Developed By: SQUARE ENIX
Published By: SQUARE ENIX
Platforms: PS4 / Nintendo Switch / PC
Reviewed On: PS4PRO
Trials of Mana is a 3D remake of the popular Super Famicom game that was released back in 1995. It is also widely known by the Japanese title Seiken Densetsu 3 and was the third game in the Mana series. Trials is a sequel to the Secret of Mana which also recently got the remake treatment in 2018 but was not received too well by critics and fans alike.
I was not lucky enough to experience the Mana series growing up. I mean due to how much I loved the Chrono series and the Final Fantasy series I basically worshipped Square back then and everything they put out. I think one of my earliest memories of being acquainted with the Mana series was with Legend of Mana because of the artwork and graphics from the previews in magazines for the game back then. I loved the cartoony and colourful palette and was really looking forward to it, but I did not get the game or play it when it came out. That is because back then I was really influenced by reviews and the game was not really getting the excellent reviews I was hoping it would, so I passed on it. I did not really understand back then that reviews are just opinions on what to expect and what some might find bad is not necessarily what I might feel as well. And yes the irony does not escape me as I do know that I myself have stepped into the gaming world and am doing reviews myself but I always feel like It is just my job to share with you what I thought of the game for the experience it gave me and hopefully good or bad you also get an experience out of the game. So, with that said how does Trials of Mana stack up?
Hope Isolation Pray
Just before starting the game the player will be given an option of choosing a party of three (one main and two sidekicks) from six playable characters. There is Duran, a swordsman from Valsena; Angela, a magician from the wizarding kingdom of Altena; Charlotte, a half-elf caster from the Holy City Wendel; Kevin, a beastman and also the son of the Ferolian King; Hawkeye, a thief from the Nevarl thieves guild; and Riesz, captain of Laurent’s Amazon Guard. Depending on the characters you choose, the game will start out with a conflict personalized to that character which will force them to set out and explore the world. The main character will then meet Faerie, a mystical being from the Tree of Mana who selects them to be the “chosen one”. All three characters will then meet up and band together to set out to find the Sword of Mana and stop the evil in the world to ensure the Tree of Mana lives on before it is too late.
There are more things that happens during the story but that is basically the gist of it. Even though the story itself is simple but I did enjoy it for the most part. It was a solid tale of good vs evil found throughout most RPGs and it was done relatively well here. Unfortunately, one of the most interesting things about this game also serves as an obvious problem that might not bother everyone, but it did bother me the further I went along in the game. Now before I get into it, I feel that it is important to clarify that this remake is not a full-blown remake that updates the story, gameplay, soundtrack and graphics to an extensive degree. Although the graphics and soundtrack have been updated very nicely and gameplay feels very solid for an Action RPG, the core story beats does feel like it came from 1995 for better or worse.
I think that it is quite brilliant how there are six playable characters that each have their own backstories, perspectives and roles in the overarching story. The not so great part about it is how you must have specific pairings for the story to make (I would not say perfect) more sense. Those pairings are Duran/Angela, Hawkeye/Riesz, and Kevin/Charlotte. Being relatively new to the Mana series and not knowing much about this game before jumping in, I did not know that and I was initially excited because early on you have your backstories with your companions and in turn create multiple plot threads that are moving simultaneously. It didn’t bother me that the game does dial up the nostalgia factor to eleven with the awkward pauses, weirdly humorous dialogue that characters will just blurt out randomly and even the way animations is tied to dialogue in the in-game cutscenes so when you skip to the next dialogue characters teleport around. What did bother me is how after the promising start the game made with the overarching story and how these characters are supposed to fit, it just came off as quite disjointed and some plot threads just end with a whimper. At around the final third of the game I really thought that the game was throwing me for a loop, but it was not. It just dropped all other plot threads to just focus on the main character the player chose till the end. The other three characters not chosen still play a part in the story as you will bump into them at certain parts of the story. However, they are either shoved in a brief odd cameo or play a slightly bigger role as your team overlaps their story with obvious large gaps in storytelling. It is not lost on me that this is a remake and a lot of the story beats are from 1995 and that might excuse the slight incoherent nature of the game. But I just still couldn’t help feel disappointed that just because I did not pick the correct pairing, the game kind of hilariously references the character who obviously should be on your team in just random moments of the game.
In the end I am willing to concede that in the generation this game was released, what they attempted to do storytelling wise was no doubt something special. It’s just that right now as much as I enjoyed the story (and I really did) I am just a stickler for good narratives that deserved better.
