Trials of Mana (Switch) Review
I have played more than half of the Secret of Mana several times over the years, one day I’ll play the whole thing I promise. Way back (nearly 2 decades ago) I stumbled across the next game in the Mana series, Trials of Mana, through a fan translation. I played through a bunch of the character’s stories, but again never finished it. Then came the Mana collection in 2019. Finally, a way to partially play these classics, finally Trials of Mana with an official English translation, and finally widely available! Also announced was that there was going to be a Trials of Mana remake in 2020, now 2020 is here and so is the remake. After a not so great remake of Secret of Mana, can Trials do the original justice?
Depending what main characters you choose for the adventure will determine some of the major threads of your story. The overall gist is the Mana Tree is withering, and Mana (magic) is fading from the world. Meanwhile, scheming forces intend to obtain the Mana Stones that seal eight Benevodons. These are powerful monsters that would bring untold destruction if they were unleashed, especially when peaceful times are coming to an end.
What stood out way back when in Trials of Mana was that you would begin with one of six characters, all of whom had different starting stories and each fulfilled different RPG roles. Duran the swordsman, Angela the mage and Kevin the melee brawler (and beastman), as well as Charlotte, Hawkeye, and Riesz. Then from the same pool, you pick your two companions. Some of their stories intertwine better than others, some companions share extra dialogue, but you can pick any combination you want.
If you want to see everyone’s stories you’re going to have to replay the game at least once. It’s worth looking up which combinations provide which story thread, especially when some story beats can be a little disjointed depending on who you choose. For the two companions, you are also given the option to play their introduction, which is a helpful option if you’re replaying any characters. They don’t take long and can add some extra insight into what’s going on in the background if the characters share the same story thread.
I decided on Duran, Angela, and Charlotte, and for nearly 10 hours one of Duran’s biggest concerns was changing/upgrading his class to get stronger. It does serve the bigger picture, but it seems a bit silly at times. You have to keep in mind the story is from a game over 20 years old, so you’re going to have to forgive it for not being a narrative masterpiece. If you have played your share of old JRPGs, the strange and sudden shifts in pacing or story detours won’t be unfamiliar to you either. If you’ve played the original game then you already know what it’s all about besides the post-story content. When you finish the story you get access to an additional episode and an additional class level, both are brand new for the remake. It’s cool to have a bit more to do as long as you don’t go in expecting a big post-game.
The game has had a big visual upgrade. Instead of a top-down sprite-based game, it is now a 3D third-person adventure. The other big change to the game is the combat. It isn’t the same as the original Trials, with one button for attack and where you need to charge up attacks to 100% to do the most damage. Now, there is a light and heavy attack that can also form combos. You can even jump up and swat down pesky aerial enemies. Now that you’re playing in more of a 3D space, flying enemies pose a different threat as they are out of reach of attacks on the ground. The item and mana rings return and are more useful than ever, now you can make them shortcuts so magic and charged attacks are easy to access.
When the enemies unleash some heavier hitting attacks, the game is nice enough to highlight the area of damage. While it can be easy for you to get out of the way, your AI partners do struggle. Like in the original you can adjust your team’s strategies, limit the number of items they use, how often they use magic and so on. With a minimal adjustment, I never had a real issue with my team outside of getting caught up in the boss attacks with a large radius of damage. Fortunately, it wasn’t anything a reviving Cup of Wishes couldn’t fix, not that you’re likely to burn through all nine of them (you can carry more, but can only use nine in combat).
Now while I’ve said I’ve partially played these games several times, I want to make it clear that it wasn’t because I disliked them. If anything over the years I’ve gotten Secret of Mana across most platforms (even the iOS version) because I love the series, but at some point, I would fall off and stop playing it. One thing that I always enjoyed was the combat, well that and the music and designs, but the action RPG element always brought me back in. Playing Trials again I didn’t realise I had actually gotten so far until I was deep into the game and memories came flooding back. Whether you played it back then too or more recently, it is cool to be able to see how the game looks with more grand visual designs and distinct boss monster designs.
All of the main characters stand out and now are able to look much closer to their character portraits from the original selection screen. Square Enix has done a great job in translating the original into 3D, the heroes and enemies are all instantly recognisable and look better than ever. They even keep some of the details from the original that you wouldn’t expect to see here. The dancing shopkeepers and animation of being shot out of a cannon always looked silly back then, they still look silly now. Keeping them in was a nice addition along with some original sound effects that I always appreciated. The 3D update lets the game down slightly however with the camera. It doesn’t follow your character around well, and you have to target lock onto enemies if you want to keep your focus on them. I was never worse off overall, but It was a little annoying that the camera needed to be constantly adjusted to keep track of enemies as soon as they were out of vision.
