The Trials of Mana Remake will be available on Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Its demo is available on all three platforms right now.
I’ve had the Collection of Mana off in the corner of my mind since it was released – it’s a set of JRPGs from Squaresoft’s golden age, and one that I’d never touched. Naturally, I was curious to dig into how they’d updated an old title to modern standards with a from-the-ground-up remake, so I hopped right on the Trials of Mana Remake demo – and started out with its Amazon heroine, Riesz.
Riesz is a weird character. Not so much in that she’s quirky or anything – she’s very much the opposite. By the time the player gets to her, she’s already a fully-capable captain of the royal guard. As a result, all the dramatic character development on her part apparently happened a good decade ago, so the only failings the story can conjure up for her seem to stem from her inability to be in two places at once.
She’s perfectly noble, and strong, and driven, and… in a word… flat? We all love to complain about our dumb fourteen-year-old JRPG protagonists who need to do some serious growing up, but at least that gives them some room to wiggle around and grow. This demo only shows the first eighth or so of the game, sure, but Riesz is sufficiently accomplished and heroic from minute one. I don’t really see her having anywhere to go with a hypothetical character arc, especially since the shared “find the MacGuffins” plot isn’t the type of thing to challenge her on an idealistic level.
I feel like I’d absolutely adore her stalwart-yet-optimistic attitude as a supporting party member, though – even with her speech affection. It seems like every cast member has some “hook” that informs how their every line is delivered – Angela holds something of a cavalier edge to her dialogue, and Charlotte has a baby-like lisp where she wowws aww of heww awws. Riesz, meanwhile, seems to have sworn off ever using a contraction again, which makes her sound stiff as a board. It makes some amount of sense for someone in both royalty and military leadership positions, but doesn’t make it any easier to listen to for me.
The one thing that Riesz has going for her is that her home castle is beset in her prologue by forces from Nevarl. And, looking back to the character screen, I remembered seeing that each character had their own homeland listed out. I wonder if one of them –
I spy, with my little eye, some juicy drama waiting to happen.
So I set out on another, much more straight-to-the-goal run of Hawkeye’s route and selected Riesz as my first companion, hoping to see how the two would interact. Would Riesz hold up her royal veneer in the face of an enemy of her kingdom, or initially lash out at him? Would Hawkeye help her in her campaign against Nevarl, or would the two keep each other at arm’s reach?
The results were, in a word, disappointing.
Playing through the demo a second time, it becomes very apparent where there the game leaves holes in the script where it plugs in one of six interchangeable, inconsequential lines from a present party member. Selecting Hawkeye or Reisz doesn’t change the trajectory of any conversations, and the two really don’t seem to interact much at all. There’s a couple of lovely little ambient exchanges in the demo’s main dungeon where they complement each other’s capabilities, but otherwise the two never bring up the elephant in the room.
Again, I can’t claim that the two don’t share some more meaningful interaction later on, or that the game doesn’t open up its character dynamics once your party is filled out. But with the way the game’s dialogue has been structured so far, I don’t exactly have high hopes, and would even warn people thinking about starting a second route just to play as the other potential party members. That second route really revealed more than I might like about how the game’s select-any-main-character structure was working under the covers.
As its own aside, Hawkeye’s prologue didn’t feel especially satisfying to me, either. It opens with a heist scene that mostly consists of characters standing in place, talking at one another or uselessly standing outside (which doesn’t especially feel like high-stakes action). After that, so much happens in such a small space that it’s hard to feel too attached to anybody as they breeze past. Notably, you have a fight against your childhood friend that should bear emotional weight – but the player met the guy not two minutes ago, and the game’s tutorial throws up guard rails and instructional prompts during the duel, killing any sense of tension. The entire prologue in Nevarl feels like a dozen plot conventions into a blender, resulting in an indistinct slurry.
One thing that the game’s story structure does do well is that it lets you play an abbreviated version of each party member’s prologue when they join your party. You skip the tutorials and all that, and the game makes it clear that experience and items don’t matter in these flashbacks, so you can just hop through the major story beats without worrying or dawdling about. It really helps to keep the pace up in what’s essentially a story recap – and even if you choose to skip playing through it, the game gives you the digest version by way of some quick narration over a few choice cutscenes. Slick!
In fact, there’s a lot that the Trials of Mana demo does to smooth over its gameplay in such a way that I can still tell that it was born of a SNES game. For one, you can skip through all text – including fully-voiced cutscenes – with minimal delay between lines, letting you move along exactly as fast as you can read. The levels are structured in short, slightly-winding paths that I can imagine precisely in pixel art form – that is to say, nice and structured and not too long or roundabout. It’s all in nice, digestible chunks, which feels especially apt on the portable Switch. The game also marks points of interest on a handy mini-map, so while you irritatingly still have to talk to seemingly-arbitrary townsfolk to progress the campaign at times, at least you know which two generic farmers the game has marked as plot-crucial.
The combat feels nice and snappy and responsive – and not much more complicated than two attack buttons and a jump, with a few shortcut menus for special moves and items. It’s not too shallow, either; button-mashing will still get you in trouble very quickly, so you have to stay engaged and moving. Again, I imagine this being very easy to pick up for just a single area and then walk away for a while, with the straightforward controls making it easy to pick right back up where you left it last week.
And while SNES games’ greatest strength for me is their ageless pixel art, the remake matches it with an art style that doesn’t lean into fidelity, but rather artistic expression and smooth, expressive character models. There’s some clipping here and there, but it doesn’t feel like a wild exaggeration to expect that this game will look just as good five years from now as it does today. And the music? Nothing short of stellar, with the original score being re-recorded into something triumphant. It’s fair to say that, aside from that massive bugbear that is the voice acting, presentation is one of this game’s strong suits right out of the gate.
If any of that sounds in the least interesting to you, I encourage you to go check out the game’s demo on your platform of choice. It’ll take only a few hours of your time; if you like it, your save carries over into the full game, so you’re all set to hit the ground running when it releases next month. If you don’t, hey – a demo is a pretty harmless and charming way to find out, and to get a taste of a game that took almost twenty-four years to release worldwide.
As for me, I’m still on the fence about whether I’ll pick it up, but I’m definitely happy that it’s here.
This is one of a multi-part series where multiple Geek to Geek contributors give their own perspectives on the Trial of Mana demo. Go check out the others, which will be linked here as they’re posted!