented.  Likewise for the elementals.  Creating some of them to look 100 percent like how they appear in the game would be tricky!  So some have been a case of reimagining how they might look in a more human like form.

What is the structure of the production, and do you have a timeline for its execution?

There will be three series. The first series, which is currently being filmed, will consist of the first six episodes. Each episode is around 10-15 minutes long.

The second and third will be filmed in early and late 2018 respectively.  As it stands, sixteen episodes have been written to take us from beginning to end.  The series follows the basic story of the game and a lot of the original dialogue, but with some expanded/additional/reimagined scenarios.  Not every single scenario will be reproducible due to budget restraints, but should crowdfunds pick up, this may mean that I can change that!  Regardless, there will be plenty of fan service winks and nods for those that know their Mana.  For the hard-core Square-Enix fan, there is also some cameo appearances planned from other games.

Series one is planned to start in Late 2017/Early 2018.

I placed a link both here and at the top for donations.  Talk about the budget for your project, and how exactly donations will be used.

This is a very expensive series to make.  Thankfully, I do own all my own equipment, but the costumes/props and accessories for all the characters/monsters are not cheap. Especially as some bits have to be custom made.  So, most of the funding will go towards this. Any donation whatsoever would go a long way to allow this to be the best that we can make it and allow it be much more expansive with more characters/pathways to be taken.

Well I do hope the many readers and visitors to this blog will come through for you.  And if nothing else, we all wish you the best in this endeavor.  You have the last word.  When all is said and done, what are Ross K. Foad's hopes for the Series of Mana?

I want to make this amazing world a reality. To bring the characters to life beyond a screen and to go on that adventure I wanted to as a child, but this time I am not going at it alone.  I will be bringing you (the viewers!) and a whole host of friends along for the ride!

I know that this game touched so many people’s lives like it did mine, and I want to express my love for this game in the only way I can.  Many people have created brilliant Secret of Mana fan artwork or produced amazing covers from the soundtrack (check out The Spectrum of Mana Album) but I am neither a great artist nor a musician.  However, I am an actor/writer/director with 10 years of creating successful web series.  To me this is the most logical and natural way express my love of it.  We also have to remember that The Secret of Mana is only around sixty percent of the game that it was meant to be.  There was so much cut due to cart size restrictions, and even the dialogue that is there is redacted.  This medium allows a little more character development to occur, and a few different paths to be taken.  I know that I am not the only one who wonders what else could have happened in this game.

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On the blog side of things: Odds & Ends Part IV --- it's happening this weekend.  Square owns SoM.  Until then, enjoy some pictures from the Series of Mana project.












To contact me, please use the e-mail link in my profile.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Coming soon...

Odds & Ends Part IV is still a thing, and I will hopefully have that here by the weekend.

I have also been alerted to a Secret of Mana webseries known as the, "Series of Mana."  This is a major project with its own crowdfunding page.  So in addition to the Odds & Ends article, I will have an exclusive interview with the creator of this project and what he hopes to achieve here soon.

My project with zhaDe is still on hold.  I'd say it's about 30-40% complete, and has hit a roadblock with our various schedules.  Hope springs eternal that we may finish in the next year.

Exciting things are happening with our beloved game.  Watch this space for more!

To contact me, please use the e-mail link in my profile.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Remake! (Finally)

Square Enix has announced that there will be a remake of Secret of Mana.  Click here for the details from Kotaku:
According to Famitsu, this is a full remake with full voice (though Square Enix’s English language press release simply states that the game will have voice-overs), new musical arrangements and other new elements like upgraded gameplay. It will also have local multiplayer on all platforms.
Here's one picture from the article:


Details are scarce at this point, but I'm more than a bit disappointed with the graphics.  While the original graphics were primitive, the SNES experience had an air of realism, as oppose to the cartoon that we're witnessing now.  This is not out of step with other remakes of NES and SNES games, but it is unfortunate given that Secret of Mana deserves the best.  Part of me just wants a game with the original concept to be completed as intended.  Speaking of which, there's no mention on whether there will be any restored story elements, but we can hope that many of our decades-old questions will be answered.

Nevertheless, let's rejoice that after many failed attempts (Wonderswan, iOS/Android port, etc.), we finally have an upgrade to Secret of Mana.

Nadia Oxford at USGamer has an article that I highly recommend. 

To contact me, please use the e-mail link in my profile.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Odds & Ends Part III

When I first started this blog, I didn't think it'd receive much traffic, but here we are one year later with almost 10000 pageviews.  Unfortunately, these Odds & Ends articles are the least read so maybe I need to think of a better title for them.  This is the third article on things that don't warrant an entire post.  You can see the first two here, and here.

The "Veedios"

In the Lofty Mountains, there is Mandela, home of Sage Joch.  Joch is one of the few guides the player has in the second half of the game, if they even know to look there.  The player
is directed to seek out Joch, and when they arrive, they receive a different clue depending on where they are in the game.

But in the town of Mandela proper, there is a shrine that gives rare insight into the background of Secret of Mana.  This temple dates from the Mana Fortress war:

The orbs inside store data from that period.  The ancients called them, um, "Veedios," I think.

This temple is from ancient times, when the Mana Beast battled the Mana Fortress.  These are orbs that are also a sort of machinery.  They are a record of things from the time.  In ancient times, I believe they were called, "Veedios."

"Machinery" makes more sense than "data" since the point is that the world doesn't have this technology anymore... how would they know what data is?  These were already retranslated by swedishchefbork in 2010 and I'll be using that as my source.  Ted Woolsey worked some serious gymnastics to make things fit into a small space:

...Gzzz...Oh, my heart brea-ks when she's not a-round,  And I mi-ss her......Gzzz...