Another remake came out very recently which was extremely high profile also from Square Enix (Final Fantasy 7 Remake) was graphically very impressive. Trials of Mana on the other hand although not as bombastically overhauled is still a good-looking game. It does feel obvious that the team was probably given a strict budget, but they really did the best they could with it. Character models are one of the most striking things about this game. The environments themselves are beautiful and really did bring me back to the design philosophies of games back in the day. The game feels like it runs at a steady 60 frames on the PS4Pro and even during battles there are no slowdowns at all. I think my only gripe would be the amount of load screen sometimes when switching areas but graphically the game is quite pleasant to look at.
One of the most enjoyable things in the game for me is the soundtrack. I especially really liked how the original background music (BGM) is included in the game together with the remastered soundtrack in the options menu. A few tracks got me and even my wife who was listening in the background to just hum along due to how infectious it is. The new remastered versions of the tracks are well done. When it comes to voice acting, players will also have the choice of switching between English or Japanese voice acting (although doing so in-game will require a trip back to the main menu). Both sets of voice acting was also a highlight for me with solid performances and any awkwardness is just attributable to the odd script the game just has at times.
Return To Forever
As mentioned earlier the gameplay is of an Action RPG. The control scheme is quite easy to grasp with the standard Light/Heavy attacks, dodging and also casting magic. Magic however is classified under Moves and each character has multiple moves to choose from depending on the build that you have created. Before I get ahead of myself let me just try to explain a little bit of how those builds are supposed to work. Each character will have five main statistic cores and those are Strength, Stamina, Intelligence, Spirit, & Luck. Each of these cores will have unlockable Moves which function like abilities/magic and passive skills which will provide a bonus to just the character itself or the whole party. When the player levels up they will be given points to allocate in those cores and it will not be possible to fill out all of them so the player will have to make a decision on what build they want a specific character to be. This is further opened when you reach level 18 and 36 as reaching those levels and having fulfilled special conditions the player will have the option to change the character’s class (Light/Dark) to open even more development options. For example, Duran is more of a Warrior type which you might obviously set up as the Tank or primary damage dealer of the group but after levelling up a few times and depending on the class you change him to, Duran can also function as a secondary healer for the group. Aside from that each character will also have access to special CS moves which comes with the class change which are devastating attacks.
When it comes to the gameplay, I can definitely say I really did enjoy it from start to finish. It is a very solid Action RPG with its only problem being it can be too easy most of the time with quite abrupt difficulty spikes. There are four difficulty levels in the game with Hard being the supposed most challenging one, but I honestly barely felt it. All the enemies in the game are quite easily steamrolled as the enemy A.I is not too sharp (even for your own allies but we will get to that in a bit). The difficulty spikes come with some of the bosses in the game which suddenly feel too hard mostly due to how your A.I companions just cannot seem to take care of themselves at all. You can set the A.I companions behaviour from aggressively attacking to passively healing and supporting the character but most of the time they are just too slow either way. At times they will just blow their load with overkills and other times they will just stand around even when they are on the brink of dying. I think the only thing that bothered me difficulty wise in the game is how much I had to manage my companion’s health bars fighting bosses.
What I Liked
- Graphics – Character models are great and although not all the environments are gorgeous it’s still a very pretty game to look at.
- Soundtrack – Definitely love the soundtrack as well as the option of switching to the original BGM in the options.
- Boss Battles – I really liked how varied they were, and each felt like a different experience on its own even though it was still defined by game design back in the day.
- Days & Elemental Magic – One thing I was quite impressed by was also how a simple mechanic can also be a very well utilized part of your strategy when approaching fights. Each day is represented by an elemental magic and the game has a day-night cycle that will periodically change the element of the day so using fire magic on a fire elemental day will ensure that it is much more effective.
- Replayability – After finishing post-game you can play New Game + and try the other characters you didn’t pick just to see how their stories play out. Just make sure you pick the right ones.
What I Wished Was Better
- Story – I know that the story is not anything to shout about but still I like the multiple-perspective aspect of it but I really didn’t’ like how if you didn’t play the right combination of characters it just felt odd especially when your companion’s plot threads are just dropped like a rock.
I was pleasantly surprised by Trials of Mana being as fun as it was. My first playthrough was around 25 hours and although you can easily finish it in around the 20 hour mark I was happy to get all the Lil’Cactuses to get the bonuses it offered, find as much chests as I could, and plants seeds whenever I got a chance too. I also really enjoyed the boss battles in this game and I think the only time I felt bored in the game was the post-game dungeon which honestly should have been shorter and more fleshed out instead of long and plodding. If there was one thing this game made me feel was just that nostalgic feeling of how RPG’s were back then and having a overworld in which you can fly all over and do whatever activity you wanted to. I also wished I tried the Mana series back then but as they say better late than never. I can recommend a full-price purchase due to how fun this game is even with the issues it has.