Bard Banter is a series which highlights great music found within the best genre of all – the RPG.
The Mana series has long been one of the most cherished franchises under the Square Enix umbrella that doesn’t start with “Final.” While the majority of this admiration arguably stems from the first few entries alone, the franchise has continued to plug away for almost three decades now, with the most recent entry being the Trials of Mana remake. Previously known only as Seiken Densetsu 3, this follow-up to Secret of Mana has long been a favorite of RPG fans on the emulation/import scene due to its stunning pixel art, branching narrative and class system, and truly epic soundtrack by Hiroki Kikuta.
Although I feel that some things are better left in the past – the combat system in both Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3 have not aged well – I continue to fully embrace Kikuta’s vision for the Mana soundtracks, including the new arrangements provided by way of the Trials of Mana remake. While it would be easy to compile a list of games to revisit for gameplay alone, there are far fewer that I’d potentially revisit just to experience the soundtrack (in context) once more. Both the original Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3 are examples of this, as the combat systems I once tolerated have become all but a chore to experience in the modern era.
That leads us to today’s Bard Banter, which will be all about Trials of Mana – don’t worry, Secret of Mana will have its own time to shine in a future article. Both the original tracks and remake versions will be presented side-by-side, though my personal objective with this discussion is not to pick or choose which one reigns supreme. Truthfully, both renditions are exceptional (unlike the Secret of Mana Remake — yikes) so you can’t go wrong either way. With that in mind, let’s get into it:
It’s not often that you find songs that put xylophone runs front and center, and Swivel certainly does that. The interesting choice of instruments evokes a unique sense of adventure that isn’t found in your average track; thus it never really grows tiresome. For those that can only take so much xylophone – shame on you – the OG version will likely be more down your alley. I’ll take more xylophone, however!
The priest of light, who resides in the Holy City of Wendel, is one of many key characters responsible for converging the individual narrative paths in Trials of Mana. While Wendel is undoubtedly a prominent location in the actual narrative, it is also a safe haven for the followers of the Goddess of Mana. As such, the music here is soft, yet mysterious, and demands the reverence from anyone that aims to tread its holy ground – regardless of how they came to be at its doorstep. Both versions of Evening Star are pretty similar to one another, so you can’t really go wrong either way.
I find this to be one of the most thematically appropriate pieces of the bunch despite its overall simplicity. While it may sound like the ring entrance theme to an ’80s wrestler to some – and that wouldn’t be wrong – I couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to portray the heart of the beastman kingdom, Ferolia. This track throws vintage hairband-esque guitars riff and strong (but simple) drum beats directly in your face, so it may not be for everyone. The OG is far less abrasive if that is your preference, but I personally think the remake version is SICK.
Powell is another track that emphasizes the xylophone but is far more mellow than the previous xylophone-heavy track, “Swivel.” I really love how this one was fleshed out in the remake arrangement, adding a bit of depth while not losing what made the original version so exceptional.
For me, Meridian Child is the most nostalgic piece of the soundtrack. It has stuck with me for decades, beginning from when I finally picked up the fan translation of the original game many, many moons ago. Meridian Child was also frequently used in an amateur game design circle I once followed, where almost every game developed with the engine would figure out some way to fit the track in their package. It is a tune that gets limited screen time in the actual game – primarily at the end of each character’s introductory scenario – but that only helps the emotion it stirs for the true beginning of the journey.
If the previously mentioned beastman city track, Lefthanded Wolf, was akin to an ’80s/90s wrestling theme, then Frenzy is an unreleased track by Bell Biv DeVoe. I’m not mad about this – in fact, I adore the drums and bass line here even though they will likely be excessive to the average listener. Hiroki Kikuta has been known to shine the spotlight on drums before – Mystic Invasion from Secret of Mana immediately comes to mind – and he certainly puts it on the frontlines here. It isn’t even close to my favorite piece of the soundtrack, but it is hard for the drummer in me to deny its percussive allure.
For the sake of spoilers, I’ll keep this one brief. Let’s just say that Decision Bell shares similarities – thematically and narratively – to the previously mentioned “Evening Star. It is simply a beautiful piece that I’d gladly listen to for hours on end.
In true Kikuta fashion, this piece relies on strong percussion to do the heavy lifting and does so successfully. It nails the tribal feel of the area in which it is used, and though I feel that the original version is a bit more balanced, I prefer the new one because it is easier to hear the individual tom pitches; adding a dynamic that isn’t really noticeable in the original.
That sums it up for this Bard Banter, but there will be more to come soon! What are your thoughts on Hiroki Kikuta and Trials of Mana? What are some of your favorites from the game? What did you think about my picks? Let me know!