While the majority of my memories of this game are from many years ago, I hopped into the original version of Trials recently released in the Mana Collection. It’s hard to tell if they just used the translation from the original and put it in this remake, or if the dialogue was shared between them from the get-go. Regardless, if you played the original recently the dialogue might be very familiar. Overall it works, the game never treats its dialogue too seriously and if it’s good enough to use for the original translation then it’s good enough to use here too. It’s not entirely word for word from the original, there are additions made on top of what’s included post-game.
If you’ve played the demo or seen clips then you’re already well aware, but the English voice acting is tough to listen to. I’m not sure what happened, but the quality varies from moment to moment and it is bad more often than not. Sometimes it’s the dialogue not matching up to actions the character is doing, and it often felt like there was no context given to what the VA needed to say. It definitely isn’t of a quality you would figure with a title like this. There is the Japanese voice option if you can’t handle it, with the voices matching up more to their actions at least. I generally focussed on the text anyway. Although this strategy failed me at least whenever Charlotte speaks (should you have her in your party), because she is young they have made her text also read as babyish. It’s not unbearable, but it is unpleasant having to translate through the baby talk. While her character isn’t bad (none of them are), her text is still bad!
What does fare much better is the music. It was distinct in the original and even after all the years it still is familiar. I loved the music for the original game and I love it here, even better is that you get to have both! You can swap between soundtracks at any time, both of which are a delight to listen to. Switching between them you’ll quickly discover how good the originals were.
The remake makes the towns, kingdoms, and surrounding areas look more grandiose. There are items and chests dotted all over the place, in fact, a lot of the time spent anywhere is looking for the sparkles that indicate items. While the world looks really nice I also found it also feels emptier with all that open space, and there isn’t much else to do in those spaces. The minimap will always nicely highlight the people to talk to or the places to go which is helpful, but also highlights how non-perfunctory a lot of the scenery is. I, of course, had to explore every corner for every item and stockpile every piece of chocolate they would let me get my grubby hands on. The emptiness of the world isn’t the only thing that carried over from the 90s, there’s also the overall story. The story is linear despite the world slowly opening up to traveling where you want. Even when given a choice you’ll have to go to the other location after. The classic Mana games aren’t super deep open-world adventures, they didn’t need to be. The remake does highlight that it’s a game from another time, but then if you went and added a whole heap of side quests and story developments it would stop being the remake they were aiming for.
While I enjoyed the story, it’s hard to ignore that old pacing, with the abrupt ghost ship adventure being a good example. It’s at this point that I had to keep in mind that this is a remake, warts and all. If you’re here to play Trials of Mana then that’s exactly what you’re going to get. That said it is a great way to experience this classic and does the original justice. The improvements in combat alone help bring the game into the present and makes it a fun action RPG to play even if you have no experience with the series. If you are new to the Mana series then hopefully this remake will encourage you to dive back into the originals.
There are several difficulty settings, with two easier settings below the standard difficulty. It shouldn’t need to be said but it’s always good when games offer the widest range of settings to make sure you get to see the game through. Through most of the game it’s not that tough on Normal, the biggest obstacle is usually bosses who are damage sponges.
How does Trials of Mana perform on the Switch? I didn’t have any issues. It wasn’t running at 60fps or anything, but it ran perfectly fine regardless. The visuals would sometimes take half a second to fill in more detail during cutscenes, but overall they look great on the Switch.
Trials of Mana is a good remake of a game that we only really got to play properly a year ago. While not all remakes have to stay 100% true to the original, Trials adds to the original and makes it better to play overall. The combat is fun to play, the world looks great and the music is a delight to listen to. The remake doesn’t try to mess with the narrative of the original, it is still a 90s RPG for the good and bad, but besides some weird pacing it stands up for its time.
If you’re looking for more of the Mana series with better combat and extra story beyond the original, then Trials of Mana is definitely for you (if you didn’t already get it day one!). For everyone else, this is a neat remake and is the best the series has looked and sounded and is fun to play.
+ The remake does the original justice
+ The revamped combat is fun
+ New and old soundtracks are both great to listen to
- English voice dub is hard to listen to
- While the world looks nice, it feels empty
- Camera issues