Well over two decades after its original release in the mid-90s, Square Enix are answering the calls of their loyal fans to remake a classic from their archives with more modern graphics. No, I’m not talking about Final Fantasy VII, but rather Trials of Mana, the Super Famicom sequel to Secret of Mana and the third game in the series that was long exclusive to Japan.
All of that changed last year with the release of Collection of Mana, in which Seiken Densetsu 3 was given its Trials of Mana name in the West, and its first official translation. That same sunny June, when the world’s populace could freely go outside and frolicked in the sun, Square also announced a full 3D remake of this 16-bit RPG.
Now, the game is just a few weeks from release on 24th March, but you’ll be able to play it much sooner than that thanks to a demo out tomorrow, 18th March, giving you the first few hours of the game and all the possibilities that this affords players. Best of all, you’ll be able to carry your progress through to the full game.
While we can draw some parallels between these two remakes, there are some obvious differences in the scope of Square Enix’s games. Where Final Fantasy VII feels like it’s pushing boundaries with its visuals, Trials of Mana feels much safer by comparison. The game still looks great, with a more classical 3D JRPG styling – and stereotypically skimpy outfits – having a vibe akin to the Dragon Quest series and Dragon Quest XI in particular. Similarly, the jump from 2D to 3D leads to some big changes, making it feel as fluid as a modern action-filled JRPG.
You feel this as soon as you start getting stuck into the game’s combat. All of the enemies that you encounter are visible as you run around, but if they spot you, you’ll be ensnared in combat. Here you have a handful of attacks, with a basic weak attack chain and strong attack that can be charged forming the basis of battles. There’s also flying enemies and jumping attacks, thanks to the game now being in 3D, slapping them down to the ground and letting you attack while they’re weakened.
It’s a simplistic feeling combat system, but it’s one that I feel will stay feeling relatively fresh throughout. Some enemies deal area of effect damage and their attacks are signposted with red markings on the floor for you to dodge roll out of. You can also hop between your party members on the fly, letting you take command of their abilities as and when you need them, and that lets you use the Class Strike attack you’ve been building up at the best possible time, perhaps stunning enemies in a cluster to hit them all at once.
Speaking of your party, Trials of Mana had some rather experimental and forward-thinking game design choices within it. The game has six protagonists, each with their own overlapping destiny, and you start the game by choosing a main character and two to take on a supporting role that you’ll meet early on in your journey. These shape who the overarching enemy is in the story, as well as changing a number of the characters that you’ll meet along the way. As you bump into them for the first time, you’ll have the option of playing through their own game opening to learn their side of the unfolding story, or you can simply grab a quick summary and carry on. It means that you can play through the game at least two times before you’ll get the full picture.
We chose Angela, the only daughter of the True Queen of Altena, who’s sadly a bit naff at the magical abilities that her kingdom is known for, and goes on the run in favour of being killed by her rather ruthless mother and used as a vessel for dark magic. On her journey, she happens into Hawkeye (our first companion), an orphaned member of the guild of noble thieves, forced to flee after discovering that their leader had been corrupted by dark powers. It just so happens he’s heading to Wendel as well, where they meet Charlotte, the diminutive, onesie wearing granddaughter of the Priest of Light, with an insufferable bubbly character and a ridiculously written and acted speech impediment that swaps all her l’s and r’s for w’s. I’m sure it’ll get vewwy, vewwy annoying.
Each has their own character stats in Strength, Stamina, Intellect, Spirit and Luck, and the game’s RPG underpinnings glimmer as you level up and spend Training Points in each of these areas. Doing so earns you different abilities, such as spending two points in Luck earning Angela Magic Armor and a 15% chance that enemy magic will do no damage. A neat twist to the levelling is that you can earn bonus experience through combat by performing certain feats, like defeating the enemies within a certain time or not taking any damage.
As you progress through the game, you can take your characters in different directions with basic, light and dark classes for each. Another big addition for this remake is a fourth class. Revealed toward the end of the game with a new quest to follow, it ties into a New Game Plus option, as well giving your characters more abilities and combat moves to explore and some new costumes to wear.
Making those initial visual comparisons to Final Fantasy VII Remake was probably a bit mean of me, because this Trials of Mana remake really no less comprehensive. Long considered a classic of Square Enix’s library that would never officially come to the West, it’s likely this will be the first time many people set eyes on the third game in the Mana series. Especially in comparison to how straightforward the Secret of Mana remake, Trials of Mana taking the jump from 2D to 3D means this could easily be considered a brand new game.