Reviving an old series is almost always a risky move. You need to keep a lot in-tact from the game or series you’re reviving, or else you risk polarizing the fanbase. If you’re Square Enix, you have a huge backlog of titles that new generations of fans want to play, and bringing those older titles forward is practically a necessity, especially if you want to finance newer, riskier projects.
In this case, the game in question is a 3D remake of the 1995 Japanese-exclusive release Seiken Densetsu 3. As the successor to the beloved Super Famicom/Super Nintendo release Secret of Mana, and the third title in the Mana series, it somehow evaded an English release up until just last year. In the 2019 Nintendo Switch release Collection of Mana, Trials of Mana is the third and final entry in the collection, and for the first time, in English!
Sure, there was a fan translation of the original Seiken Densetsu 3 released in 1999, but an officially translated release and an upcoming HD remake was definitely huge news for long-time fans of the Mana series when it was first announced. So now that the Trials of Mana remake has been here for a few weeks, how does it compare to the original game on which it is based?
First and foremost, I actually own the Collection of Mana physical copy on my Switch, but I mostly grabbed it to secure a physical copy of Secret of Mana, one of my favorite titles from the Super Nintendo days, and also one of my most missing-est titles in my collection. Given the cost of Super Nintendo cartridges these days, it will most likely remain missing for a long time, so I required a copy. That being said, I played no more than 1 hour of the original Trials of Mana release due to focusing on other games at the time. It also didn’t age very well. But how I came to acquire the remake? Well, in fact, I wasn’t even planning on grabbing it at all, as I typically prefer originals, but then… I played the demo.
The demo for the Trials of Mana remake is available on the eShop, and if any of this has piqued your interest in the game so far, I highly recommend you go check it out. Seriously – don’t even read the rest of this. I’m not going to spoil anything, I just seriously want you to play the game more than I want you reading my blog. It’ll take you about an hour and a half to two hours to completely finish it, and you’ll know quite quickly if it’s your thing. You continue the demo into the main game seamlessly, so you’re risking nothing here by playing the demo first.
Anyway, enough rambling on about things – you’re here presumably to learn about the Trials of Mana remake!
As someone who never actually played Trials of Mana (aside from the hour I mentioned, in which I got absolutely nowhere except lost), I was hoping for some modernization in terms of the pacing and the combat. I knew that would make or break this remake for me. Secret of Mana has not aged well at all, and I know that Trials has some similar systems in place. Well, I’m happy to say that the quality of life additions from Square Enix brought Trials well into the 21st century.
Just about everything in this game within the first 5 minutes of storytelling and character building feels like I time-traveled back to the 1990s, but in HD. The music is downright adorable, something about the charm of the Mana series always struck a chord with me. Is it the instrumentation? Probably. It does to me what Nintendo games do to me. And the incredible music accompanies you immediately as you build out your team of three.
It’s your typical JRPG-fare where you decide between fighters, healers, magic-casters, you name it. I went with Hawkeye, Charlotte, and Riesz, because they looked cool and truth be told I have no connection to these characters, so I went with my default lineup: someone to hit stuff, someone to cast magic on stuff, and someone to heal the other people when they break.
Square Enix made no compromises making the environments, the game worlds, and especially the characters as gorgeous as they’ve ever been. Gone are the beautiful pixel sprites, but in are HD textures that are simply stunning. The Mana vibe is ever-present and make no mistake, you’ll feel like you’re right back in those 1990s worlds.
One of my favorite parts of a game like Trials of Mana is the moment you arrive to a new town. You have your free time to explore every nook and cranny, finding Treasure Chests and little glowing orbs of goodies. They are hidden absolutely everywhere, and to top it off, the Map screen has a chest counter so you know if you’ve found them all, giving you a little hide and seek fun every time you enter a new area.
Correction 5/22/20 – the Map counter and Lil’ Cactus counters are unlocked after progressing through Lil’ Cactus subquest. They are unlocked through the natural progression of the game, but not by default!
Each town is lush and gorgeous, and sure to please aesthetically. There’s something about them that’s just so… cozy? I feel like if I woke up in literally any town in this game, I’d be pretty stoked.
