Hands on with Trials of Mana

We played the new Trials of Mana demo at Gamescom 2019 - here’s what we thought
By Duncan Heaney

Here on the Square Enix Blog team, we’ve been excited about Trials of Mana since it was announced during E3 2019.

There’s a lot to look forward to - the game’s a full remake of the 1995 original, rebuilt from the ground up, with modern 3D graphics, a new battle system, improved leveling and skill systems and other enhancements.

So when we had the opportunity to play the demo at Gamescom - Europe’s largest games show - and share our thoughts, how could we resist?

What did we do in the Trials of Mana demo?

The demo starts us in the occupied town of Jadd. The people have fallen on some hard times - Beastmen have taken over the city and locked down the entrance and the harbor.

Playing as the brave, and impeccably coiffured, warrior Duran, our first job is to find a way to sneak out of the city. This investigation provides a great opportunity to explore the town, get a sense of how mobile the characters are - and run into a few faces we recognize from the original game.

Eventually we escape the town, and start working your way towards an ancient cave. This is where the meat of the demo was to be found - a large environment, full of classic Mana series monsters like Rabites and Mushbooms - perfect for getting to grips with the game’s fast and satisfyingly crunchy combat system (more on that in a bit).

After searching every inch of the wilds for hidden chests, items and money (even in demos it seems we can’t contain our completionist urges), we reach the cave and gain two allies - the spear-wielding Reisz and the precocious Charlotte.

They’re welcome help because we immediately encounter a boss - the Fullmetal Hugger. The big-eyed beast is the size of a truck, and hits like it, but thanks to careful use of powers (and munching through our supply of healing candies), we’re able to take it down.

Victory is ours and the fight is over! Unfortunately, so’s the demo. Aw.

How’s the combat system?

If we had to describe the combat system in one word, we’d say: satisfying.

Battles are fast and fluid. You have light and heavy attacks, that can be chained into each other, and special moves - in Duran’s case, the demo gives you access to a satisfying cross-slash attack that deals massive damage and can hit multiple enemies at once.

You can’t get over-reliant on these special attacks though, as they’re governed by a meter, which has to be refilled before you can use them again.

Every foe you vanquish provides blue orbs that recharge that meter, so you’re encouraged to play aggressively to ensure you have all your combat tools available.

The biggest danger - at least in the demo - is mobs of enemies. Individually, a rabite poses little threat to Duran, but put a few of them together, and suddenly you to have to think on your feet.

For example, positioning is vitally important - ideally you want to try and get the enemies separated or in front of you. Fortunately, Duran’s impressively mobile, capable of dodging attacks and changing position very quickly, and this is essential in helping him control the battlefield.

We found that it was also helpful to use specific combos depending on the situation. For example, if surrounded by enemies, you can use a combo attack that sweeps in an arc, hitting multiple opponents. But if you need a bit of space, a simple two hit attack pushes the enemy back and give you some breathing room.

It all adds up to a very compelling gameplay loop, where you feel constantly rewarded for engaging in battles. We found ourselves going off the beaten path to actively search for more things to fight - purely because it’s fun.

How does it compare to the original Trials of Mana?

Those of you who have played the original Trials of Mana (available on Switch through Collection of Mana) may be wondering how this new game compares to the SNES version.

Having played that original title extensively since the Collection released (it’s a fantastic game and I can’t recommend it strongly enough), I was surprised by how well the remake captures the same spirit.

While it plays quite differently, with much faster combat, increased mobility and more involved special moves, it’s still identifiably Trials of Mana. The town of Jadd is laid out exactly how it is in the original, with a beautiful new arrangement of the original musical theme.

And naturally, the story lines up with the earlier game - with the Beastmen having taken over the town and our heroes having to find a way out.

The characters are instantly recognizable too. The warrior Duran - the main player character in this demo - is a near-perfect interpretation of the original sprite, right down to his impressive (excessive?) head of hair.

I ran into Reisz, Charlotte and Angela in the demo, and they too have been interpreted with reverence to the source material. They’re identifiably the same characters, just a lot more expressive thanks to the new viewpoint, body language and facial expressions.

Heading out into the field, the presence of the original is also immediately felt. You’ll see the same enemies, including Rabites of course, and environmental details that will be familiar to fans of the original.

To sum up, the new Trials of Mana definitely has a distinct look and feel, but the DNA of the original still runs deep. It’s the same idea reinterpreted through a different lens - which is exactly what a remake should be.

So hopefully that gives you some insight into Trials of Mana. If you’re at Gamescom, the game is playable in the Square Enix booth - give it a go and let us know what you thought.

We’ll have more to share about the game in the coming months. To be the first to hear the news, follow Square Enix on social media, and sign up for email updates at the bottom of this page.