Trials of Mana Review: An Almost Great Remake

2020 may be the definitive year of remake and remaster releases, but recreating such classics comes at a greater risk of not meeting everyone’s expectations. With the release of Trials of Mana, could this be another victim of a failed attempt, or we could see another game hitting the jackpot?

Trials of Mana or widely known as Seiken Densetsu 3 in Japan never received an English release when it was released for the Super Famicom in 1995, fans had to wait for a couple of decades before they could experience it via Collection of Mana release. Then it eventually received a remake treatment similar to Secrets of Mana when it was announced in 2019. As someone who played previous Mana games (from Legends of Mana to Secrets and even with an English fan translation of Seiken Densetsu 3), I was hoping for the remake to add more content to expand its lore and a new combat system that makes it satisfying to play. Well, it did some that really hit the spot and some that fell short.

Production (3.5/5)

When Square Enix decided to create a remake for Trials of Mana, it would mean a major makeover on the visuals, considering that the game was from the 16-bit era. There were some redesigns to the characters just to add more detail and personality while still maintaining their original look. Though there are cases for characters to lack any facial expressions in certain cutscenes, in most cases it doesn’t add tension to the mood of the scenes, which makes the buildup of the plot seem flat. But during battles, the characters are more expressive when executing powerful moves to show the intensity of the battle, I hope they could also apply more expressions outside of battles.

The world has more vibrant colors over the 16-bit original and it has that similar look with the recent Dragon Quests games, which is understandable as Trails of Mana aims to retain the cutesy anime-vibe as its art direction. Monsters known in the Mana series are both cute and deadly that add charm to their looks. Areas in the game, especially in fields and dungeons, are more spacious that tempts you into exploring every corner of the area, though it made it look bigger, the designs can be bland and seems forgettable as you explore deeper throughout your playthrough.  The same can be said with the towns and castles, as almost most of the towns have the same design that makes it generic, NPCs also have the same issue as not they are just similar character models from other towns, as with their animations. Later in the game, you will be able to traverse to different areas by sea or air, giving you more freedom to explore and grind for items.

Voice acting can be disappointing, as the English dub had a tendency to be annoying during cutscenes or during exploration. Angela’s screeching eek noise is very annoying whenever she dodges or jumps while Charlotte’s choice of having a baby-talk manner of speech can tend to go from adorable to just unbearable. You can always opt for the Japanese dub to avoid the English dub or if you prefer to make it more genuine anime-ish. The Remake gave a level up to the musical scores, as it captures the 16-bit tunes while blending it with orchestral score, hardcore fans of the original soundtrack can toggle to the original 16-bit version at any time in the game for that nostalgia feel. But just like its Super Famicom counterpart, the soundtracks are quite a few and becomes repetitive in some areas, it would have been great opportunity to add new tracks to some areas to give a distinct identity to them, and they could have thrown in a 16-bit counterpart of it as well.

Game performance is top-notch on the PS4, as it plays at 60 frames per second with minimal loading times when moving to different areas in towns and dungeons, though the framerate can dip down in intense battles when there are more enemies and special effects popping everywhere, fortunately, it doesn’t cause any major slowdowns to the gameplay.

Mechanics (4.3/5)

The biggest highlight of Trials of Mana is its combat system. The remake gave it a major overhaul to make it playable for the modern audience, at the same time retaining the core essence that made the Mana games what it is known for. Similar to the original, all enemies are visible on the field with rare occasions of them hiding from plain sight for an ambush, you will initiate the combat once you approach or attack them. Battles can be avoided with the exception of bosses by running towards the end of the barrier line for several seconds without any interruptions.

Controls are responsive as attack combos can be executed properly and timed dodging is quite easy when done correctly. Movement is less restrictive in the remake in addition to the dodge and jump commands. Battles can be brutal especially in harder difficulties if approached unprepared, enemies including bosses have telegraphed attacks that you can evade or stagger the enemy right before it’s executed. Party AI can be adjusted based on their roles or through your preference from the Tactics settings when you can adjust their target priority, frequency of using items, magic and skills as well as prioritizing attack on enemies or supporting wounded allies. Sadly, the second/third player support from the original was removed in exchange with the adjustable AI behavior.

Casting magic and using items can be done with the ring menu system, where it pauses the game to give you more time to decide on what actions to perform next. Each item, however, are limited to a maximum of 9 per battle to add a depth of the challenge. You can customize which items will be accessible in your ring menu for easy access on and off the battle, there is also a quick shortcut command for easy access on your skills and other consumable items that you can execute with a single button press.

When staying at Inns, you’ll find magic pots where you can plant Item Seeds to acquire random items, ranging from consumable healing items to rare gear. Some specific seeds can give out special items that you’ll be needing for high-tier character class, but also at a random chance.  This is more of an RNG moment of being lucky on getting rare items, which you can just cheat your way by loading the game if you get unlucky.

The camera can be a nuisance during combat, in most times the camera tends to zoom in too much on your character that occasionally blocks the view especially in tight areas. Adjusting your camera to fully zoon out in the options can lessen this issue or use the lock target function to fix the camera only to the target.

