As ol’ Ben Franklin used to say: in this world, nothing can be said to be certain… except for death and taxes. And that’s very much true, but I think it’s time to update the age-old saying for the modern era. Indeed, there are three things that can be said to be certain in life: death, taxes, and Angela’s heavenly thighs. In case you were wondering, we’re going to be prominently discussing the last thing on that list, so uh… buckle in, buckos.
Twenty-five long years after it released on the SNES, one of the finest action-RPGs of the 16-bit era received the much-deserved remake treatment we’ve all been waiting for. It’s a game that defined many a childhood, and I’m quite happy that it’s finally had its time in the sun. In fact, it surpassed 1 million copies sold just the other day! Congrats! *pachipachipachi* Such is the power of thighs. Take notes, game devs. Hell, Yoko Taro figured this out years ago. Sure, Nier: Automata is a cool game and Ending E made all of us cry but I’m pretty sure having the game feature, ahem… *checks notes* “BIG FUCKING ANDROID ASSES” has also played an instrumental role in its success. Do not underestimate the futomomo. Respect it. Embrace it. Be one with it.
The funny thing is that I’m only partially joking. Riesz may have won Square Enix’s popularity contest, but Angela came in second, with Hawkeye snagging the third spot. I guess for once, my personal tastes mostly align with the internet hivemind, as I too would’ve picked those three as my favorites, although not exactly in that order. But you know how things are, seiso tends to trump ero in polls like this.
So Trials of Mana, being originally a fantasy action-RPG from the 90s, keeps its plot points and characters rather straightforward. Simple and underdeveloped would be the phrases I could use if I were to paint this in a negative light, but I’ll instead opt for “lovingly traditionalist”. Or “faithfully retro”. I guess that’ll work. Basically, it’s a story as old as time itself: a group of heroes embark on a journey to stop the bad guys from enacting their apocalyptic schemes, and that’s about it. Some globe-trotting ensues, most of which involves visiting all sorts of visually diverse locations, from desert oases to frozen tundras, as you collect elemental spirits in an attempt to, well… you know. Stop the bad guys from enacting their apocalyptic schemes. Clichés aside, the plot does stick the landing beautifully: the finale is honestly rather moving and ends on a semi-bittersweet note, which I appreciated.
Long story short, don’t expect crazy twists, deep characterization or fleshed-out world building; Trials of Mana is charmingly simplistic in its faithful adherence to tropes (as well as the original game in general), and while there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that, I still would’ve liked to see some new elements added to the mix, like having more interactions between the main characters.
So while the plot is a bit of a vanilla ice cream with sprinkles on top situation, it doesn’t really matter all that much because literally everything else about the game makes up for it. The vibrant art style, the brilliantly remastered original soundtrack, the fluid & highly addictive combat, the neat level-up system that incentivizes customization… you get the idea. Oh, and one more thing: branching storylines! Now, I realize this may sound like nothing special today, but it was actually pretty wild back in ’95; depending on which character you picked as your main, you’d experience that particular character’s backstory upon starting a new game. Not only that, but the final few hours of the adventure would also unfold in notably different ways depending on who your main character was. Specifically, you’d have your own personalized antagonist and final boss, coupled with an exclusive final dungeon related to said antagonist.
This feature has been faithfully adapted to the remake as well. There are three main plot threads between the six characters (Angela/Duran; Riesz/Hawkeye; Kevin/Charlotte), and while the majority of the adventure remains the same, having a different opening + some exclusive dungeons/villains toward the tail end of the game is still pretty neat. It definitely makes you just a little more prone to immediately jump back in for another playthrough compared to a game that would play out the exact same way every time.
As noted above, there are six heroes to pick from when assembling your tag team of three at the beginning. They are:
1. Angela: A charming purple-haired wizardling and princess of the Magical Kingdom of Altena who, despite having that illustrious title, is still incapable of casting spells at the onset of her story. Thankfully, Mother Nature has compensated her in… other ways, if you catch my drift. Also! She’s voiced by Ookubo Rumi, the VA for Elizabeth Báthory of Fate CCC/Grand Order fame. So now you have absolutely no excuse for not picking the bratty little minx as your world-saving, Mana Sword-wielding protagonist.
Also, she becomes a nuke-happy powerhouse by the endgame. Her farts could probably shatter galaxies at that point.
A huge dragon the size of an office building? Blow it up.
An ancient witch that wants to destroy the world? Blow ‘er up.
A black rabite that’s somehow the most powerful enemy in the game? Blow that fucker up, too.
That’s Angela in a nutshell. She’s hotter than a jet engine in the middle of the Sahara, rocks a pair of juicy thighs that were created for the sole purpose of crushing skulls AND has an adorably bratty personality… with a heart of gold to go with it, of course. If that doesn’t scream marriage material, I don’t know what does.
Anyway, on to the other heroes.
2. Next up, we have… five other characters who aren’t Angela, and therefore should not be picked as your main because, and I really cannot stress this enough, they are not Angela. But just in case you’re wondering what to expect…
Duran: The generic swordsman route.
Riesz: The oneshota route.
Charlotte: The loli route.
Hawkeye: The roguish ikemen route.
Kevin: The John Wick route.
Or something like that.
Personally, I picked Riesz and Duran as my two partners in crime: Duran because his story is linked to Angela’s, and because I wanted a healer. I added Riesz because the ratio of cute girls in my JRPG parties must always exceed 60%. It’s a rule I live by. And Riesz is indeed cute as a button. She even gets a little kiss on the cheek from Hawkeye in one scene and gets all flustered and blushy-blushy about it. Aww.
As for Duran, I found him forgettable. His dad is Darth Vader (no really, he even becomes a Force ghost at the end) and that’s about it, I guess. His multi-target heals when class-changed into a Liege (Lord in JP) are pretty sick, though.
