Development Diaries – Entry 3

Oh that’s right, I have this site. Guess I’ll update it now!

I recently experienced something of a rediscovery with the Mana series, thanks to the Playstation 4 remaster of Secret of Mana and the Seiken Densetsu collection released on Switch in Japan. Mana was never one of my favorites growing up, but it was something a high school buddy was really into, and so I was quite happy to take it up for multiplayer action.

The Secret of Mana remaster did remind me of a few things I enjoyed about the original. The core gameplay is decent enough, the environments are colorful, and after initial misgivings with the remastered soundtrack (and doing A:B testing thanks to the option to revert back to the SNES soundtrack as desired), I found plenty to enjoy in the remasters.

Secret of the Arid Sands
Danger (ARM version)

The overall execution, though… whew. I’ve never had a console game crash as frequently as this one has – ever. That was always the selling point of a console, right? Software developers could write stable code because they were targeting one specific platform, not like on Windows where they have to target generalized APIs like DirectX which in turn support an infinite number of combinations of hardware, operating systems, operating system patch levels, other software present in the machine. But no, somehow Square-Enix found a way to bungle this one to such a degree that “bungle” doesn’t even seem like the right word for it anymore.

I actually had the ending credits crash on me, forcing me to redo the final boss fight.

But the fun didn’t stop there, because I also picked up that collection on Switch – the one that was only released in Japan. That one’s a whole different animal, because the games contained within (Final Fantasy Adventure, Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3) are all the originals. No updated polygonal graphics, no fancy remastered soundtracks.

Having just completed Secret of Mana, I dove right into the successor, Seiken Densetsu 3. Man, the hype for this game was off the charts in the mid-90s. The graphics and art design were incredible. The soundtrack had plenty of memorable tracks. And the narrative followed that pattern Square really liked at the time where they would present you with a number of different lead characters and let you choose what the main story would be. They also did this in other games like Live A Live and SaGa Frontier.

But… the record will show that the game never received an official translation into English. Sure, a fan translation was wrapped up years ago, when Square was still sketchy about getting all their games localized. I may have played Neil Corlett’s translation on a ROM a long time ago, but I don’t recall specifics. At any rate, between then and now I took enough college level Japanese to be able to get myself through the game with occasional help from a dictionary. Those who know Mana know it isn’t especially well known for having intricate, high-minded plots like a Final Fantasy game would. I chose Hawkeye as my main character and was treated to a fairly boilerplate story about revenge for the murder of a friend and how the Mana Beasts were coming back to give everyone a really bad day.

The challenges of getting an official translation for Seiken Densetsu 3 seem to be fairly well documented by this point. They couldn’t have done it in 1996 because they would have had to sell a potential Secret of Mana 2 game in the US for $120 to cover the cost of cartridge manufacturing. With 3D polygonal graphics being the new hotness at the time, it would have been silly to expect people to be willing to pay through the nose for last-gen tech. As for now, who knows – people aren’t exactly clamoring for Mana these days. There’s a reason that Switch collection only had the first three games on it.

I think you’d have to convince Square-Enix that it’s worth it to invest a bunch of time and money into localizing the game and also launching it on a modern platform. Might be a tough sell. In other news, I’m planning to update this site a little more frequently now that I have a better idea of how I want it to develop. Originally I thought I’d make a text-based RPG environment using Twine, but I could never get the results to look exactly the way I wanted them to look. I was hoping I could just plug the Twine output into an existing layout so that it looks like it belongs here naturally, but instead it looks like I’d need to trash this layout and build everything directly into Twine. Nice idea, though not what I really wanted.

[Historical note 2021-03-31: Publish date approximated]

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