‘Collection of Mana’
Publisher: Square Enix
Rated: E 10+
Who it’s for: Classic RPG fans who want a fantastic blast from the past
Thanks to digital distribution, companies can now easily announce a game and put it on sale immediately. This added some pizzaz to E3 2019, allowing famed RPG publisher Square Enix to drop two games for its fans in as many days.
The first, “The Last Remnant Remastered,” is a newer game best left to seasoned RPG players. It has a punishing learning curve stemming from excellent (if complex) battle and progression systems. RPG fans looking for a real challenge may want to check it out.
The other, and unquestionably better, offering — “Collection of Mana” — is actually three games. A compilation of the “Mana” games (known as “Seiken Densetsu” in Japan) launched on Nintendo Switch during the show.
These action-oriented RPGs reached their apex on the Super Nintendo some 24 years ago, with Square leaving the series behind in favor of the publisher’s flagship “Final Fantasy.”
Indeed, the “Mana” series has long languished in the shadow of its more popular sibling, an all but ignored Jan Brady to “Final Fantasy’s” Marsha Marsha Marsha!
In fact, the first game was presented as a spinoff to the “Final Fantasy” series. “Final Fantasy Adventure” — a Game Boy title — didn’t really fit in with the series, though. It lacked many of the features and characters that define the series.
It’s strange to play a Game Boy game on the Switch, particularly on a big screen TV, but “Final Fantasy Adventure” performs flawlessly. There are a number of screen configurations to choose from, from a pixel-perfect emulation to make you feel like you’re playing on an old monochrome Game Boy, to an emulation that smooths over a few of the rough edges and makes the screen itself easier on the eyes.
The second game, “Secret of Mana,” released in 1993 and was better received in the U.S., selling nearly double of its Game Boy predecessor.
The SNES exclusive offered a nice diversion from the turn-based battle systems of the “Final Fantasy” games, but it couldn’t touch its closest competition, “The Legend of Zelda.”
Still, in the last quarter century, appreciation has grown considerably for “Secret of Mana,” with its quick action and charming characters.
It’s because of this appreciation, as well as the positive reviews garnered by “Collection of Mana” in Japan, that Square Enix decided to bring the collection west, complete with “Trials of Mana,” the third game in the series which had never been localized in English.
“Trials of Mana” represents the series’ final installment, releasing on the Super Famicom (the Japanese SNES) in 1995.
Upon playing it 24 years later, I can’t help but wonder if it would have helped the series catch on in the States. Featuring a much more diverse offering of characters, players much choose three (of six) to take along on their adventure — one main character and two support characters.
The game’s story changes depending on the characters you choose and the roles you assign them, making for a wonderfully replayable experience.
Along with its variety of storylines, “Trials of Mana” boasts some of the best 16-bit graphics on any system. The color palate remains surprisingly vivid even today, and the animations — both for the characters and especially the bosses — are stunning.
In fact, “Trials of Mana” remains such a good game that Square Enix announced a full, 3D remake, due out in early 2020.
The new version features graphics reminiscent of “Dragons Quest XI” and may expand on the already robust story. During an interview at E3, the developers declined to confirm that last little bit, only smiling and telling me there would be more announced as the game nears its launch.
I wouldn’t wait for the remake to give “Trials of Mana” a play, though. Fans of retro RPGs have been given a gift with this long-absent game finally making it to our shores. Such a love letter deserves some attention in return.
“Collection of Mana” stands up as more than a mere oddity. This fantastic series of JRPGs never quite got its due, but thanks to fans who have found it in the years since its dormancy, it is getting another chance.So if you count yourself as a JRPG fan, do yourself a favor and download this one. Or if you must, wait until August, when it will be released on a physical cartridge.