By Drew D. / April 19th, 2021
|Title||Trials of Mana|
|Release Date||April 24th, 2020|
|Platform||PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch|
Several years ago, when the Secret of Mana remake was first announced, I was ecstatic to hear of the return of a beloved classic. I hold the classic title in the highest regard and as such, I was crestfallen with the remake’s final production. I was saddened to see that so much of the original charm, the tones and the very feel, or essence of the original, had been altered. And so, with the announcement of Trials of Mana came with it a flood of doubt. The fear of another remake plagued by change for change’s sake was something I wouldn’t tolerate, for the original 1995 version also holds a place of adoration for me. Yet, I held a slim hope that Square Enix would address their missteps and do for Trials of Mana what very much should have been done for Secret of Mana. I am pleased to say that my glimmer of hope was satisfyingly realized.
Seiken Densetsu 3: Trials of Mana follows the tales of six individuals whose intertwined fates bring them against ancient beings of destruction. In the beginning, the Mana Goddess created the world through Mana. As she uses Mana for life and creation, other malevolent entities, the Benevodons, wield it for destruction. When the Benevodons sought to end the world, the Mana Goddess, wielding her wand which would become the Sword of Mana, sealed the Benevodons in eight Mana Stones. Exhausted after her plight, she sealed herself and the Sword away in her Sanctuary. Legend says that whomever wields the Sword of Mana may wield the very power of the Mana Goddess. Yet the only power left to open her Sanctuary resides in the Mana Stones. And so, the Mana Stones became an allure to malevolent forces seeking to possess such power for their own designs.
The world was once pushed to the brink by such an event, but darkness was repelled by the kingdoms that would later arise around the Stones for their protection. With this, the world was at peace for a time. But darkness, old and new, rises again, seeking to undo the Mana Stones, release the Benevodons, and lay claim to the Sword of Mana. Six individuals, hailing from the various kingdoms around the world, are caught up in the conflict, some in the hopes of saving loved ones, others to protect their home and people. Rescue, vengeance, or to simply receive acknowledgment from those most important, these six will soon find themselves on a quest for the Sword, to fulfill personal desires and to put a stop to the dark forces that will end the world.
Trials of Mana attempts an ambitious bit of storytelling, introducing six individual storylines that all converge onto a similar main plot point. The overarching plot point, the quest for the Sword of Mana and the stoppage of a particular dark entity’s plans, is fairly straightforward, but I applaud the variety that comes with whom you choose to play as. Each character has their backstory and personal goals, which, in turn, determines which of three main plotlines are followed, as well as the set of main enemies you ultimately face. While there is overlap between characters and these three main plotlines, whom you choose to play as grants differing perspectives and, with it, plenty of depth. And although some of the individual stories could be considered a touch cliché, they provide enough intrigue to experience them all.
Whether regarding the original or this remake, the narrative remains satisfactory. This is a striking, multi-faceted tale full of danger, desperation, and hardship. And the moods are genuine; the anger for foes, joys of success, heartbreak that comes with failure, and the resolve to keep going. For the remake, the narrative efforts remain true to the source material and with that, I am very much thankful. The effort captures perfectly the same charms as the original. I also appreciate the retention of tones and how well the characters’ feelings come through with this adaptation. Along the same lines, I am similarly impressed with the new cutscenes, for as with most remakes, there is opportunity to add more, and Trials of Mana does so with cutscenes throughout. I found these to be equally effective in conveying mood and feeling, for we now get to see characters’ reactions and behaviors through their movements and not just their dialogue. I appreciate the new cutscenes and, fortunately, they only add to the experience, never once altering the original feel or charm, only emphasizing it. Overall, the narrative charms of the original have been perfectly adapted and delivered, possessing the same level of appeal.
