For many RPG fans in the ’90s, Secret of Mana was just as much a 16-bit era juggernaut as Final Fantasy. It was one of the earliest RPG titles to popularize free-flowing action combat with added depth beyond a simple sword swipe or “bump system” found in numerous games well before its time. Combining this additional depth with exceptional pixel art and a grandiose score was a surefire path to success; and succeed, it did – Secret of Mana arguably remains the most iconic and beloved game of the entire franchise.
2018 told the polar opposite tale of Mana, however, with the introduction of the Secret of Mana Remake. Fans and newcomers alike universally panned it upon release for a myriad of reasons; but why? The new version touted – for better or worse – a fresh coat of 3D paint, a re-imagined soundtrack, voice acting, and additional content while retaining the heart of the original’s combat system. Sounds like there were marked steps towards success and improvement, but unfortunately, it wasn’t well-received. Many felt that it was a horrid attempt at cashing in on nostalgia, with cheap 3D graphics, cringy voice acting, and an aimless updated soundtrack – collectively destroying what many fans held dear for almost two decades prior.
So, it came as a bit of a shock when the third game in the main series, Seiken Densetsu 3 – formerly a Japan-exclusive entry – would not only be officially localized under the title Trials of Mana in the Collection of Mana, but also be receiving a full-on 3D remake in 2020. Though this news was generally applauded, considering fans have been clamoring for an official release of Seiken Densetsu 3 for ages, it was also met with an equal amount of concern. Few had faith that such a task could be pulled off gracefully after the poorly received Secret of Mana Remake – how would it be different this time?
In this article, I’m going to go over some reasons why I think that the Trials of Mana Remake will be successful (where its predecessor was not,) and why it likely will pave the way for even more Mana in the future.
A Taste Of What’s To Come
The prevalence of game demos has ebbed and flowed with time, and I’m happy that they are once again trending upwards. Furthermore, newer RPG demos have often allowed demo progress to carry over into the full release, and the Trials of Mana demo is no different in that regard. When done properly, demos can give the player an idea of what to expect, and the added bonus of rolling over that progress into the full version means that even those that would normally pass on demos, as to not have to repeat content, might be more inclined to actually give it a go.
I think the Trials of Mana demo nails these points on all fronts – though it may only be a couple hours in length, you have the option to try out any of the numerous character combinations in order to see what may work best for you when it releases next month. Granted, some of the combinations are better suited for demo itself – magic users are unable to really come into their own due to the content restrictions – but you still get a decent taste of what is to come in the future. And I like the taste.
The biggest (and, in my opinion, the most effective) change in the Trials of Mana Remake is the new combat system. It isn’t revolutionary in design, nor is it the best action combat system out there, but it is far better than its dated, original counterpart. Both the original Secret and Trials of Mana are known for revolving around charging up attacks in order to use them as effectively as possible. While the OG Secret is by far the more antiquated of the two – forcing dull wait times in between attacks and an atrociously bad spell system – OG Trials isn’t free of faults either (but is FAR better paced, regardless).
Having played both of the original games recently, I strongly believe that their battle systems, though impressive at the time, just haven’t aged well. And unpopular as it may be, I think the biggest flaw with the Secret of Mana Remake was that it didn’t change the combat system enough, instead only amplifying the flaws of a decades-old system in dire need of change. The Trials of Mana Remake demo has proven that the team is willing to take risks, and I think it will pay off extremely well. Though it is hard to say whether combat will get much deeper than what was touted in the demo, the overhaul still remains a welcome change, in my eyes. I can only imagine how much better-received the Secret Remake would have been had it followed a similar suit.
Heart and Soul
The Secret of Mana Remake was blasted for its lack of quality overall. While it added an assortment of changes and enhancements, most of them felt half-baked in the eyes of the average player. Some inspiration was certainly drawn from the original game, but it still left much to be desired in its attempt at bringing the nostalgia of the pixel art classic to life in full 3D. This is likely to be a problem in any situation where nostalgia is high – looking at you, Final Fantasy VII Remake – but the general consensus is that the changes implemented in the Secret Remake only brought about reflections of “what could have been.”
The difference is clear between these remakes, as Trials Remake feels like a much more polished attempt at re-imagining the 1995 classic. It’s not perfect, mind you – the voice acting is not the best, and purists probably still won’t take kindly to the changes in presentation – but it seems that much more effort has been put into the process in comparison to the Secret Remake. Either way, audiophiles are in for a treat, as the original soundtrack is among the best of its era, and the remake appears to be handling that aspect with some care. While I still prefer pixel art to 3D graphics, I’m nonetheless excited to see just how the team translates the entire game given its current, rather impressive design roadmap.
I believe there has never been a better opportunity than now for the Mana series to shine, and I am fully confident that the Trials of Mana Remake is going to deliver an great experience. There was so much emotion at stake in the Secret of Mana Remake, but far less people have played (or even heard of) Trials, meaning there could be less of a nostalgic barrier to overcome. And yes, I’m aware that diehard fans have been playing Seiken Densetsu 3 since the late ’90s / early ’00s – by way of import, or through questionably legitimate means – but I’d wager that this pool of players is far smaller than those that have only played Secret of Mana. Heck, I’m sure there is a sizeable portion of the population that has NEVER played a Mana game at all. Well, the time is now, it seems.
What do you think about the Trials of Mana Remake? Do you agree that it will succeed, or will it fade into obscurity like its remake predecessor? Feel free to share your comments below, and check back in for our continued coverage of the Trials of Mana Remake as we near its April 24th