Trials of Mana: The Insert Cartridge Review (Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC)

Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the two versions of Trials of Mana show strengths and flaws in opposite ways

Insert Cartridge
Published in
11 min readJun 8, 2020

--

Remakes are super hot right now. From the huge success of Final Fantasy VII Remake to Switch re-releases of the Bioshock trilogy, game publishers are leveraging nostalgia to sell old games to both new and longtime fans. One of the most surprising is Square Enix’s Trials of Mana for the Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. Based on the 1995 game of the same name, Trials of Mana is a from-the-ground-up remake that attempts to capture the magic of one of the Super Nintendo’s most impressive — and elusive — games.

I grew up playing and loving Square’s Super Nintendo games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI and the more action-oriented Secret of Mana. As the Super Nintendo’s lifespan came to a close and my love for Japanese RPGs really exploded with the release of Sony’s PlayStation — but there was one white whale that got away: Seiken Densetsu 3. 23 years later, I finally played Seiken Densetsu 3 in 2018 thanks to Neill Corlett’s legendary fan translation (originally released in 2000), and walked away from the experience impressed with the game’s graphics and soundtrack, but disappointed by its structure, combat system, and opaque character progression system.

In “Was Trials of Mana Worth Growing Up For?,” I wrote about the experience of chasing a white for two decades, only to find regret and disappointment:

At the time of its release, Trials of Mana impressively built on the foundations laid by its predecessors — refining the party-of-three system, realizing an even more beautiful and varied world, allowing for more customization than ever, non-linear narrative, and quest design — but 25 years of hindsight makes the cost of that progress obvious. In its imperfections, you can begin to see the unravelling of the Mana franchise (clunky combat, over-reliance on poorly designed systems, emphasis on graphics over gameplay). There’s no perfect Mana game, and that includes Trials of Mana, which is buoyed in reputation by its former scarcity, placed on a pedestal by western gamers who revered its existence as some sort of gaming holy grail.

--

--

Aidan Moher
Insert Cartridge

Hugo Award-winning writer ft. in WIRED, Washington Post, and Kotaku, and author of "Fight, Magic, Items." He lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and kids.