Trials of Mana on Trial

I’ve waited over twenty years to properly play Trials of Mana. I probably shouldn’t have. The Japanese version, Seiken Densetsu 3, came out in 1995, and it was fan-translated once emulation permitted such things. Sure, I tried to play it. I’d start up the game every few years, but I’d inevitably drift away after an hour or two. It’s only after Seiken Densetsu 3 was officially localized, dubbed Trials of Mana, and released in the new Collection of Mana that I’m digging into it. It’s strange how committed you can be once you pay money for something.

Do I like Trials of Mana? Well, yes. I do. I think.

You see, I suspect that my affection for Trials of Mana is nothing more than my fondness for an age gone by. Secret of Mana is a high-ranking favorite of mine, and as its successor Trials offers a similar tale of colorful heroes on a quest through a fantasy realm teeming with magic, evil, and adorable rabbit blobs called Rabites. It’s precisely the sort of game I loved as a kid: a big, gorgeous Super NES RPG that I could obsess over for months.

I never had the chance to properly obsess, though. I pored over magazine spreads that couldn’t decide whether to call the game Seiken Densetsu 3 or Secret of Mana 2, and I wrote letters begging Squaresoft to bring the game to North America, but there would be no such release. A dozen or so impressive RPGs arrived late in the Super NES lifespan and never left Japan, yet Seiken Dense—sorry, Trials of Mana—was the one I wanted most. Even though I never played it then, just wanting it is a fond memory. Nostalgia is at its most powerful when it is unearned.

After all of this, Trials of Mana isn’t the masterpiece my younger self envisioned. It’s hardly terrible, but it doesn’t rate among Square-made Super NES standouts like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV through VI, or even Secret of Mana. To be fair, I suspected this even back in 1996, when Nick Rox of GameFan called Trials of Mana “one of the ten best SNES games of all time” in the December 1995 issue and then, the very next month, admitted that the game got “unimaginably tedious.”