A Love Letter to Trials of Mana
We're a couple weeks out from the remake of Trials of Mana, and having played the demo, I gotta say that I'm super excited. The announcement caught me off guard, considering the lukewarm reception that the Secret of Mana remake got. Additionally, it was only recently that we got an official release of the original in the west, and that in itself was a surprise. Sure, the Collection of Mana got a release in Japan, but considering one of the three games in the collection never got an official English release, and there likely wouldn't be a big enough market to translate an entire SNES game script, I personally figured that it wasn't coming, and that fans in the west would be stuck using other methods to play it. Suffice it to say, I'm glad I was wrong there. Even if I was one of those fans who happened to play the original in one of those alternative methods.
It is a good thing that it got an official translation, though, because now western fans have no excuse for missing out on one of the best SNES JRPGs ever released, and easily the best of the Mana franchise.
I realize that is a hefty claim, considering the massive cult following Secret of Mana carries, but considering I didn't play that game until way past its prime, a lot of the game's eccentricities never rubbed me the right way. For an action RPG it's not all that action-y, attacks feel really imprecise. Because of the meter system, the game is slow. In general, the combat system feels less like a more stat-focused Legend of Zelda and more like a Final Fantasy game that allows you to walk around in battle. Sure, it has three player cooperative gameplay, but I personally would have trouble introducing the game to newcomers. Almost everything Secret of Mana does right, Trials of Mana does better.
Let's begin with the story. There are six characters to choose from to create your three person party at the beginning of the game, each representing a specific character class and playstyle. Six characters, each carrying their own backstory. Six perspectives of the events to come. Six heroes, each with their own personalities and motivations for their quests. While the events of the story play out largely similarly for each of the six possible main characters, the story even branches out to three possible ending scenarios depending upon which character is chosen as the main protagonist. Even for today's standards, the game's scope feels massive, as several factions are at play, and it makes the player's role in the proceedings feel that much weightier.
Still, this is a video game we're talking about, and though RPGs often get accused of getting a pass gameplay-wise as the emphasis is placed more on the story, let's face it, if the game isn't fun to play, you're not going to play it even if it is the most well-written story in fiction. Thankfully, this game is a stand-out among SNES RPGs in terms of gameplay.
Much like its predecessors in the Mana franchise, Trials of Mana is an action RPG in which the party fights battles in a fully-active environment rather than a traditional menu-driven turn-based system. Players fight their way through swarms of enemies using melee weapons, magic, and special items. However, it breaks from its forebears in a few notable ways.
First, unlike the previous entries, party classes and equipment types are static rather than everyone having the same access to all weapons and armor types. Instead, as mentioned before, each of the playable characters brings his or her own skillset to the table, including their own proficient weapon and armor sets, allowing the player to mix and match according to their preferences. While this starts the party off in a rather limited way, as the quest goes on and the party gains access to mana spirits and, later, class changes, more options open to the party in a natural, non-overwhelming manner.
The more linear progression of equipment also makes multiplayer a lot less taxing, as players are able to pick a character and stick with them, rather than having to fumble with different weapon types for both combat and progression, as is seen in Secret of Mana.
More important than that is combat and how it compares to the previous game. In the previous game, sprites of the player characters didn’t really feel like they were in the space that they occupied. Collision felt strange, nothing felt like it was actually connecting, and everything felt stiff. These are all issues that are, thankfully, mostly completely fixed in Trials of Mana.
Attacks feel like they actually connect. The party actually responds to things in the environment (side note: this is one of the few RPGs I can think of where the party can actually push NPCs out of the way when walking around, how cool is that?) Instead of having to wait for a meter to continue attacking, the only thing stopping the player from continuing their assault is the previous attack’s animation.
Additionally, the game alerts players when they enter or exit combat situations, so the days of running smack into enemies without a chance to react or slowly tapping your way through a hostile area are more or less over.
Additionally, the game’s presentation is amazing. 16-bit JRPGs can be made or broken by the strength of their art styles and soundtracks, and boy does this game deliver. The game’s beautiful use of color effortlessly shows off the passage of time, as the cool blues of night give way to the warm golds of the morning, and each area is visually distinct. Character sprites are also very expressive.
However, the crown jewel of the presentation here is the soundtrack. Like, I’m not even going to say anything, just look it up on YouTube. It’s such a good soundtrack.
I really could go on and on about this game, but you get the picture. It’s a fantastic RPG that still holds up extremely well. Play it. The Collection of Mana is available on the Switch and easily worth it. That’s my rating. Go play it/10.