App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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Trials of Mana has a whole history of hype and preconceived notions about it that existed long before it did. You see, this game is a remake of an old Super Nintendo game from the heyday of SquareSoft (now Square Enix). Earlier games in the Mana series saw releases stateside (Final Fantasy Adventure, Secret of Mana), but this title, originally Seiken Densetsu 3, never got a proper localization and western release. With that history out of the way, I'll say that Trials of Mana is a solid action rpg that seems to be missing a few key ingredients to make it truly special. I wish I could chalk those missing pieces up to age, but the most glaring absences would have been relatively common even back when the game originally released.
Actions, not words
The Mana series of games is unique in that they are relatively experimental compared to the rest of SquareSoft's releases. These titles commonly tell very traditional (and might I add: bad) stories concerning an all powerful mana tree that protects the world that comes under threat from some dark forces. The same is true here, but the core of the game really revolves around building up a party of three adventurers and using their skills and abilities in fast-paced action combat.
You start the game picking the three heroes you want to have on your journey, but start with control of only one of them. These characters find story reasons to cross paths and join up quickly enough, making the bulk of Trials of Mana revolve around wandering with your party through dungeons packed with monsters, issuing commands on-the-fly to your AI companions, and doing your best to take down enemies without taking too much damage.
As mentioned previously, Trials of Mana's story is nothing to write home about. It's an easy-to-follow tale of good vs. evil with essentially no twists or turns that you don't see coming (outside of some artificial padding). That said, I found myself powering through the game simply because I enjoyed leveling up my questing team and seeing what new potential I could unlock in them.
The combat here is compelling for a few reasons, the first of which is its speed. Instantly starting fights and ending them within 10 seconds with no load times helps you always maintain momentum during play. Although this game isn't mobile exclusive, this design helps make on-the-go play sessions feel more satisfying as well. On top of that, there are a lot of nuances to the combat that are fun--though not necessary--to take advantage of, meaning you only have to plan and strategize as much as you want to as you make your way through the game.
Almost all of Trials of Mana's core design choices really serve touchscreen play well, but Square Enix went above and beyond in this port to make it work well on mobile specifically. Auto-battling and camera toggles are always just a tap away on screen, and there are some great accessibility options in terms of difficulty, AI ally programming, and performance options. Last, but not least, this version of Trials of Mana has a flawless (though manual) cloud saving system allowing you to play on multiple devices with ease.
All this said, there are notable absences from this game as well. Most important is a complete lack of multiplayer, which was not only present in the original release, but a core feature. Also, upon completing the game, I unlocked a new ability for my team, but there isn't any kind of new game+ option available, which also just feels like a weird oversight. Trials of Mana would definitely have some longer legs if both of these features were in here. I felt like I hadn't quite built up my team fully by the game's end, but the prospect of loading an old save to grind experience alone (especially with the knowledge that I'm already strong enough to beat the game) just isn't appealing.
The bottom line
Trials of Mana is a fun action rpg, provided you're looking for some satisfying combat and aren't too worried about much else. There's definitely some things left to be desired with this remake, but the mobile version still makes a really strong case for itself as a great rpg to play on your phone or tablet.