Final Fantasy VII isn’t the only RPG from Square Enix that got the remake treatment this month, with Trials of Mana alsogetting a 3D revamp that has seen the game get completely remade from the ground up. I’d imagine that it was more sought after than its Final Fantasy counterpart in some circles too, especially since the original game didn’t even see a release outside of Japan until its launch on the Nintendo Switch last year.
Whilst Final Fantasy VII saw a complete and thorough re-imagining that included all new scenes, characters, gameplay enhancements, and so forth, Trials of Mana does things in a simpler manner – this is a remake that has simply transitioned from a 16-bit sprite-based world to a fully 3D and explorable one, all whilst sprucing up the combat mechanics in the meantime. I’ll admit, I haven’t played the original game so maybe I didn’t notice a few subtle changes here and there, but that certainly didn’t stop me from having fun in this action-orientated and super charming RPG experience.
One of the best things about Trials of Mana is that there are multiple characters to play as, with the player able to choose from six that will make up a three-person party – one of those will be your main character whose story you follow, whilst the other two play a supporting role. Whilst each character brings with them some narrative changes, they also feel completely different to use in-combat and have varying strengths, weaknesses, and abilities.
Duran is a warrior that uses swords to dish out damage, Angela uses a wand that unleashes ranged magic, Kevin has high strength and can transform into a beast, Charlotte plays a healing role, Hawkeye unleashes fast dagger-based combos on his foes, whilst Riesz can unleash ranged attacks with her spear and has summoning capabilities.
There is no right or wrong combination of characters to use, with the player able to choose freely based upon their capabilities alone or if they just think a certain character looks particularly cool. Let’s be honest, though – Kevin can turn into a beast, so you HAVE to choose him, right? With different antagonists to face off against and differing story events based upon your party choice though, there’s certainly an incentive in place to go through the game on a few occasions just to see how each character feels to use and what differences they bring to the overall narrative.
No matter who you pick, there is a basic storyline to follow that revolves around visiting eight Mana Stones to seek the help of the special element guardians that are tied to them. Your ultimate goal is to find the way to the Sanctuary of Mana in order to collect the Sword of Mana and stop it from falling into the hands of the baddies who want to cause all sorts of trouble. It’s your typical fantasy-RPG premise, but it offers enough to keep you invested in what’s going on whilst the narrative changes that your party choice makes add a few personal touches to the tale.
It’s in the combat where Trials of Mana really shines, with its action-orientated approach and differing abilities of characters offering more than enough to ensure battles are tense and entertaining. Players can dish out both light and heavy attacks upon their enemies with simple button presses, whilst you’ll also have access to the aforementioned special abilities and spells that are unique to each character. Your defensive manoeuvres are just as important though and the game actually marks the trajectory and area of effect of enemy attacks, so you’ve got to be constantly on the move in order to evade them. This means you can’t just spam attacks freely and deal out hurt upon your enemy, but actually have to be strategic in your approach to ensure you’re not caught up any health-busting blows.
Whilst they’re pretty straight-forward in design, I really enjoyed the combat mechanics. My diverse team of Duran, Angela and Kevin offered a good variety of abilities to unleash upon enemies, whilst the fact you can switch between them freely (the AI controls any characters you’re not using) means you can really play around with everything that they have to offer. Whilst a lot of the encounters with enemies can feel like a walk in the park as you progress, there are plenty of showdowns against certain groups of foes or bosses that will definitely push your skills to their limit. It’s really fun stuff and I didn’t tire of the combat at all throughout my twenty-four hour playthrough.
Your characters will level up as you progress through the game and see their stats increase naturally, though you’ll also earn ‘Training Points’ which you can use to expand your stats further or even learn additional abilities. You can spend them across multiple areas (Strength, Stamina, Intelligence, Spirit and Luck) that each bring with them an assortment of improvements, giving the player the flexibility to shape their characters capabilities in a way that best suits their playstyle. That being said, given that each character is proficient in particular stat-types from the get-go, I found myself following those set paths to ensure that I played to their strengths. There are also additional classes to upgrade your character to that bring with them new visual styles and abilities, so there’s a surprising amount of depth on offer with the upgrades you can apply to your team.
Exploration-wise, Trials of Mana is fairly straightforward as far as RPGs go, which is something that’s probably attributed to its old-school roots – not much has been done to change up its gameplay after all, so it feel likes the sort of RPG that released in the early 90s.
That’s not a bad thing because the game itself is a lot of fun to play; it just follows a pretty standard formula that it never strays away from too much. You know, going to towns, interacting with folk, killing enemies in dungeons, and then repeating until you eventually reach the conclusion. There isn’t much in the way of side-quests or mini-games to indulge yourself into outside of that cycle either, whilst it’s also pretty linear in design and always has your target destination clearly marked for you.
Still, it gets the fantasy RPG vibe spot on thanks to its lovely-looking fantastical locales, the peculiar situations the party end up in, and the variety of dungeons that you have to clear out. The dungeons themselves throw the occasional puzzle into the mix too, and whilst they’re not common place, they do spice things up a little. Trials of Mana may not do a whole lot to innovate and it certainly doesn’t have that many deep gameplay systems to tinker around with, but it doesn’t stop the game from feeling charming and fun to play throughout.
Performance-wise, it’s hard to be disappointed by Trials of Mana, with it hitting a consistent 30fps on the Nintendo Switch and also looking sharp in both the handheld and docked modes. I mainly played the game on the handheld mode and I found that everything stood out nicely, though there was the occasional sketchy texture here and there. Overall though, the visuals were pretty impressive and the enchanting world of Trials of Mana feels wonderful to explore on the Nintendo Switch.
It is worth noting that multiplayer has been removed from the game this time around though, which is a little disappointing given that its inclusion was a big deal the first time around. Whilst the adventure is certainly a lot of fun to play solo, I would have loved to have shared the journey with a couple of friends.
Trials of Mana is a compelling and charming RPG that feels old-school in design, but offers plenty of fun with its action-orientated combat and wonderful world. There’s a fair bit of variety on offer with its character choices and levelling up system too, with players having to play through the game at least three times to see everything it has to offer – this isn’t an RPG you’ll be finished with quickly!
It is a little disappointing that the multiplayer mode isn’t included this time around, but that doesn’t stop Trials of Mana from offering an entertaining action-RPG experience that fans of the genre will have plenty of fun with. I just wonder what classic release from their back catalogue Square Enix will remake next? If their current form is anything to go by, I’m VERY excited at the possibilities…
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC