The Mana series has seen a reemergence lately with Square Enix remaking older entries. Just recently, the publisher released a collection of the original trilogy on Switch. Now, they have set their sights on an almost unknown title in the west, Trials of Mana.
No, this isn’t a port of the Super Famicom release from 1995. Instead, Trials of Mana happens to be a full remake of the classic adventure with updated visuals using Unreal Engine. Interestingly, Square Enix managed to create a beautiful retelling of this adventure with all the nuances of a retro RPG.
Trials of Mana begins by giving players a choice of three of six characters, one of which will be the leader of the group. Depending on who you choose, some story scenes and interactions will be altered. Still, the goal is relatively the same, find the Sword of Mana and save the Mana Tree. While this seems rather straightforward, there’s plenty that stands between these heroes and their objective.
Each character has a respective arc and reason for being on this journey, but everything mostly boils down to corruption in nearly every kingdom. Dark powers have resin within the region, which forces these characters on an adventure to save it. Although you will only control three characters during a playthrough, other characters appear to assist in the narrative progression and give information on their backstory. It ends up working as a smart way to include them, even if they aren’t playable.
The adventure itself is traditional JRPG storytelling at its finest. These six heroes can only stop the threat against the world, and they do whatever they can to save it. Every beat after enhances the traditional experience by making you run through dungeons multiple times, unlock secret areas, collect unique items, fight enormous bosses, explore towns, and speak with NPCs.
There’s no bells and whistles here or outlandish new systems that make this feel like anything other than a Mana game. Even the various shops represent a simpler time by each having increasingly more powerful equipment the further you get in the game. No, there’s no fusing or enhancement systems here, just straightforward equipment for your characters.
The game has its share repetitive features, such as requiring you to explore towns and speak with specific NPCs to gather information. This happens a handful of times, but what’s strange is that sometimes the NPCs don’t have anything interesting to say. Still, the towns are each unique, and exploring them thoroughly will yield items and other rewards. Sometimes, speaking with NPCs will even unlock new abilities after you get inspired by what they have to say.
This level of exploration is also found in the dungeons. Journeying away from the quest marker will more often than not lead to treasure or special items. Dungeons are well designed, and each has a themed layout. At first, I would have considered them to be copied and pasted versions of each other, but dungeons also have a few gimmicks that make them unique such as lava or poison floors.
In retrospect, the towns and dungeons were a massive improvement to Trials of Mana. I appreciated the level of detail that went into making each area unique since the repetitious gameplay could have weighed heavier had they been unmemorable mazes. While fans will recognize these places, everything is presented in an accessible way for those who might not be used to these types of JRPGs.
The battle system is the highlight of any Mana game, and Trials of Mana does some new things with this updated version. Players will trigger a battle with monsters on the field and pretty much wail on them until they are defeated. There’s a light a strong attack here with a few different combinations available depending on the character. Furthermore, characters have unique skills and abilities that improve as they level up.
Each time you level up, you are awarded training points. These points can be applied to characters to unlock passive abilities and new skills. More abilities are added throughout the story as well that can be accessed in battle using the shoulder buttons. Everything is kept simple without the need for tons of menus to get lost it.
During gameplay, characters will also be able to change classes, which is tied to their level. This means that even if you hate the battles in the game, you will have to fight if you hope to change classes and unlock new abilities. It was strange when this feature was first introduced because I was two levels shy of choosing a new class, and up until that point, I had never run away from a fight. Still, these classes come with new costumes that I’m sure fans will appreciate, especially Angelas.
Playing through the game on Normal difficulty presented no real problems when facing off against monsters on the field, but things change when fighting bosses. Each boss has a few attack patterns, along with a special attack that can be interrupted. These later fights put your skills to the test, and players must master the art of dodging and setting up their character’s battle AI to fit their playstyle.
This introduces the glaring omission of the cooperative mode found in the original. These characters just sometimes don’t do what they are asked, which is typically when they die. This is only really apparent in a few of the tougher bosses battles, but it shows up from time to time and just caused my eyes to roll.
Given that you’ll be traveling for the entirety of the adventure, there isn’t any real fast travel option, which becomes more apparent after the fourth time you are asked to run through a dungeon. However, there are ways to get around the world map, by air or by sea. One returning staple in the series is the canon, but you’ll outgrow that quite quickly.
I adored the fantasy look of the character’s designs in Trials of Mana. The developers kept true to the classic designs while fully realizing them in 3D. I will say that the costumes do get quite revealing as you unlock new outfits, but that’s not a complaint. One issue that I had was the class system was how long it took to switch classes for three characters. I believed I timed it at about 10 minutes just to change each of the character’s class and watch the animations play through. Luckily you only have to go through this a few times.
Sound design is exceptionally well-orchestrated as the music has been updated. However, it’s also possible to switch to the classic soundtrack if that’s what you want to do. Players can also choose whether to play with either Japanese or English audio. Sadly, I don’t think all of the English audio is good; some characters just came off as unenthusiastic and lifeless. However, I did end up enjoying how it allowed me to understand the character’s personalities a bit better. On the other hand, the Japanese audio is excellent, but some of the nuances could become lost in translation.
Trials of Mana is unapologetically traditional and, yet, still makes itself accessible to all JRPG fans, both new and old. The dedication that the developers show as they retain the fantasy appeal of this classic title with updated systems is what ultimately shines during every moment of this adventure. There’s plenty here to explore with one campaign taking me around 20 hours to complete, with things to do that I missed, which had me jumping right back in for more. Sure, there’s some issue with the AI companions, but Trials of Mana is an adventure worth going on, and you’ll be thrilled that you did.
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