Trials Of Mana – three companions but only single-player (pic: Square Enix)
The sequel to SNES classic Secret Of Mana becomes Square Enix’s second major remake of the year, but is it as good as Final Fantasy 7?
We would’ve bet good money that Final Fantasy 7 Remake would turn out to be a major disappointment. With so many fans having such a sense of jealous ownership over the original, the chances of being able to please everyone seemed remote. And yet Square Enix came close to doing exactly that, in what is one of their best role-playing games for years. But it’s not the only classic remake they have out at the moment, even if Trials Of Mana isn’t quite as successful.
The original Trials Of Mana is much less famous than Final Fantasy 7 and until very recently had never been released in the West. It originally launched on the SNES in 1995 and was well known in import circles as Seiken Densetsu 3. The first entry in the series is a Game Boy game that was originally known in Europe as Final Fantasy Adventure and which received a so-so remake as Sword Of Mana on the Game Boy Advance.
The most famous entry is Secret Of Mana, which was available in Europe and is often described as Square Enix’s answer to The Legend Of Zelda. But while the graphics and combat were similar (and technically far superior to contemporary A Link To The Past) there were no proper puzzles or any real depth to the game. It received a very cheaply made and unambitious remake in 2018 and, while it does have many problems, we can at least say Trials Of Mana is better than that.
The original Trials Of Mana was released in Europe last year as part of the Collection Of Mana series for the Switch. That was a straight port, that retained the original top-down viewpoint and 2D graphics, but this is a proper remake with 3D graphics and voice-acting. The low-tech visuals betray the fact that it’s been designed primarily for the Switch, despite also being available on PlayStation 4 and PC, but the cartoonish art style is relatively charming and surprisingly close to the original. Even if the SNES was state-of-the-art for its time and this is most certainly not.
Trials Of Mana is not a direct sequel to Secret Of Mana but it does have a giant Mana Tree in it, which in this instance is a sleeping goddess who sealed away eight monsters that bad guys are trying to awaken because… they’re bad guys. Secret Of Mana, famously, had a three-player co-op option, although that was reduced to two for Trials Of Mana. The remake though is strictly single-player only, although it does have a similar party system to the original where you can pick the main character and two allies out of a possible six.
You can switch between any of the three characters during battle but the main one is who the story focuses on, which if nothing else adds considerable replayability for a second playthrough. More likely though you’ll end up restarting the game after an hour or two, once you realise how the characters work and because making such an important decision right at the start, with only a vague class-type description to go on, is an unwelcome leap of faith.
Once you have settled on a team it quickly becomes obvious that, just like the original, this an action role-player where combat is almost the only activity. The story is perfunctory and the characterisation is almost embarrassingly childish, especially given the amateur hour voiceovers. The game’s clearly going for a Dragon Quest style family-friendliness but that’s left the game with nothing of substance to latch onto except the combat.
Trials Of Mana – you might remember this guy from the original (pic: Square Enix)
Things start off very simple, but the game’s real-time combat slowly evolves into something that eventually feels like a junior version of Devil May Cry. Different characters have specialities including melee and ranged combat, but everyone can pull off increasingly lengthy combos and use items and magic abilities. In a nice touch the combat still feels something like the original game too, with the emphasis on charging for heavy attacks and using each character’s enjoyably overpowered special attacks.
The late game upgrades become increasingly obtuse, with the game barely even trying to explain how they’re supposed to work, but even so the action is clearly the best part of the game. However, it’s nowhere near interesting enough to make up for everything else, with endless backtracking, no interesting side quests, and nothing to look forward to but endless fighting.
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Trials Of Mana Nintendo Switch review – the other remake
The weak storytelling and focus on combat are all because this is a remake and that’s fair enough… to a degree. But when it results in a game this one-note and repetitive you have to question whether a remake was really a sensible idea after all. Surely a new sequel, using a similar combat system, would’ve been a better idea, especially given how almost unknown the original is in the West.
The other central problem is that the two things Secret Of Mana, and by association all its related games, is best known for is its excellent graphics and its co-op gameplay. And neither of those are present for this remake. Nobody’s going to spend Final Fantasy 7 Remake money funding a remake of Trials Of Mana but, again, that only hammers home that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea in the first place.
Trials Of Mana Nintendo Switch review summary
In Short: A better remake than Secret Of Mana, even if it does remove one of the original’s best features, but the one-note gameplay and weak storytelling limit its appeal considerably.
Pros: The combat is decent and maintains a clear connection to the original game. Boss battles are definitely fun.
Cons: The storytelling is awful, especially the dialogue and voice-acting. Very few other gameplay elements beyond fighting. No co-op and unhelpful character selection system.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, and PCPrice: £44.99Publisher: Square EnixDeveloper: Xeen and Square EnixRelease Date: 24th April 2020Age Rating: 12
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