The Mana series had a bit of a revival recently with a 3D remake of Secret of Mana last year, which frankly didn’t go down well. Fortunately, Trials of Mana escapes the same scrutiny, mostly because its original game wasn’t known to the wider world (known for the longest time only by its Japanese title Seiken Densetsu 3 before finally being localised in Collection of Mana for the Switch this summer). But it also offers a much more substantial rework in both art style and perspective.
For starters, Trials eschews the top-down perspective and opts for fully explorable 3D environments you can run, jump, and roll around, with an art style that feels similar to Dragon Quest XI - also made with Unreal Engine 4. It nonetheless retains its distinct style, from the ultra cute yellow Rabite creatures, as much a mascot for the series as the blue Slimes are for Dragon Quest, to the shopkeeper with his eccentric dancing animation.
The game is also known for featuring multiple protagonists, and who you pick in your party will shape the course you will take in the story. For this demo however, my heroes are already assigned, so I start with Duran, who’s pretty much your go-to sword-swinging dude with big hair.
I begin in the town of Jadd, though my goal is to actually escape it at night and explore the environments to get to grips with the combat. As an action RPG, it’s pretty standard fare with light and heavy attacks, though you can also jump to perform aerial attacks, while holding the shoulder also allows you to trigger other cooldown-based abilities. In any case, that’s immediately more you can do than the original, although the ring command still sort of exists, though rather than taking up the screen, it’s located at the bottom for when you’re cycling for things like healing items (which in this game aren’t potions but candy, because why not).
Combat isn’t completely seamless, as like in Final Fantasy XV, you basically enter battle mode when enemies are in range, which also puts you into an enclosed area so that you need to run at the edges for a few seconds before you can escape. So it still has that old-fashioned way of wanting to keep battles as a separate encounter before tallying up your XP earned at the end. Still, you’re also given incentives to fight better, such as defeating all enemies in a set time to earn bonus XP. In any case, this demo was largely a cakewalk against the poor little Rabites, and was mostly for getting a feel for the gameplay.
Later on, I meet up with Riezsz, an Amazonian warrior princess who ends up joining the party, though to speed things along in this demo, I’m also joined by a pint-sized girl named Charlotte. In an Octopath way, you meet other heroes gradually who become party members, but in the interest of time, this is just so I can get a quick taste of playing with a full party of three, while swapping between characters on the fly.
Thankfully, you’re no longer just squishing Rabites at the end as my play finished with a boss battle against Fullmetal Hugger, a large crab-like enemy which shoots lasers from its big eyes. Naturally, these are also its weak points, so it’s not too hard to combine all three character’s powers to make quick work of it.
It might not sound all that groundbreaking for an action RPG, but Trials of Mana looks and feels good to play, and for Western audiences who never got to play the SNES version, you could just as well treat it as a new entry for the Mana series instead of just a lazy retread.