If you're not a believer in the old idiom "You never know what the future will bring," consider what 2019 means for the long-lost Super Famicom RPG Seiken Densetsu 3. After 24 years of relative obscurity, the previously Japan-exclusive follow-up to the beloved Secret of Mana finally received an official translation this year—and we learned it's getting a full 3D remake next year.
The 2D iteration of Trials of Mana/Seiken Densetsu 3 is unquestionably one of the best action-RPGs on Super Famicom, keeping in mind this is a system that already has Secret of Mana, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Terranigma. If Chrono Trigger pushes the SNES's visuals to the very edge, Trials of Mana builds a bridge that allows for one more step. It also features split storylines and class-building. All told, Seiken Densetsu 3 has the visuals, music, and ambition of a CD RPG, only it's contained to a cartridge.
While that ambition makes for a wonderful action-RPG experience, it also causes Seiken Densetsu 3 to unravel a bit under pressure. The game's focus on stellar visuals and deep systems is cool, but it's impossible not to come away with an impression that the gameplay could use some more fine-tuning. Some of Seiken Densetsu 3's unbalanced elements are less obvious (if you don't look up an FAQ beforehand, it's easy to render your party near-useless with careless class-changing), but anyone who plays for five minutes will notice the battles you engage in are, well, chaotic. After trying the 3D Trials of Mana remake for myself at PAX West 2019, I was happy to see everything's a little cleaner, a little clearer, and a little more methodical. It's already obvious Square Enix is putting a bit more care into this 3D Mana remake than it did into its 2018 HD revamp of Secret of Mana.
Whereas most 2D action-RPGs usually throw you up against several enemies in an open space, Seiken Densetsu 3 typically forces your character to start moving at a crawl when they encounter enemies. Worse, these fights usually happen in a small space, making it hard to scrabble for real estate. Since encounters are difficult to escape from, a throw-down is usually your only option. You hit hard and fast—but so do your enemies. One second the fight's going your way, and the next second you hear the warning bells that indicate at least one of your characters is on the ropes. In Seiken Densetsu 3, encounters aren't strategic battles so much as they're indecipherable knots of Froot Loops-colored sprites hitting each other in hopes of bringing the other guy to 0 HP as quickly as possible.
The demo for the Trials of Mana 3D remake shepherded me through the Rabite Forest, an early area in the game. I noticed several welcome differences immediately. You're still enclosed in an impromptu "arena" whenever you draw close to an enemy, but your character's movements aren't hobbled, and you're given plenty of room to move around. Enemies don't overwhelm you (something that can even happen in Seiken Densetsu 3's original Rabite Forest), and if you really find yourself stuck, your heroes shout out tips as they fight. Granted, it gets a little exhausting to hear Duran bellow "SWORD WORKS BEST!" every time he comes up against a monster, but it's possible this "advice" will be less repetitive in the final product.
Trials of Mana also gives you quick access to three kinds of attacks (weak, strong, aerial) and—thank the Mana Beast—an evade button. By the time my demo terminated after a fight with the game's first boss, the crablike Full Metal Hugger, I felt confident about the 3D overhaul. The boss fight still felt like a challenge, but I always knew what I was doing, where I was going, and what skills I had access to. The experience was a big step up from the same encounter in Seiken Densetsu 3, where I usually just throw myself in the Hugger's face, hold down the attack button, and listen attentively for the triplicate "Beep-boop!" that informs me someone (or everyone) in my party is moments away from popping off.
I'll miss Seiken Densetsu 3's gorgeous sprite work (how could I not), but I welcome the opportunity to play a version of the game that feels like a fully fleshed-out action RPG and not an RNG roulette machine. I'm looking forward to adventuring with Trials of Mana when the final product comes to the Switch in March 2020. In the meantime, you can look up everything you need to know about the game in our Trials of Mana guide.