Publisher: Square Enix
In a time when games like Final Fantasy VII are getting full-blown, big budget remakes, it should come as no surprise that Trials of Mana, a 25-year old Super Famicom game, would get a 3D remake. Since it didn’t make its debut in the west until 2017, few fans of the Mana series have had a chance to experience this story. Now, it’s gotten some serious time and money thrown at it, but how does this modernized quarter-century old action-RPG hold up?
Spiritual Content: The world of Mana centers around magical forces brought to life by the Mana Tree and the Mana Goddess that resides in said tree. Citizens pray to the Mana Goddess. Under her, each of eight natural elements are governed by being of mana.
Violence: The violence in Trials of Mana is muted and child-friendly. There are action scenes with characters falling and fading away when defeated. There is no blood or gore to be concerned with, however.
Sexual Content: There is no explicit sexual content in Trials of Mana. There is, however, plenty of sexualized clothing. Virtually any female who could be considered “of age” will bare cleavage and, more than likely, a bikini-like outfit (sometimes covered by other things, like a fancy belt). There are alternate costumes you can unlock but those often are no less sexualized.
Drugs and Alcohol: There is no content with narcotics or alcohol to be concerned with.
Language/Crude Humor: Much to my pleasure, I can’t recall any foul language or bawdy humor in Trials of Mana. As far as modern games go, Trials is one of the cleaner games in terms of language.
Positive Themes: The game features the traditional “Good vs. Evil” theme. There are forces that just want to see the world plunged into darkness. Our merry band will have to fight the forces of evil and topple the big bads to save the world!
While Trials of Mana has been around since 1995, it didn’t make its way westward until its 2017 inclusion in Collection of Mana. While Trials undoubtedly comes from prized stock, was it worth it to pull this raptor’s DNA from the amber?
First, let’s discuss the gameplay. You’ll start the game with one of 6 playable characters, picking up two others along the way. Your typical cadence will have you going to a location, talking to a person of interest to move the story along, checking the weapon and armor stores for new merch, then rolling out to the next point.
As you make your way through each map between these points, you’ll run across monsters native to the region. Getting too close will trigger a battle state that turns your current terrain into a temporary arena. Trials is an action-RPG, so you’ll be attacking and dodging in real time. Combat flows well, with enemies telegraphing big attacks, giving you time to dodge or flee. Like any other RPG, you earn XP for taking down foes, but Trials is fast and smooth. In a twenty-hour playthrough, I’d gotten my heroes over level 60 just by sticking to the main path and fighting what I encountered.
As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock the ability to change job classes. Unlike it’s more robust cousin, Final Fantasy Tactics, Trials of Mana will let you change jobs only a couple of times, and they don’t really change things so much as evolve your current class into something more robust. You won’t be able to go from a soldier to a mage, but you will be able to hone your skills from a run-of-the-mill soldier to a specialized duelist.
Boss battles are largely more of the same, but they’ll encourage you to use elemental skills and spells more effectively. Failing to do so will have you looking at more than a couple “game over” screens. Boss encounters also typically utilize a handful of extra mechanics the regular toadies don’t show off, but after a couple bosses, you’ll have the general pattern figured out. If you don’t spend time bypassing combat, you shouldn’t have that much trouble with any encounter in the game.
The game’s overarching narrative feels like fairly well-worn ground at this point. We have a big bad pulling strings behind the scenes in a bid to take over the world. The evil lackeys each do things in the name of our shadow puppeteer, but when the rubber really hits the road they’re in it for themselves. Then you have the good guys who know they have to stop the grand evil and save the world.
On a more granular level, each hero has their own fleshed-out backstory. While each backstory itself is all right, it feels kind of weird to see six disparate narratives tied into one overarching theme. It’s a neat concept and, at the time this game was originally developed, I’m sure it was groundbreaking, but it just makes the overall narrative feel kind of cobbled together.
From an audiovisual standpoint, Trials of Mana is a beautiful game. The character designs are vibrant, lively, and full of color. There’s a familiar sort of feel to the art style—probably because Haccan, the credited artist, worked on the Fire Emblem franchise as well. Environments are beautiful and full of life. My only real complaint with the game’s visuals are a Switch-centric issue; frame rates can dip noticeably when there are more than a few characters on-screen performing abilities. It’s nothing crippling, but it’s definitely something you’ll catch. Watching footage of the PlayStation 4 version of the game, it appears those frame dips were eliminated with stronger hardware.
The game’s soundtrack is great. There are several tunes you can tap your foot to as you work through the game. Whether exploring the game’s various regions or wandering through a town, there’s always something to keep your ears happy…except, maybe, the voice acting, which can range from good fun to cringey.
I’ve had a good time with my twenty or so hours playing through Trials of Mana. I love the game’s art, animations, and soundtrack, and though it gets repetitive, the combat and progression are fairly low-friction fun. With six playable characters (and only 3 accessible per playthrough), there’s definitely replayability to be had here. If you’re looking for a light, quick, fun action RPG, Trials of Mana may be the end-of-the-world scenario to help you forget our own pandemic plights.
The Bottom Line
Trials of Mana doesn't deliver an epic, groundbreaking narrative in 2020, but folks looking for a fun, vibrant action-RPG will enjoy their time here.