Can you tell I love ridiculous article titles?
The game known originally as Seiken Densetsu 3 is getting a Western rejuvenation under the title Trials of Mana. This recreation of the third installment of the Mana series is taking a new form as a 3D Nintendo Switch title, which is quite a step away from its original 2D Super Famicom roots. Square Enix was kind enough to bestow unto us a sneak peak (i.e. a demo) of what we are in store for come April 24th, so here's what I thought about it!
Now I've never played any of the Mana Series games, either on a legitimate system or via a ROM. For the longest time I even thought they were turn-based for some reason?? Not sure why. But I figured I would dive right in and see what the Trials of Mana demo had to offer.
The game consists of you creating your own party of 3 out of a pre-established roster of 6. Each character comes with a background, some general stat indicators, and their main weapons of choice / general play style. At the time of writing this, I've already completed the demo with my first choice party - Kevin as my protagonist (I'm a sucker for a werewolf), with Charlotte and Riesz as my companions (a well-rounded party altogether). I also have another save file started consisting of Hawkeye as my main, with Duran and Angela tagging along. That right there says two things: 1. I'm already in deep enough that I want to know the story from more than one perspective, and 2. I just want to keep playing!!
The story centers around your protagonist of choice, with your companions getting integrated along the way. When a new character joins your party, you are given the option to briskly play through the first part of that hero's journey, so you can find out their major plot points up until that moment. This really intrigued me as someone who has a tendency to not replay games. If it's possible to some degree to see the story from your three chosen characters’ perspectives along the journey, then personally I will be much more invested to play. Being able to see the story from so many angles just adds extra hooks that draw you in closer.
Normally, multiple playthroughs and multiple story angles can scare me off. Between my unstable attention span, and my fear of missing out, I get myself overwhelmed by trying to map out how to complete everything and how long that would take. With the way the demo has shown how the party members’ stories can be viewed, my mind is still reeling at the possibilities, but in the end I think a playthrough on each file I've created will suffice (unless I find out later on that there are drastic changes among specific party choices then... oh well, guess I'll just have to play it again ¯\_(ツ)_/¯).
Without getting into too much detail, the individual characters’ stories alone are so compelling, their narratives start out straight and to the point, immediately packing a punch and leaving you wanting more. Even just reviewing your companions’ starting adventures is enough to make you want to sink your teeth in and know more. At this rate, if you need to play it through with each character as your protagonist to see all their fates, I'm real damn tempted to do so. The way the overarching story slowly unfolds as you experience all the protagonists’ perspectives was really captivating and left me wanting more.
Now, with the story already having its hooks in me (I mean come on, two save files?? Who am I??), there's another important factor: the combat mechanics. I'm a big fan of action RPGs. There is a very specific flavor of turn-based RPGs that I get consumed by (cough cough Dragon Quest 11S - you'll be mine one day), but overall, they're not a strong selling point when I'm deciding to play a game. Trial of Mana's simple Light/Heavy Attack system, with a dodge and jump are up my alley big-time. Throw in some special abilities and moves, plus a not overly complex, yet still customizable skill tree system and I am raring to go. Trials of Mana hit the nail directly on the head with the type of combat I was looking for. The way it seamlessly transitions in and out of battle too is so smooth. There is no separation between your fighting scenery and the 'outer world'. Once you agro a monster you've encountered, a small circular barrier surrounds and confines you to a small portion of space, forcing you to either fight or run against the barrier until you successfully escape. Once you've defeated your foes, the barrier dissipates without any forced cutscene breaking your immersion and you are presented with your battle results in the top left corner. These results also aren't overbearing. How the UI is designed displays all the information you might need to know in a simple, efficient, and compact manner.
Another thing that really struck me with this preview is how the game felt. As mentioned prior, Trials of Mana originated from the Super Famicom system as an action RPG just like our modern day remake. The original, however, was 2D. The active translation into the 3D space I think has been well achieved. Having never played the 2D classic, I can still feel the nostalgic, aged roots in the details of the remake. They crafted the visuals and movement mechanics to bring this IP into our modern day standards for video games, but you can still tell that deep down, this is an aged, older classic. And that? Is not a bad thing. It adds to the charm of the experience, even for someone like me who has no prior attachments to the series. That being said, I definitely wouldn't describe the experience as unpolished. It's... balanced, between constructing this classic title from the ground up in a whole new dimension while still paying homage to its 1995 genesis.
I originally wanted to keep this piece on the shorter end because, well, it's only a demo of the game. When I initially started writing this, I wasn't 100% sure how I felt about diving in day one. As I continued to write though and thought about the experience that Square Enix has laid out before me, I'm slowly being convinced that I genuinely am in love. The biggest, and at this point, only thing stopping me from buying this game on day one, is the price point. Right now, the e-shop has it listed for $66.99 Canadian. I very much value the dollar-to-play-time ratio when purchasing games day one, so purchasing digital usually leaves me hesitating. Having established two save files that I very much want to continue, I think I would get my money's worth from the full price tag, but I'm still waiting to pull the trigger. HowLongToBeat.com lists the original Seiken Densetsu 3 experience at a collective ~25 hours for the main story. So multiplying that by at least 2 playthroughs (one per party), I think this game will be worth it.