A trip back to the wild west, before undergoing the trials of social media

Trials of Mana

Trials of Mana (1995)

If you asked for me twenty years ago, any day of the week or time of the day you would have found me on a Windows Millennium Edition computer, playing emulators using a keyboard, or perhaps watching Love Hina on Winamp through my dialup internet. If not that, then I would have been whiling away my precious preteen hours on AIM and IRC. An absolutely pathetic way to start puberty of course, and yet, would you trade internet nostalgia for the world?

That’s the beauty that the internet can give you, quite apart from Tiktok, Twitter and other open sewers – a window into a world which you could never have known about. I didn’t have a clue that Secret of Mana, my all-time favourite game, had a sequel, precisely because it never came out over here, so it was never going to be featured in any magazines. They were the only real source of gaming news we had in the 90s, those magazines, so they were like monthly bibles to us.

God, but the internet was a wild west back at the turn of the millennium. These days, there must be hundreds of cases annually of the police investigating nasty things said on Twitter, and God knows how many have lost their jobs as a result of getting tanked up and thinking they were in an echo chamber.

But then, how many jobs has the internet given in return? I could, if I really needed to, do an 8 hour day without a drop of water or a morsel to eat. I could even give you about one whole minute of work without oxygen before suffocating to death and being mercilessly replaced.

But I can’t give you even one second’s work without internet. It is necessary to the point of ridiculousness, which makes me wonder why I have to pay for it at home – the internet should be a basic human right.

Things sure have changed online. Everyone had their own website when I first started “surfing the web”. They were horrendously designed GeoCities or Angelfire sites, with just about every web design sin going – garish colours, automatically playing music, plagiarised content, a lack of linkage between pages, and there was always a guestbook somewhere to sign. Yes, they were poultice creations, but they were ours. And we checked them every day in some vain hope that they’d explode in popularity overnight.

Where you really wanted to be was on specialist forums, but even they began to die a death somewhat. Most every other type of website did, in fact, with the exception of personal pages – everyone’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter presence, the whole last ten years of their lives, sold into data slavery.

Social media even brought women onto the internet, a real novelty at the time, and it seems to me that all of them can be found in various states of undress. God knows where the internet will go in the future, but I should imagine that it’ll eventually facilitate state surveillance of a type that even George Orwell couldn’t have foreseen.

What I had never foreseen is that we’d actually get an officially localised release of Seiken Densetsu 3, 24 years on, and we wouldn’t even need the internet to play it. Not only that, but we were even getting a fully remade, 3D, current gen rendition into the bargain. Sometimes an E3 Presentation or PS State of Play or Nintendo Direct just speaks directly to you, in among all the mediocrity and disappointment. This was one of those rare moments in life where I literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

The game was being localised as Trials of Mana, being sold as part of a slightly overpriced collection including Seiken 1 and 2. Quite a selling point though, something to whet the old appetite for the 3D remake. But I suppose I better start at the beginning, back in 1995. In similar fashion to Secret of Mana, Trials is a colourful fantasy action RPG – no turn based ‘after you, sir’ nonsense here, it’s whack your enemies with swords and spells while they’re trying to do the same thing to you.

You have another three-member party in this game, but one of the major selling points of Trials is that you’ll actually pick your three from a pool of six diverse characters. Not only that, but each of the characters can change into six distinct classes as they level up.

This gives you hundreds of possible party combinations to run through the game with, which adds heaps of replay value – it’s not uncommon for players to do two playthroughs back-to-back. Depending on your chosen main character, their intro sequence, plot motivation and end boss differs, while the bulk of the main game is mostly the same – think of it as a succulent sandwich with different bread each time.

The battle system is quite good, although magic makes proceedings a bit stop-start if you want to run with a mage character. There’s more than a few glitches as well, like Critical Hits never, ever working (making more than one stat near useless) and shields don’t work at all either, so you can save your money there.

These were fixed in the remake version, a version which also allows you to switch between new and original music, and it’s quite a choice to make because the original, as you’d pretty much expect, makes for one of the Super Nintendo’s very finest soundtracks. The remade music isn’t as, shall we say, ‘experimental’ as the Secret of Mana Remake’s soundtrack either, so you might find yourself with a far tougher choice to make here. There is one notable drawback to the remake in that it doesn’t have co-op multiplayer, which I’m fine with, but it might be a dealbreaker for you.

Since we’re here, we might as well meet the crew that we’ll be adventuring with. Firstly there’s Duran, the brash swordsman. His hair is probably the most anime of the lot, which is what qualifies him to take up the sword. If you don’t know who else to pick, you might as well pick him, even if he is a bit dumb, and sometimes sounds whiny in the remake.

His female equivalent is Angela, the purple-haired magician who struggles to use magic, but whose legs are magical enough to go on ’til Christmas. If that’s not enough for you, she can shake her bum at enemies as an attack, way before twerking was ever invented. Otherwise, she’s the spoiled princess archetype and actually, most of the characters are royalty in some way.

Next up is Kevin – half man, half Beastman, which means he turns into a werewolf at night and tears through enemies like they’re nothing. Kevin’s fists are as powerful as his English is broken, even if his remake voice acting makes him sound like a punymeyer. Still, give him some slack, he starts his adventure after being tricked into thinking he killed his puppy pal, Karl.

Kevin’s counterpart is Charlotte, who’ll remind you at once of the Sprite child in Secret of Mana, but she talks in that unsettling uwu way despite being 15 years old. You wouldn’t want anyone in the woom with you when Chawotte is going fuw fwow in the wemake, that’s fow suwe. But if you want the best healer in the game bar none, you’d better take her. She can be funny at times, if nothing else.

For the last pair of protagonists, you have the dashing Hawkeye, thief and breaker of a thousand fangirl hearts, who’s fighting from the Desert Thieves’ Guild to save his woman. Noble guy for sure, and overpowered in the right hands. He makes the natural job progression from thief to ninja, and remains cool as a cucumber all the way.

Similarly overpowered is his Amazoness warrior counterpart Riesz. She’s not the death by snoo snoo sort, don’t worry, more the pure-hearted blonde maiden type. She’s got a badass strut and she’s a dab-hand with a spear. Riesz is what you’d call the breakout character, the one who goes on to garner the most popularity despite initially not being front and centre.

We can tell this by the amount of fan-art she’s received. On that point, I am reliably informed that there’s a man out there who has been drawing lewd pictures of Riesz almost every day since 1995 – I make that around 9,000 pictures by now, quite a pictography of work. You have to hand it to pornographers (oo er), they’re dedicated.

Those are the six that’ll undergo the Trials of Mana, then. Six friends from long ago, like all those online friends from different corners of the world in that bygone age of 20th century internet. On long nights, you sometimes find your mind being drawn back to them, wondering how they’re doing nowadays. Well, don’t worry – if Trials of Mana is much to go by, they’ve been holding up absolutely fine.

9 October 2020

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