When I was a teenager, my SNES constantly had a JRPG in it. I couldn’t get enough of ’em, and the industry was cranking out solid releases consistently. For months leading up to the release of Secret of Mana, I read the same article over and over. It had the depth of a Final Fantasy, a unique look and game play similar to A Link to the Past. When I finally got my paws on a copy, I was consumed for months. The aesthetic, combat, story and world captivated the tiny middle school minds of most kids I knew. For a little while, Secret of Mana was THE game. This was back before mega phenoms like Fortnite ruled the landscape, in a time where word of mouth and monthly video game magazines were the only way a game got around. Shortly after SoM had it’s time in the sun, an article about a sequel popped up in a very popular magazine that rhymes with Pretendo Hour. It looked amazing. Everything about it would be the next logical step for the series. With better graphics, more characters, more magic, job classes, it was the game to wait for. And we waited. And waited…
And it never came. Famously, RPGs were viewed as a niche genre at the time, and the SNES cartridge of Seiken Densetsu 3 (lit. translated to Legend of the Sacred Sword 3) would never land on western shores. Heavily supported and lovingly translated by the emulation community, western fans fell in love with the classic they never had, yet those who didn’t play emulators were left out…
…until NOW! I would love nothing more than to keep up the illusion of journalistic professionalism, but I’m literally incapable of not fanboying all over the rest of this review. This is because Trails of Mana isn’t just a faithful remake of an amazing RPG from the 16-bit golden age, it’s because it’s a DAMN GOOD remake. In a world where the words “reboot” or “remake” inspire apathetic groans, Squeenix has knocked two out of the park with the FF7 Remake and this. That has a lot to do with them both respecting the source material while using the power of modern computing to make worthy additions to the game. This is much harder than it sounds, and many a hyped remake has fallen flat on release. This game is even more so faithful from the game it’s remaking than FF7 is; to the point where the only changes have been improvements. First, we’ll get into what made the game good to begin with, then we can get into what’s new.
What separated Seiken Densetsu 3 from other games at the time was that it asked no compromise from the player. Folks who always wanted game play like the Zelda series with the depth and pyrotechnics of a Final Fantasy title had found just that mix in the series. SD3 was deeper than many titles with its branching class systems, builds, a long story made up of 6 characters. With the ability to choose any three from the six, it boasted excellent replayability as one could not see each character’s story in a single play through. It was colorful, challenging and just a lot of fun to play. The characters were memorable and the bosses varied and detailed. This truly was a sequel done right. It had everything its predecessor had and tons more.
Flash forward to the remake and you will find the exact same game with more depth and better combat. Trials of Mana ditches the over-head view for a third person view. Combat feels much more like a PS3 action RPG (in the best way) with moves you can use off the bat, rather than wait half the game to unlock like the original. The general hack and slash has been lifted with a combo system that really livens up the fights. Magic is flashy and fun (High level Angela is a blast to play). As with the original, partner AI can be tweaked by a (new and improved) set of options and sliders which govern item use, attack tendency, magic use and roles. You can switch to any of your three party members on the fly, but knowing my healer has my back without me having to open a menu is a godsend.
With all the improvements, it’s easy to miss the other half of why this game impressed me. Every location has been faithfully recreated in a 3D space. The exact attention to detail is astounding. Every room, castle, dungeon and zone is exactly the same as its 2D counterpart, albeit now in 3D with jumping and versatility. This may be one of the most impressive features of this remake.
I opted for the Switch version, though its also available on Steam and PS4. Portability works well with this title, and while it’s pretty for what it is, this one ain’t pushing your hardware. I don’t really do ratings systems so if you read this far looking for a numerical scale, I am sorry to disappoint. What I can say is you can’t really do too much better as far as remakes are concerned. Whether you played every possible combination of characters in the original, or you just like old school action RPGs, Trails of Mana plucks a 16-bit masterpiece right from your childhood. Its exactly the great game it always was, now improved in every way.
All screenshots taken by my via Switch console and uploaded via convoluted method using Facebook.