'Trials of Mana': Game Review

Courtesy of Square Enix
Proof positive of Square Enix’s ability to breathe new life into classic titles.

A lovingly crafted remake of a classic many may have missed 25 years ago.

The Mana series, or Seiken Densetsu as it was originally known in Japan, has a long, somewhat confusing, history that dates all the way back to the Super Nintendo. Often overshadowed by Square Enix's other massive role-playing series, Final Fantasy, the franchise's second entry, 1993's Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2 in Japan), was given a somewhat disappointing remake in 2018.

Two years later, Square has gone even further and put together a complete 3D overhaul of the next game in the series — Seiken Densetsu 3, now titled Trials of Mana — the direct sequel to Secret of Mana. This vision of the classic RPG has received a drastic graphical overhaul, with a completely redesigned set of 3D models in a matching overworld, all built from scratch. Gone are the classic 2D sprites, but in their place are lovingly designed environments and characters that certainly don’t fail to impress.

This may very well now be the definitive version of Trials of Mana and for good reason. It’s an enjoyable adventure through and through, even if you’re been acquainted with the newly localized 16-bit version on the Nintendo Switch. Like this month's Final Fantasy VII remake, Trials of Mana is proof positive of Square Enix’s ability to breathe new life into its classic titles.

Bright colors and expressive character models in the vein of Akira Toriyama's brilliant designs for the Dragon Quest series abound. With these aesthetic decisions and the modern camera controls, Trials of Mana is more reminiscent of a classic PlayStation 2 RPG — but in a nostalgic, endearing way.

The 1995 original allowed players to choose one main character and two companions to come along on a lengthy journey. This part is important, as your choices here will end up shaping the overall story and gameplay throughout your time with Trials of Mana, a system that encourages multiple playthroughs as each hero and companion bring something new to the table.

There’s a decent variety between heroes. Duran is a hard-hitting warrior whose sword means business. Charlotte is an adorable little half-elf (with a seriously awful speech impediment added in the English dub), and the enigmatic Kevin can transform into a monster to rip his enemies to shreds. Angela is a magic user and princess who calls upon the elements to do her bidding. Between the six heroes to choose from, there’s no doubt one will suit your fancy,

Each hero has their own special discipline that feels unique in combat. You may need to experiment a bit to find a hero that fits your play style, but there's a lot to enjoy about each one's strengths and abilities.

As Trials is an action RPG, it doesn't shy away from making sure you're front and center when it comes to bashing away at enemies. Your party of three will snap into battle as soon as you're spotted by an enemy, and you can start wailing on them with a combination of weak and strong attacks for powerful combos or with magical spells.

There's a constant need to strategize when it comes to deciding whether you're going to send in a melee-centric character like Hawkeye to mop the floor with enemies or focus on magic with a powerful spell-caster like Angela. Throughout each battle you can try out new configurations without worrying too much about failure, since the game can be quite forgiving. In the end, watching your team pull off a Class Strike special attack, especially during boss encounters, is especially rewarding.

If you're not too excited about your chosen hero and companions' classes, you can simply change over to a different class as soon as you reach a Mana Stone, which means you'll upgrade your stats, receive additional slots for spells and open the door for new character abilities.

You can't just do this willy-nilly after your first two class changes, however. You'll need an item called a seed, and they can be difficult to find when you're ready to swap over. This can be a bit frustrating, but it's certainly not a game-breaking feature.

Outside of combat, those who have played Secret of Mana will find quite a few similarities here. There are eight elemental palaces scattered throughout the overworld that must be visited if you're to save the world from total destruction. Of course, they're few and far between, joined together by way of traditional RPG-styled towns and gorgeous new environments with eye-popping colors. The world feels massive in scope, and when offered an opportunity to explore new areas, you truly feel ready to dive in and see where the story can take you.

And there’s nothing forcing you to deal with hours worth of battle before rewarding you with story. Grinding through dungeons can be disheartening in games with random battles, especially when you just want to see where things are going. Luckily, that isn't the case here, as you'll travel through multiple field maps with visible enemies. It isn't a good practice to skip battles every time you just don't feel like fighting, but it's a great way to ensure combat fatigue doesn't set in and lets you scout for treasure and items even when your party isn't up for battle.

With that in mind, your quest (which can take upwards of 20 hours to complete) never feels like a slog. The game benefits from satisfying pacing, so you're always seeking out that next dangling carrot of plot, better items or character development just around the corner.

Plus, there are several waypoint markers to help lead the way and keep things moving at an expedient pace. If you find yourself turned around or needing assistance on where to go next, these markers are invaluable — though series purists may scoff at their inclusion. It’s refreshing, however, to cut out the frustration of figuring out what’s next while also working through battle after battle.

Trials of Mana is a surprisingly excellent effort by Square Enix to modernize a classic RPG that many Western players have never experienced. It’s chock-full of content, great-looking and engaging in ways that can't be said about some genre competitors. If you’re looking for another remake after wrapping up Final Fantasy VII, you can’t go wrong with this other Square offering, which was very clearly pumped full of TLC at every pivotal moment.