Seiken Densetsu III, the sequel to Secret of Mana, released on the Super Famicom in 1995. It quickly became a hit in the Japanese gaming world at the time. Unfortunately, that original release never made its way to the west officially. Fan translations in the late 90’s were available but ultimately, the experience wasn’t the same as an official release on the SNES. The PS1 was reigning supreme for JRPGs and the Mana series would lay dormant for many years. A Secret of Mana remake gave players a glimmer of hope for Seiken Densetsu III, although that remake was not as good as people hoped.

A long time coming

The Collection of Mana released back in 2017 in Japan for Switch and finally released worldwide in 2019, giving players all around the world the chance to try out Seiken Densetsu III in English directly from Square Enix. Just before this announcement in 2019, JRPG fans would be shocked with a new remake in the series, Trials of Mana. Trials of Mana is full HD remake of Seiken Densetsu III with voice acting, revamped gameplay, new music and content. Trials of Mana is a game made to honor the series, bring the story never officially released to fans in the 90’s and introduce a new audience into the world of Mana. Although not perfect, Trials of Mana recaptures something beautiful about JRPGs of the past: simplicity and fun.

The world is losing its grip on Mana

Trials of Mana begins differently than most players are used to in JRPGs. Players select their party from the beginning for the entire duration of the game: a main character and 2 supporting characters for the journey ahead. Duran, Angela, Riesz, Kevin, Hawkeye and Charlotte each wield their own strengths and weakness. The world is losing its supply of mana and evil forces are working to resurrect monsters named Benevedons. These monsters represent different elements of the world, sealed away by the Goddess of Mana long ago. However, the weakening of mana is loosening the seals. Meanwhile, villains from across the land are plotting to take advantage of the situation and plunge the world into darkness. Shortly after the story begins, a Faerie encounters the player and decides to help the party in the journey. The rest of the story unfolds in different ways with each party lineup.

Adventuring in Mana

Many sprite based RPGs were top down in the SNES generation. Trials of Mana takes this and converts it to traditional 3rd person hack and slash seen in modern games. Thankfully, the gameplay and features are faithful to the Mana series. In addition, players may gain new abilities, items and weapons in each town and dungeon. This adds incentive to search every nook and cranny of each area. Lil Cactus creatures are hidden in most areas of the game and collecting them awards bonuses. Looking for hidden chests and items in the world never gets tiring due to the great level design by Square Enix. Eventually, players gain access to creatures like Vuscav and allows them to travel the seas to reach new areas.

Characters in the player’s party have dialogue in towns but not much of it is voice acted. Dialogue may be witty or funny, something left intact from the original. Its in acquired taste as the game is set in a fantastical setting, so expect some dialogue that might not sound as fluid or “modern.” Each character has their own charms and quirks though. Aside from the dialogue, the music in Trials of Mana encapsulates the classic feel of the game. Each track has been re-orchestrated for the remake and its beautiful. Players will feel the terror of traversing a hot desert or wintry wonderland feel of the snow-lands outside Altena.

Leveling in Mana

As expected in JRPGs, characters in Trials of Mana grow stronger with each level gained. With each level, character gain training points to put into the following areas:

  • Intellect – offensive magic
  • Stamina – defense and health
  • Luck – critical hit chance
  • Spirit – healing and supportive magic
  • Strength – attack power

Points may be allocated in each area to unlock abilities and with class changes, even more abilities and bonuses are unlockable. Unlockable chain abilities are shared with the entire party. On top of this, class changes are aligned with Light and Dark, each with their own special attributes. This system is very rewarding as players may spec out their characters to suit different combat scenarios or strengths. For instance, Duran may be a healing and defensive character or a powerhouse, sacrificing defense for raw attack power. With these class changes, higher combos and more class strikes are available. This boosts creativity in attacks and leads to some satisfying engagements due to the fun combat system. Later in the game, items may be obtained to reset classes and go a different class route if desired.

New additions (spoilers)

Trials of Mana features new content to set it apart from the original. More weapons, new abilities and items as well as another story to play through. In addition, players have the opportunity to see backstories for each of the main characters. Upon finishing the main story, credits will roll and a new threat appears. After loading the clear data, players are prompted to visit Valsena’s grand library. Here lies the dormant soul of magician Grand Croix, tasking the party to take on Anise the Witch.

In order to face Anise, the party must upgrade to Class 4. Class 4 is the ultimate class in Trials of Mana and new to this remake. The party sets off to various parts of the world to undergo trials and gain the class item needed to ascend. Once upgraded to class 4, the party gains access to new abilities not found in the original game. From here on, the party gains access to a new final dungeon: Anise’s Stockade. After defeating Anise, New Game Plus is unlocked and players may re-challenge Anise to earn more powers.

Remaking the flaws

Trials of Mana is an excellent game but carries over flaws held by the original release and predecessors. Side-quests are non-existent in the game and would have been appreciated in the remake. Instead, towns feel slightly less engaging due to the lack of incentive to do anything in them other than shop, use item seeds or look for hidden items. Characters that were not selected as part of the main party may be encountered in the story but don’t have significance in the player’s story. While this gives incentive to play the game again as different characters, players are left wondering what those characters may be doing in the current play-through. On top of this, some towns may not be visited unless a certain character isn’t in the party. For instance, Hawkeye’s home of Nevarl may not be visited if he’s not in the party.

An issue that might get patched in the future are improperly rendered textures. Trials of Mana is a beautiful game but some of the textures along paths seem to be a lower resolution than intended. Its present in the Switch version but might not be in the PS4 and PC versions. Render distance and pop-ins are noticeable in larger areas as well, but hopefully are addressed in later updates.

Trials of Mana’s greatest strength: Simple Fun

Even with a slightly dated approach to the remake, this RPG is insanely fun to play. The combat is simple and fun with room to grow as players gain more levels. The amount of creativity with different builds and party lineups allows for greater replayability. With a total playtime of about 30 hours, the game incentives more playthroughs to experience the story from different perspectives. This mixture of simplistic game design along with refinements to combat makes Trials of Mana a really enjoyable experience for action RPG fans.

Disclaimer: This product was not provided by Square Enix to this reviewer.