Impressions Of Mana

I know I’m coming to this first impressions piece for the Trials Of Mana demo really late. Usually the whole point of these things are to talk about my initial feelings on a game or a demo so that I can say things while the game is still relevant. After all, I’m not a professional so I start playing games the same time everyone else does. But, despite downloading it the day if was added to the eShop, I just played it last night. Can you blame me? Between Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Doom Eternal, Resident Evil 3, and Final Fantasy VII Remake (all of which I hope to have reviews for in the near future) when was I supposed to have time to play this thing? Well, now I have and I have things to say about it.

Being the other big remake of a 90’s Squaresoft JRPG releasing in April, Trials Of Mana has a lot working against it. It’s younger brother, Final Fantasy VII was a huge mainstream success, turning the JRPG from a fairly niche genre to one of the biggest on the original PlayStation. Trials Of Mana on the other hand never even released in America until E3 of last year, when it was included as part of Collection Of Mana for the Switch. Before that, we didn’t even have an actual name for the game, usually calling it “Secret Of Mana 2” or by its Japanese name of  “Seiken Densetsu 3”. Despite this , it did have something of a reputation for being this incredible sequel to Secret of Mana, one that the West was forsaken in favor of Secret Of Evermore, a game that’s better than most people give it credit for, but you know, not the one we wanted.

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So anyway, after 24 years of the game not being available (legally anyway) in the West, we finally got it last year, and now this year we’ve got a full blown remake of it. As stated earlier, it released in the same month as Final Fantasy VII Remake, easily one of the most anticipated remakes of all time and one where tons of money was clearly thrown at it. Trials on the other hand seems to have been given a fairly limited budget. Pretty lacking visuals that would look right at home a generation ago, rough voice acting, and pretty sluggish controls all contribute to a fairly cheap feeling experience.

It’s also weirdly easy.  I don’t know if everyone has this problem, but when I played past games in the Mana series, especially Secret Of Mana, if I took an extended break and then tried to come back to it, I never had any idea of what I was trying to do. It seems like Square was trying to fix that in this remake, but they perhaps went a little too far. There’s always giant stars on both the minimap and over objectives to make sure that you always know exactly where you need to go next. Sure, this fixes the problem I just mentioned, but at some point, am I even playing the game? Like, you’ll get an objective labeled “explore the town”, but you don’t explore at all. You just run straight to the giant star and you’re good to go. At times, it really does feel like I’m playing a game for babies.

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Continuing with that feeling is the combat. Traditionally, the Mana series has always had very slow, deliberate combat. When you would attack, a meter would empty, and although you could attack before it filled back up, you would be severally punished by dealing considerably less damage. This forced you to to make sure that you were very careful about making sure your hits landed and that you could avoid taking damage while you let your meter fill back up. The remake ditches that completely. Now you have a pretty basic combo system. You have a weak attack and a strong attack and you string them together to make combos. That’s it. So now, combat is over really quickly as you can just mash the attack buttons until the bad guys are dead. You do still fill a meter as you attack, however, which can be used to unleash character specific special moves, which is fun.

The enemies don’t put up much of a fight either. I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into the combat, almost never running out of the way of attacks. Despite that, I only came close to dying once, and I leveled up after that fight, awarding me with full health, so it was all good. To the game’s credit, it uses a system similar to MMORPGs, where the area of an enemies attack is highlighted on the ground giving you a chance to avoid it. But, this was never necessary. Maybe later in the game it will be.

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It’s not all doom and gloom though. Other than the changes to combat, this remake is a pretty literal remake of the original. Just like the original you choose three out of six characters to form your party at the beginning of the game, each with their own story. That means that you will not see everything in a single play through. I chose Duran, the pretty standard warrior character as my main character, as I had in the version included in Collection Of Mana. I did this so I could see just how similar it was to the original version. I however didn’t choose Charlotte, who I had in the original.

To my surprise, when I got to the point in the story where Charlotte had joined me in the original game, I still ran into her and took part in her story. The only difference being that she didn’t actually join my party. Does that mean that depending on who you choose, you might not have party members until way later in the game? I’m not sure, but it’s an interesting concept.

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The Trials Of Mana remake has lots of issues that are hard to ignore, but regardless, there’s a level of charm that shines through. Sometimes you don’t need the next big brilliant game. So while I was baffled by a number of choices the game made, I still had a really good time with it. When the demo ends, you get prompted to buy the game off the eShop, and I did exactly that. This game is far from perfect. It’s clearly cheap, it’s easy, and it’s kind of dumb. But it also put a smile on my face and I want to see where it goes from here.

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