Secret of Mana was one of my favorite games on the Super Nintendo. What I didn’t know, back in what some say was the golden age of the JRPG, was that this favorite of mine was actually part of a series of games, and that this series originated as a spin-off of the Final Fantasy franchise. The Mana series, as it has come to be called in the West, is known in Japan as Seiken Densetsu, or Sacred Sword in Japanese, and my beloved Secret of Mana was Seiken Densetsu 2.
It’s all a bit confusing. So here’s a little history for all the nerds like me who like a little clarification on these things.
The Series Begins
The first Seiken Densetsu game didn’t carry the name of Mana in its title at all. Insead it was named Final Fantasy Adventure, and it was released as a handheld game in 1991. It was only after the release of the first game that Seiken Densetsu dropped its Final Fantasy trappings, and became the Mana series. Seiken Dentsetu 2 (also known as Secret of Mana) came out on the SNES in 1993. In 1995 Seiken Densetsu 3 (or Trials of Mana) came out in Japan. Japan only! This game was not marketed in the West! If anyone says they played Trials of Mana in the day, they’re either confusing this game with the popular Secret of Mana, or they played an unofficial fan translation which appeared on the scene around 2000.
After #3, the series continued. Mana games and spin-offs were released into the 2000s, but let’s forget about those for now, and let’s focus on the first three titles of the Seiken Densetsu series, all of which have since been remade.
In 2016, series developer Square Enix published a remake of the first Seiken Densetsu game, Final Fantasy Adventure, rebranding it Adventures of Mana and updating the graphics and gameplay for mobile devices and the PSVita. And in 2018, they published the remake of Seiken Densetsu 2, or Secret of Mana. To be honest, even though the original was a favorite, I did not play the remake, so I can’t say too much here, but I do know that fans were disappointed.
Then, in 2020, Square Enix published a remake of Seiken Densetsu 3, or Trials of Mana. Now, if you recall, the original 1995 game was a Japan exclusive, and many fans of the series in the West had long lamented that they were never able to play #3 (aside from the fan translation). Now at long last here was the game, faithful to the original, now fully rebuilt in 3D, and fully localized. And unlike the disappointing Secret of Mana remake, this time Square Enix got it right.
My Review of Trials of Mana
Trials of Mana is an action RPG set in a bright, colorful, anime-styled world. The game features traditional JRPG story beats and a large overworld map to unlock. The action combat is fun, fast-paced and fluid.
At the start of the game you choose to play as one of six characters, and the game opens in that chosen character’s home, with the events from that character’s personal story dramatized through cut scenes and a tutorial play-through sequence. From the remaining cast of characters, you choose two others who will soon join your character on an adventure to retrieve a sword, defeat bosses, and restore the dying Mana tree. (I’ll give a word of advice, though: Unwess you wike wissening to baby talk fo howews, don’t pick Charlotte!)
Each character can upgrade their class twice, each time choosing a light or dark path. Characters also earn skill points which can be spent to unlock different abilites. And, depending on the choice of main character, the final dungeon, archenemy and last boss may be different. There is a fun and challenging post game dungeon, and the option of replaying a New Game Plus, perfect for speed runners and completionists.
Trials of Mana is a treat for fans of classic JRPGs, and for new players too. Worth the price!
Trailing Sleeves gives the remade Trials of Mana 8.5 / 10 bowls of soup.
Return of the Originals
Side note: In 2019 Nintendo re-released the originals of the first three games on one game card. To anyone who owns a Switch and who is a fan of retro games, Collection of Mana is a good deal in the eShop, and on sale it’s a steal.