Remakes can be a tricky thing. Especially if a company is known for them and has had varying success with them. Square Enix already had one rather impressive remake launch in April 2020, and the Trials of Mana remake will be its second. This one isn’t coming out of nowhere, though, and the company had a means to prepare for it. The 2018 Secret of Mana remake helped pave the way, and there were more than a few moments where it felt it helped influence this installment in a good way.
The big one has to do with the AI. In the Secret of Mana remake, playing alone means you have two computer-controlled allies who, well, aren’t all that smart. Going on the journey with two other friends is the ideal scenario. Trials of Mana is completely single-player, but two changes make it feel much more comfortable and even accommodating. One is the perspective. Rather than an overhead view, you’re seeing things from the third person on the same level as your characters. It is easy to see where every enemy is around you. You have full control of the camera. You can see the areas where foes’ attacks will hit. It is easy to pull up the rings and hotkeys for items, spells, and special attacks. You can also swiftly cycle through characters or determine what your allies will do.
But even not taking into account how much easier and more fun it is to go through battles in the Trials of Mana remake, the AI for allies is better and makes it easier to just… forget about them and focus on what the character you are controlling is doing. I was pretty impressed with the default AI, which I left as-is until after Angela and the party were assaulted by Machine Golems on the way to Valsena. Once you get into it, you have multiple options for each character. For example, you choose which sort of enemy they would target. You determine the role they would take, such as attacking, supporting, or a mix of the two. Then, there’s a customizable segment where you can really dig in and move indicators along bars to determine how often they would use moves, class strikes, or healing items. Its noticeably more intricate than the Secret of Mana remake’s.
Then, there are the moments when you’re in towns. In Trials of Mana, your allies aren’t always going to stick around you when you reach a safe place. They might go off to do their own thing for a bit. For example, one of the earliest moments is right after Duran joins Angela, if Angela is the main character and you choose him as your first ally. He’ll be hanging around Wendell’s armor shop when you’re on the way to meet with the head priest and learn about your destiny as the new hero. As you go on, you’ll see more moments like this. These aren’t obvious refreshers, like Secret of Mana’s interludes, but are more subtle moments where we get to see people who are growing to understand and respect each other talk.
I also felt like the Trials of Mana remake was paying tribute to the original game and other past Mana installments, but in a way that wasn’t always as obvious as a 1:1 recreation or having the original maps as your minimaps. It isn’t that these are subtle, but they felt more natural. The idea of gardening and tending for items isn’t unusual for the series, for example Sword of Mana had the Hot House, and Trials of Mana lets you collect seeds that you would then grow at Magic Pots in inns to get different pieces of equipment or items. This also marks the return of Li’l Cactus, who will give you rewards if you find the character around the world. It calls back to how mischievous the character can be. But then, at the same time, it remembers little nuances from the original, like Charlotte begging to join your party even if you didn’t select her as a playable character.
Its only real downside is that it sometimes seems like the Trials of Mana remake uses space effectively. With the Secret of Mana remake, things looked fine. They could be a bit simplistic and perhaps even claustrophobic, but being the sort of recreation it was, it was to be expected. With Trials of Mana, things go big. Everything is much more detailed and presented on something of a grander scale. But then, at the same time, there are a number of dungeons, towns, and other areas where we have all this room and not enough to fill it. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I’m using a screenshot from the first few hours of Angela’s storyline, where she’s cornered by fellow Altenish mages on the bridge. While certainly this is to provide an excuse for there being ample room for the miniboss fight, it comes across incredibly awkward.
The Trials of Mana remake feels like one that has clearly grown as a result of progress made with its predecessor. The AI is more competent, the callbacks feel more grounded, and it gives characters some freedom to move around a bit and have their own time. It isn’t completely perfect, as there are times when it doesn’t always feel like it uses space effectively. It it definitely feels like Square Enix learned from the Secret of Mana remake.
Trials of Mana will come to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC on April 24, 2020.