Square Enix's 3D update of Secret of Mana didn't exactly receive a warm welcome when it was released on PS4 a couple years back. Staff writer Nadia Oxford called it a missed opportunity, and she was actually kinder than most. Most saw it as a budget attempt to cash in on the legacy of a beloved RPG. It was promptly forgotten.
Happily, Square Enix's remake of Trials of Mana—the successor to Secret of Mana that was only recently released in North America—seems quite a bit more ambitious. Rather than force spare 2.5d visuals into the original game's top-down perspective, Trials of Mana instead opts for a fully-3D approach that looks much nicer in action. It also completely revamps the real-time battle system with charge attacks, dodge rolls, aerial attacks, and other additions.
I recently had the chance to play the opening hours of the Trials of Mana remake on Switch, and the differences were apparent from the jump. It feels, well, modern. To show what I mean, I put together a quick five minute comparison video showing some of the opening scenes side-by-side, as well as the combat.
As you can see, Trials of Mana puts its new 3D engine to good use with cutscenes that are far more elaborate than anything that could have been produced on the Super Nintendo. It also works hard to capture the look and feel of the original game with its art style. Tonally, it still feels very much like a 16-bit action RPG, but its quality-of-life improvements make it a better fit for 2020.
On the flipside, there's Charlotte. Long-time fans of the series will remember Charlotte for her babyish style of speaking, which cemented her as one of the original game's most annoying characters. She reminds me a bit of the ProZD bit about trying to guess the age of anime characters (for the record, Charlotte is supposed to be 15).
The remake opts to keep Charlotte's infantile mode of speech, which strikes me as a questionable decision. Oh, and now she's fully voiced. Why double down on the qualities that made her so grating on the Super Nintendo? I suspect it's because the remake wants to remain relatively faithful to the story even as it changes up the mechanics.
It's decisions like these that leave me feeling somewhat split on this update. On the one hand, many of the upgrades are genuinely meaningful, and it benefits greatly from being on the Switch—a console where graphical fidelity isn't quite as important. On the other, I think the youngish tone of the storytelling and the oversaturated color palette is a better fit for the 16-bit era. I think the cel-shaded graphics look genuinely nice, but they also aren't especially remarkable in this day and age. The original's sprite-based art feels more unique to me.
Thankfully, fans have a choice. Those who prefer the original can still pick up the excellent Collection of Mana for Nintendo Switch. Newcomers seeking a more modern and accessible experience will probably have a good time with the remake on Nintendo Switch.
At a minimum, it's already a much better remake than the disappointing Secret of Mana for PS4. I'll count that as a step forward for Square Enix.