Trials of Mana is an action RPG developed and published by Square Enix. With the Mana Tree fading, and the balance of the world teetering toward ruin three heroes must set out to restore the balance of the world. But with many foes ahead of them, and each with their own personal goals, they have plenty of challenges to face before they can save their world.
When I booted up my demo the first thing that stood out is that classic 90’s JRPG energy. The aesthetic here is bright and lighthearted. And while it isn’t the only game to deliver this style of visual I’ve played recently, it’s always a welcome sight. And since Trials of Mana is a 3D remake of the original 1995 release, it only makes sense that this style of design is present.
The first novel thing to catch my eye as I prepare to start my adventure is the character selection screen. Out of the six possible characters the player selects three to be in their party. One is the main character, while the others are supports. I choose the Amazon princess Reiz as my main, with the classic warrior looking type, along with the only character designated as a healer for my group. Simply from the descriptions given though it sounds like the parties could vary wildly in play style. This would be an opportunity to increase replayability if the game turns out to be deserving of that much attention.
With my party set my adventure begins in a mountain top castle with Reiz. A quick combat training moment provides me with a short, but effective, tutorial for surviving battle. Once this is complete I set off to find my younger brother who I have a training session planned with. But finding him proves difficult. My search is momentarily sidetracked by my character’s memories of her childhood. The death of her parents and her subsequent raising of her brother on her own do a respectable job of establishing the characters and their connections. When the castle is attacked and my brother is taken, I’m off on my quest to save him.
During the next few hours, I meet up with the other two members of the party. They are placed into the story in a fairly organic fashion, and the player is given the option of playing through their introductions if they wish to learn why they are off adventuring. Once I reach the Holy City of Wendel my party is informed of the greater danger to the world. Not only that, but through saving the world the various goals of the characters can be fulfilled. Giving everyone a convenient reason to go adventuring together.
The combat mechanics in Trials of Mana are what one would likely expect. With light and heavy attacks, along with a dodge maneuver forming the basis of combat. A special super attack is slowly charged over time and through leveling party members can acquire new abilities. Overall, the combat lands right where I like it. Difficult enough that I have to pay attention, but not so complex that I feel burdened with memorizing combos or other intricate gameplay aspects. And while I found combat enjoyable it is the leveling system that looks the most interesting to me.
Each character’s stats are put into five categories. Investing points in these aspects will increase stats and unlock abilities. And the way a character plays appears wildly customizable. Take the warrior in my party. While I could invest in the strength and increase his damage-dealing potential I instead opt for giving him more hit points and the provoke an ability. This is largely due to my party’s makeup. Since he is my biggest frontline fighter I decide it is most important for him to pull enemies off the rest of the party. If my party had been different, I’d definitely level him differently.
Giving players lots of choices can be a difficult proposition in a video game. Too much can be overwhelming. Or even worse, the choices can be so numerous no single one can feel meaningful. But with so much of the gameplay and choice tied to the player’s initial decision of who they have in their party, it looks like Square Enix may have found a way to give the player plenty of meaningful choices while managing to not overwhelm.
The only thing really negative I have to say about my five-hour demo with Trials of Mana comes in the voice work. A few of the characters are downright obnoxious. Particularly my healer. The way they choose to have her talk was downright annoying. To the point where if I get a chance to play the full game I will most likely start over and elect to not have her in my party. While I can see her dialogue design potentially being cute in the game’s original release, before you had to listen to her, it does the game no favors now.
But with that one qualm aside I really enjoyed my time with Trials of Mana. The gameplay was smooth and fun. It has a leveling system that has me interested and a narrative that is enough to get me out the door. Whether or not these elements will keep the game going through a full playthrough will have to wait till its full release.
Trials of Mana releases on April 24th for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PC.