Thursday, December 24, 2020

Trials of Mana Review

Developer: Xeen
Publisher: SquareEnix
Platforms: NS, PC, PS4
Price: $49.99
Version Played: PC

Now, you might be thinking, “Didn’t you already review Trials of Mana?”. Yes, I did, but that was the SNES version included in Collection of Mana. This is the remake by the same name and released a year later. It’s a very different game, but also pretty much the same game. It’s a 3D remake with a new battle system, cutscenes, voice acting, and a remade soundtrack, but as far as the story, world, and structure go, it’s pretty much the same game I played last year.

If you're looking for a Chrono Trigger quality story, you won't find it here. The characters all feel like anime/RPG tropes and the story is the same save the world by collecting elementals stuff we've seen in tons of other games. Maybe this was okay in the 90s, but it's just boring now. Especially playing through it a second time. I had a very tough time paying attention to it.

You'd think the new voice acting and cutscenes would help keep me interested, but they don't because they're bad. Cutscenes are animated in a very cheap anime-like way. Characters just kind of go from pose to pose and don't do a lot in between. The voice acting is just as bad. It's not Working Designs bad, but almost. The main cast is okay, for the most part, but NPCs are terrible. A lot of them read their lines very slowly and take 2 or 3 second pauses in between sentences. It sounds like they had to do a bunch of takes for each line and then pieced the whole thing together. It sounds terrible and it's boring to listen to.

My biggest problem with the SNES original is the battle system. The action freezes every time you pull up the item wheel or use a spell. It's supposed to be an action RPG, but there's almost as much downtime as in a turn-based RPG. Thankfully, this remake has a new and much improved battle system. Everything happens in real-time and the action doesn't stop to make you watch long spell animations.

The new battle system feels like a modern Secret of Mana with a bit of 3D Zelda, Monster Hunter, and PSO to fill in the blanks. It has lock-on targeting, strong and weak attacks, combos, dodging, and shortcuts for spells and items you can bring up by holding the triggers. You also get a charge move you can do by holding down the strong attack button, which will remind people of Secret of Mana's special moves. These charge moves are not Trials of Mana's equivalent, though.

The class abilities from the SNES game are still here, but the meter works very differently. You now collect shards that pop out of enemies when you hit them to fill the meter, and it doesn't deplete after every fight anymore. You also get a shortcut for each level of class ability, so you don't have to use all your meter every time. This lets you strategize and use weaker class abilities on normal enemies if you want. I like this system much better than the one in both Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana on SNES.

The original ToM doesn't have any kind dodge move. In fact, enemy spells lock on to you and you can't avoid getting hit by them. You can dodge or interrupt every attack in this remake. You get a dodge roll that works kind of like what you see in 3D Zelda games. The game also highlights the area of effect of attacks on the ground for you, so you always know when and where you need to dodge. This is much better than unavoidable damage.

Weirdly enough, they added a jump to this remake, and it actually matters. There's a few platforming sections throughout the game, there's boss attacks you have to jump to avoid, and you often have to jump to hit flying enemies. You can even dodge roll in midair, which looks kind of weird, but is useful. I think it works. It's not useless, like the jump in some other RPGs, and it makes the game a little more fun to play.

The stat and training point system has also been completely overhauled. Putting points into specific stats now unlocks passive and equippable buffs, like MP recovery after battles and attack bonuses. You can even unlock buffs with one character and equip them on another. It's pretty cool. You can also unlock some of these equippable buffs by talking to some NPCs. I'm not a big fan of that, though. It's cool when it's a story-related NPC, but I don't want to run around talking to every random villager. Their dialogue just isn't very interesting. I probably missed a lot of those.

Another cool thing they added is the new objective and waypoint system. You always have a little note on the screen telling you what you should do next, there's little icons marking the way to the next objective, and there are markers on the map as well. It's very MMO-like. It also makes it so you don't have to pay attention to the story to know what you should be doing, which is a good thing in my opinion.

Unlike in the SNES game, there is no multiplayer here at all. And since this is a 3rd person game, and it gets pretty hectic during battles, you kind of just have to trust that your party member’s AI is good enough to get you through. Like in the original, you can customize each of your party member’s AI. You can tell them to attack, heal, assist, or do a mix of different things. I played through the whole game on normal, with Charlotte focusing on healing, and I had a pretty easy time, so I guess the AI is alright. Your party members aren’t great at moving out of the way of boss attacks, though. I didn’t try playing the game on hard, but I did try playing without Charlotte, which is a difficulty setting onto itself, and I had a tough time keeping my party members up during boss fights. I could see this being a big problem on higher difficulties.

There is actually some new content in the game in the form of new post-game quests, two new final classes for every character, and a gigantic new dungeon with a new boss. But sadly, most of this new content is more like recolored content. The new classes are really just the last light and dark classes in a branch combined, most of the new bosses are reused models, and the new dungeon is mostly recolored sections of other dungeons chained together. It reminds me of the kind of bad DLC you see in a lot of games. This is definitely worth playing, though. It's the most challenging content in the game, the new story bits are cool, and the reward for completing it is pretty nice; a New Game+ mode.

This remake features a remade soundtrack, and it sounds really good, but it's the same thing with modern technology. It's not orchestrated or anything. It's still a great soundtrack, though. The SNES soundtrack is also in there as an option.

Trials of Mana is definitely the best looking of the Mana remakes so far. It's not like they set a high bar, though. This looks fine and it runs at a great framerate, but it has the same problem as Dragon Quest XI, the environments don't match. All the characters and enemies look right with their anime-like shading and cartoon outlines, but the environments look like they could be from any other game. I suppose it couldn't be helped. These remakes are obviously not getting huge budgets.

I didn't really like the SNES game, but this is much better. It gets rid of all the annoying stuff, except for Charlotte, and modernizes the combat and UI in great ways. This is definitely the best of the Mana remakes, and I'd like to see future Mana games be made in this mold. The story is not interesting at all, but the gameplay is fun. I say skip the original and play this.