Anyway, let’s talk about the thing I enjoyed the most about ToM that’s NOT Angela. The gameplay. Due to the game being in 3D now, the combat system has been completely revamped. It’s fluid, fast-paced and an absolute blast to play: you’ve got your basic combos, your special attacks, your dodge rolls, your buffs, debuffs, spells, all that good shit. Just watch a random gameplay clip on Youtube and you’ll see what I mean. Some people say it gets repetitive after a while, but so does jacking off and we still keep doing it, y’know? Sure, it’s not super deep or anything, but the characters are just a ton of fun to control, and everything feels nice and responsive; plus, the fact you can customize all three of your guys the way you want also helps shake things up.
Which brings me to my next point: the class change system. This is the other big selling point for both the remake and the original. At three points in the game (once at Lv18, then at Lv38, and finally during the post-game), you’re able to change classes. You can pick from a Light or a Dark class at first, and then later you can choose to either go all-in with your selected alignment (Dark-Dark or Light-Light), or go for a hybrid class (Dark-Light or Light-Dark) at Lv38. Your post-game class will depend on what you picked as your first choice back at Lv18.
Here’s a handy-dandy table that visually illustrates all this:
Every class comes with different abilities that can be gradually unlocked by spending a specific amount of training points (earned at each level up) on your main stats like Strength, Luck, Stamina, etc. For example, Angela will unlock fire spells by spending points on her Strength while ice/dark spells are tied to Intellect, and so on. Essentially, leveling your stats isn’t really about the stats themselves, but rather the unique abilities they’ll ultimately unlock. Some (though not all) of these unlocked abilities can even be used across all three of your characters, lending the game yet another layer of customizability.
The whole RNG fuckery with the item seeds was kinda bleh, though. Probably my one big gripe with the game. Basically, you’ll sometimes find these so-called item seeds that, once planted in one of the many flower pots located at inns and other places in the world, will yield a random item of some kind. During most of the main story, this is fine, since the items you get in the early and midgame (aside from the occasional permanent stat boosting potion) are fairly inconsequential. However, acquiring the ultimate gear for your characters in the end- and post-game is also tied to these seeds.
So… yeah. You gotta roll the fucking gacha to get the best armor and weapons for your team. And the worst part is that just reloading your game and trying again doesn’t seem to always work; I went through dozens of Rainbow Seeds in the post-game dungeon, reloading over and over again, but ended up getting mostly the exact same items. And yes, you can get duplicates. I ended up with a truckload of Angela/Duran gear before I could finally get my hands on a single copy of Riesz’s ultimate spear.
Difficulty-wise, the game is fairly easy, and yeah, I know this is pretty much the #1 complaint everyone brings up, but it’s mostly true. I ended up playing on Hard right off the bat and aside from maybe one or two bosses, I didn’t have much problem with enemies… although I personally didn’t find the game frustratingly easy, either. I guess Hard in ToM feels like Normal in most other games of this type. The Expert and No Future difficulties are also there, but they’re only available in NG+, so the absolute hardest mode you can pick for a first playthrough is Hard, which is… well, not all that hard. Angela’s most powerful AoE spell made short work of pretty much anything that stood in my way, and (as noted earlier) even the hidden superboss, the Black Rabite, went down like a little bitch when I nuked his ass to kingdom come.
In terms of side content, there’s not much optional stuff to be found in the game, but what little there is is absolutely worth doing, if you ask me. The one big “sidequest” in ToM will have you tracking down these little cactus creatures scattered across the globe. There’s a total of 50 of them, and for every 5 you find, you unlock a new, and usually very useful, ability such as getting a permanent 20% discount at shops, receiving a random XP boost from time to time (it’s like Fallout 4’s Idiot Savant perk, essentially), being able to see treasure chests on the map and so on. Collecting all 50 cacti will give you an ability that essentially lets you spam your limit break moves in every battle and is therefore pretty fucking broken, lol.
Oh, and here’s another interesting nugget of info for those of you who only played the game at launch and then moved on to other things. In October of 2020, Square actually released a new patch for the game that ended up adding a whole bunch of extra features – mostly stuff players have been actively asking for, such as additional difficulty modes (the aforementioned Expert and No Future modes) and the ability to keep your already unlocked class costumes even after going into New Game+ or doing a class reset. The different costumes for each class are a huge part of the game’s visual appeal, so that last bit is especially great. Having to give up on Angela’s amazing Spellbinder outfit in NG+ would’ve been heartbreaking.
Speaking of new content: I’ve already alluded to this earlier in the review, but the remake also adds an extra post-game chapter that wasn’t actually in the original SNES game. Narratively, it does the bare minimum to function (big bad witch shows up to destroy the world, go stop her), but it adds about 3-4 hours’ worth of content to the game, so if you’re itching for a bit of overtime, it’s a great excuse to keep on playing after the end credits. The post-game offers some character-centric scenes for your main three (nothing fancy, mind you), an additional class change with shiny new costumes, and a huge mega-dungeon that, despite recycling locations from the main game, does add its own cool visual flair to them. Finally, there’s also a superboss at the very end… who actually barely even stood a chance against my Lv80+ team and their end-game gear, lol. She looks cool, though! Big mommy vibes.
In case you couldn’t tell by now, I enjoyed the hell out of Trials of Mana. It’s not a high-budget production or anything, but it did everything it could to bring a beloved retro classic to modern audiences while keeping the core of the original intact. Its faithfulness as a remake can be a double-edged sword at times, especially when it comes to its bog-standard narrative and lackluster character interactions, but these things all pale in comparison to the sheer joy I felt during the 40 hours I spent with it. Two thighs up.