Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Trials of Mana (NSW, PS4, PC) Review

We've arrived at a special moment in SuperPhillip Central history with this review. It's not a special numbered review by any stretch of the imagination, but it IS a special post. This is officially the 4,000th ever post on SuperPhillip Central! Darn it--where are my noisemaker at party hat at when I need them?!

Seriously though, thank you for continuing to read and hopefully enjoy my takes on various video games and gaming as whole!

We now move on to the second JRPG remake from last month. The first was Final Fantasy VII Remake. The second is this--Trials of Mana! Here's my review.

The mother lode of quality when it comes to Mana games

This past year has seen a resurgence of the Mana series in gaming. Last year, for the first time ever, the third game in the Mana series, one that was stranded in Japan, was finally released in the West as part of the Nintendo Switch game Collection of Mana. Now, less than a year later, Mana fans get a another dose of Mana goodness with the third game in the series getting a full 3D remake. Trials of Mana is a game deeply rooted in the 16-bit era, and while this makes it definitely feel dated despite its new presentation-related bells and whistles, it's an example of a faithful remake that seriously delights.

Starting off, the game gives you an important choice: selecting between three characters from a group of six at the beginning of the game--one for the main party leader and two companions. Which characters you select affects how the story plays out. For instance, playing as the knight Duran will have him yearning to change classes so he can be strong enough to take on and defeat the Crimson Wizard, whereas with Hawkeye as the choice of the protagonist, his tale begins with the murder of his dear friend and what follows is a journey to bring the true culprit to justice. Which characters you don't have join your party as companions will show up in a given protagonist's adventure at varying points, with the ones you didn't select making cameos here and there. When companions do opt to join your party, you'll get the option to delve into their pasts, playing through their back stories which serve as a brief introduction to their own stories and struggles. Thankfully, this isn't necessary to do, as you can easily just get a quick synopsis instead for skipping this.

I chose Duran as the main protagonist of my first play-through.
While the prologue, epilogue, a various small story beats within the 20-25 hour initial adventure are laid out differently depending on your character choices, what remains the same is the overarching tale of the Mana Tree slowly but surely losing its power and the need to reclaim the Sword of Mana is ever present to combat some awfully shady villains who wish to use its power for no good. Thus, in order to do this, your party of chosen heroes must trek about the world to find eight Mana Stones.

You can probably guess that with six characters to choose from that there's a lot of replay value to be found in Trials of Mana, and you'd be absolutely right by that guess. While it's not mandatory to play through the game six times, once as each protagonist, it's a good idea to play through at least twice, once with a different trio both times. Not just to see how things change between main characters, but also because the New Game Plus option makes this incredibly enjoyable to do. The option grants triple the experience points, so beginning characters can quickly and efficiently gain experience, and other holdovers from your first save file come along on a second time through the game.

The world of Trials of Mana has been recreated in glorious detail.
What makes Trials of Mana so enjoyable is that the pacing is really nice. You're seldom sitting through extended cutscenes, waiting for the characters to finish rambling. There's obviously scenes to be viewed, but these play out in real time, offering the ability to skip dialogue at will if the voice acting gets to move too slowly for your liking. (As an aside, the voice acting borders on mediocre more than it impresses, to put it nicely.) Generally, however, Trials of Mana gets you going with gameplay moment after gameplay moment, whether that's exploring fields, dungeons, or towns, or battling enemies in real-time combat.

A helpful right-side-of-the-screen prompt keeps you up to speed on what is your next objective.
Combat in Trials of Mana is done action-RPG style, delivering quick battles where free movement is available within a circular battlefield (and where running against the border of the battlefield begins a gauge enabling the option to retreat). Here on the battlefield, properly positioning your playable character is paramount. For instance, attacking from the rear increases the likelihood of achieving critical hits. Also, enemies attack with all sorts of dangerous and deadly abilities, and special moves give warnings in the form of dangerous red zones that show where the attack, ability, or spell is about to be unleashed. It's a good idea to roll out of harm's way, and then when the moment arrives, dig in with some attacks of your own.

