Who thought we’d actually get this? I remember wistfully dreaming, back in 2017, when Japan got the Seiken Densetsu Collection, that one day I might be able to play Secret of Mana in the palm of my hands or play the third game in the series for the first time. Two years later, the Collection of Mana was announced and released in a single day in the West. I could not believe it. Collection of Mana contains the first three games in the Mana series — Final Fantasy Adventure (or, confusingly, Mystic Quest if you’re from Europe), Secret of Mana, and Trials of Mana, the very first officially localised version of Seiken Densetsu 3.
Starting with the Collection itself, it’s a pretty basic package containing the above-named games in the Mana series. All three of them are included in their original formats, but they all have a few extra features, including language options and the ability to quicksave anywhere in each game. Each game also has at least two different screen size options, but the larger options muddy and stretch the pixels out a bit too much if you’re playing the game on your TV, nor are they optimised for widescreen. But if you’re a fan of the series’ music, you can listen to each game’s soundtrack on the game select screen! It’s not a lot, though if you’re simply here for the games, you’re in for a treat.
Let’s start with Final Fantasy Adventure, the first Mana game and first in this collection. While simple in design and controls, Final Fantasy Adventure is remarkable for its time. For having such a basic story circa 1991, this game has some real gut-punch moments that had me on the verge of tears. Deaths, betrayals and revelations in a little Game Boy cartridge! I was amazed. Final Fantasy Adventure does have extra screen options compared to the two SNES games (which let you play in black and white, with a Game Boy Colour filter or a green Game Boy filter) so you can really ramp up the nostalgia with the visual filters on this release.
In terms of gameplay, the game is much simpler than its successors: think The Legend of Zelda with RPG mechanics and you’re not far off. You attack with the A button, and with the B button you equip either an item or a spell and can use it without having to go into a menu. There are also more than a few sections of the game where I was wondering where to go next or how to solve that riddle, but talking to all of the townsfolk or retracing my steps usually did the trick. And be wary, if you don’t have enough keys on you, there’s a chance you can run out and get locked in a dungeon, unable to progress the game. Yet, for a 10-hour RPG, Final Fantasy Adventure largely still holds up due to its simplicity, and it might be one of the best Game Boy games I’ve ever played.
Next is Secret of Mana, which I’m sure everyone’s heard of. It was my first SNES RPG, so it will always hold a special place in my heart, but it’s definitely got some early SNES action RPG quirks. This game introduces many of the series’ staples, like the ring menu and the Mana Spirits. The combat is much more fluid that Final Fantasy Adventure’s, which is to be expected, but the act of waiting for your attack meter to recharge before you can strike again, along with some awkward hitboxes, shows where Secret of Mana is a little rough around the edges.
That’s not to dampen the second game’s legacy, because it’s still rightfully one of the SNES’ very best. While it’s definitely more clunky than you remember, and levelling up weapons can be tedious, I’ll never tire of exploring Secret of Mana’s luscious world, which is always a delight for the eyes and ears. The music for all three games in the collection is outstanding, but Hiroki Kikuta’s score for the second Mana game is still my favourite SNES soundtrack of all time. You can also still play this version with two other friends, if you can tolerate the constant pausing for items and magic. With this version, we can finally wipe away the memory of the 2018 remake. This is a classic that everyone should play at least once, and with this version, you can even take this (and all three games) on the go.
Now the real reason you’re reading this is for Trials of Mana, the third game the West never officially got to play until now. I approached this with many feelings — elation, nausea, excitement, anxiousness, etc. — because its reputation preceded it. Now, nearly 24 years later, I can say Trials of Mana is absolutely one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played, and worth picking up the collection for alone. It’s an improvement on its predecessor in almost every single way. Where Secret of Mana excels in colour and environments, Trials of Mana’s arresting spritework, adorable character animations and varied locations make this a feast for the eye. And in combat, there’s no longer an attack meter which you have to wait to refill; now you have to watch for a small but clear animation which indicates when you can attack again. Everything is faster and smoother as a result, and there are no wonky hitboxes to be found here.
What makes this third entry so excellent is its replay value. There’s a large amount of customisation on offer in a number of ways. At the start of the game, you have to pick your main from six characters. These characters are grouped into pairs, and each pair’s journey differs from the other two in the story, the villains, and even a couple of dungeons. Then you pick two accompanying characters, who you meet early on in your journey. Every character has a light and dark class path, with six classes split between the two paths. Each character has a role, but each class change can change how the character fits in with the rest of the party. For 1995, it’s ridiculously in-depth and addictive. And if you don’t like your party in one playthrough, go back and do another with a different setup! This offers more replay value than most other games released at the time.
The game also has a really solid localisation, with no character limits for names or text, and spruced-up text boxes, meaning everything is clear and easy to read. One character in particular, Charlotte, speaks in a very babyish tone, and while it does reinforce her childish nature, your mileage with her speech quirk may vary. Another thing to be aware of, with this game in particular, is that all of the bugs that were present in the Super Famicom Japanese release are still present here. The evasion stat straight up doesn’t work, nor do critical hits, and the menus are very slow to scroll through. We are getting a complete remake of Trials of Mana in 2020 however, which will fix all of this and change up a whole lot else.
Collection of Mana, heck even just Trials of Mana in the West, is a dream come true for me. If you decide to pick this up, you’re getting three wonderful games that you can play anywhere. Some extra features, like a museum with the series’ artwork, or a history lesson on the entire franchise, wouldn’t have gone amiss, but we got something we never thought we’d get. If $40 for three excellent games isn’t too much to ask, then do yourself a favour and pick this up if you’re an RPG fan.