Leveling up grants your training points that you can allocate to certain stats, allowing you to increase the selected stat or unlocking new skills or passive abilities like the Chain Ability can benefit to your entire party, though the passives are required to be equipped to your character to activate it, and only a limited number of abilities can be used, more slots can be unlocked when you promote to a higher character class.

There is a day/night cycle that can change the type of enemies you will encounter in certain dungeons. Each specific day indicates which element is strong (Luna makes Moon magic stronger, Salamander for fire, Udine for water, etc.) which comes in handy when dealing with specific monsters.

Each of the six characters has unique character classes that play differently from one another, this gives more variety in having a diverse party at the start of the game. However, the game limits your characters to up to three as the other half will not join you but will only interact with you throughout the story during your playthrough. When you reach a certain level, you will be able to promote to a new character class with the option of choosing either the light or dark types, and these can branch out when going for the next level of character classes, these provide unique abilities that are different from the other classes, Riesz’s Valkyrie class provides buffs to your teammates while her Rune Maiden class throws debuff spells to your enemies. Choosing the right class will be beneficial to your party especially when you optimize each of your members’ capabilities to form the most effective party.

Content (2.4/5)

One of the major challenges for remakes is when the original content doesn’t age well for modern times, as for the case of Trials of Mana, it’s the story. Early to mid-‘90s RPGs would have this story setup; the plot revolves on being the chosen one and must find a sacred relic X to vanquish the evil lord Y once and for all, Trails was simply like that, and there wasn’t much any good story progression happening in between your main objective which much of a letdown as it could help expand or even improve the entire narrative.

Progressing to the story will be guided with a quest marker throughout the game to give you an idea on the next step of your journey, and in some cases, it even pinpoints which NPCs to talk to. However, it gives too many hints on your next objective as it narrows your focus in the game on finishing the story and discourages any effort to explore different areas. As for side quests, the game lacks any of it, which makes the experience more linear. It would have been nice to have a couple of side quests to widen the lore of the game or even add some character development.

What makes Trials of Mana stand out at its time was the option to choose your main protagonist and two other characters to follow their story, each character has their own origin story to give players an opportunity to get to know the protagonist’s main goal. There are some slight changes in some dialogues but it doesn’t change the story direction in the Remake as basically regardless of which character you choose, the narrative will still be the same with the exception on who from the three antagonists will be your arch enemy as two from the six characters will have the same focused antagonist.

There is little to no character development in each of the main character stories. Throughout the game, there are some short conversational dialogues with the characters in the party, but only when the story quest progresses and they are just talking on the next step to the objective. It never gave the characters a chance to interact with each other for funny scenes or banters that could have added more character development in the narrative to help you understand or relate to the struggles they have or show the strong bonds of the party through the experience they had in the journey.

Features (3/5)

Finishing the main story unlocks a bonus chapter exclusive to the Remake that allows you to unlock your party’s 4th character class and a new dungeon to finish off a new boss, this adds a couple of more hours to your playthrough. Once cleared, the New Game + will be unlocked, granting you to carry over your money and items, current level and training points as well as new chain abilities only available to this mode.

There is a side quest where you must find Li’l Cactus throughout your playthrough. Finding the little fellow several times will give you special perks that will be beneficial in your adventure, these can be in a form of discounts in shops, random EXP boost and even higher chance of obtaining rare items from the seed plants.

You can play the game again but with different characters, but as mentioned earlier, the plot will still be the same with some changes on which antagonist you will be fighting against. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to have one friend to control your second or third character just like in the classic game for a local co-op experience. It would be a fun feature considering the combat system was superb.

Conclusion

I managed to finish the main story at around 16 hours with my party already at level 67 with the post-game quest adding at around 4 hours to finish, a rather short length for a standard RPG. The game encourages us to play the story with different characters, though you may be facing a different nemesis, the entire journey is rather the same right after the origin part which doesn’t give you any good reason to play the story again from the start even with the New Game + features.

Square Enix started to remake the classic Mana series games starting with Secrets of Mana, though it was bombarded with criticisms of not updating the gameplay and only improved the visuals. Trials of Mana takes a step further as it tried to refine its gameplay with a revamped combat system that makes it more appealing to hardcore action RPG fans and made it superior from the original. It is the redeeming factor that keeps the game enjoyable to play until completion or even post-game for completionists who want to try out every character. The colorful visuals compliment the combat system for eye-candy and immersed experience and matching it with a nostalgic soundtrack.

Unfortunately, the Remake has a shortcoming in terms of the story as it retains the linearity of the original content, adding some side quests or other character-focused quests could have helped extend the game experience and expanding its lore and character depth.

Trials of Mana can still provide a fun experience for those who seek more of an action-oriented game, but won’t be able to satisfy them of a compelling story about an epic adventure.

Trials of Mana gets a decent score of 3.3 out of 5.

The game is also available on the Nintendo Switch and PC.

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