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With ‘Trials of Mana,’ Square-Enix Finally Brings a Beloved JRPG Classic to Western Shores

Steven T. Wright

Spend any time around a true scholar of Japanese games, and you’ll learn very quickly that there are a wealth of classic JRPGs that only made their way to other territories far after their original release date. But while the list runs from obscure curios like the loving parody “Moon: Remix RPG Adventure” to cult classics like “Mother 3,” the third Mana game remains perhaps the most notable example, as it never made the jump to the West even after “Secret of Mana” shifted millions of copies in the heyday of 16-bit games. Now, over twenty years later, Square-Enix has finally done the work to officially present this classic game in English for the very first time. And while some fans might view it as a case of too little, too late, others are likely to be very happy to finally play the game on their Nintendo Switch. For the former, however, the upcoming remake might change their tune.

Since this is Square-Enix we’re talking about, the actual execution here is far from straightforward. For those who want to experience the classic game in all its pixel-art glory, there’s the “Collection of Mana,” which brings all three of the original Mana games together in an easy-to-play package — albeit one that’s lacking many of the extra features we’ve come to expect from this sort of retro-collection. However, for those who want a more modern flavor, a team at the mega-publisher is developing a from-the-ground-up 3D remake of “Trials” that they are calling “the next game in the Mana series.” And while it wasn’t playable, a developer-driven demo made it come across as an exciting new take on the franchise that happens to share a structure and story that most of us have never had the privilege to play before now.

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As with the original game, the refashioned “Trials of Mana” allows players to choose their protagonist and party from the very outset, with six different characters that each have their own beginnings that feed into an overarching story. (It might sound like a strange design choice, especially in such an old game, but hey, at least there’s some replay value, right?) The combat here seems like one of the main draws, as it’s totally overhauled from the real-time Zelda-inspired sword-swinging of the original game, towards a system that resembles the real-time party-switching of the recent “Ni no Kuni 2,” with your other party members controlled by AI. The new 3D environments have the pleasing color palette we’ve come to expect from Square-Enix games, and, all in all, it looks like a totally new game. While it’s tough to know if it’ll live up to the Mana legacy, I personally hope it leads to a bold new era for the franchise – one marked with new entries.

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