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REVIEW – Trials of Mana

Getting to experience a classic for the first time

Trials of Mana is a remake of the 1995 Super Famicom game of the same name. The game never saw an international release, which was a terrible shame given its action-based gameplay and unique method of story-telling were wildly innovative for the time. Now, fifteen years later, the rest of the world finally gets to see what all the hubbub was about in the 3D Nintendo Switch remake.

A world of Mana

The story of Trials of Mana plays out in a relatively unique way. At the beginning of the game, players can choose from one of six characters to play as. Each character plays slightly differently, from melee brawlers through to spellcasters, and each character also has their own unique story that weaves its way into the overall main narrative. Players also go on to then choose two companion characters that will be met soon into their journey. Some characters will interact more than others, and players will have an opportunity to play through their backstories upon meeting them as a way to get a sense of who they are and why they’re on this journey.

As an example, I chose the Beastman Kevin, because the idea of a Beastman named Kevin in a high fantasy world was wildly hilarious to me. Then I learned his tragic opening story involved the death of his best friend, a wolf pup named Karl. In theory this is pretty sad, but Kevin’s voice acting isn’t exactly great and hearing him yelling ‘Karl’ over and over was also absolutely hilarious, even if unintentionally.

It sort of sets up just what kind of game this is, it’s a classic JRPG, complete with all the tropes that entails, remade with a modern engine and gameplay sensibilities. The story also changes slightly depending on the character chosen, as the secondary villain can be chosen from one of three villains that are integral to the characters personal stories, and works as a really interesting way of ensuring that every play through with each character feels fresh, even if players will be retreading the same overall plot.

That plot, by the way, is that the Mana Tree, the source of all Mana and magic of the world, is slowly dying and each character is drawn into its plot through various ways, with the player character encountering a fairy called… Faerie. She explains that they need to find the Mana Stones and the Sword of Mana in an epic quest to revitalise the tree to ensure Mana remains flowing in the world and the balance of nature is kept.

The main plot falls into a lot of classic JRPG cliches and doesn’t really have anything exciting to offer, with the bulk of interest being captured by the characters individual stories and how they weave together, which is also what offers replayability. But for anyone looking for something cutting edge, this isn’t the place to find it.

An action RPG at its best

While the story might be a little cliche and not hold the interest of some players, the gameplay is where Trials of Mana really shines. Gameplay is seamlessly split between exploration and combat, with players able to fully explore towns and the overworld/dungeons, even if they are fairly small. But this works in their favour, ensuring plenty of treasure and enemies can be crammed in without large areas of empty expanse purely to make the world feel bigger.

It creates a streamlined exploration and progression experience that holds the players interest while remaining faithful to the Super Famicom original, right down to the soundtrack which can be switched back to the classic version, or the incredible orchestrated remade soundtrack.

The combat is fast-paced and full of options, whether that be mashing the attack button for newer players who just want to make things dead, or having a heavier focus on abilities, combos and the unique aspects of each class for the player who wants to push the system to its limit. Entry to combat is seamless as enemies are encountered on the various overworld and dungeon maps, and players have access to light and heavy melee attacks, as well as a variety of spells and abilities.

Spells, abilities and general stat increases are earned through levelling up, as usual, but players are given ‘training’ points to put into whichever stat they want to focus on. Naturally there’s ‘suggested’ paths for each character, which are explained on the introduction screens when choosing, but the freedom to completely ignore that and dump all your stats into strength and luck to create a powerful, lucky idiot is absolutely an option.

Abilities come in the form of buffs to characters, ‘link abilities’ which are shared between the party and unique abilities that can be equipped as the player sees fit. There are also class abilities, which are unlocked automatically as the player progresses and their character has various different classes to choose from.

For example, my good pal Kevin the Beastman starts as a Grappler. This is a primarily melee class using kick/punch combos. Tier 2 of classes offer a little more variety in abilities, but Tier 3 is where the customisation really shines, with Kevin having four different options for what he can specialise in, from Warrior Monk to Divine Fist, all still melee based, but with added flair, like magical abilities that might offer up a bit of range, or fast-paced flurries of kicks and punches to put an end to battles quickly.

Though despite all the options offered to players, combat can be rather easy, even on harder difficulties. Playing on normal, I never found the need to use items to heal myself (and the game is constantly offering up healing items), and I found most encounters could be easily won by mashing the attack button until I made a thing dead.

So in essence, if players want a taste of the more complicated intricacies of the battle system, they’re going to have to play on harder difficulties or just make a real effort to get the most out of the system.

A classic reinvented

Trials of Mana is a bit of an oddity in terms of a remake. Sword of Mana was its predecessor which was remade a couple of years ago to mixed reviews, and there was a relatively niche market for a remake of Trials of Mana. And yet, we got it, and I think we’re the better for it as a really interesting retread of a unique, classic JRPG that did a lot of interesting things for its time.

Even though the game might appear simple at first glance, it offers up a lot of hidden depths, and as a result would be an excellent way to get players into the JRPG genre, even if the story is a little silly and barebones at times. It’s also a great way to get younger players into the genre, given it’s relatively forgiving.

Trials of Mana is out now for Nintendo Switch, PC and PlayStation 4.

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