Square Enix is on a roll lately. Coming off the release of the outstanding Final Fantasy VII Remake, the storied game publisher has released another remake for the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, Trials of Mana. The game is an update of the 1995 Super Famicon classic and serves as the third title in the popular Mana/Seiken Densetsu series. Trials is actually the follow up to the SNES classic, Secret of Mana, which got the remaster treatment a couple of years back.
Trials of Mana was co-developed by Square Enix and Xeen, and the two have taken great care to create a game that feels new, even though it originally came out 25 years ago. Going from 16-bit to fully rendered 3D models — and in high-def, no less — has made all the difference in the world. It looks and plays like a true 21st-century JRPG masterpiece, even if it has some flaws keeping it in check.
Trials of Mana features six different protagonists, each with their own story and path. The player chooses a main from the pool of six, and then tacks on two companions. There are three antagonists in the story, and the villain you battle depends on who you choose as your main character. This also creates opportunities for multiple playthroughs, giving this 25-30 hour game some much-needed substance and replayability. And really, you can’t go wrong with any of the main choices, as the story takes the character and his/her party all over the world, even meeting up and interacting with the other protagonists at times.
This might not come as a surprise for some, but Trials of Mana borrows some very tired RPG tropes for its story. The hero is cast out of the world they’ve always known, and after working to get back to the place they call home, they end up stumbling on a massive conspiracy that could result in the end of the world, which results in them becoming the hero that saves everyone.
There is a magic tree that all life comes from, eight legendary stones to find — with some epic bosses, called Benevodons, to fight, and even a special weapon, the Sword of Mana, for the hero to wield. All of it coming together for a story that feels very familiar, especially for fans of the genre. The six different protagonists do offer a little variation, but after playing through the first few hours of half the characters, the similarities are very noticeable.
The Mana/Seiken Densetsu series has its own iconic lingo for items, spells, and the like. Restoratives like pieces of candy or chocolate bars restore HP, and Faerie Walnuts restore MP. The monsters are cutesy to the point of saccharine, with bunny-like Rabbites and cute devilish Imps that hover above the field of battle. And then there are some enemies that are absolute head-scratchers, like demonic walls that cast multitudes of spells, and giant evil moles that burrow through massive holes. It adds to the fun to see what the developers have come up with next, and I say this after beating a possessed “hell” house in the Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Unfortunately, Trials of Mana features an inordinate amount of backtracking. In the first third of the game, the party will visit and re-visit areas over and over, which makes the world feel smaller than it really is. It also takes away from the joy of constantly seeing new places and new enemies. Luckily, enemies beef themselves up between return trips, so if you have to go back to the first maps in the game, you aren’t stuck fighting low-level monsters for minuscule amounts of XP.
Where Trials of Mana truly excels is in the deep character customization and wonderful music. Characters earn training points with each level, and the player can choose where to award the points and what new skills to unlock. There are even certain points in the game where characters can change classes, both light and dark, to gain even more skills and buffs to help in the battles ahead.
Light classes trend on the side of helping the team, while dark classes are all about the violence and enemy punishment. Each has its own benefits and detriments, so carefully measuring your choices is paramount to success. Each of the three characters in the party can change classes, giving you plenty of options and opportunities to find the combination that works best with your preferred playstyle.
The game’s music has been re-recorded by original composer Hiroki Kikuta alongside a small team of talented musicians, and the end result is a soundtrack that is both epic and memorable. Each area has its own theme, utilizing different instruments, and it leaves an imprint in your mind well after you’ve moved on — unless, of course, you have to backtrack to that area later in the game, and if so, revisiting the music in those areas is a huge plus. I’ve enjoyed every song in this game, and it has made the multiple playthroughs that much better.
Trials of Mana‘s jump from pixel art to fully rendered 3D models looks great. Each of the characters has a style all their own, and they and the world itself is vibrant with color, even in arid, rocky areas where you wouldn’t expect much in way of hues. This is one of the prettiest games I’ve played in a long while, and even after hours of grinding for levels and earning training points, the eye candy as a whole keeps me visually entertained.
Most of us play games to unwind and have fun, and Trials of Mana certainly checks those boxes, from beginning to end. Visually, it’s vibrant and gorgeous with color, and its music is some of the best of this or any generation. Admittedly, the story is pretty generic from top to bottom, but surprisingly, it doesn’t detract from the experience as a whole.
I’ve enjoyed my time playing Trials of Mana, way more than I did with the HD remaster of Secret of Mana, and it’s one that I’ll come back to again and again, long after I’ve taken each of the main characters through their respective journeys. And frankly, I can’t think of a better indicator of quality than that.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Square Enix.
Trials of Mana is the second big remake from Square Enix this year, and it holds its own as a fun and gorgeous gaming experience, even if the story is a little weak where it counts.