Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 04/24/2020
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I’m not the biggest JRPG fan as I don’t like grinding or the typical tropes that go along with them. They usually are extremely bloated with dozens of hours added just in battles alone and this is why I only play them if they have a particular something that stands out albeit the story or the gameplay. Trials of Mana stands out as neither of those, but it does everything in a neatly tightened JRPG package that cuts out the fat and streamlines the genre for the modern world.
The story is nothing to write home about but isn’t bad either. You can choose between 6 different characters with three being in your party. Each character has class specializations and this is important when your class up and balances out your party. It’s recommended to have a fighter, magician, and middle ground class. I chose Reisz, Duncan, and Angela for my playthrough and it worked out perfectly. The overall story revolves around a typical JRPG plot of saving the world from an evil entity. The Goddess of Mana is being targeted by a particular evil force and wants to be the only existing god. There are other evil kingdoms racing to get the Sword of Mana which is said to hold untold powers. Yeah, it’s trite, barely interesting, and towards the end of the game, there aren’t many cut scenes left. The English voice acting, in particular, is incredibly bad so please do yourself a favor and enable the Japanese voice-overs. The characters themselves are very likable with great designs and they stand out and are somewhat memorable, they have typical JRPG hero personalities, but I grew to like them nonetheless.
Let’s dive right into battles. Trials of Mana is a real-time battle system played out in closed-off areas. Once you are in sight of a creature the game surrounds you in a barrier that you can escape from by running toward or just fight it out. There are heavy and light attacks as well as the same while in the air. Once you progress far enough and depending on your class, you will unlock Moves which are class-specific that consume MP and then there are Class Strikes. These strikes use up Stamina that is acquired as crystals that enemies drop when attacked. These strikes are powerful and you get a new one with each new class. These must be strategically timed with boss battles as they are essential to winning and doing massive damage. Battles overall are intense and fun with the ability to adjust your AI mates in the Strategy section of the menu. Here you can adjust how often they use their strikes, moves, items, and how to focus on enemies. This is really important to adjust for later boss fights.
Of course, you can buy most things in towns and the single night market as well as reset your skill points there. Leveling up is a big deal in this game and you can allocate points towards various stats like strength, stamina, intelligence, and so on. I highly recommend leveling up where you want your character to be strong in and save your points once you reach the cap for that class level. Once you class up you will have tons of points to advance your character even further without wasting them on stats you don’t need to focus in. Getting a higher class also grants a new costume and access to higher-level weapons and armor in addition to more ability slots. Leveling up stats grants abilities that add passive stats such as healing after battles, additional damage when entering them, sacrificing HP for additional damage, etc. The great thing is that these abilities are shared amongst all characters once unlocked to really customize your style.
Exploring in Trials of Mana is fine, but not wholly necessary. Exploring only gets you basic items, and the very rare weapon or armor piece and the question mark seeds in Chapter 5 needed to get to class 3. Grinding is also very minimal in this game as you will mostly stay just behind or ahead of the current area demand. I recommend staying above two levels of the next boss and it will make life much easier and you will chew through less healing items. The levels are very linear as well and it’s hard to get lost as a golden star will always lead you to your objective as well as on the map. I have to commend Square for implementing this as one of my biggest issues with JRPGs outside of random battles is never knowing where the hell to go. This allows you to just enjoy the game and not worry about whether or not you’ve been going the wrong way for the last hour.
With all of that said, Trials of Mana also looks fantastic. While not groundbreaking, it has bright visuals, detailed textures, high-poly models, and great animations. The effects are slick and the bosses are very well designed. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of regular enemies as they are just standard JRPG fodder like rabbits, slime, knights, dragons, and various fantasy creatures, they do require strategy as each has different attacks and debuff effects. So with that said, Trials of Mana won’t change the minds of those who don’t like JRPGs, but those who love them will truly enjoy this. I finished the game and even continued to the additional optional chapter that can grant New Game+ if completed. This is one of two Super Bosses and requires a level 75 party. This final dungeon is about an hour long and combines a piece of every area you have visited in the game for one mega-dungeon. It’s a challenge and fun, and I recommend completing it. Trials of Mana is one of my favorite JRPGs in the last decade and I can easily recommend it to most people.