My darling~ so lovey-lovey!  [my peach-!] Catch my burning heart~! [my peach-!]

A song?  Or someone's personal video diary?

Gzz...zegazega...This one's broken!

twang... spark-spark...This one's broken!

Whoa! Exploded!

Uwa-!! It blew up!

Okay...

...Gzzz......Who was Abe Lincoln?  Correct! That makes you our new champion..!

... Question 7! Q~~! Ding-ding, co-rrect answer!
Ma'am, you're really good at this...

In the midst of harvesting Mana for their evil purposes, the Ancients watched American television quiz shows.

[Person 1]: We must restrict the use of Mana energy!
[Person 2]: What utter nonsense!
[Person 1]: We're using it up!
[Person 2]: Ha! You can't USE up Mana!
[Person 1]: Argh! You don't understand!

[Person 1]: And -now-, the discussions surrounding the management of the precious little Mana Energy remaining between the countries just aren't gonna end.
[Person 2]: It never -actually- decreases. Nonsense!
[Person 1]: W-Wait a sec, just what never decreases? --You! You cheeky little...!
[Person 2]: This is the last straw between you and me!
[Person 1]: What are you doing? Ah - hey - stop it

...

...evening news. At dawn Lorima launched missiles at the Empire......which had threatened to take Lorima's capital by nightfall.

Time for the news. Before dawn this morning, the Country of Lorimar began missile strikes against the Empire Army pressing northward. The Empire, in retaliation, announced that it will attack the entirety of Lorimar's capital Wendel within 24 hours...

This is interesting since the videos are supposed to be from Ancient times, but it says that the Empire attacked Wendel here.  So was there an Empire in Ancient times?  I thought the trouble began 15 years ago...or was this some other trouble?  Lorimar and Wendel make many appearances during the Mana series, but it is unknown where they were intended to be in SoM.

Gzzz...zzz  THERE! You can see the Mana Beast! Just moments ago it hit the Fortress...Oh! It's coming this way!  We're going off the...Zazaza...Gzzz......Gzzzaza...zzzz...Beeeep!

... Television viewers! Look at that! That's the Holy Beast of Mana!  Ah! The Mana Fortress has been ripped apart by the Beast! It's falling into the sea!  Ahh-- The Beast is heading this way... We cannot continue broadcasting, goodbye world, goodb..."

I saved this for last, because it's the most telling.  Here we have Randi and friends going up to an old recording device and finding out things about an apocalyptic past caused by an insanely powerful being.  Hmm...where have I seen this before?


Cannon Travel Locations

The ROM has far more Cannon Travel locations in its memory then what is used in the game.  Most of them go nowhere.  Here is a screenshot from a program that my fearless colleague, zhaDe, put together:


Neat, huh?  The memory locations on the right are all of the programmed Cannon Travel routes.  Each one has a starting point and an ending point.  Anything with an, "x" next to it was not used in the game, although the last two were not used either.

The strange thing is that almost every route starts or ends near the Pure Land.  The distance between all of these locations seems to be constant, so I imagine this was used for testing.

There are actually only a few unused routes which may be of interest:

78AB 78AB --- As the designation implies, this route starts and ends at the same spot: the cannon travel in the Upper Land.  This is the only one deactivated in a long block that are used in the game (see picture).  Other than a lost quest where there wasn't enough gunpowder to get you somewhere, I have no idea.

B163 4070 --- This one launches you near Kakkara, and lands you on the edge of the Empire's continent.

3BF6 BA77 --- You're launched from the waterfall near Southtown to the ocean south of Mandela.  This is also near the Pure Land, but it's a very different combination than the other routes in that it lands you north of there on the other side of the map.

70F0 94AF --- This launches near the Upper Land cannon travel and ends at the coast south of Kippo.


Another Early World Map




This has been making the rounds.  It was posted on a forum not too long ago.  I already mentioned the earlier version of Tasnica, but also notice how Kakkara had more land.  And this is yet another early map which obscures the bottom right corner.  Maybe they just couldn't figure out what was supposed to happen here?

Sudden Armor

One of the many peculiar things about Secret of Mana is the stats distortion in the final act.  Suddenly, the enemies get much harder, and the available armor takes a giant leap in power to catch up.  If we rank the armor in the game from lowest defense to highest defense, it looks like this:



Gold City

Gold City is a peculiar place.  It's part of the Empire, and its King (Manmon) recalls Queen Zeal and
the Mammon Machine from Chrono Trigger.  However, it appears that there was a lot more intended for this place.  For one, certain dialogue foreshadows something bad happening to the island:

This island's sinking under the weight of the gold!  Many have left here, and gone north to the Ice Country.

Although it's not happening fast, the island is sinking more and more due to the weight of the gold.  Eventually, it will fall into the sea.  Some of our people knew this, and secretly went north to the Ice Country.

This never happens of course, but if we're using Zeal as a parallel, that kingdom was destroyed as a result of its greed.  We spoke of the oasis these folks headed to in the last article.  It's interesting that this resort is still mentioned even after it reverts to being uninhabitable.

The main attraction in Gold City is the light elemental, Lumina.  She was imprisoned by the king to turn things into gold, but after you rescue her, his dialogue does not change.  In fact, you would expect that the town would notice after it no longer has its primary source of gold, but no one seems to care about that either.

However, according to regrs of GameFAQs:
Of note is that flag 37 can be used to despawn every NPC in Gold Isle, even though it's never used for that purpose. Wonder if it was supposed to be abandoned after you freed Lumina.
And a bit more information about Gold City can be found here.

Credits:  I borrowed a screen shot from the LP Archive.

Next:  Odds & Ends Part IV

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