Seiken Densetsu 3 was a beloved action RPG released by Square, before they became the Square Enix most would know now, for the Super Famicom back in 1995. Trials of Mana, not to be confused with the remake, was its English moniker as it was ported and released for the Nintendo Switch nearly a year ago.
I say only for the Super Famicom and not the SNES, because Seiken Densetsu 3 would never reach outside of Japan for 24 years; and even though a direct prequel was released worldwide for the Nintendo DS in 2007, the original had remained a dream in many a non-Japanese-speaking JRPG fan’s head.
The series itself is a franchise with a lot of underrated history that could stand amongst the heavyweights: the Tales, Xenos, Final Fantasies, and Dragon Quests, but has been mostly quiet for the past decade… until around now, that is.
Trials of Mana Remake is an action-RPG that did the multiple-POV gimmick long before Octopath Traveller did, offering replayability and variety right off the bat. The player follows the plot from the viewpoint of 3 out of 6 main characters to choose from: the swordsman Duran, the amazon Riesz, the mage Angela, the cleric Charlotte, the rogue Hawkeye, and the beastman fighter Kevin.
Once you choose your team of three (1 main hero and 2 companions), your main character (MC) is introduced in their home nation and sets off on quest that brings them in contact with a cadre of villains, each representing nations of their own and seeking to exploit the world’s Mana Stones (sources of magic) as they seek to conquer the rest of the world. While the premise is as familiar as most JRPGs, players are presented with different perspectives depending on the characters they choose.
The world of Mana is rich and bright
The story is a light and charming romp across the locales where our characters live, even with the fate of the world hanging in a balance: I loved that fact that it still doesn’t take itself too seriously, nor project an edgy or hardcore feel. The 3D rendering of characters I knew from the original is done with a very consistent aesthetic, with the designs making sure our cast are distinct and memorable no matter your pick.
I played the PC version, which ran at a good 60 FPS at 1920×1080 resolution, although it isn’t the kind of game that I’d say benefits much from that. The PS4 Pro version plays at mostly the same clip, so expect good performance either way you choose.
The perpetual snow of the mage-country Altena glistens in a bright white in contrast to the lush jungles bathed in a moonlit night in Ferolia, where the beastmen reside: the world you travel in is a visual treat as you explore it, fighting monsters in real-time. Spending time in the world itself moves along the day-night cycle, with either Lumina (day) or Shade (night) Time conferring a few bonuses or enabling certain interactions.
Your face buttons allow you to jump, dodge, and execute two varying levels of attacks, which can be strung together in simple combos that have unique qualities (AOE, long-range poke, or a knockback), or in the case of your power attack, can be held then released to break an opponent’s armor (which some of them have). These elements combine with items (such as offensive Coins and defensive/restorative Candies and Herbs) and special learnable moves that exude a certain rhythm in combat that rarely gets stale, in the face of the monster’s equally varied attacks.
The D-pad interface for moves and items pause the battles while you take your pick at your own leisure, but you can also assign certain frequently used ones to shortcut button combinations (shoulder + face) that don’t halt the action.
Enemies also have a variety of ways to hurt our party, ranging from normal bites, charges, and pokes with minute tells that warn you to dodge, or abilities that take some time to come out while forming a red danger marker on the battlezone that you will want to avoid. Engaging an enemy traps the party in a limited area of the map without having to load a battle sequence, and escaping is a simple matter of hugging the edges of the area until your escape meter fills out completely ( while avoiding attacks that cancel or slow it down).
The boss fights are inescapable showdowns with often huge and towering multi-hitbox fiends, and will test your skills in timing and positioning as your entire team is pelted by a barrage of attacks. Your player-controlled character is aided by the other two, whose AI can be set to settings like “Target: Range Enemies” and “Balanced Attack: switch between attacking and supporting allies.”
I played on Normal difficulty with Charlotte, Kevin, and Riesz for my first playthrough that took 23+ hours to complete along with a post-game section not in the original game, and am currently progression through New Game Plus on Hard, which allows you to bring all your items and Chain Abilities that can be equipped by any character, and even choose a new team.
It’s good, but is it great?
My younger self who played the original would blow his mind off on how it looks and plays, but now, I guess not. It’s got a lot going for it, but the general feeling I get is that it could be so much better.
The exploration is one thing that feels stunted: while maps are quite sizeable in scale, the feeling I’d expected to get when strolling around whacking monster heads was betrayed by the game handholding me every single moment and ushering me on to the next plot-mover.
In terms of interface, this was great – an icon kept you pointed in the right direction always, you will almost never be lost. But what if I had wanted to be lost? The fun in leaving the beaten path in search of hidden treasure is still there (examine shining points in clever hiding spots, breaking pots and vases to reveal free stuff), but with the rewards being mostly just a few potion-type items and lucre (the Mana series’ version of Gil/gold).
