Trials of Mana has a fascinating history for those who like that sort of thing. It’s the third title in the Mana series (known as Seiken Densetsu in Japan), which itself was originally a spinoff of the Final Fantasy franchise. After the success of Secret of Mana, the second game in the series, it was safe to assume that the next would see release outside of Japan. Sadly, it was not meant to be, and we didn’t see Seiken Densetsu 3 officially in the West until Collection of Mana released last year. Wikipedia has almost 10,000 words on the series as a whole, so if you want to dive deep, that’s a great place to start. This isn’t a lecture, though, so let’s get right into discussing the preview of the Trials of Mana remake available at PAX East.
A winning formula
The Trials of Mana remake is a complete overhaul of the original game. It features a faithful 3D re-mapping of the world and characters, as well as fully voiced cutscenes. The systems are also redone, with ring menus being a little more intuitive and placed at the bottom of the screen so as not to block the action. The Switch demo we played ran at a slightly lower frame rate than the PlayStation 4 version running next to ours, but it wouldn’t have been noticeable without direct comparison. The visuals and sound are incredible and do a lot to bring the Mana series to modern consoles.
Trials of Mana, like Dragon Quest XI, uses Unreal Engine 4 to outstanding and imaginative effect. Also like with DQXI, a barrier of sorts is erected during battle that keeps you fighting the creatures in front of you. If you want to run, you have to push against the wall for a few seconds before you can escape. Hurting enemies drops little orbs that power up your special attacks, which can tear right through monsters that are giving you trouble. The ring menus still allow you to pause the action and use items and presumably spells later on. Add in a few new systems for character skills and stats, and you have a deep and intriguing RPG.
An epic tale
As you may already know, there are six playable characters in Trials of Mana, three of whom you select at the beginning of the game to use. You choose a main character and two companions. For the first half hour or so, you’ll follow your main character until a certain story point. Then you’ll meet the other two characters and have the option to play through their origins as a flashback. Compared to the original, it feels less like a chore and more fun to play through three opening chapters in a row.
Each character has an ultimate goal that intertwines with someone else’s, and this affects the story in profound ways. For example, Duran the warrior and Angela the witch princess both have beef with the Crimson Wizard and seek to see him defeated. Selecting both to be in your party at the beginning of the game will focus more on that storyline than not having selected either as you progress through the game. However, all three of these conflicts serve the larger narrative of the forces of nature vs. the ambition of people.
Good and evil
Overall, Miguel, Arthur, and I were impressed with our Trials of Mana demo. We played an hour and a half and were admittedly the loudest group in the room, reacting with excitement at what we were seeing. For the most part it was amusement at story beats, critical hits, and generally how much we were enjoying the game. However, there were a few details that we didn’t love so much.
The voice acting is excellent, but for the first time in a long time, we felt that the direction was off. Some characters have voices that don’t match their personalities. Charlotte is particularly jarring, as she’s a child who speaks “wike dis” but has the voice of a grown woman. It can also take a while to get used to switching characters, as there are more commands than you would expect. Fortunately, you can switch while in the ring menus. The lack of multiplayer is also a glaring flaw, as that was one of the most fun parts of Secret of Mana and the original Trials of Mana. I understand the new system probably doesn’t allow for it, but it’s still a shame.
That said, we still loved things like the nostalgic character designs that hew closely to the original artwork. Characters banter in battle, which is one of my absolute favorite things in modern RPGs. And one of the best parts was that the bosses were completely overhauled. Instead of having far too many hit points and being endurance runs, there was much more strategy and even destructible parts that change how players will approach them.
To be honest, I didn’t like the SNES / Super Famicom original. I played it back in the day using a fan translation as well as the official release in Collection of Mana. I found the battle mechanics to be too constricting, the story to be slow and plodding, the bosses to be damage sponges, and the load times (load times! In a Super Nintendo game!) to be excessive. However, I adored the time we spent with this version of the game. Despite a couple of issues, it was wonderful to see how far Square Enix is willing to go to remake a game these days, especially one that might not have had the international acclaim of Final Fantasy VII. I’m fully looking forward to Trials of Mana.
There’s a demo releasing on March 18 for the Switch. It’s going to be the same hour-and-a-half affair that we played at PAX, and progress will transfer over to the main game when it releases. The Trials of Mana remake is coming out for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC on April 24. And let us know who your main is in the comments below!