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Review: Trials of Mana (2020)


Posted on May 28, 2020 by Christian Bianchi

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8.8/10

Summary

Staying faithful to the original while modernizing key aspects, Trials of Mana 2020 keeps what made the 1995 classic special.

Take a role-playing videogame, any single one that has released in the last 5-10 years and mull over for a moment about what made it special. Just for a moment, narrow down your favorite aspect of it to a single piece of that experience. For me, that RPG was Fire Emblem: Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS. When I picked up that game 7 years ago, I played it until the trigger on my 3DS broke. It took me a while to figure out why it all worked but it just…did. Fundamentally, everything about the game was so sound and pushed me to keep playing. The story and characters were engaging, the gameplay encouraged me to keep going and reap the rewards of my travels around the world of the game.

Where am I going with this? Well, it’s a long-winded way of saying that the 2020 remake of Trials of Mana is a functional improvement in most areas over it’s 1995 counterpart. It’s whimsical, vibrant and, most importantly, fun for just about anyone looking for a classic JRPG in the modern landscape.

As a remake of a beloved classic that established some of the fundamental aspects of the fantasy JRPG genre, this game wears what made the original special like a badge of honor and improves the gameplay itself with modern updates. While both the visuals, story and dialogue are filled to the brim with JRPG tropes, that’s…kind of the charm with this – it’s what you would expect in a faithful one-to-one remake. The voice acting is serviceable, but I found that the dialogue doesn’t translate over to English too cleanly, so I’m recommending you play with Japanese audio and English subtitles.

When you boot up the game, you are offered your standard difficulty selections followed by your choice of the main character and side characters from a group of six: Duran, Angela, Charlotte, Hawkeye, Reisz and Kevin. The characters you pick here are your party members throughout the story and directly influence which villains your playthrough will focus on. The overarching story itself is unchanged from 1995, but in this case, the twists and turns throughout don’t feel as earth-shattering as other story-driven video game remakes today, and that is completely fine. The beats are one-to-one with the original and honestly, the incredible replay value is shared by only a few other JRPGs like it.

Moments like these are just a part of why I came to really appreciate Hawkeye as my personal favorite character…even with the JRPG tropes of the 90’s cropping up.

That said, it seems like first-time players should take up specific characters to gain a better experience. I would recommend Duran as the protagonist with any set of side characters working out in the long run, but I recommend supportive characters like Angela and Charlotte. I chose Hawkeye over Charlotte just out of a coin toss and I’m immensely happier for it. I found that I would run into other playable characters throughout my travels and have minor interactions with them, just like back in 1995. Hawkeye was just more my speed.

In combat, Class Strikes are flashy, satisfying and, in this case, a little overkill sometimes. The more you change classes, the crazier they get.

Simple 3D-combat takes center stage in the remake with loads of improvements over the original. Universal light attack into heavy attack combos give utility to every character, which is fantastic. Notably, the evade button takes the place of the RNG dodges of yesteryear. This removal of randomness is pervasive throughout the whole experience. Combat encounters aren’t overwhelming, with plenty of space to move around and clearly outlined zones that the enemy will strike, letting you dodge telegraphed AOE attacks pretty easily.

The only issue I have is when you see how your AI companions handle this. Admittedly, expecting a lot from friendly AI isn’t something I normally put stock in, but here it was particularly rough to watch at times. You can manually switch what party member you control on the fly completely independent of combat, but in doing so, you may doom whoever you’re not in control of. In my case, the less durable party members would frequently take serious damage by just failing to dodge attacks from bosses, attacks that had massive wind-ups and were easily avoidable for myself. This is also exacerbated by one of the few features missing from its 1995 counterpart: multiplayer. You cannot mitigate this by handing a controller to a friend.

On paper, it’s perfect. In practice, the AI strategy you set up has varying results. Time will show you if you’ve given the effective choice a shot.

Thankfully, there’s (sort-of) a workaround for this in the game and it’s so close to being great.

You can give strategic commands to your AI companions in the pause menu which mitigates, but does not perfectly solve, the issues they have. Tell them to only use a certain number of items? Yup, they’ll do it. Tell them to target the same enemy you do? On it, boss. Tell them their new strategy is to hang back and attack from a distance? Well, you can’t quite tell them how to attack and heal, but they’ll certainly try their best. It’s a bit frustrating at times when you run into an enemy they just can’t seem to dodge and they frequently go down, leaving you to hit the boss instead of spending resources to revive downed allies.

When you see this door, try not to pull your own hair. Your allies will likely go down in just a few seconds, whether you like it or not.

Certain bosses in the game were egregious examples of this, including the Zhenoa Door and one of the later Benevodon bosses (you’ll know which one). These represent some out of nowhere difficulty spikes that are, thankfully, short-lived and ultimately don’t rear their head often.

Want to know what’s going to completely change combat in a great way though – class changes, abilities and training.

At various points throughout the game, you’ll level up to the point you can change classes. This is framed in the game’s story as you rising up to meet the demands of the overarching conflict. It’s fantastic.

In a 1-up from the original, RNG no longer applies to training. You gain abilities by hitting milestones with certain scores and you can see them all before you put points in.

Depending on the classes you change to with each character, you’ll gain access to different abilities which you can equip in your gear alongside weapons and armor. These can be simple jumps in stats like +5 to strength or a skill that empowers your damage at the cost of taking more damage yourself. This is a true modernization and improvement in my opinion over the original’s roulette system. Additionally, there’s another feature that Trials of Mana has borrowed from modern RPGs for it’s true betterment: Respec!

You probably won’t have the items necessary to reallocate your training points until you’ve completed the main story, but it is there for a very good reason…

Once you acquire some late-game items, you can go to specific areas in the overworld to redistribute your training points if you don’t like the way you leveled your character until that point. This fixes the “you played the game wrong” aspect that was so punishing about the 1995 classic in the perfect way, and I think that’s just a poetic example of how the genre it helped found has evolved over the last 25 years.

What else can I even say? The game is great. Not perfect, but great. It may not seem like it’s marketed towards a specific subset of players or bring anything more than simple fantasy JRPG gameplay, but it’s the best thing you could ask for from that type of game. It gave me that feeling I had the last time I played a fantastic RPG title. I had a blast with Trials of Mana 2020, and while I wished that it adopted more aspects of successful modern RPGs, I feel like that would take away from what makes this game special. If you like JRPGs and you want a faithful classic to play through with modern updates, definitely give this one a shot.

Trials of Mana (2020) is available now on Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4 and on PC through Steam.

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My name is Phace, aka. Christian Bianchi and I'm a creative and content writer. I've been passionately following video games since the late '90s and that train isn't derailing.I cover just about everything in the games' industry, but if it gets your heart pumping I almost assuredly have more to say than base impressions.As a writer for Rectify Gaming, I take games and give you the phace to face details you need to know in order to have fun.

About The Author

Christian Bianchi

My name is Phace, aka. Christian Bianchi and I'm a creative and content writer. I've been passionately following video games since the late '90s and that train isn't derailing.

I cover just about everything in the games' industry, but if it gets your heart pumping I almost assuredly have more to say than base impressions.

As a writer for Rectify Gaming, I take games and give you the phace to face details you need to know in order to have fun.