'Trials of Mana': The Decades-Long Journey to Bring a Missing Franchise Entry to the West

Trials of Mana - Square Enix Publicity- H 2020
Courtesy of Square Enix
With both a remastered version of the original 1995 role-playing game and a complete remake now available, American audiences are finally able to get their hands on the missing third entry — but the road to the screen was anything but smooth.

The Mana franchise may have begun its life as a side story to Square's flagship Final Fantasy series, but, over the past nearly three decades, Mana has slowly grown into a formidable creation all its own, having collectively sold over 6 million units across its multiple installments on the PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Vita and even mobile devices, with the most recent game, Trials of Mana, now available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PC.

The debut of Trials of Mana marks a mostly complete Mana timeline for fans who had been forced to wait patiently not only for a properly translated version of one of the series entries, but a complete remake in the vein of a modern Mana adventure.

Unlike Final Fantasy, which has been massively popular globally for more than 20 years, the Mana series has had a checkered past in the West, with a somewhat bizarre lineage that began in 1991 with the Game Boy's Final Fantasy Adventure, or Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden (which literally translates to "The Legend of the Sacred Sword"). The game was a departure from the classic Final Fantasy formula, combining elements of The Legend of Zelda with RPG mechanics that made for a wholly different experience, though it did include hallmarks from the series such as chocobos. It was well-received, so much so that critics have referred to it as one of the Game Boy's greatest adventures. 

The series would further evolve in 1993 with the Super Nintendo's Secret of Mana, which was considered a direct sequel to Final Fantasy Adventure. This was the first game to carry the Mana moniker for Western gamers, which made for some understandable confusion among players who had no idea this was a sequel. It earned a considerable amount of praise for its real-time battle system, Ring Command menus, candy-colored graphics and plot. Thus, players clamored for another sequel.

The third entry arrived in the form of Seiken Densetsu 3 on the Super Nintendo in 1995 — but not in the West. The game introduced a variety of intriguing enhancements, such as a multi-hero narrative, a time progression system and a variety of character classes to choose from. The next entry in the Mana series wouldn't arrive until 1999 for Western gamers, when Legend of Mana, the fourth game in the franchise, made its way to the original PlayStation.

It would be 20 years before Nintendo finally brought the full franchise to Western audiences by including the original 16-bit Seiken Densetsu 3, now titled Trials of Mana, in the Switch’s Collection of Mana in 2019. Mana series producer Masaru Oyamada tells The Hollywood Reporter that Trials "topped the list" for fans outside of Japan when it came to the most requested games from the team, though there had also been numerous requests for a completely new entry. A year later, and a fully-remade version of Trials of Mana is available.

Trials of Mana is the latest example of a classic title receiving a complete rebuild. Other examples from this year include Final Fantasy VII Remake and Capcom's Resident Evil 3. Though the original Trials had been remastered for the Collection of Mana Switch bundle, Square Enix has now remade the game from the ground up, from character models to environments and everything in between.

It was a move that Oyamada found necessary in addition to offering the original game. The team felt that the game would be "more accessible to new users" if there was a completely remade version treated as a "brand-new title" instead of offering the same game that was created 25 years ago.

"We noticed a lot of feedback [over the years], with the general sentiment that what people wanted from the Mana series was to play something more modernized," says Oyamada. "I think that this helped push us toward making the decision to really go for it in the remake.”

Oyamada and the Square Enix team had already been working on a 3D remake of the original Secret of Mana when the idea to bring Trials of Mana to life in 3D came up. The prospect instantly struck a chord.

"There were plans already for this new version of Trials of Mana following Secret of Mana, and it was around the end of 2018 that I took on my role for it," Shinichi Tatsuke, Trials of Mana's producer, says. "From there, we started with staff assignment and determining the direction we wanted to take with the remake, and we started development in the beginning of 2019. We completed the project in two years. I think it went relatively smoothly."

The question of why Trials of Mana never made it to the West in the first place has been a source of speculation in the gaming community, with many pointing to the high cost of localizing the game for Western audiences. However, according to the Mana team, the decision came down to the technical constraints of the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo).

"When the original Trials of Mana was developed, it barely fit within the confines of the data capacity available for the Super Famicom at the time," Oyamada says. "This meant there was no additional space that could accommodate localized data."

In 2000, a fan translation project led by Neill Corlett, who had worked on localizations of Final Fantasy and Seiken Densetsu games in the past, was completed and uploaded to the internet. Players could download the free, unofficial patch and apply it to ROMs to play in English via an emulator or a special Super Nintendo console with backup capabilities. For some time, it seemed as if this would be the only way anyone would ever be able to experience Seiken Densetsu 3. Luckily, years later, the Switch has now made the perfect home for both the 16-bit localization of the game and its remake.

“We knew from our experience releasing Collection of Mana on Switch in Japan that if we were to do this, the Switch console would probably allow us to include the localized data without the need to worry about limitations in storage capacity,” says Oyamada. “Therefore, with the strong push that we received from our Western team members, the development of Collection of Mana for the West became a reality.”

Still, before the game was ever made available, Oyamada found fans' passion for the game “wonderful," saying it made him "extremely happy" that both Seiken Densetsu 3 and the Mana series overall are so beloved by fans around the world. With the success of the remake of Trials of Mana, and many gamers going on to discover the rest of the series from there, it’s possible that another Mana game could soon be on the horizon.

“I want to work toward making that happen," says Oyamada. "I’d love to create a completely new game geared toward the latest hardware. This is a series that has long been loved by people all around the world, so I hope to make it a name that continues to be loved by younger generations for many years to come."