Charlie loves her video games as much as she loves dumb, charming JRPG protagonists: probably way too much. You can often catch her spending too much time being emotional over LGBT stories in games. She also thinks Yakuza 6 is the best one.
April 24, 2020
25 years after its original release, a little game by the name of Trials of Mana has come out. It looks quite different from the 1995 Japanese version. Instead of the top-down, isometric view we now have a fully-fledged third-person remake, brought to life in a world of colour. The only question is, was the long wait worth it?
Like narrative games at the time, Trials of Mana has a quite simple fantasy premise. Deep in a secluded forest lies a great tree. Wedged in the roots of that very tree is a mystic sword known as the Sword of Mana, previously used to banish the evil Benevodon. Now, evil forces are intent on retrieving the sword and resurrecting these powerful spirits. Your ragtag trio of heroes is now in a footrace with the evildoers to the sword, in order to protect the world as we know it. As a player, you needn’t fret. Big elemental Mana stones await in the long journey and they’ll come of aid, making the party far more powerful for that final battle.
Once you familiarise yourself with the bizarre lore and jargon in the story, Trials of Mana has quite an approachable RPG narrative. It doesn’t have much depth sure, but when you look at the game under the lens of a highlight of RPG narratives past, it works. Truth be told I didn’t find myself being all that invested in the story. Still, seeing where some of the JRPG fantasy tropes stem from feels like this nice and welcoming history lesson of a gaming era long ago.
Setting is nailed here and it’s clear early on the game is a journey of the truest nature. In the world, you’ll see such environments as monarchical cities, ice caves, rolling deserts and even a forest forever shrouded in night, to name a few. They’re not anything to write home about in terms of graphical fidelity, but they sure are colourful. A gorgeous, remade soundtrack also plays as you travel, immersing you further. Enemies you face here never get any explanation but their character design is at least plausible for the environment they’re in. You’ll revisit and go through these areas multiple times throughout your 25 or so hours with the game. Sometimes it feels like needless backtracking. Others it’s visiting newly unlocked areas in environments. Oh, and you can use a turtle as a ferry. It’s all part of the journey, for better or worse.
Another fun and great takeaway from Trials of Mana is that it feels more focused on character than narrative. At the start of the game, you choose your party of three. I went with Duran, Angela and Hawkeye because I felt they complimented each other best. Duran, the noble wannabe knight, Angela the mage empress and Hawkeye, the rogue thief. This stuff writes itself.
Each of these characters have their own motivations unique to them. Duran is a passionate, arguably aloof soldier that yearns to defeat the Crimson Wizard and defend the King he’s so undyingly devoted to. Angela was cruelly banished and almost murdered by her Queen mother. Hawkeye on the other hand, just wants to protect his dear friend Jessica who unwillingly is wearing a Necklace that could kill her at any moment. The stories are cheesy and quite trope-filled of course, but these were still a delight to watch play out.
“Seeing where some of the JRPG fantasy tropes stem from feels like this nice and welcoming history lesson of games past.”
For fans looking for a deep RPG experience in its combat, you’ll be left feeling a bit high and dry. Taking on enemies feels very blandly hack and slashy with its typical strong and weak attack buttons. There is however a bit to mix it up with spells and a more powerful class ability attack once a gauge is filled up. This typically went one of two ways: going through the motions on normal enemies, and slightly more meaningful when it came to those big bosses. An argument can be made that it’s a great introduction for people new to RPG combat, and it is. Think a more basic and less strategic Final Fantasy VII Remake.
The bones I have to pick with Trials of Mana are worth mentioning. Certain parts still make the game stuck in the past. A 3D remake coming out in 2020 has allowed for more personality from characters, sure. However, oddly enough, the dynamics of your party aren’t really established at all. For a game focused on a party, your characters don’t interact all that much.
It’s also clear in some cases the focus was more on the art design of the character. Angela, like many other female characters in the game, is a woman with impossibly sized breasts. Charlotte, one of your party member options, is a teen that speaks unsettlingly like a toddler. It’s very JRPG-y and something I’ve frankly grown tired of.
As par with other RPGs in the ’90s, the original Trials of Mana invited players along with the developers to learn and discover just where the world of RPG narrative games could go. Some 25 years later with the genre being well established and fleshed out, the Trials of Mana remake re-invites old-timers and welcomes newcomers for a competent history lesson of the genre.
In short, Trials of Mana’s simplicity makes this a game for just about anyone. Iffy character designs and bizarre world lore aside, Trials of Mana is a competent remade journey I’m glad I experienced.