Secret of Mana Redux

Secret of Mana: Redux


Secret of Mana: Redux

Official art of the mobile version of Secret of Mana

Secret of Mana isn’t my favorite game.

It’s not even my favorite game for the SNES. When you see everything here, you might wonder…why?

For years, Secret of Mana was a mystery, even though every JRPG of its time had countless resources available. It wasn’t difficult to find superficial information on the game (FAQs, walkthroughs, stats, etc.), but in-depth information on its development and inspiration remained scarce.

Secret of Mana programmer Nasir Gabelli’s personal software manual, used during development
Twitter: Romero

Until a few years ago, most conversations about Secret of Mana centered on its checkered development history. When the game was conceived, it was intended for the planned Sony CD-ROM add-on for the SNES. With the anticipated memory space, the reality of longer games with more complex elements was on the horizon. As the story goes, Nintendo didn’t receive the favorable deal it was hoping for with Sony, and went behind their backs and tried to get a better arrangement with Phillips. This produced an irreparable rift between them, and the CD-ROM add-on was cancelled with the technology later being the basis of Sony’s first Playstation console.

All of this happened during development, and what was planned for the game was greatly reduced. According to Hiromichi Tanaka, the game’s co-creator, “Quantities, and now I really mean quantities of materials disappeared when the CD-format was discontinued…we had to redo the game from scratch. I think almost half of what should have been there from the beginning had to be removed.” (2006 LEVEL intervew) A lot of material was broken off and reused for future Square games like Chrono Trigger. But even after the project split, developers still had to fight against the limitations of the SNES hardware as well as a late 1993 deadline, and the game was further cut.

Super NES Buyers Guide (March 1993)

Furthermore, much has been written about the original English localization. To this day, it’s the only game of its kind without a complete translation. While localizing Secret of Mana, translator Ted Woolsey faced many challenges as the sole translator for the American release. First, Nintendo of America had strict content policies, which censored elements such as profanity, mature themes, religious references, and violence. The game was also on a tight deadline following its development quagmire, and Woolsey only had one month to translate a script that was still being edited at the last minute, and whose lines were all over the place in the game’s memory. Finally, as Japanese kana can express more ideas in a small space than the phonetic English alphabet, Woolsey had to cut the script down several times, stripping the meaning of the text to its barest elements. At the end of the day, the Super Nintendo release of Secret of Mana had approximately 75% less text than a proper translation of Seiken Densetsu 2 (based on unofficial fan translations).

Prototype of the Super NES “PlayStation”
Wikipedia: By Source (WP:NFCC#4)

Before this project started, prerelease screenshots had surfaced at places like Unseen64, and showed a game that was different from what was released. A few world maps were scattered about elsewhere. Occasionally, art from the time of the game’s release would pop up on Twitter, along with excerpts from Japanese guides that featured information that was not available in English. Only two partial fan made translations existed. Flying Omelette, GameFAQs, and explored the game further, and discovered things that hinted at a greater picture than what was available.

All of this combined to be the motivation for Secret of Mana: Redux. It started as a blog dedicated to finding out more about the game, and evolved into an homage too. I don’t know of any SNES game like Secret of Mana with this much unused and unrealized material, nor one with as much external lore not found in the game itself. In 2020, it became obvious that the project had become too broad and complex for its space, and was born.

You’ll get the best picture of Secret of Mana yet, although the Secret itself is yet elusive.