Whether or not you agree with emulation as a concept, the fact of the matter is that there’s plenty of worthy games out there that just didn’t make it to every region. North American players who are fond of Japanese-style titles like RPGs got hit by this pretty hard in the 90s and 2000s. These days there’s been a push toward localizing more games, but back in the day even some mainline Final Fantasy games didn’t make it to the West.
That’s why it’s so nice that we’re now able to play an official translation of the Super Nintendo classic Seiken Dentestu 3 – now known as Trials of Mana. It was one of the best games on that console and now anyone can check it out for themselves. Moreover, Trials of Mana’s now got a remake! You can play it now! It didn’t even take decades to localize! The future is grand.
The world of Mana is held together by the titular mystical power, generated and regulated by the Tree of Mana. Naturally, this sort of power is tempting to all manner of bad guys. Some villains are, in fact, out to capture the Mana Stones, use them to get into the Sanctuary of Mana, grab the Sword of Mana and cause Chaos of Mana! We’ve got to stop them! You’ll choose a party of three characters out of a selection of six and get to work to do just that.
Being able to choose a party is the central point of Trials’ gameplay, the big back-of-the-box feature that defines this game. You’ve got six options, as mentioned – Duran the swordsman, Angela the mage, Kevin the brawler, Charlotte the cleric, Hawkeye the thief and Riesz the lancer – and you’ll form a party of three that will serve as your team throughout the game. Your first character will serve as your protagonist while the others will act as sidekicks, meaning you’ve essentially got six separate stories to play through – though the actual number is closer to three, as the characters tend to share stories in pairs.
That means that there’s unprecedented replayability in Trials of Mana, especially when you consider the game’s branching class upgrade system – even playthroughs using the same characters can turn out to be entirely different. At certain levels, the heroes can change classes to become more powerful. In the end, each hero has four options to choose from that will significantly change the way that they play and the abilities they have available. Kevin, for instance, can become a straightforward punchy man or something closer to a fighting healer, while Charlotte begins as a healer but can become a more offense-focused caster.
Mixing and matching compatible parties and classes can lead to hours of theorycrafting fun, to say nothing of actually playing through the game and trying those theories out in practice.
Unlike the original Seiken Densetsu 3’s 2D take on the idea, Trials of Mana is a fully 3D game in a wholly realized world. You can run around, explore, jump about and search for loot to your heart’s content. It’s a pretty nice upgrade, with areas remaining fairly compact so as not to feel empty. Combat has also seen an update, with characters able to perform both light and heavy attacks as well as special combos. Along with this, you’ve got magic spells, usable items and the classic dodge roll to spice things up. Where the original game felt a little unfair at times due to undodgeable magic attacks, there’s a much greater skill-based element at play here. Every attack is avoidable. Whether or not you’ll actually avoid them is up to you.
Trials’ aesthetic update is fantastic as well. The world is vibrant and beautiful, characters and monsters are brilliantly animated and battles are impressive even by modern standards. There’s voice acting in both English and Japanese throughout the game as well. Takes on this have differed; suffice to say if you’re bothered by anime voice acting standards you’ll be bothered here too, but it’s never been an issue in my book. The PS4 and PC versions both look great, though the PS4 version’s load times can be a bit lengthy, and while there’s a Switch version it suffers from framerate problems so it’s best to stick to the other platforms.
One nice bonus for the update is the addition of a post-game third act, featuring additional class updates for the heroes and a postgame dungeon! It’s a decent addition, though I found that your characters tend to end up vastly overpowered during this segment so battles turn into slogs rather than anything challenging.
Still, new content is nice. More importantly, the long-awaited acceptance of a SNES-era classic is nice. Seiken Densetsu 3 was a must-play for fans of the Super Nintendo, a game so great it was worth learning how to emulate games just in order to play it, and now it’s here as Trials of Mana in a form that’s better than ever. If you’ve played the original game, either on the Super Famicom, via emulation or on the Switch with the recent Collection of Mana, then you’ll be pleased to hear that this remake is top class. If you haven’t…you’re in for a treat.