Red zones such as this one indicate an enemy's area of attack for their abilities and spells.
For the most part, the companion AI does a fair job, and you can customize their behavior in battle--whether they focus on defense, or attacking the same foe or a different one that your character is currently targeting. You can also switch between characters on the fly mid-battle as well. However, when battles become more difficult early on in the game, particularly boss battles, this is where the AI finds itself being a bit of a burden. They'll constantly take damage, fail to avoid attacks, and essentially just be a drain on your item resources, one where you're constantly pressing Up on the D-Pad to select a curative item from the Item Ring menu. More often than not, though, I found myself just leaving my companions to lay there fallen like hunks of meat and just take on bosses myself. After all, everyone gets the same amount of experience points whether or not they participated 100% in battle.

What are you looking at, Crabmeat?!
Fortunately, as your companions level up with you, they learn healing spells and other helpful abilities, they can better hold their own without as much babysitting. This is great as later battles definitely require multiple characters to quickly weaken bosses down when they're in the process of summoning an otherwise devastating move unless you're able to essentially stagger them by breaking a special gauge.

I've talked about enemy attacks, but obviously you get some offense and defense of your own. These come in the form of basic attacks, charged attacks that can deal more damage and smash through enemy defenses more easily, magic, and Class Strikes. The latter are extravagant attacks that take energy from the gauge at the bottom of the screen to use. Stronger Class Strikes take more energy to use, but result in some super flashy, area-clearing attacks. As you deal damage to and take damage from enemies, the gauge slowly increases, especially if you collect CS particles that fall from attacked foes.

Class Strikes such as this can unleash devastating attacks on single targets or groups of enemies.
Combat can be a bit tricky to come to terms with initially in Trials of Mana. For one, the camera doesn't follow your character completely. Instead, you need to keep it under your control, unless you click the stick in to lock your attention onto a foe (something that the game's many tutorials fail to teach you in-game, confusingly enough).

Duran's blade is about to clip this Harpy's wings!
As characters gain experience and level up, they earn Training Points, which can be spent on one of six attributes to increase their abilities and their stats. When enough points are spent in a given attribute category, new abilities, skills, bonuses, and more can be equipped to your character. These bonuses include the power to raise their attack when their HP falls below a certain percentage, increasing how much money is earned from enemies in battle, among many other rewards.

Trials of Mana also has a Class Change system, which allows characters at specific stages in the game to alter their class, growing exponentially stronger with regards to stats and able to learn new spells and abilities. Characters can change classes up to four times, and with each change, their appearance and abilities become altered. You get a choice between going with a light class or a dark class, each offering unique capabilities that is a choice best made to suit your own play style.

Trials of Mana will take anywhere between 20-25 hours to reach the conclusion of one's first play-through. The pacing is so enjoyable due to how brisk it is that I cleared the game within less than a week's time, often playing some days more than 5 hours at a time. The game itself is rather linear at the start, but as you progress to the second half, it opens up exponentially, allowing you to choose your destination at your leisure. Side quests are next to nil in Trials of Mana, but at the same time, the game isn't lesser for that. In fact, alternate quests would just slow down the excellent pacing. There are treasure chests to find in the world and a fun worldwide game of hide-and-seek to play with a cactus for some truly cool rewards, but other than that, you're just playing through the story.

In the process of remaking Trials of Mana, Square Enix has delivered a gorgeous looking game. Familiar sights are fully re-imagined in glorious 3D, offering new senses of place and atmosphere. The day and night system, albeit basic in execution, offers some impressive sights and some in-game use as well. There are some problems with pop-in, frame-rate hiccups, and noticeable issues where textures load into scenes a bit too slowly. Fortunately, these don't affect gameplay too heavily. As earlier stated, the voice acting doesn't do much to impress, but on the other side of the sound spectrum, the rearranged musical tracks certainly do. If for some reason you don't take a liking to these revised versions, you can change to the Super Famicom original music (and back) at any time.

Day through night, the time for adventure in Trials of Mana is just right.
Unlike a certain JRPG remake that also released last month, Trials of Mana doesn't delve too far away from what made the original game memorable and beloved. While Final Fantasy VII Remake offered a bold new change to its original work and brought with it much more complexity, Trials of Mana offers a soothing and refreshing bit of familiarity. There's a fine sense of simplicity here, whether it's in the combat, the brisk pacing of the game, or the story--which might make it a bit too faithful to the original for some players. While Trials of Mana is not a remake that reinvents the wheel, for me, it successfully does what it sets out to do in recreating what was once a lost game from the Super Famicom era into a more modern and enjoyable game, warts and all. Just play on the Hard difficulty if you want something resembling a steadier challenge.

[SPC Says: B+]

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