This Week in Games
Collection of Mana

by Heidi Kemps,

It's the week after E3! You know what that means… it means there's like, no news! At all! Because everyone announced everything the week before! That's a problem, because I've got a column to write… and I haven't been able to start on Bloodstained yet because I just got back from visiting family. Looks like I'm going to have to improvise!

Well, first, let's look at a few small bits of news that did come out…

PUZZLE AND DRAGONS GOLD IS GILDING NORTH AMERICAN SHORES

Do you like the mechanics and collecting of international mobile hit Puzzle and Dragons, but wish there was a bit less of that whole gacha thing? Well, you're in luck, because earlier this week publisher GungHo announced that Puzzle and Dragons Gold, the latest console-centric spinoff in the series, will be heading overseas.

There's not a lot of details yet – heck, there isn't a lot of info on the Japan side of things, either – but going by releases like Puzzle and Dragons Super Mario Edition, it'll probably be a “PAD Lite” variant: simplified character ability mechanics, fewer characters for team-building overall, and a significantly lower level of power creep. None of that is particularly bad, of course, especially in a console-gaming context. Personally, I played PAD for a very long time, but dropped off once the metagame reached a point I wasn't particularly happy with, so this could be right up my alley.

NIS IS GIVING US THE GOOD KIND OF GAMING DISASTER

Odds are that unless you are really, really into Japanese gaming, you've never heard of the Disaster Report series from Irem – well, more specifically, what's kind of left of Irem after years of death and revival. Some of these games have come out in North America and Europe, usually as barely-promoted budget releases that didn't make much of a blip. So imagine my surprise when NIS America dropped this trailer!

These games have a great concept: a massive disaster strikes, and you and others have to work together to survive. It's a realistic survival horror scenario without violence, which is really cool – after all, aren't the scariest scenarios the ones that could plausibly happen? I've even heard that people in Japan picked up real disaster-survival skills they put to use after playing these titles, though I don't have a verified source on that, so that's a big ol’ “citation needed.” Anyway, if you've looking for a unique survival experience, do put this one on your radar.

WE BARELY HAVE ANYTHING TO TALK ABOUT THIS WEEK, SO HERE'S A REVIEW OF COLLECTION OF MANA INSTEAD (BUT IT'S MOSTLY ABOUT TRIALS OF MANA)

Last week, Nintendo and Square Enix surprise-released Collection of Mana on the Nintendo eShop. I went and downloaded it as soon as it was available, because I love all these games… and also because I wanted to see the official English release of Seiken Densetsu 3 nearly twenty-five years after I spent $120 in 1995 money on the Super Famicom cart. So how do these games hold up in the modern era? Really well, actually!

The first game in the set is Final Fantasy Adventure, a Game Boy title that's the first game in the Seiken Densetsu series. Square USA (probably wisely) decided to give it the Final Fantasy branding in the West, since that already had name recognition here… though it's not completely off the mark, as the game was subtitled “Final Fantasy Gaiden” in Japan, probably to also capitalize on name recognition. (There are also distinct FF elements like Chocobos in the game to try and connect the series.)

Anyway, aside from the title shenanigans, Final Fantasy Adventure is a really solid little Zelda-like on a platform that didn't have many games like that. It controls well, the monochrome graphics are easy to “read”, combat is fun, and the simple story is engaging enough to keep you going. It's not the greatest Zelda-like by any stretch (it's overshadowed immensely by the actual Game Boy Zelda game, which dropped after FFA hit the market), but it's certainly not a bad way to spend your time. It's probably the weakest game of the three in this collection, but when the weakest game is still in “pretty darn good” territory, you know you've got a pretty killer set.

Secret of Mana I feel needs little introduction – it's considered a classic internationally for very good reason. You may remember that a visually-enhanced remake released a while back (and I reviewed it in this column); That remake isn't included in this set, you're just getting the original SNES game that's been re-released on mobile, Virtual Console, and the SNES Classic. Yeah, you probably already own SNES Secret of Mana in some form already, but if you don't… well, here you go! This game's great. It's colorful, has a fantastic soundtrack, is bursting at the seams with charm, and holds up in every way imaginable… despite having a lot of game-breaking bugs.

Yes, Secret of Mana is pretty notoriously glitchy, and the expert emulation crew at M2 decided to just let them all rock rather than going in and fixing them. Depending on your perspective, that could be either great or annoying: you're getting the original experience, sure, but when one of your idiot companions gets stuck somewhere and there seems to be no way to get them out, you might find yourself wishing they had taken the time to do some fixing-upping. But hey, all your speedrun tricks should still work!

