Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Trials of Mana (PlayStation 4)

Trials with Class

While critics and fans largely regard Secret of Mana on the Super NES to be one of the greatest games of all time, its remake for the PlayStation 4 and Vita attracted significant criticism, especially from those who consider the original game infallible (which I don’t). Thus, there was naturally some trepidation at the announcement that Square-Enix was giving similar treatment to the long-untranslated Seiken Densetsu 3, given the official English name Trials of Mana, although expectations were more cautiously-optimistic given the original version’s beloved disposition in the fan translation world, with the remake meeting said anticipation.

Trials follows six different protagonists: the swordsman Duran, the beastman Kevin, the amazon Riesz, the thief Hawkeye, the sorceress Angela, and the healer Charlotte. Upon starting a new game, the player chooses one of these characters to be the main one, with two allies selectable among the bunch. Each character has different prologues before meeting their companions (with players able to play through those of the chosen protagonist’s allies once encountered), and afterward, it’s off to save the power of Mana from exploitation by dark forces. The story has plenty positive elements, such as a well-developed cast, political and religious themes, and the like, but there are little to no links to other Mana games, and one big plot twist in Duran’s quest has been done to death.

The localization is perhaps the remake’s weak point. While the dialogue certainly is legible, lips mostly sync with voices during voiced cutscenes, and the menus are clean, there is a lot of unnatural battle dialogue, with the convention of characters shouting the names of their attacks not translating well to the Anglophone world, and the script makes some questionable decisions such as referring to the Mana Faerie who joins the chosen characters early on as “Faerie” instead of “the Faerie,” which accounts for some awkward dialogue. In the end, Square-Enix does from time to time produce its share of translation turkeys, with Trials among them.

Fortunately, the gameplay largely compensates, with the remake taking more chances in this department than its predecessor’s updated rerelease, visible enemies encountered on fields and in dungeons between towns, and the battlefield limited to a certain area from which the player can escape by running towards the yellow border for a few seconds. However, combat is entertaining enough so to the point where most players likely won’t want to evacuate, and the adjustable difficulty accommodates players of different skill levels. The player manually controls one character, although they can switch control to the others any time during combat.

The controlled character the player can have string a series of combination attacks with the circle and triangle buttons, and even jump to attack aerial enemies. Some foes have a barrier the player needs to eradicate by attacking with a charged triangle button attack, breaking the monotony of battle at times. AI controls the character’s allies, the player having a number of options to adjust it in the game menus, dictating things such as how much of their MP they’ll use before conserving, and the option to use consumable items, nine of each the player can have at one time in battle in the franchise’s trademark item ring (which also has a limit to how many different item types players can have in combat).

One neat feature of combat is that before foes execute special skills, the game shows a “danger zone” that the controlled character can safely evade. Defeating all enemies in a battle nets experience for all characters, which occasional level-ups providing the leveling characters one or more training point the player can invest into five different stats so that they can learn occasional passive and active abilities, the protagonist and their allies initially able to equip up to two of the former, although this limit increases to four and six with respective class changes. When a character reaches level eighteen, the player can change their class in a light or dark direction at a Mana Stone, which unlocks more powerful training abilities. The next class change is possible at level thirty-eight with the addition of a special item gained from planting ??? Seeds, adding further abilities.

In addition to being able to rest and recover at inns, the player can also plant different item seeds to obtain various items, which in turn gradually levels up the item planter, with higher levels meaning better items. The game mechanics generally work well, aside from the tough decision of which classes to which to change the player’s characters and occasional idiocy of the AI in areas such as allies attacking shielded foes with normal attacks and not caring about enemy danger zones, but with the choice of characters and the class system itself, there’s plenty of diversity in playstyles, and the endgames for each character aren’t terribly drawn out.

Trials also interfaces well with players, with an easy menu system that’s light-years better than in the original version as well as explicit direction on where to go next to advance the narrative. Moreover, virtually all voiced dialogue is skippable, even in many instances actions occurring in between the delivery of lines, and maps help players with their journey. The only issues are the lack of a suspend save, given the occasional iffy placement of save points (gold ones fully restoring the party, silver statues allowing saving only), and the lengthy load times, but control is another high in the remake.

Composer Hiroki Kikuta returns from Secret to compose its sequel’s soundtrack, with players able to select between the remixed version in the remake or the original Super Famicom version, as well as select between English and Japanese voices. The main theme is superb, and there are plenty other standout tracks such as the various town themes, field tracks, and dungeon themes, although places such as the Windhall lack music. The voice performances are also of mixed quality, especially with the unnatural battle dialogue, but the sound effects are good, and the remake is overall easy on the ears.

The Trials remake uses a cel-shaded anime visual style that looks pleasant for the most part, with good character and enemy models, the former having moving lips during voiced cutscenes, although many of the latter consist of reskins. While the environs largely look pretty and colorful, there is noticeable environmental popup of distant elements and noticeable dithering at times, alongside blurry, pixilated texturing when the player views scenery up-close. The rerelease is definitely more than artistically competent, but has some kinks the developers could have worked out.

Finally, the remake is fairly short, with players potentially able to blaze through in at least twelve hours, and while the choice of characters when starting a new game and PlayStation Trophies make for nice lasting appeal, there isn’t much side content otherwise.

Ultimately, Trials of Mana, regardless of which platform players choose to experience it on, shows that Square-Enix’s Mana series yet has life, given the solid redesigned mechanics, excellent control, different choice of playable characters, great soundtrack, good visuals, and plenty reason to come back. Granted, it does have issues regarding its derivative story elements and spotty localization, although to date it remains one of the strongest entries of the Seiken Densetsu franchise, certain to please most gamers, most likely those that didn’t care much for the Secret of Mana remake.

This review is based on a single playthrough with Duran, Angela, and Charlotte on Beginner difficulty.

The Good:
+Great redesigned combat system.
+Solid control.
+Different party setups and playstyles.
+Excellent soundtrack.
+Nice visuals.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Some derivative story elements.
-Spotty localization.
-A few weak voice performances.

The Bottom Line:
An ideal remake.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 9.0/10
Controls: 9.0/10
Story: 6.5/10
Localization: 4.0/10
Music/Sound: 8.5/10
Graphics: 7.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 9.5/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 12-15+ Hours

Overall: 8.0/10 

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