Seiken Densetsu 3 may have finally come to the west as Trials of Mana, but that wasn't the only Mana news from this past week. Square Enix also announced it would be getting the remake treatment, much like Secret of Mana before it. Remaking a game for an audience largely unfamiliar with the original is tricky, but in a hands-off demo at E3 2019, we got a look at how things are coming together, and so far it seems pretty promising.
From the outset, the Trials remake is behind-the-back, rather than top-down like most other Mana games. On top of changing the perspective, this also adds a new element to the game: the Z-axis. Jumping is finally important in a Mana game, but it thankfully doesn't detract from what the game does best.
Though we were watching someone else drive the action, everything was instantly familiar to the time I've spent with Seiken Densetsu 3. (Trials of Mana before it was Trials of Mana.) The demo started on Duran's story, complete with the tournament fight against a burly knight. A tutorial walked you through each of the main actions Duran can perform as you gradually pummel your foe.
The visual upgrade was impressive, with a roaring crowd and fully built out arena, but it wasn't until we skipped ahead to the nighttime sequence, where Duran first encounters the mysterious evil mage infiltrating the castle, that I got the scope of the remake. The mage zipped around the field, launching fireballs at Duran with impressive speed. What was a cool moment in the Super Famicom version became something even better in 3D, and the behind-the-back perspective added a lot. Now, when the mage phased in and out, it was disorienting and dizzying, leaving the player guessing on where he would strike next.
Once out in the field and exploring, we got a look at how the Z-axis affects the Trials of Mana remake. As Duran leapt into the air to deal with flying units, producer Shinichi Tatsuke told us via translator why they chose to go this route for the camera perspective.
"We did consider having the top-down perspective as well, however this time we really wanted to focus on having an immersive experience for players," says Tatsuke. "Additionally, Trials of Mana, this is the first time Trials of Mana is being put out there for these players outside of Japan, so we wanted to provide this sort of modernized experience."
The added verticality also changed battles and map locations. Treasures will be hidden away in places only accessible through jumping and looking behind areas, and flying enemies force you to take to the sky to deal with them.
Beyond that, the Trials of Mana team says it's also learned from the Secret of Mana remake, which had some notable issues. One in particular stood out as something they wanted to make sure they addressed: the lip syncing.
"One specific thing that we got from Secret of Mana remake," says Tatsuke, "was that we made sure this time to have the characters' lips sync up and match their voices."
As we jumped ahead further into the game to see the gigantic crab boss Fullmetal Hugger in all its glory, we got a sense of what full-party combat looks like. Duran kept close, focusing the crab's eyes as its weak spot, while Charlotte held back to heal and Riesz poked at it from a safe distance. It was a fight I knew from one angle, but seeing it up-close and personal in third-person was completely different.
Combatants flanked and strafed around each other in a 3D space. You could probably leap an attack or two, if you timed it well. The sense of scale was different, yet still impressive. (Sadly, though, there's no multiplayer in this version.) The art style keeps the charm of the original, albeit with a more updated look. Characters like Duran look much more stylized and stand out like the anime role-playing game protagonist they are.
Trials of Mana won't be out until 2020, but it stands in an interesting place. Western audiences are only just now getting the chance to (officially) play the game it's based on thanks to the Collection of Mana, and even then, the remake will likely be at least a good few players' first experience with Trials. It's a game revered in one region, yet unheard of in another thanks to port decisions. But with a remake as good as this is shaping up, Trials of Mana might finally get some of the international recognition it deserves.