Talking to all the townspeople doesn’t usually take very long, and there is an off-chance that you may speak to someone who triggers you to think of a new skill. These skills are typically quite useful and can’t be attained from anywhere else, so be sure to speak to everyone in a new town to unlock as many abilities as possible!
Pairing nicely with the atmosphere and the environment is the music. The music has been entirely remade, but stays true to the original. While the music has always been incredibly important in these types of games, when you have a legacy to build upon, it’s important to get it right, and Square does this on all counts. It’s perfect in atmosphere and for setting the mood for boss battles and cutscenes, and if you’re a purist you can always go into the settings and change it to use the original musical score. Personally, I stuck with the remade soundtrack, as the chiptune-ish beats can get a little repetitive over time.
There was only once where the music didn’t match up very well, and that was Snow Hamlet Alrant. Something about it felt very off and didn’t match up to the tone of the NPCs within it. The tone was very cheerful, but everyone in the frozen town was upset that they were stuck inside. There was another point where I was stuck in Lampbloom Woods for probably 45 minutes straight, and the same darn 25 second loop played over and over. Then I ended up having to go all the way back through the same woods after a small detour elsewhere. I actually had to mute it because I was starting to twitch.
Here, I even filmed myself playing through it. Pardon the quarantine appearance, but I swear I was starting to sweat from hearing this weird tune probably a hundred times over.
Aside from some small issues like I mentioned, the Trials of Mana remade soundtrack is one destined to be a classic soundtrack for years.
As you play through Trials of Mana, like any good RPG you will get skill points which you can then throw at Strength, Luck, Intellect, etc. Each unlocks different abilities (which much be equipped) as well as passive traits (Spirit +5!). At level 18 and 38 you will get the ability to sub-class into Light or Dark, but to avoid any spoilers I won’t go any further into that. What I’m trying to convey here is that the characters are even more customizable beyond the initial character selection and stat upgrades, so it’s something great to look forward to. You also unlock your class attacks as you increase your level throughout the game.
Speaking of characters and abilities, if you’ve played Secret of Mana or Trials, you’re aware of the three character system. The three characters you pick at the beginning will be your motley crew throughout the game, and you can freely switch between controlling any and all of them, with the small exception of being in a town. For the two characters you’re not controlling, you can control their behavior, having each focus primarily on attacking, healing, or some blend of the two. You can also have them use items as well as their magic, again, from “sure, go ahead and burn through all my healing items!” to “please be conservative, these things don’t grow on trees.”
While the AI was finicky as all hell back in Secrets, it’s much improved, although it still has much to be desired, particularly when you get to boss fights. My healer in particular tended to sprint head-first into the warning zone, which got very frustrating on one boss in particular. It can just get a little annoying when you burn through your Cup of Wishes (the Revive item of the Mana series) reviving your suicidal healer. Switching constantly between characters can quickly get confusing and I don’t think the combat was really designed for constant switching, else there wouldn’t be such an elaborate combo system, so you sort of have to learn the odds and ends of dealing with the goofy AI.
Let’s talk combat, one of the highlights of the whole game. The Mana series had a new and unique combination of a kinda-action-cooldown-based attacks blended with action-RPG-attack. If you’ve played either, you know what I mean, and it can take some getting used to. Right off the bat it feels like “I need to mash all the buttons while dodging around,” but in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. The combat system looks very simple and random, but after about 5 hours of gameplay and constantly losing a lot of health, I realized how to actually play the game.
There are only a handful of button combos – A-A-A-X lets you do a 1-2-3-heavy hit combo, A-A-X is the same but with a weaker area-of-effect combo (Hawkeye has a spin-move), but the most important one that I didn’t realize even existed until nearly 10 freaken hours into the game is the attack interrupt combo, which is simply A-X. This allows you to disrupt an enemy casting a strong spell or winding up for a big physical attack.
As is fairly common for action-RPGs like Trials, before the enemy attack is fired, there is a small gap of time where there is a mark on the ground determining what area will be affected, thus, an area of attack move. You need to run the heck out of the way to dodge it. Well, if like me, you spent the first five hours of the game button mashing, you probably almost always get hit by these moves, because your character attack animation is behind from all your button presses!
