Trials of Mana on PlayStation 4
There are few things worse than seeing a beloved title receive a full remake, only for said remake to make its flaws more apparent and even add on some new ones. Such is the case with Trials of Mana, which offers some significant surface level improvements at the cost of maintaining and creating major issues that are impossible to ignore.
Like the original title, the remake sees the world’s mana at risk of disappearing due to dark forces seeking out and disrupting the flow of mana throughout the world. As a result, six chosen heroes are dragged into the conflict, and players must choose three of said heroes to form a party and put an end to the evil plots about to be set into motion.
It’s the kind of simple setup one would expect from a classic JRPG, and it still largely works in the remake. Players won’t have long to wait before they’re in the thick of the game’s action, and having the choice of several different heroes to form a party from makes for some interesting variety in how the story plays out.
Not only that, but each character has their own playable origin chapter for players to experience if said character is picked for the main party. They’re not exceptional by any means, but they do serve to flesh out the world and add some weight to the player’s choice of who will make up their party for the next two dozen hours.
Likewise, each character offers some slight variations on the gameplay. As with the original Trials of Mana, the remake offers an active battle system that seamlessly drops players in and out of combat with monsters where they can execute combos, cast spells and use special techniques.
However, the remake now offers the added bonus of being set in 3D areas with a fully-realized combat system, full of mechanics and nuances players can dig into.
Duran the warrior can slice through foes with ease using special sword combos and techniques, while also tanking damage to protect allies; Angela the mage can target foes’ elemental weaknesses with a variety of spells; and Kevin the Beastman can dart across the battlefield to rend through foes using lightning-fast strikes and flurries of blows.
It’s a great take on party-based combat that feels all the more fun with a new coat of modern graphical polish. Even with other JRPGs now embracing active battle systems, the remake still feels as special as the original thanks to how natural and fluid its combat looks and feels.
It’s made all the better by the fact that each character has a decent array abilities and techniques they can learn by changing and upgrading their classes. After a certain point in the game, players can execute a class change to become stronger with abilities, techniques and specializations that cater to specific play-styles and approaches to battle.
This can lead to new avenues for how players approach combat encounters, and alongside the energetic and varied soundtrack, it keeps the gameplay feeling fresh even into the later hours of the game.
Which is good, because in other key areas, there are major flaws that can drag down the experience, either because of missteps in how the game was remade or in how flaws from the original weren’t properly addressed.
Case in point: The remake offers fully voice-acted cutscenes in place of the text-based scenes from the original. This would normally be cause for celebration, but almost every character in the game has voice acting that ranges from inconsistent to abysmal.
Every possible flaw one could find in voice acting – from actors lacking emotion in their line delivery to the sudden introduction of an accent for a character – are on full display, and it can make sitting through even the most crucial story bit unbearable.
That’s saying something too, because Trials of Mana’s story is paper-thin and provides minimal depth or payoff for many of its characters’ stories. Major revelations and reveals come and go with little to no context or impact, and more often than not it can leave the player wondering what the point of including it even was.
Granted, many of these are pulled straight from the original game, and it’s understandable that this would occur in an older title. Still though, it’s odd to think that a full remake wouldn’t change or update these bits, implementing some minor changes to make it less obtrusive to the overall experience.
It all serves to create the odd situation where what is supposed to be a story-driven JRPG becomes a slog whenever the narrative becomes the focus. All but the most diehard fans of the original game will be desperate to get back to the gameplay as soon as possible, and what should have been an enjoyable fantasy tale will go largely unnoticed beneath heaps of issues that could have been remedied.
Trials of Mana is, at best, a mixed bag. For all of the improvements it brings to the beloved 25 year-old classic in the form of refined graphics and gameplay, its story feels underdeveloped and the voice acting makes its narrative nearly unwatchable.
Fans of the series will still be able to glean some enjoyment from seeing a classic title brought into the modern age, but everyone else won’t have much reason to dive into this flawed remake.
- Great combat mechanics
- Fantastic visuals
- An energetic and enjoyable soundtrack
- Terrible voice acting
- Paper-thin story
- Lack of pay-off for character arcs
Mar. 22, 2020
PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
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