I’ve never been a fan of Square Enix’s Mana (Seiken Densetsu) series, of which Trials of Mana is the third entry. It’s like the red headed stepchild in Square’s family, never living up to the lofty height achieved by the Final Fantasy series or the nostalgic love reserved for the Chrono games.
Having never had a Super Nintendo or Super Famicom (I grew up a Mega Drive fan), most of the series has been a mystery to me. At least until I got to play Legend of Mana on the PS1.
I kind of liked it, but it’s weird structure and action RPG mechanics didn’t really sit well with me. It’s that view that made me stay away from the Mana series over the years, at least until I had to review Trials of Mana.
So how do I feel about playing the new Trials of Mana?
Find out by reading on!
What is Trials of Mana?
Trials of Mana is a third person action RPG. It’s a remake of Trials of Mana, a Squaresoft (now Square Enix) title for the Super Famicom. The remake’s developed by Square Enix, with publishing duties done by Bandai Namco.
It’s a multi-platform title, available on the PC, PS4 (reviewed) and Nintendo Switch.
In Trials of Mana, the Mana (the magic binding the world together and sealing off an ancient evil), is waning. To prevent that, you’re tasked with reclaiming the Sword of Mana, which has the power to recall the world’s Goddess. According to legend, she’ll be able to help (as well as grant the wishes of any who awaken her) and reseal the ancient evil once more.
What entails is a ton of journeying; moving from one town to another, clearing dungeons in between and finding every single element of Mana to power up your faerie, who’s needed to access the hidden realm, where the Sword of Mana resides.
Trials of Mana is as JRPG as they come, with a plot straight out of the 90s. It’s not surprising considering it’s a remake but I’d have thought that the good people who developed the game would’ve at least tightened up the story.
Instead, it’s like stepping into a time machine to the 16-bit era. It’s at once refreshing and annoying, as it draws heavily upon nostalgia and a certain type of gaming mindset to make the game enjoyable. If you don’t like your plots straightforward and generic, you’re playing the wrong game.
Adhering completely to the JRPG checklist of the 90s, the game’s method of progression is as old school as you can get. It’s basically the same gameplay cycle of going to a new town, advancing the plot, gear up, head to the next dungeon and repeat.
Thankfully, the game handily marks people or locations you need to go to to progress, which lets you skip the tediousness of having to talk to everybody and everything.
It’s great if you’re hankering for something that’s from the old school. The new 3D visuals (which are pretty basic) aside, Trials of Mana is sorely and unmistakably a game from the 90s in how it’s designed.
Back in time.
Unfortunately, in Trials of Mana’s case, that also means that there’s a ton of incredibly boring backtracking. You’ll venture across the same maps multiple times as you progress and although some have new enemies when you return to them later, the maps are still unchanged, making the journey (sometimes more than three or four times) tedious and repetitive.
Even the visuals screams of 90s game design with its cookie cutter towns, castles and dungeons. It’s true that I like the character and enemy design, but the generic locales make the game feel incredibly boring and similar. You’ll see the same character models repeated in towns, making you think that everybody is a twin (or triplet or quadruplet) in the game.
Thankfully, the basic visuals translate to a smooth framerate. You’ll want to turn up the camera sensitivity in the Options menu way up though, as I found that it turned way too slow for my tastes.
However, despite its strict adherence to the school of 90s design, there are some glimmers of originality in the game.
Instead of shoehorning you into a character, you’re given a choice on who you want to play as. Each of the playable characters are different though they fall into the usual archetypes; physical damage dealers, powerful spell casters, support magic wielders and ranged attackers.
A neat twist is that the story subtly changes depending on who you choose as the main character and the two partner characters. For example, each character has a different prologue, though they eventually dovetail into the main quest line. Unfortunately, those minor changes don’t really impact the barebones plot much.
Who you choose to play as also impacts the battle system, one of the best parts of the game. The combat is all in realtime, with two attack types; strong and weak. You can chain these together into basic combos, as well as dodge and jump to avoid enemy attacks. There’s also a special meter you can fill up that lets you unleash your special attacks when it’s full.
The fighting’s pretty shallow but it moves at a blazing clip, which makes the battles fun, short and sweet. Depending on your character, combat might have you duking it out with your fists, slashing away with your sword (or other melee weapon) or just hanging back and nuking stuff with magic. It’s possible to switch characters in battle, so you’re not stuck with a single style.
Unfortunately, combat can be a chore if you don’t pick the correct party members. It’s completely possible to play through the game without a healer or tank or damage dealer but it’s best to create a balanced party.
During my playthrough, I chose Angela (offensive magic), Duran (tank) and Kevin (DPS). While most encounters were a breeze due to the overwhelming attack power of the team, I constantly had to heal via items (which gets old fast) because nobody on the team could use healing magic.
Apart from the battle system, Trials of Mana also has a pretty cool customization system. You get Training Points from leveling up, which you can then assign to stats. Skills and abilities get unlocked depending on the stat, which allows you to tweak your existing characters somewhat.
On top of that, there’s also a way to set AI behaviour so that they can fight the way you want them to fight. That way you won’t suddenly run out of mana or items because the AI keeps using them without your input.
There’s also a class system in the game, which allows your characters to change their class. You get your first class change at Level 18, which allows you to pick from two new classes. Other, more advanced classes require you to hit certain Levels before they unlock.
It’s nothing major (for example, a tank can’t suddenly become a pure healer) but it does open up the game for some customization to suit your playstyle. The classes themselves are cool but I just wish that there were more of them. Only a handful per character is pretty low, far from other class based RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics.
All these are issues are pretty minor…except for one; the voices.
While the music for the game is decent enough, Trials of Mana has horrible English voice overs. Charlotte in particular, with her stupidly ‘childish’ way of speaking, will make you want to scrape out your ears just so you can stop the pain.
Whoever thought it was endearing and cute to make her mispronounce words like a drooling idiot should be drawn and quartered and then set on fire. If there is a hell, it would entail listening to Charlotte for eternity. It’s just that bad and annoying..
Just do yourself a favor; head to the Options menu and change the voices to Japanese as soon as you start the game. Your ears will thank you for it.
The Bottom Line.
Trials of Mana is a game rooted in the past. True, it’s a remake but the gameplay style is clearly from the 90s, with its slavish need to copy the original from the ground up.
It’s not an issue if you’re hankering for something that’s from that era of gaming. However, new gamers who are unaccustomed to old school JRPGs might find the game awkward, boring and incredibly repetitive with it sticking to the formula so rigidly.
That can also be applied to the visuals, which can best be described as basic. While its cartoony style definitely fits, it could do with a bit more detail and style. Perhaps it’s because the game’s also out for the Nintendo Switch, which is underpowered compared to the PS4 and PC.
No matter what school of gaming you’re from though, you’ll still hate the English voices. There’s no two ways about it; they’re just plain bad. That’s offset somewhat by the decent tunes (especially the theme on the main menu).
A JRPG with an acquired taste that’s definitely not for every one. Only the old school or fans of classic JRPGs need apply.
- Decent music.
- Combat is fun.
- Customization is great.
- English voices are horrendous.
- Boring, generic art style.
- Barebones plot.
- Repetitive backtracking.