Regrettably, the original narrative possesses its flaws and they remain present in this remake as well. The straightforwardness of the overarching plotlines can be considered a bit blunt and predictable. Collect elementals, find the Sword, and beat the stream of baddies. As I mentioned, the individuality and variety the characters bring fortunately do help alleviate this, yet it was never a perfect fix, nor is it now. And so the storylines lack that degree of epic impressiveness and immersion Secret of Mana was able to achieve. As for the characters themselves, they were never the most unique or deep and that remains obvious here. Their personalities tend to fit common molds and see little, if any, growth or development throughout their stories. On the other hand, the cutscenes, again, help, as we get to see them beyond their dialogue, through gestures and facial movements. Their emotions, too, remain palpable, and when paired with the range of feelings felt throughout their campaign, the overall effort becomes a fairly engaging one. Perhaps due to how desperate their quests, or because of how personal their reasons for fighting are, they do manage to resonate with you, to a point, and possess a degree of charm that make them surprisingly memorable. The flaws are ever present, but I suppose I can’t help finding myself glad to meet these characters again and relive their journeys after all this time.
Leaving story and narrative behind, Trials of Mana features some incredibly deep gameplay and, fortunately, the modern adaptation of the classic gameplay is spot on. The first element of gameplay is choosing your team of three out of the six main characters. Depending on whom you choose, gameplay can be vastly different from one playthrough to another. Some characters excel at physical attacks, yet may also be weak to magic and status effects. Others may only excel at close-range combat, meaning they never learn long-range spells and thus leaves them at a disadvantage against fast, mobile enemies or those that can launch their own long-range attacks. Choosing a balanced team of physical and magical is recommended, however, choosing a purely magical, like I usually do, or physical team, while having their challenges, also has its own fun. Experimenting with different lineups is definitely the charm here, especially in subsequent playthroughs, as it adds loads of replay value.
For the uninitiated, general gameplay may look like simple real-time combat with a simpler combo system on the surface. Soon, however, gameplay begins revealing its true appeal. From the start, each character possesses a Class Strike (the B move in the SNES version) that deals great damage. When you change a character’s Class, other distinct Class Strikes become available. Also, depending on whom you initially choose, certain characters will begin learning Spells. Attack magic, support, and stat changers will become available and provide tons of variety and advantages to gameplay.
As your characters level up, they will earn Training Points. These points are used for the Training system, in which Strength, Intelligence, Spirit, Luck, and Stamina can be increased. Applying certain numbers of points to a particular trait will also unlock Abilities. Abilities are equipped and many can be shared among all characters. They fit the attribute that unlocks them, so Strength Abilities will usually add a physical offensive benefit, such as a percent damage increase. There are lots of Abilities to unlock and many can turn the tides of a tough battle. Ultimately, understanding your characters’ strengths and weaknesses will affect how you apply Training Points, thus shaping their utilization.
Finally, there is the Class system, which further alters your characters’ capabilities. Each Class has its own benefits and can help shape your characters and enhance your play style. For example, Riesz, perhaps the most balanced character, can become an offensive force or a great support character depending on the Classes chosen. For every character, some Classes will favor the growth of specific stats, such as Strength or Intelligence, while others will better balance out the character. Choosing Classes will ultimately depend on your play style, as well as the needs of your team, so experimenting and also taking advantage of the Class and Training resets are encouraged.
As for its overall implementation and execution, gameplay is solid. Firstly, the ring menu system featured in Secret of Mana returns with a few modern updates for the remake. Casting spells, using items, all of the interactions with the ring menus are quick and intuitive. Yet now, spells and items can also be assigned and used with shortcuts. These shortcuts are a combination of holding the shoulder buttons (I played using an Xbox controller) and your four face buttons. The Class Strikes are also used in this manner, and so using a series of Class Strikes and Spells has become easier and faster than ever. Of course, if you wish to use the menus exclusively, you can do so fairly quickly and without any major pause in play flow.
The Training and Class systems were brilliant back in 1995 and only continue to impress here. The variety of play that comes with these mechanics across six characters, is nothing short of amazing. You’ll always discover something new when shaping your characters in new ways by experimenting with Training Points and trying out different Classes. Add to this the astonishing number of unlockable Abilities and you have near limitless variety. Essentially, every playthrough will be a unique experience, providing incredible replay value.
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