Trials of Mana review (PS4)

The second big “Mana” remake in two years, Trials of Mana is now out for PC, PS4 and Nintendo Switch. We checked out the Switch version.

Unlike Secret of Mana, which was remade in 2018, the original Trials of Mana (or Seiken Densetsu 3) was never released in the West, which makes this an especially interesting release for those who never delved into the realm of imported games. For many, this will be the first time they’re playing the game, which is a different kind of “remake” experience than we had with Secret of Mana or the recent Final Fantasy VII.

For those familiar with the SNES original, the 3D visuals will quite literally bring a new dimension to the game. It’s essentially the same game as before, but all of the locations, buildings and characters have now been realized in 3D. It doesn’t look as breathtaking as the recent Resident Evil or Final Fantasy remakes, but for a Switch title this is an impressive RPG that feels right at home on the platform.

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The plot/writing in the game is very “early nineties” in that plotlines aren’t as complex or multi-layered as we now experience in our games, but to me that’s part of the charm – a bit like how some old action, fantasy and sci-fi movies keep their charm exactly because their characters are so recognizable and defined. An uncharacteristic element for that time is that Trials of Mana gives you six playable characters to choose from, and although it only moderately increases the replay value of the game it’s nice to have a bit of player choice up front.

There are differences based on which characters you play with (you’re choosing both a hero and two party members), though much of the story remains the same. Each hero has his/her personal background, which colors the experience – and you’ll see character-specific plot elements and enemies once you get closer to the end of the story campaign. It’s not enough to make me want to dive in six times in a row, but it’s nice to know you can pick up the game again in a few months and have a slightly different experience.

The bulk of the game isn’t focused on the narrative, as combat and traveling between objectives makes up the most of your in-game time. Pacing is handled by having little towns to visit in between your missions and dungeons, where you can upgrade your weapons and supplies – which you’ll need to do regularly over the course of a 25+ hour campaign.

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Coming from a 2D SNES game from 1995, it’s no surprise that combat isn’t incredibly deep in Trials of Mana. There’s a normal attack, a heavy attack and an evade/roll button, and for a long time it stays incredible simple. Things become a bit more involved once you start unlocking additional abilities and attacks later on, and spellcasting is done while you pause the fight so there’s a bit of strategizing at those points as well. Those who like their RPGs free of complex combat mechanics needn’t worry though – Trials of Mana is very accessible. Unless you play on ‘hard’, which severely affects the level of challenge you face in combat.

Trials of Mana performs well on the Switch in its new 3D incarnation (the 2D original can also be played on the Switch), though the new 3D approach does mean that the game will frequently pause to load a new section of gameplay. Nothing that ruins the experience, but it’s noticeable because the rest of the game flows so nicely. Definitely recommended if you enjoy a lengthy action-heavy RPG that you can take on the go.

Score: 7.8/10

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