Originally released in 1995 for the Super Famicom, Seiken Densetsu 3 never made it overseas like it’s predecessors Final Fantasy Adventure and Secret of Mana. In the 25 years that have elapsed, the most likely way you had played the game was a fan-translated ROM.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Seiken Densetsu 3 was re-revealed as Trials of Mana, part of Collection of Mana, ports which released last year on the Nintendo Switch. Newly localized, the game would also see a 3D remake for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam. We checked out the PlayStation 4 version.
Developed by Square Enix and Xeen, the Trials of Mana remake is a cut above past remakes in the series. While preserving the combat of the original, adaptations are made where necessary to keep the experience smooth. A lock-on the right analog stick centers the camera on an enemy, and class strikes (special moves based on your class) can be bound comfortably to a bumper and face button.
You can choose three of six characters to play: one acts as the protagonist while the other two join your party eventually. There’s a mix of melee and magic users, and my play-through starred the thief Hawkeye, the amazon Riesz, and the brawler Kevin. As they level up, they can put points into five different stats. Depending on what stats you prioritize, you’ll unlock various abilities. These abilities also change based on the class upgrades you select.
Each character has two paths they can select with different stats and ability sets, allowing you to customize them a pretty good deal. I was able to add an ability that caused instant death whenever Nightblade Hawkeye poisoned an enemy with a strong attack — which was quite often and worked to great effect. Riesz was outfitted to become more of a tank, with solid buffs to keep the party’s defense up, and Kevin was a damage powerhouse.
Encounter design in this version uses a telegraph system to warn you about incoming damage. This is depicted with red outlines on the floor that indicate where damage will fall, not dissimilar from Final Fantasy XIV’s telegraphs. When fights get a bit chaotic they help you make a quick decision on how to react without the frustration of being bombarded by off camera-attacks. The item wheels have also been redesigned to be a little less disorienting, by centering them around each character’s portrait in the UI. It’s not hard to tell who is going to use what.
Despite this, party AI seems to fare rather poorly, often soaking up an incredible amount of damage in more frantic parts of a boss fight. Many times I brought up my item wheel to quickly revive a party member only for them to die seconds later, for lack of any evasive maneuvers. During the final boss encounter, both party members went down after I had used all remaining revival items, and the experience became less intense without babysitting their health.
While the remake doesn’t soar to the heights of the original’s fantastic spritework on the Super Famicom, it portrays a colorful world that doesn’t linger too long in the same area. Hiroki Kikuta’s soundtrack has been very faithfully arranged, with some standouts like Meridian Child, boss theme Nuclear Fusion, and Flammie’s overworld Can You Fly Sister? The instruments chosen are well-considered and really do evoke the feel of the original. Voice performances leave much to be desired, with some questionable takes, but it’s not enough to sour the experience.
The story is pretty brisk for Japanese RPG; I clocked in about 21 hours for the main scenario and optional post-game dungeon. Like many stories of the era, it’s a collect-a-thon of McGuffins with a light overarching plot. That’s not a knock; remember, this is from an era where this was still somewhat novel. Each character has their own scenario that’s folded into completing the main thrust.
Trials of Mana is a brisk, fun, comfort. It feels like a good palette cleanser after playing through a headier RPG, yet has enough trimmings to keep your attention for its 20 hour runtime. Had it been longer, I think the seams would have begin to come apart. The combat’s been modified just enough so that it evokes the original while incorporating useful new elements. However, the struggling AI is drags along behind it, often slowing down the momentum unnecessarily. Despite this setback, you can tell there is a considerate hand when it came to rebuilding this game for 3D.
It’s great to see the Mana series come off phones and back to the consoles, and Xeen should be proud of the work they’ve done here. In the back of my head, I thought it’d be great if these folks could take a crack and developing a new Mana title for Square Enix, which probably says a lot on its own.
Disclaimer: We purchased a retail copy of this game for review.
Trials of Mana is now available on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PC via Steam. You can watch our playthrough of the game over at our YouTube channel.