Trials of Mana is Shaping Up to Be a Fantastic Re-imagining of a Classic
Trials of Mana, a full 3D rebuilding of the original Seiken Densetsu 3, is shaping up to be a more than worthy remake of the classic JRPG.
Seiken Densetsu 3 was originally the third entry in the Seiken Densetsu franchise released in 1995 for the Super Famicom. The game never saw an English release until now, under a new title Trials of Mana.
This version is special, however, as it’s not a simple port of the original 16-bit version but a complete 3D remake of the game built from the ground up — which is an impressive feat. But does it successfully make the transition from 2D to 3D well? My answer is a resounding yes.
Just starting the game, players will already encounter one of the most interesting features of Trials of Mana: its character select system. This allows players to first select a main character and then two companions for a total of three out of six possible characters with different weapons, strengths, stats, starting points, goals, and specialties. Even better is that once you choose your main character and companions, the plot alters to accommodate, resulting in key plotline differences based on how you mix and match characters.
Once you’ve chosen your three characters the game then moves on to the main characters prologue and once you learn more about this setting backstory personality and later on what motivation drives them to Journey. The prologue also introduces the player to combat and allows you to adjust both to basic controls and to the character’s unique skill set.
After that, you begin the game proper and follow that protagonist on their journey, whether epic or personal. For instance, I chose Riesz — a princess and guard captain– in which her journey’s purpose is to both save her younger brother Elliot kidnapped by evil forces and to restore her ruined kingdom. As your chosen hero travels, they’ll eventually encounter both companions and other playable characters. If the former, you then have the option of playing through their prologue for their backstory and to brush up on their battle style. And if you choose to skip it altogether, the game doesn’t penalize you.
Interestingly enough, if you encounter characters that aren’t part of your party, they’ll end up not joining you and their dialogue will alter depending on whether they’re meant to join you at that point. During my playthrough the party encountered a little girl named Charlotte, one of the six main characters. If you already didn’t choose her at the start, Riesz will refuse Charlotte’s proposal to join the group, and she will end up staying in her town instead. I would assume if she was one of your picks this is the point where she would officially join. It’s fascinating to see how the game adjusts depending on what characters you choose and when they come into your party.
Enemies are on the world map and as soon as you enter an area they occupy battle immediately starts. You can either choose at this point to fight them or attempt to escape by running from the area long enough until the escape gauge fills. However, some battles such as bosses are inescapable (which is indicated by a red line), unlike the yellow line of normal encounters.
Combat is action based as players can use a variety of tasks such as weak attacks, strong attacks, evasions, jumps, aerial attacks, and special attacks. You can also hold down the button used for strong attacks to charge it. It’s simple yet surprisingly flexible with a good variety of possible strikes. Special attacks are called Clash Strikes and they’re denoted by a special double gauge with a percentage next to it at the bottom of the screen called the CS gauge. This denotes how much energy you have charged for Class Strikes, which requires 100 percent or more.
There’s also great attention to detail that I appreciate, such as the fact that ground-based attacks can’t hit aerial enemies; instead you actually have to jump to reach them. Then only when they’re knocked down can the party fight them normally. Most action games don’t even bother to incorporate something as simple as that, and it made me realize the amount of care put into Trials of Mana.
Each enemy type has a special attack and its range is denoted by an area-of-effect marking, giving you and your companions ample time to dodge as long as you pay attention. Dodging is not an easily ignored window dressing but a vital mechanic that prevents party members from taking heavy damage. Combat has one major downside, however, which is a lack of a proper targeting system. This means you’re often stuck rotating the camera constantly to keep facing the enemy. Luckily the game doesn’t punish you for not having your enemy in perfect sights at all times. However, players are still expected to carefully consider what moves to use during battle.
The other companions are AI controlled while players directly control the main hero. Good thing the AI itself isn’t horrendously stupid. They’ll dodge normal and area-of-effect moves, thereby avoiding needless damage, and instead follow the player’s lead in how and when they attack. This means instead of babysitting teammates, players can solely focus on how they’re using their own main character to the best of their abilities. To sweeten the deal, players have the option to customize AI behavior in the strategy menu, allowing you to tailor their behavior based on their combat roles.
As the party defeats enemies and levels up, they earn training points, which are used to learn new abilities and moves unique to that character. By meeting certain requirements during battle, such as taking no damage or completing a sortie in a certain amount of time, you can earn bonus experience. This also serves as a great incentive to learn the system better and become more adept at combat.
Each character has five stats: stamina, strength, intelligence, luck, and spirit and each character specializes in certain stats so it’s wise to choose abilities that complement their strengths. Once you choose a stat to augment, there’s a list of abilities or moves that correspond with that stat and you can spend training points to learn it.
The skill system is simple and yet has some nice flexibility and complexity, which allows you to customize your characters as you see fit. Though it’s best to put your training points into stats that complement your character stat strengths, there is a valid strategy in buffing up their weakest stats to prevent enemies from exploiting them.
The intertwining of character stories and arcs with each other is the game’s own unique system that’s well executed. Each character’s individual stories are what you’d expect from a fantasy JRPG. Not to say that this is bad by any means — it’s refreshing to play a JRPG in which character motivations are clear, easily defined, and without being too convoluted. In fact, I would say that the presentation and plot of this game is extremely reminiscent of early 2000s JRPGs, which is oddly endearing as I rather miss that style of earlier 3D JRPGs.
Graphics have been completely overhauled from the original sprite art from 1995’s Seiken Densetsu 3. This means that every single aspect of this game is rendered in full 3D, including the character models, environments, and combat. I’m sure for old school fans of this game it must be quite the treat to see this 2D classic reimagined in full 3D. And while Trials of Mana is not the most graphically impressive JRPG on the market, the visuals are still colorful and vibrant, bringing the world to life.
Meanwhile the OST is brimming with fantastic remixes of classic soundtracks from the original Trials of Mana. It’s particularly noteworthy when the game’s boss theme makes its triumphant debut in the battle against the first boss Full Metal Hugger. The composer clearly put a lot of love and care into creating a soundtrack that both works as a tribute to the original music and also remasters it into an OST that better suits the remake’s visuals.
However, as much as I appreciate the call back to early 2000s JRPGs, there are a few drawbacks to this sort of delivery. To name a few: the pointless backtracking, the inconsistent English voice acting, and the constant barrage of cutscenes. Depending on your tolerance level, they can either be a minor annoyance or have a major impact on your enjoyment of the game.
I personally fell into the former camp as I enjoyed my experience with Trials of Mana. It’s a fun and deceptively simple action JRPG with a good sense of depth and complexity underneath its colorful and saccharine visuals. Combat and the skill system are easily my favorite parts of this game but there’s sure to be something that attracts most fans of JRPGs. For both old fans of the original Seiken Densetsu 3 and for newcomers unfamiliar with either the series, the game, or both, Trials of Mana is an easy and solid recommendation.