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Game Info:

Trials of Mana
Developed By: Xeen
Published By: Square Enix
Released: April 24, 2020
Available On: Windows, Switch, PS4
Genre: Action, RPG
ESRB Rating: T for Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes
Number of Players: Single-player
Price: $49.99
(Humble Store Link)

Seiken Densetsu 3 (aka Trials of Mana) is an Action RPG originally released for the Super Famicom (SNES) in 1995, at the end of that console’s lifespan. Squaresoft had originally planned to localise it as Secret of Mana 2, but various issues cropped up during that time. The game itself was already pushing the limits of SNES cartridge storage capacity, leaving minimal room for localisation data. Various software bugs had to be fixed for certification with Nintendo of America, but couldn’t be done in a timely manner. The release of the PS1 and N64 had just started the battle for the next generation of consoles, making the timing aspect more crucial. And finally, the first Secret of Mana had not sold that well, so the odds of a sequel selling enough to recoup costs did not look that good. With all these factors in mind, Squaresoft eventually made the decision to cancel the western release. What a difference 20 years makes. I have no doubt that my fellow World of Mana fans were excited by the announcement of not only the VirtualConsole release, but also a full-on remake.

The game begins with selecting one of six characters to serve as your protagonist, and two more to fill out your party. The overall plot arc is the same between all six characters, with changes primarily to the introduction and final dungeon. All characters are teenagers whose upbringing is connected to their nation’s royalty (to a fashion). Some terrible event befalls the character, and they seek out the Priest of Wendel to seek advice. Along the way, destiny chooses your character to be the Hero to draw the Mana Sword, and it just so happens that fulfilling that destiny helps each character fulfil their chosen goal. After that, our heroes get caught up in a four-way war between the world’s major powers as everyone seeks out the power of the Mana Sword for their own ends.

The individual characters also have smaller stories that get mixed in to provide some texture to the story. Unselected characters (except Angela – she is implied to be the canonical Hero) do appear throughout the game, so you’ll still get to see how their smaller stories play out, although you only get to see their ending if they are in your party. Seeing everything in the story will take three playthroughs, as the final dungeon and big bad are determined by your main character. Finally, the remake also adds a new high-level dungeon to conquer for some powerful rewards, although nothing significant in the way of new story content. Expect a single playthrough to take about 20 hours.

The core of Trials’ gameplay is the action combat. Each skirmish sees you running, jumping and dodging around the battle area, defeating monsters with a mix of melee and magic. It plays very much like a Dynasty Warriors or Dark Souls or Tales game in this regard. You control one character directly, although you are also free to take the reins of another character at any time. The other two characters assist in combat with a passable AI taking the reins of the other two. The controls are very intuitive and easy to learn, and movements feel snappy and responsive. Difficulty remains fairly even throughout the game, with a few difficulty spikes in the same spots as the original. The core mechanics remain mostly the same - if the demo or the aforementioned games don't sell you on the more fluid combat, you can find a clunkier version in the much cheaper Collection of Mana (if you're playing on the Nintendo Switch).

Trials of Mana
Highlights:

Strong Points: Simple but compelling combat system; interwoven character stories
Weak Points: Low difficulty overall except for a few difficulty spikes, although New Game+ mitigates this
Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; bikini armor

Each character has a very different specialty, but these differences only start to become significant about a quarter of the way through the game with the first class change. A second class change at two-thirds through offers players a lot of different ways to flesh out a party, from a full blaster caster setup to a rounded setup to a full melee setup, and everything in between, although a full blaster caster setup will need you to be a lot more hands on given the AI isn’t particularly proficient. As you progress through the game, characters distribute points between their five different attributes to unlock equippable passive abilities, new spells, and stat increases. The addition of passive abilities in particular breathes a lot of new life into this decades-old game, providing further ways to define your party’s approach to combat while retaining the core feel of the game.

