Trial of Trials
Available On: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Xeen, Square Enix
Genre: Action role-playing
Released: April 24, 2020
I never played the original version of Trials of Mana. Moreover, I have never ventured much into Japanese-designed role-playing games, outside of the Pokémon series and Final Fantasy Tactics (re-release or remaster please). I saw a brief gameplay trailer of this remastering and the bright colours, over the top character design and legacy this series has certainly piqued my interest. After doing some research, I was quite pleased to learn there is a demo for it available on PlayStation 4. With nothing to lose and the possibility of gaining a new appreciation for a venerable game at hand, I downloaded it. While patiently awaiting for the download to be completed, I spent my time looking into the different character classes, early enemies and environment, just to get an idea of what was to come.
First thing is that the graphics are absolutely lovely. It won’t win any awards for being the most visually impressive but the colours are bright, characters and environments are charming and the weapons are expectedly ridiculous in size, so far so good! Next up was character selection, of which there are 6 you can choose from. You decide who your main protagonist should be, and in addition you decide upon which other two heroes who will join you in your quest. I went with Duran. It made sense to try this out with the most “basic” looking of the options, as I still didn’t really have an expectation as to how it plays. I also went with the underwhelmingly named Kevin (sorry to any Kevins) who is a beastman - He transforms into a beast at night, which sounded extremely badass. Finally, I added Charlotte to my party to make use of her healing abilities. With my circle of warriors chosen, I was finally ready to take on the enemy, whomever that may be!
I could immediately tell that this had originated from the 16-bit era of games. The music for me was the dead giveaway - extremely catchy and somewhat repetitive, if a little bit grating at times too. It is however upbeat and bouncy, and couples extremely well with the visuals as well. The dialogue is certainly a product of it’s time. I’m unsure if the dialogue has been updated or re-written in any way, but as I heard these lines being spoken, I could practically see them showing on the screen in a coloured box, white text and white border much like it’s RPG rivals of the time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, on the contrary I’m certain this has drawn in some heavy nostalgia for fans of the original out there. The voice acting is as I expected, a little extravagant, but there is an innocent allure to it that really works, again not necessarily a bad thing and it suits the game really well.
Duran is a skilled swordsman who serves King Richard. He has a tragic past, losing his father in a battle and his mother to illness, leading to him and his sister Wendy to be raised by their aunt. While on guard duty one night, the Crimson Wizard attacks. Despite his best efforts he cannot defeat the evil wizard. This spurs him to embark on a journey to become the best warrior possible to defeat his nemesis. This is where the gameplay starts to pick up! You leave the city and begin your adventure, encountering numerous foes and challenges along the way.
There can be only one
The gameplay is very much of what you would expect from an action RPG - Standard attacks, stronger charge attacks, powers requiring button combinations, etc. If you have played Fable and the like before, you know the score here. Duran in particular is a strong single target attacker, and I had little to no difficulty in picking off enemies one by one while being attacked by the others, the damage I was receiving was essentially negligible. I really liked the enemy designs I came across, cartoonish mushrooms and blobs, somewhat reminding me of creatures you would find in Pokémon. From what I played, there was little challenge to be found but it’s important to remember that this was the very beginning of a demo, so naturally one was going to be eased into the whole experience. Levelling up was also reasonably straightforward, you get to choose ability increases and use skill points to gain new powers or improve existing ones.
When I tried out the demo, I didn’t actually play as any other characters - It was late okay! But the next time I try this demo out I’m excited to see what ranged combat and magic use is like. If it’s anything like this basic melee combat, I’m sure it will be as intuitive and satisfying.
A bridge too existential
After ploughing through a forest full of evil mushrooms and orange blobs, you enter a cave which is the next location you must traverse through, and this is where things became a little bit disjointed for me. I was progressing through this cavern and saw an overly long and wide bridge ahead. The gamer in me knew that s**t was about to go down! Alas, much to my dismay, Duran stops on the bridge and seemingly reaffirms his mission - To become more powerful to defeat the Crimson Wizard - And swiftly moves along. This was okay, I’m sure more melodramatic madness was to come after experiencing the Bridge of Disappointment +5 (patent pending). The next thing I knew, a cutscene started playing where I was on a ship, in the middle of sailing, only for the next interactable section to be back in the town where I started.
I understand that this is a demo and the exact sequence of events most probably doesn’t flow like this in the full game. This nonetheless was completely disjointed and razed any sense of disbelief I was previously holding. Perhaps this is unique only to Duran - There are 5 other characters you can choose to be your main. I hold out hope that the other stories aren’t quite as fragmented.
Full purchase of mana
I played a little bit more from here, which featured a pretty cool transformation of a Beastman, from man to beast, as night fell. After switching off my PS4 for the night, I realised I didn’t answer my question - I was still unsure as to whether I will buy the game or not. For me to decide, I need to see what the other character’s introductions are like. In any event, I would recommend anyone to try this demo out, whether you’re a fan of the original or not. It’s free, so why not! For me, I’m going to spend some more time with the demo. If I can get into the groove of this and feel a full purchase is justified, it would certainly mean a refreshing change of pace for me!
All images taken from the Trials of Mana (2020) press kit here
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