It is said that people are often the hero of their own story, the protagonist for which the plot progresses. That being said, it’s awfully hard to experience this beyond one’s own mortal form, what with the limitations of reality and all. Luckily for us, video games provide a lovely break from the rules of existence, allowing us to inhabit the saga of whomever we so wish. But even then our scope is limited. We may assume the role of the hero, but it is still an instance of a singular hero in their own story. But what if we could follow the stories of many a hero? Protagonists in their own rights, providing their own unique additions to one singular world?
Surprise surprise, that’s what Trials of Mana is all about. Before the story unfolds, you are given a choice of six characters: Duran, Angela, Kevin, Charlotte, Hawkeye, and Reisz. Each possesses their own fighting style and, since it’s what we’ve been talking about, their own story. That being said, the overarching plot remains the same: when the titular, existentially-important force Mana begins to wane, a hero is tasked with retrieving the Mana Sword. Then, on their journey…other stuff happens. Okay, I know that sounds terribly vague, but my experience with the game focused on one character; I’m not actually sure how much of that story carries between each selection. So, word of warning, any plot-relevant facts I detail relate to the adventure of the half-beastman, Kevin, with a little Charlotte thrown in for good measure.
Kevin’s story takes the shape of a good soul in a harsh world. Born half-human and half-beastman, Kevin was abandoned by his human mother and raised by his father, the King of Ferolia (the beastman kingdom). As is usually the case in fantasy, this group of non-humans were persecuted and driven into the forest, where they lived with a burning hatred for those who attacked them. Skipping a few of the specifics, Kevin finds himself at odds with the beastmen and, fuelled by grief and anger, ventures off on his own. Eventually, he meets Faerie, discovers the danger besetting the world, and is roped into a far larger quest than his own. Now, when I played Kevin also bumped into Charlotte, who joined the party and recounted her own tale of rebellious excursion; however, I don’t know how that plays out if you didn’t select Charlotte as one of your allies in the game’s opening. I mean, I ran into Hawkeye at one point and he merely gave some NPC-esque dialogue about his homeland. Reisz met with Charlotte in her flashback, but was gone as quickly as she arrived. I don’t know if the possibly playable characters all eventually converge, or if their individual stories are unexplored unless you play them. It’s all rather interesting.
As far as gameplay goes, Trials of Mana carries the soul of an RPG. You wander around an area, beat up any monster foolish enough to initiate combat, and reap the rewards of EXP. It’s a satisfying loop that will have you smacking all manner of forest creatures in the face…because of the EXP and loot they drop. There are also chests to open, lucre (the currency of the realm) to acquire, and skills to obtain. Now, said skills are obtained by funnelling the points a character earns upon levelling into a particular aspect; ergo, pumping up physical might unlocks skills which boost raw power, and awaken buffs for that style of combat. With this in mind, you can either entirely specialise in one skill to unlock its full boon, or create a character who has the support of a more diverse skill base. It isn’t an overly complex system, but I think that works in this game’s favour – especially if it is designed to be played through multiple times.
As simply as I can put it, Trials of Mana is a fun RPG jaunt reminiscent of some older titles. This makes sense when you remember that this is a remake of Seiken Densetsu 3, which originally released on the Super Famicom. It is from this source that Trials of Mana draws everything, both positive and negative, subjective as they may be. Though the systems present may not allow you to perform complex manoeuvres, the dialogue can come across as stilted, and the plot is a rather simple affair of heroes defeating villains who are so obviously evil that it’s a wonder anyone was fooled for even a single second; Trials of Mana is a light, fun time. Also, the half-beastman Prince of Ferolia is named Kevin. I apologise to everyone named Kevin, but I was not expecting the half-beastman Prince of Ferolia to be named Kevin…also his wolf pup is named Karl.