The system changes in the remake are easily a net positive. Kevin in particular benefits from the remake. In the original game, most of his spells didn’t work, making him a plain big burly fighter. With the new systems in place, he still has very few spells to work with, but his Divine Hand class now gets to be the Class Strike spammer it always wanted to be, while his Death Hand class can now be built as a physical glass cannon. Angela on the other hand has some weird stuff going on under the hatch; each elemental’s spells are now learned from a different attribute, mitigating one of her core strengths of always having the right damage type. The other major change worth noting is that the level scaling has been adjusted. You can now expect to hit level 18 just before obtaining Sylphid, and level 38 on your first visit to the Mana Holyland; each Benevodon dungeon also has a chest for a ??? Seed guaranteed to grow a different class change item. Combined with the smoothed out levelling, this is a welcome change that removes the unnecessary grinding that padded out the first game. Expect to finish around level 60-65.

Visually, Trials uses a brighter palette than the original. This is an apt change for the better; the darker palette of the original doesn’t work as well in 3D for a story that mixes whimsy with serious plot elements. Combat visuals are kept mostly simple and clean, making it easy to read the situation save for a few offending class strikes. Anyone familiar with the original game will recognise all the locations, from the map layouts down to the shapes of the cliffs in Laurent. Every detail is faithfully reproduced here, down to the details of Riesz’s feathery headband. Animations in cutscenes are in a few places a bit stiff or lacking, but nothing out of the ordinary as far as JRPGs are concerned, where detailed animations are more of a “theatre of the mind” thing. But combat-wise, where it matters, animations are perfectly fluid.

The soundtrack has likewise been faithfully reproduced from the original. There are a few subtle changes that better bring out the mood of the scene, mainly from certain instruments being louder or softer in the remake. Despite being recorded by orchestra, what you’re hearing is almost exactly what Trials sounds like on the SNES. The noble chivalry within Valsena’s stone walls, the fairy tale romanticism of Altena’s magical winterscape, the restlessness of Ferolia’s beastmen, the peaceful piety of Holy City Wendel, the hurried urgency of Beuca Island, the high-flying spectacle of fighting a giant bird while riding a dragon, the grim determination of trying to surmount the impossible challenge of expelling filthy Nevarlans from your Laurentian homeland mixed with a hint of hope. No matter the scene, the music always complements the mood.

Trials of Mana
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 87%
Violence - 7/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 7/10
Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

As an action game, Trials has a lot of violence by way of combat, but like most JRPGs the violence is not particularly graphic. A few of the enemies are clearly meant to be human, but their proportions make them appear more monster-like. Enemies do explode in a small puff of smoke and bones, just as in the original, but it’s a lot subtler in the remake.

The script is perfectly clean, not a hint of objectionable language is in sight. Riesz’s name has even been translated correctly, which means one less reason for the diehard fans to use foul language in online discussion. Okay, I might be stretching on that.

Sexually, Angela and Riesz are dressed in bikini armor in their Dark-Dark and Final Dark classes, but nothing you wouldn’t see at the beach. If it still concerns you, the game does allow you to set the costume to an earlier class change. In the original game, one of Angela’s Class Strikes had her wiggling her butt, but this has been changed for the remake.

There is a fair amount of supernatural stuff going on. The Mana Goddess and Mana Tree are the deities of this world, and can be killed. The power of elemental spirits is sought after and invoked in the use of magic. Demons are present as enemies, and as a spell on Charlotte’s dark classes.

Trials handles religion in a fair manner. The Mana Goddess is no Aslan of Narnia, but she is treated respectfully as a deity with immense power. Some good people will bid you well in the name of the Goddess, while evil acknowledges her and shudders and wants her dead – much like the real world. Similarly, each character's story plays on the importance of family in different ways. Other miscellaneous issues are implications of human sacrifice (life force, rather than blood sacrifice), slavery, and racial prejudice, but these themes aren’t explored with any depth other than to present them as social evils.

I’ve sunk 1000+ hours into the original game, and I regret nothing. Trials of Mana was already a fun and engaging game, and the remake fixes the few flaws of the original while bringing it up to modern standards. It is very much the superior way to experience the game, and Nintendo Switch owners won't go wrong choosing this version over the original. The game is an easy recommend for Action RPG fans, for fans of the original Trials, and for anyone looking for an engaging plot. Here’s to sinking another 1000+ hours.

About the Author

Elvin Ong

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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