I never played the original Seiken Densetsu 3. And to drop $50 on what looked like a budget JRPG didn’t seem like the smartest move during a global pandemic. But Angela looked smoking hot in the trailers (that leotard good lord) and so I ended up pulling the trigger on Trials of Mana.
Now, are the Mana games connected? Do you have to play the first two beforehand? Not at all. I probably wouldn’t have jumped in otherwise.
Initial fears about the production quality in Trials of Mana are mostly true. The cutscenes feel a bit flat due to a small range of character animations. And both the English and Japanese voice performances are a spotty mix of sometimes endearing and other times embarrassing.
For example, one of the child characters, Charlotte, replaces certain consonants with ‘w’s so she’ll say things like “I had a dweam that…” or “this could be dangewous.” That’s probably the worst case in terms of the English VAs, and fortunately it isn’t too bad otherwise.
Trials of Mana | A Gamer’s Game?
I thought Angela, the main character I chose amongst the cast to start the game, had a hilarious and well performed valley girl accent. Combined with the story book-like simplicity of the plot and the other colorful characters, it grew on me over time.
You can choose two other supporting characters that you will find in the world shortly after the main protagonists’ intro journey. A tragedy or turn of events will leave the protagonist exploring the world on their lonesome. But eventually you’ll bump into your other two cast members and soon have a 3 person party for the remainder of the game.
From there, Trials of Mana is a series of town hopping between dungeons and winding paths in various environments. These elements are the meat of the game and are sprinkled with small packs of enemies to engage throughout. In the menus, points can then be allocated to stats, abilities, and eventual class changes.
Things start to get fun. And, as it turns out, Trials of Mana becomes an enchanting little action JRPG.
From Budget to Butter
It probably hit me when an NPC offered to shoot me out of a cannon to reach the next town. It’s a lovable kind of absurdity. And this fairy tale nature of Trials of Mana becomes a warm and inviting reason to keep revisiting the experience.
And it’s a clean experience. Like, super clean. Responsive dodging and melee cancels are there. Buttery menus to slide through. Beautiful colors coming at you at 60 fps or 120 fps (if you’re on PC) as you explore zones for tucked away treasure chests — can’t beat that.
And there’s this perfect elevation of difficulty that comes a few hours in that really encourages you to take a smarter look at your party setup. Early on, Trials of Mana can feel a little too simple. Like you worry if it’s going to be a 1-2-3 combo masher for its entirety. Then all of a sudden you’re asking questions like “should I respec?”
There’s also a nicely done method of telegraphing abilities from enemies. An area appears on the field in red when an enemy executes an ability or spell. Get out of any danger zones before they visibly fill to bright red, and you avoid damage. It’s simple and many games do it. But in Trials of Mana I didn’t once feel cheated on a missed dodge or wonder if my hitbox registered. Clean game.
The boss fights in Trials of Mana are wonderfully designed. There’s one that’s a door demon that turns the entire room into spike traps and it’s just a hilarious time. Visually and creatively there’s a lot to enjoy in Trials of Mana’s many bosses.
But I often found myself winning many of these fights with only one character left.
When You Want Something Done…
Unfortunately, this is because your AI party members have trouble understanding danger. You control one party member in Trials of Mana but can smoothly switch to another at a moment’s notice. Otherwise, they do their best, which means two early deaths in many boss fights.
In fact, the harder fights in Trials of Mana become easier once you stop focusing on trying to keep the bad AI alive.
For most other things the AI is serviceable, and you can set them to different levels of aggression somewhat effectively. And it’s nice to switch from your main and try a new character and realize how much better you are than the computer. Still, it remains an obvious flaw of the overall system.
Other than that though, really nothing but love for this remake. When you start upgrading to new classes and finding some raw power opportunities it’s a great time. Popping chests open, blasting toy-like creatures with spells, enjoying an upbeat and wistful soundtrack — it’s a nice play.
Trials of Mana in 2020 feels nostalgic, even for myself who has never played the original. And I think that says something about its quality and appeal. Or maybe it’s just Angela I don’t know.
Other JRPGs released in 2020