That’s right – you need to be very deliberate with your attacks in Trials of Mana. See the attack patterns I typed up there? “A-A-A-X”. You should press A exactly three times, followed by X one time. This will allow you to throw a dodge into the mix if needed, as you’ll need to interrupt combos quite often, or you’ll get tossed out the door like a drunk groper at a nightclub. This is especially true for boss battles! Don’t be a button masher. Don’t be like me.
But, once I learned this new style of combat, the entire game changed. I remember thinking a few hours into the game that it was feeling like a random button masher, not putting two and two together and seeing that I was losing nearly half my health in every battle, because I was getting hit all the time. The A-X interrupt combo is fantastic, as it’s a dice-roll on whether or not the enemy will get knocked down.
There’s a lot more depth to the combat system than meets the eye. Where you could easily stun-lock enemies in Secret of Mana, this is a whole other ballgame. Square Enix knocked it out of the park with this one; this is a true modernization of a combat system. This is what remakes are for, hands down.
There’s also the entire magic system, which I barely touched on my first 10 hours, but I completely forgot about the Ring system. In Secret of Mana, you can bring up two rings: your spell ring and your item ring. You can then select a spell or an item, and then who to use it on. So even though you’re controlling Character A, you can bring up a ring (hence pausing the game completely, giving you precious time to think!), and tell Character B to cast a status condition healing spell on Character C. I had thought for hours that this system wasn’t really a thing anymore, so I was trying to quickly change characters in the middle of an active battle, in order to use my magic and my items.
My tips here would have been very nice to know when I first started playing, so assuming you’re reading this before playing Trials, or perhaps you’ve only played a bit of it, heed my words: learn how the combat system works. The game will barely tell you anything. Of course, you won’t actually unlock any spells until you progress a bit in the game, but the key takeaway here should be to use the ring system.
You activate the rings with the D-pad on the controller or Joycon. Pressing D-pad Up will show your items, and then you can select an item, then a character to use it on. Pressing D-pad Down will show the spells for the current character, but you can press ZL and ZR to switch to the other characters’ spell rings. Then you select a spell, and then you select who to use it on.
I realize I’m going on about this, but I was actually getting sick of the combat before I learned how to do it properly.
On that subject, the real enjoyment of the combat kicked in around 7 hours (not that it was bad before then), because at this point your characters have all unlocked some spells. Don’t forget to put points into Spirit and Intellect for all of your characters, because there are some great buffing abilities that will really help with some of the tougher enemies (Defense Down!) as well as boss fights (buffing your party’s weapons with whatever element to which the boss is weak). All in all, it’s a really enjoyable gameplay loop, if you can call it that.
Trials of Mana is pretty much as linear as JRPGs come. Not unlike a game of the same point in time, Final Fantasy VII, Trials opens up the whole world to the player at some point in the game, allowing you to travel around the massive world freely, hitting 100% completion for treasure chests and going on your final mission through said world with the intent to save it. In the linear portions of the gameplay, it’s setting you up to figure out all of the in-place systems, and by the time it sets you free, it’s a great feeling to be able to take what you’re learned and explore the world.
That all being said, the joys of Trials of Mana is primarily in the exploration new areas, the thrill of the battle, tweaking your characters, and relishing in the charm of the story scenes. Other typical parts of JRPGs aren’t really present, gear customization is pretty low on the totem pole; entering a new town basically means “go to armor store, buy the available armor, sell your old armor, go to weapon store, buy the available weapons, sell your old weapons, now my attack and defense are higher WOOHOO.” But this is absolutely fine, as the complexity to combat more than makes up for it. For a primarily linear experience, I personally found it exactly as complex as it should be, particularly for a remake of a 90s JRPG.
Square Enix killed it with the Trials of Mana remake in so many ways, that this is absolutely a top game of the year for me. I went from having zero intention of playing it, to deciding to check out the demo, to pre-ordering the game in a matter of two hours, and I couldn’t have made a better choice to get my nostalgia triggered. This is what all remakes should aim to do.
Have you played the new Trials of Mana remake? Perhaps the original? How do they compare? Let’s talk more in the comments!