I also have this pet peeve where invisible walls that keep you on rails are somewhat inconsistent in execution, as there are places where you’d expect them to be, and places where I cannot fathom why the hell they don’t want me crossing through.
There’s a bit of platforming (and 2D sections in a throwback to the same in SD3) and verticality, but all the handholding made me feel like some clever level designs were wasted. Some maps just end up outright inaccessible… so why even let me go there? These are the hometowns of the characters you didn’t pick, which were treated the same in the original, but this is exactly one of the things I was expecting to be tooled up in a remake.
The class system, too, has been retouched (not revamped – it’s still a tree split into Light and Dark paths), which does create a healthy amount of options in combination with the completely new stat system that enables a couple of different builds for your characters. Your final class is locked to items that are based on RNG: if you don’t find the item for what you want, you’re forced to either stay at a lower class or grind/look for more ??? seeds (they turn into what you’ll need). A fourth class upgrade has been added to the mix, but unfortunately you can only use the new ultimate classes after you’ve defeated the main boss in your saga.
Story-wise, I felt alright with the exact same beats getting faithfully retained in this remake, but I’d felt a certain amount of polish lacking from how the narrative was unfolded. The game is pretty linear in flow once you get started: here’s a new area, explore it, get through it, fight the boss. That wasn’t a problem for me by itself, except that some parts of the game feel like they’re just moving the plot along – nothing is unexpected and while I’m thankful for a fairly fast and non-grindy pace, I feel like this could have been the opportunity to fill out more of the setting and backstories that weren’t possible in Seiken Densetsu 3.
Cutscenes (in-engine) would also sometimes end with little to show for it compared to what was said; this is a big factor for me that made me feel like while overall the effort is well-done… the creators have missed a solid chance to further develop what was great about the game: its charm.
Charlotte, who’s an Elfin girl who ages slower than humans, speaks in permanent UwU-mode, which I never thought annoying, because it was tastefully done, and the ENG VA totally owned and killed the act: Alana Marie Cheuvront seems like a new talent in the industry, and her part in Mana I’d think would be well received for acing a potentially cringe-worthy affair. My fellow editors, on the other hand, didn’t like it at all. To each their own, I guess? Overall, the English VA’s are decent enough to not want to switch over to Japanese.
The world embraces the cartoony vibe of the old one and doesn’t get bogged down in explaining itself, for instance, why one of the fast travel options is getting launched by a cannon to your destination. Your moves and attacks feel impactful and fun without having to always be overpowered, and really shows the flavor of your team and the choices you made in building them.
And as a bold redeeming factor, I cannot help but compare (again) the multi-POV approach to Octopath Traveller (a game which was also well-done but ultimately fell short of greatness). Trials at least has your team interact with you and the world more than Octopath’s just- or barely-there teammates.
These and the experience as a whole at least made it easy for me to overlook what seems to me like details that fell over the wayside in the mad rush to release a finished product. Here’s hoping that remakes in general can again build from these subtle decisions that differentiate a remake from a remaster. I understand that some people would want things to stay with a degree of familiarity from the past iteration… but a remake to me means it’s the past-plus-more. More than just a fresh coat of paint and new tunes (which by the way, were still fantastically awesome, but can still opt to switch to the classic SD3 versions of the OST).
What we liked:
- It’s the classic you’ve known and loved, from story to soundtrack
- Battle system is fun and easy to pick up
- Stat builds and Class trees make for massive replayability
What we didn’t like:
- As a remake, more aspects of the game could have been explored
- Load times are quite lengthy
Our verdict: Wait for it.
Trials of Mana is a Squeenix JRPG that competes well with other more recent franchises. To me it’s a better Octopath Traveller, but just a little short of Bravely Default or the new Tales games. I enjoyed my time with it but I’ll probably put the controller down soon – it’s like meeting an old friend from your childhood haunts, even if you know you’re not going to talk with ‘em everyday now like you guys did before.
If you’re a Mana fan, by all means, buy it now since we’ve waited YEARS for this. It’s a great Mana game that can stand toe to toe with JRPG’s of the current generation. It’s no Final Fantasy, so it’s quite understandable that not a lot of people may be familiar with the series.
If you’re on the other side of the spectrum (which is probably the majority) who are wanting to get your feet wet into the franchise, we recommend waiting a bit more for a sale. The steep price tag is hard to justify for something that straddles a fine line between a remake and a remaster. Trials of Mana feels more like it’s somewhere in between, with multiple missed opportunities that could have fully justified the “Remake” tag.
Trials of Mana was reviewed on the PC and PS4 via a review code provided by the publishers.