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‘Trials of Mana’ Review – A Mana Bonanza

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For a very long time, the game now known as Trials of Mana ($23.99) was the fish that got away for Western players. The first game in the Mana series, now known as Adventures of Mana, made it over under the title Final Fantasy Adventure. The second came over as Secret of Mana. But due to a variety of factors, the third game just didn’t happen at the time. Even the typically resourceful fan translation community had a bit of trouble with the game for a while. Later Mana games made it out overseas virtually without fail, leaving the third chapter as something of an oddity.

What made that smart even more is the fact that the Mana series has a tendency to veer off in wild directions. Those who just wanted another game like Secret of Mana wouldn’t have much luck with many of the sequels and spin-offs. That missing game looked like the closest thing to another Secret of Mana we might ever get. But for literal decades, there was no sign that the game would ever come. The first spark of hope came with the remake of Adventures of Mana in 2016. Perhaps if it was successful, we would see a remake of more of the games, presenting new opportunities for a localization? A long shot, but it ended up paying off. While mobile gamers haven’t yet been privy to a version of the Secret of Mana remake (we’re not missing much, I promise), this spiffy 2019 remake of Trials of Mana is now available on iOS and Android.

Now, it’s obviously going to be hard to evaluate this particular version in terms of how close it is to Secret of Mana. A lot of changes have been made in the transition to 3D, after all. For one thing, the multiplayer element has been removed. There are new abilities, new classes, a New Game Plus, a choice of difficulty levels, and a whole lot of little changes that go beyond the scope of this review. Suffice it to say that this is not exactly the same game as the original, even while it preserves many aspects of it. Probably not a major concern for most readers, but worth mentioning for those who care.

Even with all of those changes, at its core this game still features the same stories and many of the same systems as the 16-bit version. It’s quite ambitious in its storytelling, but its gameplay is surprisingly orthodox when compared even to its immediate successor in the Mana series. You choose a main character from six different protagonists, then choose two companion characters. Each of these potential heroes and heroines has their own motivation and part in the story, and the ones you don’t choose will still appear in various places. You’ll obviously get the full events of your main character’s story before meeting his companions, but you can optionally decide to play through the opening sections of your other party members as well.

You can see early echoes of the kind of storytelling that would become more prominent in the next game. Not every scenario resolves with a happy ending, and the game is sometimes very philosophical. While the basic plot is the same no matter who you choose, you’ll get a different view on that story depending on who you pick. That replay value also extends to the gameplay mechanics, as each character has their own abilities, classes, and skills to unlock and use along the way. You can almost always find something new on each playthrough, and I always appreciate games like that.

The action is considerably improved in this game when compared to the original version. The development team didn’t chain itself to the original design with this one the way they did with the previous two remakes, and the combat system benefits greatly from it. You can dodge, jump, and use two different types of attacks by default. You also have a special move called a class special, and you’ll eventually unlock an assortment of abilities, some of which can be chained with other characters. Each battle is cordoned off into a little mini-arena that you can escape if you need to, and resolving it quickly and with some style will award you with extra experience points. While it’s not the greatest action-RPG system I’ve played with, it’s fun, flashy, and quite robust.

Gathering enough experience will give you a level up, which increases your HP and MP and gives you some stat points to put into whichever stat you want. The game is upfront about what you’ll get at different stat point levels, so you can plan reasonably well. You’ll also be able to choose between classes at a certain point, giving you a fair bit of customizability for each character. You’ll also gain new weapons and other gear as you travel, along with an assortment of items. New to this remake is the appearance of Lil Cactus, who first appeared in Legend of Mana. He’s hiding around many areas, and finding him will reward you in various ways.

This mobile version of the game looks great and runs well, arguably better than the Nintendo Switch version does. Unfortunately, there’s no support for external controllers. You have to use the touch controls that have been implemented. They’re fine as these things go, but it’s a shame that Square Enix keeps leaving out what I feel is now a reasonably expected feature for mobile ports. Still, if you’re used to touch controls in games with 3D movement, you’ll get by just fine here. I can’t really find any other faults with this port of the game. It’s a strong effort, and it’s always nice to see premium console games like this make it to our little ecosystem uncompromised.

Trials of Mana is an enjoyable action-RPG with a lot to offer, and fans of the genre or the Mana series in particular would do well to give it their attention. As is always the case with Square Enix’s titles, the price is relatively high compared to many other mobile games. But this is the full-fat console experience with nothing left out, and in that context I think it’s fair to to pay a little more. I’d especially recommend this game to any Secret of Mana fans who felt turned off by some of the gameplay choices in later Mana games. Even in its remade form, Trials of Mana shares a lot of qualities with Secret of Mana. They quite literally don’t make them like this anymore, so don’t let it pass you by.

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