So now we come to the crown jewel of this set, Seiken Densetsu 3. I'll admit to having a bit of biased attachment to what's now called Trials of Mana, since when I got it, it felt like this amazing, special thing I was blessed to have and barely anybody else could enjoy. I played the hell out of this game, and then I played the hell out of the translation patch when it hit, and now I'm playing the hell out of the official release. And geez, despite having poured hundreds of hours into this game decades ago, I'm amazed at how much I'd forgotten about it!

Trials of Mana differs in structure from the previous games in the series: where FFA and SoM had a pre-set party, in Trials you pick your three-person team from a group of six characters at the outset of the game, each of whom bring something different to the party. Duran is the typical fighter/tank type, Angela and Charlotte specialize in offensive and healing/augmentative magic respectively, Reisz is an all-rounder who offers buff and debuff abilities, Kevin has a unique mechanic where he becomes a literal beast at night, and Hawkeye offers a lot of oddball skills and trickery that can be potent when used well. In addition, at certain points in the game, you can change the character's classes along light and dark paths, resulting in each character having four different classes they could be by game's end, each of which has a distinct skillset.

The character selection and class system are a big part of what makes Trials of Mana so fun: while the story is based mostly on who you picked as the main character, the combination of partners and classes can make each runthrough play very differently. While the game's structure is mostly the same up until near the end, you'll find that some sections will be much easier or much harder depending on your chosen team composition. With each playthrough taking about 20-26 hours (depending on how much grinding you feel like doing), Trials of Mana is a game designed to be replayed several times, letting you experiment and challenge yourself with different team compositions.

Combat is faster and less methodical than Secret of Mana, feeling more like a button-smashing beat-em-up with occasional interruptions by spells and special attacks. It's easier to jump into, and the replacement of the charging mechanic with a meter that fills as you land hits on the enemy is a lot more engaging and intuitive. (It also makes the game more inviting from a co-op angle.) Whether you prefer this combat to that of Secret is a matter of personal taste – I enjoy elements of both.

As for the localization, it's top-tier stuff. M2 apparently did some hacking wizardry to fit a much bigger English script into the game, and the extra room the localizers were afforded pays off big time: you get a lot more detail and nuance to the dialogue than in a lot of other games from this era. Clever little touches show the care put into this: one soul-devouring villain character called “the man who eats death” in Japanese is renamed “Goremand” here, which is both a cute pun and true to the spirit of the original. (I've heard that some folks aren't big fans of Charlotte's cutesy Elmer Fudd-type speech pattern, but it is similar to her obnoxious Japanese speech, so congrats to the loc team for properly conveying the irritation, I guess.)

However, remember the bugs I mentioned regarding Secret of Mana? Well, Trials of Mana might be even glitchier in some ways, and despite M2 pulling some magic to get a big English script into the game, they didn't fix the bugs, some of which are incredibly frequent and annoying. (Protip: don't use your revival cups until somebody's body is flat on the ground.) I've heard that the bugs are part of the reason why this game didn't make the journey over back in 1995, and replaying the game now, it's easy to see how irritating they can get: dropped damage, wasted items, spells that don't seem to do much of anything. They don't totally ruin the experience, but they are irritating when they crop up. I wish M2 would have taken the time to try and iron these things out, but I guess you could say that the bugs make it more “authentic”…

A few other flaws are more apparent now than when I was a wide-eyed teenager playing my first import game: the first third of the game has pretty uneven difficulty in general, there's little impetus to thoroughly explore the labyrinthine field and dungeon areas, and there are certain regular enemies who are a bigger threat to your party's well-being than many of the bosses. But taken as a whole experience, Trials of Mana is tremendously fun, bugs and flaws and all. It's a miracle that we finally have an official English version of this after so long, and this game alone is well worth the price of admission.

While the games themselves are all excellent, the Collection is rather lacking in terms of extras. You get a few screen filters, savestates, music jukeboxes… but not a lot in terms of extras or historical material for the game. I'd really like to have seen more development art and material for Trials of Mana in particular: there are points in the game where you can just feel that a boss was probably cut for time and space. M2 ports are either loaded with extras and features or somewhat minimalist, and Collection of Mana definitely feels like more of the latter: despite the newly-made English hack for Trials of Mana, it doesn't feel like M2 went to much more effort than was necessary, and that's a bit disappointing when you've seen a lot of their other work.

In summary: Is Collection of Mana worth $40? Personally, I say hell yes – the effort Square Enix put into making an English Seiken Densetsu 3 decades after the fact is enough to make this set worth the asking price, plus you get two other really swell games, too! It could be a bit more fully-featured in terms of extras, but overall, I'm more than happy to put my money towards translations of classic games that passed us by.

Anyhow, that wraps up a rather uneventful Week in Games. Don't spoil Bloodstained for me, you jerks, I'm going to be starting it today and I've been deliberately avoiding streams and conversations about it! I want my IGA experience to be unsullied, dangit!


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