One of the most surprising announcements at E3 last week was Trials of Mana, a remake of an older entry in Square Enix’s once-popular series of action-role-playing games. It looks to be the first proper Mana game in a very long time. The hope, the developers say, is that this will lead to a resurgence for this long-dormant series.
“The ultimate goal would be to get that glory back,” Mana series producer Masaru Oyamada told me during an E3 interview, speaking through a translator. “With Trials of Mana we really challenged ourselves to provide Mana in a new form, different than how it used to be. And so after the fans see the story and actually play this game for themselves, we would like their feedback on their expectations for Mana games to come, and to take that into consideration for the future.”
Trials of Mana, which will be out in early 2020, is a remake of the previously Japan-only Seiken Densetsu 3. That game was released in 1995 for the Super Famicom, but never made it to the West, despite the popularity of its predecessor, Secret of Mana, a game beloved for its quirky humor and killer soundtrack. (Reports back then suggested that bugs were the main culprit.) A fan translation patch allowed savvy players to get their hands on Seiken Densetsu 3 in English via emulation, but it wasn’t quite the real thing.
In 2017, Oyamada and crew put out a Mana collection on Switch in Japan, allowing Japanese players to get their hands on the first three games in the series: Seiken Densetsu 1 (released in the U.S. as Final Fantasy Adventure), Seiken Densetsu 2 (Secret of Mana), and Seiken Densetsu 3. Question was, would non-Japanese players ever get Seiken Densetsu 3? Would Square be willing to put in the money to localize a Super Nintendo game to English 24 years after it came out?
Then came the perfect solution: Square could use this localization for both the compilation and a remake designed to feel like a brand new game.
“We decided on making the new version of Trials of Mana first... We got a lot of feedback from outside Japan saying they wished it was coming to their areas as well,” said Oyamada. “And so we decided to start working on Trials of Mana as a new title, since many of these players had never played it before. Then we showed the remake to the Western teams. They thought it was good, but they were really hoping to get the original version also.”
So right after last week’s Nintendo Direct, Oyamada and crew surprise-launched an English version of Collection of Mana and announced Trials of Mana for 2020. Footage of the game looks excellent so far, both in what we’ve seen publicly and what I got to see behind the scenes at Square Enix’s E3 booth. With a combat overhaul, a proper 3D camera, and a gorgeous aesthetic that’s less “like Secret of Mana but with polygons” and more “whoa this feels like a brand new game,” Trials of Mana looks promising.
It certainly looks like an improvement over last year’s disappointing Secret of Mana remake, which Oyamada acknowledged had some issues.
“We learned that the fans have really high expectations and desires towards titles in this series,” Oyamada said, “and so we really wanted to take that feedback into account and apply it to make improvements when we developed Trials of Mana.”
For example, he said, they plan to add lip synchronization to characters’ voice acting, which was an unsettling omission in Secret of Mana. “That’s one concrete example,” he said. “As far as other various elements go, this time around the system is very different.”
We haven’t seen a proper new game in this series since 2006's Dawn of Mana, after which series creator and director Koichi Ishii left Square Enix for Nintendo. It’s been a rough decade for fans of Rabites and magical trees, but for the first time in a very long time, the future for Mana looks bright.