Reviews

Review: Trials of Mana

It was 2000, I was 12 years old and I was dead-set on playing Seiken Densetsu 3 on my parent’s computer. I’d downloaded a SNES emulator and the ROM of the Japanese-only game, I had no idea what I was doing at the time, but then I came across a translation of the game. At the time, Squaresoft had a habit of only releasing certain games in the West, and Seiken Densetsu 3 was one of them. I was curious about it since I thoroughly enjoyed the original Secret of Mana and wanted more, and as it happened, came across the Neill Corlett translation, the rest is history.

At the time, ROM hacking was huge. I could find dozens of iterations of a video game, with a ROM hack that made the game better, and most importantly, playable in English. To this day, it’s hard to find a translation as good as the one Corlett created but thankfully, times have changed, and we finally got Trials of Mana last year.

That was the original game of course, with an official translation and marketing behind it. I passed on playing it because I was happy with my experience back in 2000. Then, Square Enix revealed that a remake of the same game was in development and it was coming in 2020, so my decision to wait for that began.

A remake of a classic

Trials of Mana is an excellent game and the remake is better thanks to its modern sensibilities that make the game work in today’s landscape. Sure, things don’t necessarily break the mould, but the game feels good to play, it looks great and offers a classical experience in a shiny and new package.

A lot of things bring back memories from my original playthrough, beginning the game you’re asked to choose the party of up to three characters. Picking Duran, Angela, and Reisz as my first party, I moved into the familiar opening moments of Duran’s story. A lot of familiar story beats play out the same, but they look beautiful and are faithfully recreated here. Each character comes with a unique backstory, from a unique part of the world.

Charlotte is the worst

My biggest complaint is the voice acting being rather hokey, Duran is too bold, Charlotte is the absolute worst and I hate her voice. It’s not a bump against the actors, please don’t get me wrong. It’s about the direction and how Japanese developers seem to enjoy these obnoxious characters. What I once enjoyed has become the absolute bane of this game, these childish, obscure, and rough characters. Charlotte is abysmal, hearing her talk is grating and ruins the experience when she’s on-screen.

Granted, each of the six characters is a basic figure of fantasy tropes (this is a game from 1995) so you shouldn’t come to expect characters like Cloud Strife from the excellent Final Fantasy VII Remake or Kratos from God of War. Archetypes are the lifeblood of these types of video games, and they serve the purpose of driving the game forward and little more than that.

Combat is fun and frantic

Thankfully, this is offset by good gameplay. Combat starts off simple enough with each character having a light and heavy attack, and an evade ability. As things start to progress and you unlock classes, the more your repertoire of skills and attacks open up. Trials of Mana’s combat system plays in real-time with item management mixed in. If you’re in a pinch and need to heal, open the Ring Menu and eat some Candy, and take your time doing so.

Each time you level up, you earn Training Points, which are used to unlock abilities and skills. At first, the number of things available to unlock starts off light with more being added as classes is unlocked, and some can be found in the world b talking to people.

Feel the rush

Bosses are the best part of the gameplay though. Working together, using skills and generally delivering a wealth of pain to a massive monster is satisfying and at times challenging. Just like the original game, learning what elements deal with the most damage and then abusing it to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible. Thankfully, the AI is capable and will support you far better than you might expect, I was impressed by how little I had to worry about Angela or Riesz for my first playthrough. Of course, if you need to switch characters, tapping L2 or R2 will shift you to the next character in battle. There’s a ton of flexibility here, which has been a staple of the series for some time.

There are also class changes that come into play, each varied and offering a neat departure from the normal gameplay. Once you hit a certain level in-game, you gain the ability to change your class the first time. Duran, for example, can turn into a Knight (Light) or a Gladiator (Dark). A Knight offers good defence and the option to heal, where a Gladiator focuses exclusively on dealing damage while losing defensive capabilities. It really comes down to how you want to develop each character, and Light and Dark offer proficiency in different abilities and attacks. Light usually comes with healing capabilities, and Dark focuses on the attack.

Furthermore, in the original version of Trials of Mana, classes only went to level 3. In the remake, however, a new level 4 class category is introduced. This is considered post-game content that can only be unlocked by searching for items in the world.

This is the best Mana game yet

And as much as I enjoyed battling, unlocking classes, and earning points to unlock skills and abilities, the biggest letdown is the removal of the co-op mechanic. In the original, you and a friend could team up to take on enemies. While the original featured it, producers confirmed the remake would not have co-op due to the new battle system shifting to a new perspective.

 

Playing on a PlayStation 4 Pro, Trials of Mana is gorgeous featuring a colourful palette. Somehow, the developers captured what made the original so charming and beloved with the transition to 3D. That said, the towns often blend together, and I’d have loved to see some personality for each location. And a nice little bonus is being able to swap between the original and remixed soundtracks. There’s something so catchy about an old-school soundtrack.

Verdict

I wholly enjoyed my time with Trials of Mana and find it to be a blast, warts and all. Square Enix does a commendable job by creating a worthy remake that offers the best of the old game and incorporates modern sensibilities to better the experience. Combat is a blast, albeit a bit simple but the multiple playthroughs, classes, and world are wonderful. I’m happy to see Square Enix giving the Mana series some love and if this is the route we’re going, I’m eager to see if they decide to remaster Legend of Mana next.

[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]

Recommended
Recommended
The Good
  • Combat is fun, frantic and engaging
  • The class system offers great customization
  • Trials of Mana offers a classical experience
The Bad
  • Charlotte is the absolute worst
  • Lack of co-op
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Bobby has been gaming since he was old enough to walk. Since then, the interest has only grown stronger, and here we are today. Follow Bobby on Twitter, and just go with it. @bpashalidis

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