Whenever people talk about influential, iconic JRPGs from the past few decades, some major franchises very quickly come to mind. I’m sure names like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest crept into your thoughts before finishing the first sentence. Maybe other names like Tales of or Persona spring to mind, but few might readily think a game like Trials of Mana.
That makes sense, too. The Mana series hasn’t been in the best of places recently, and the Secret of Mana remake, while competent, didn’t do the franchise any favors. Well, it looks like Square Enix wants to put its best foot forward in the Trials of Mana remake. The game’s set to launch in April next year, and after playing it at PAX West, things are looking pretty good for the JRPG.
Trials of Mana Tries for Glory Again
Announced at E3 alongside the Collection of Mana, the Trials of Mana remake caught me by surprise. Before, it wasn’t available in the West in an official capacity. A fan translation made the rounds, but that’s all there was. Now, within a year’s time, we not only get the original officially translated but also a full-fledged remake.
The core Mana games have historically been action RPGs, and that’s no different with this remake. However, adding a third dimension helps bring that action to life, especially with the extra mobility. Jumping doesn’t sound like a big deal, but there was something viscerally satisfying about leaping over a boss’s shockwave attack.
And really, that sentiment describes the gameplay in this Trials of Mana remake pretty well. Nothing here is new. Swinging your sword, using some items, casting a spell, activating canned-animation special attacks—it’s all familiar, much like many other JRPGs. Yet somehow, it comes together in a polished package. Somehow, it reminded me of a game I’ve enjoyed before, even though it was my first time with this one. In other words, Trials of Mana sits deep in the JRPG comfort zone, but it plays pretty well.
The combat works quickly enough that killing the small fry doesn’t feel like a chore. The smaller fights don’t overstay their welcome, and the responsive mobility provides some excellent feedback. Yet, Trials of Mana shines best in the boss battles, where tactical decisions matter most. The heightened tension in the final fight of the PAX demo encouraged me to fully use my party and their abilities. Going through all my options in the face of a real challenge let the combat stretch its muscles, and I liked what I saw.
A Fresh Look for Trials of Mana
The characters and the world come to life in this reimagining of the old SNES classic. Granted, Trials of Mana won’t look as mind-melting as, say, the Final Fantasy VII Remake or something like Cyberpunk 2077. That’s fine, though. Trials of Mana goes for the cartoony, and it works well. The more animated style sells the atmosphere. It’s what I imagine a ‘90s JRPG would look like if PlayStation 4s and Xbox Ones existed back then.
The character models exude a lot of personality, especially in motion. The demo put me in Duran’s shoes, and by the end of it, I had a pretty good idea of his personality. The way he moves showcases a lot of earnestness, and his voice lines sold his cockiness. Although, the game did use the same voice lines whenever Duran started or finished combat, which got old pretty quickly. At first, it was charming in a nostalgic way, but that wore off.
Overall though, Trials of Mana feels like it could have the makings of a good JRPG. The new graphics and revamped combat provide the perfect stage for the narrative and character development to unfold. At the end of the day, those two factors make or break a good JRPG. We’ll have to see if Square Enix can deliver a compelling narrative that made Seiken Densetsu 3 so beloved.
The Trials of Mana remake will launch April 24, 2020 for the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam.