Collection of Mana (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Renan Fontes 22.08.2019 6

Review for Collection of Mana on Nintendo Switch

What began as a humble Final Fantasy spin-off for the Game Boy, didn't take long to blossom into a franchise of its own. Building off the foundation that Final Fantasy Adventure set, Secret of Mana turned Seiken Densetsu into a premiere JRPG series. Although the follow-up, Trials of Mana, was never localized in its original form, it maintained a cult following that touted it as one of the greatest RPGs on the Super Famicom, even surpassing its predecessor in quality. For the first time in history, all three games are now available to play in one single package in the West. Collection of Mana is here, and Seiken Densetsu's future has never looked brighter.

The fact that Collection of Mana prioritizes Final Fantasy Adventure and the 1993 Secret of Mana over their remakes is telling. That Trials of Mana was included with an officially localized script instead of Sword of Mana more so. Collection of Mana's goal is to present the classics as they are, warts and all. As to be expected, there are UI elements that can influence the game, including a save state system that can come in handy when grinding for items. There are screen options to toggle around with (although not much) and each game includes a full music player for anyone seeking out the trilogy's excellent soundtrack.

How all three games relate to each other in particular is something worthy of particular discussion. They are the first three instalments in the franchise, so it only makes sense to include them, but each once is very reflective of an era of game design. Collection of Mana's biggest strength is how it takes players through time. It's a brief period of time, granted, only going from 1991 to 1995, but those four years were very important for the medium. They're generally the most important years when it comes to Mana as well. All three titles share rather storied development histories, and playing them back to back to back shows a clear growth in quality.

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Of course, it isn't as if Final Fantasy Adventure isn't better than its successors in some way. It may be the "worst" of the bunch, but it's a gem of an RPG that tells the best story in the franchise. That said, the title's age shows more so than either Secret of Mana or Trials of Mana. Released in 1991 for the Game Boy, Final Fantasy Adventure was an incredibly early action RPG for the handheld, and it shows. Neither its movement or combat are as refined as Link's Awakening's for instance. Protagonist Sumo doesn't move as smoothly, and the overworld isn't anywhere near as clean as other grid map based games on the Game Boy.

That said, it's important to recognize that Final Fantasy Adventure had to bring a lot to the table as one of the earliest action RPGs on the handheld. Most notably, it successfully pulled off a grid map, landmarks, progression-based levelling, and narrative-driven gameplay. The RPG certainly doesn't pull these feats off as gracefully as it should - the grid map only has five landmarks - but it sets a very important foundation. Combat specifically is surprisingly fun, even if there isn't much mechanical depth. Sumo has access to half a dozen different weapons, all with their own play styles. His weapons can even interact with the overworld, getting rid of obstacles in the way. This does lead to a lot of menu time when exploring, but it's also commendable game design for 1991.

While sword fighting is fun, it's the levelling system that makes combat memorable. Not only does Sumo level up reasonably fast, he's able to select from four stats every level up. These stats end up affecting Sumo's whole stat pool, giving players an incredible amount of freedom when it comes to character building. That alone gives the title an edge over its contemporaries. Just as importantly, the scope of the story gave a legitimacy to handheld gaming, at least as far as narratives went. The story opens in right on the action, forcing the player into a boss battle only to reveal that their best friend was dying before their eyes. It's hard to feel an emotional connection to the sudden plot, but that's not what the script is going for.

Screenshot for Collection of Mana on Nintendo Switch

At its core, Final Fantasy Adventure is a tragedy in the most classic sense. It goes back to the early roots of modern storytelling and manages to pull off a viscerally charged epic on an 8-bit handheld. There are even subtle character arcs for Sumo and his love interest Fuji, a rarity for the time. Characters die in real ways; the main character doubts himself; and Fuji suffers in ways that Sumo can't remedy. It's a surprisingly mature title all things considered. Tragically, the script's localization was incredibly rushed, leading to a very stilted translation. That said, the plot is engaging enough where this is easy to overlook. The sprites aren't too expressive, but they manage to tell the story visibly as well. To be blunt, most of the collection suffers from lousy localization. While it's nice that the first two entries are presented as is, both Final Fantasy Adventure and Secret of Mana desperately needed re-localized scripts.

The latter of which suffers the more so because of its shoddy script due to the fact that Secret of Mana's story isn't anywhere near as engaging or as well paced as its predecessor's. Characters are more visually memorable, but the writing does the cast little favour. The plot is already incredibly subdued for its first two acts and the script just makes it all the worse. That said, the second Mana title saves itself with incredible visual storytelling. What the script lacks in depth, the world flourishes with layers. The way the scope gradually grows as the game progresses is downright incredible. The first two to three hours will be spent in one small area, but a cannon blast into the sky shows how large the world really is.

The main party may not interact much, but the way their journey progresses all in the player's hands is enough for a perceived intimacy to be formed. Of the three features games on the collection, Secret of Mana does the best job when it comes to exploration. It also features the most interesting dungeon design of the bunch. Final Fantasy Adventure doesn't excel when it comes to dungeon design, but its sequels fixes all its issues out the gate. Dungeons are visually memorable, easy to navigate (but not too easy), and don't overburden players by making them look for walls to break down. There's a clear, logical improvement when it comes to level design.

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The more layered dungeon-eering is made even better by the excellent progression system. While Randi, Primm, and Popoi can't pick their own stats like Sumo could, they all have their own individual weapon levels and spell levels. Randi doesn't have any magic, so he's stuck with just the weapon levels, but this naturally leads to a considerable amount of gameplay variety. The eight weapons can be equipped by the entire party and they all play differently as well, allowing for a decent bit of party member customization. Weapons can weapon experience from defeating enemies whereas spells gain experience form each use. While magic played a role in the first game, it wasn't overly present.

As a result, Secret of Mana opts to greatly expand the magic system - for better and for worse. The added combat depth is much needed, and leads to more engaging boss fights. Unfortunately, using a spell slows down the gameplay a lot. It can be very time consuming churning out spell after spell, but it's sometimes necessary. There's nothing wrong with gameplay that requires a bit of patience, but the slowness present here might be a bit too much. Trials of Mana does end up rebalancing magic along with varying up spell times, but it isn't all that better, more or less lifting the magic system from its predecessor. Interestingly, Secret of Mana features a game specific mechanic amongst the collection.

Where Sumo could attack like mad in the original adventure, Randi has a stamina meter that needs to be refilled between each attack. This keeps combat from getting mindless, along with adding in a layer of strategy to the action. Randi can also charge up attacks based on his weapon level, which particularly helps spice up boss fights. In terms of pacing, the series' second outing does struggle quite a lot. The story takes a long time to get going, making the first half almost seem aimless. It's only the promise of the ever growing scope that keeps the adventure from feeling pointless. Granted, the plot does end up kicking up the action considerably by the last act, but it's a journey getting there; and only a journey.

Screenshot for Collection of Mana on Nintendo Switch

Secret of Mana was actually being developed for the Super NES CD-Rom, but when development of the hardware fell through, Square needed to start gutting the RPG to account for the cartridge's smaller size. Much of what was cut ended up repurposed for Chrono Trigger, and would likely have helped meld the story and pacing better together. This isn't to say the story is a complete wash, however. The way in which the world reveals itself is incredibly charming, and a lot of the franchise's most iconic fixtures originate here. It's also here where the series began shying away from its Final Fantasy spin-off roots, better fleshing out its own image. Series creator Koichi Ishii has stated that Secret of Mana was "his" game, and the title very much has an auteur's touch.

Although Koichi Ishii did not return as director for Trials of Mana - acting as the title's designer instead - his vision for the series very much remains intact. Perhaps more importantly, Ishii's distancing from the director road more than likely allowed the franchise's third entry to develop a more unique identity of its own. Instead of following a static, linear story, audiences can choose between six playable characters, all of which have their own arcs that fall into three unique storylines with their own antagonists. Duran and Angela ultimately face off against the Dragon Lord; Hawkeye and Riesz challenge the Dark Prince; and Charlotte and Kevin fight the Masked Mage at the end of their journey.

Players also start off the adventure by selecting which three party member they'll be playing with. It is worth noting that audiences cannot mix and match the party so that they fight all three main antagonist; only the first selected character influences the story. From there, the other two influence smaller arcs and scenes. For anyone looking to get the most out of each individual narrative, it's suggested to make sure the second party member pairs with the first. (Angela for Duran, Riesz for Hawkeye, Kevin for Charlotte, and vice versa. Naturally, the open-ended nature at which the plot plays out does mean that certain party member pairings work better than others. Duran and Angela's story is very heavily implied to be canonical, so it might be worth picking first, but Hawkeye and Riesz share the most emotional and traditionally engaging storyline, while Charlotte and Kevin feature the most interesting plot.

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Difficulty also ends up playing a role in how play-throughs end up playing out. Interestingly, difficulty seems based on character age as well. Charlotte and Kevin, the youngest characters, have the easiest time getting through the story; Duran and Angela are about in-line difficulty wise with Secret of Mana; and Hawkeye and Riesz's storyline is by hard the hardest, capping off with the most challenging final boss in the collection. Even at its most difficult, however, getting through the adventure is completely doable. Like with the previous two entries, Trials of Mana emphasizes party customization, allowing players to craft a play style that best suits them. Rather than adhering to its predecessor's weapon and spell levelling system, however, the series' third entry takes after Final Fantasy Adventure. Customization comes not from weapon or spell variety, but stat selection.

Upon leveling up, each character can put one point into one of their stats. Stats occasionally cap based on level, disallowing parties from power-levelling a single stat, meaning that characters end up inherently balanced either way. More importantly, characters have classes this time around and can class change twice over the course of the journey. The first class change can be acquired at level 18, and will be the class players end up using for most of the game. The second class change isn't available until level 38, but it also requires a specific item for class changing, potentially pushing it off even further. Class changing not only increases a character's stat caps, but it also increases their base stats along with giving them new abilities.

Class changes aren't static, either. Each class change branches off in either a Light or Dark direction. Light classes emphasize support, whereas Dark classes emphasize offense. Upon switching to Light or Dark, the second class can allow party members to either go full Light, full Dark, or a mix of both. Including their starting class, each character has five unique classes. Naturally, this leads to an insane amount of gameplay variety. Trials of Mana is also better paced and shorter than Secret of Mana, giving the RPG a more organic sense of replayability. Finishing up Duran/Angela's story, it's not unusual to feel the urge to immediately play Hawkeye/Riesz's. That said, while this style of storytelling does lead to some great gameplay driven plot progression, the stories themselves do leave a lot to be desired.

Screenshot for Collection of Mana on Nintendo Switch

Should a party be missing paired characters (Duran, Charlotte, and Hawkeye instead of Duran, Angela, and Hawkeye, for instance) anyone looking to get into the meat of the story may as well restart. The only way to get the full narrative for each plot is to pair characters together. More importantly, most character arcs don't end up as full if characters are left unpaired (though meaningful arc moments do occur). All three of the core plots have their own unique problems as well. Duran and Angela's gets into the lore of the world with the most vigour, but Duran's character arc leaves a lot to be desired, whereas Angela's is stretched a bit too thin over the course of the game. Hawkeye and Riesz have the most engaging plot along with sharing the script's most emotionally charged moments, but their plot feels very disconnected from the rest of the game; and Charlotte and Kevin end up with a rather low stakes story that struggles to maintain the inherent drama of its sister storylines.

To put it bluntly, however, the Mana franchise doesn't excel when it comes to storytelling, even if Final Fantasy Adventure does set an incredible precedent. Trials of Mana has an interesting enough story, but it's better in concept than it is in execution - which isn't that much of a problem since the title's strength comes from its world building, level design, and combat. In the same way Secret of Mana was logically improved upon Final Fantasy Adventure, Trials of Mana logically improves upon Secret of Mana. The world's scope isn't as slowly built, but it's built up far more impactfully. Dungeons don't reward exploration much, but they're all very tightly designed; and combat is far more refined than it was before, making melee a viable alternative to spellcasting.

Cannon travel returns, but the story takes players through three distinct phases this time around. The first sees the party travelling across a small section of the world through cannon travel; the second gives the party the means to travel the sea, opening up the world map considerably; and the last sees the return of Flammie, the franchise's airship analogue. Upon unlocking sea travel, the party can search for the Mana sprites in any order, adding a nice layer of variety to the experience. This is doubled down on even further during the second half, where party members can tackle the seven mid-game dungeons and bosses in any order whatsoever. Dungeons do end up scaling, so the order at which each boss is defeated can end up making the ordeal harder or easier, but it's fantastic for the game's replay value that so much of the adventure moves at the whims of the player.

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Again, it has to be mentioned that this approach does end up hitting the story's overall quality quite hard, since there isn't much room for natural narrative progression. Players are more or less locked into individual story beats for hours on end. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does end up leading to a rather underdeveloped story. That said, like Secret of Mana before it, Trials of Mana does a great job expressing the story's progression through gameplay. Even more so, since the six playable characters have far more depth than Sumo, Randi, Primm, or Popoi. Duran is a hot-headed swordsman who wants to prove himself; Angela is a lazy mage with a talent for magic, and a mother who wants to kill her; Hawkeye is a Robin Hood-esque thief looking to save his implied lover, Jessica; Riesz is an Amazon princess who desperately wants to find her brother; Kevin is a docile half-beastman warrior who wants to take revenge on his father; and, finally, Charlotte is a young mage who wants to save someone she has a crush on.

Not all character motivations are particularly noble or engaging, but they do help make the main cast all the more unique. Each character has a viable reason as to why they might need the Sword of Mana, and their individual arcs all make sense. More importantly, each character has its own play style. Duran fights with heavy sword swings; Angela has her offensive magic; Hawkeye can attack twice, fast, and use light magic; Kevin hits insanely hard and can attack twice like Hawkeye; Charlotte has access to quite a lot of supportive magic; and Riesz is an incredibly balanced character who works well in any situation. The stamina meter does not make a return, but combat still doesn't fall into pure button mashing territory. Instead, characters enter a brief cooldown period after attacking. This makes characters like Hawkeye and Kevin quite viable in any party, since they can attack two times in a row. That said, the waiting period isn't particularly long and instead of charging up attacks, characters can use Techs.

Upon filling up the Tech meter, party member can trigger special attacks that feature their own unique animation. Each class change ends up giving party members one more Tech level to choose from. It should be noted that several enemies and bosses do end up countering Tech directly which can discourage players from using their abilities, but this is simply a part of the overall enemy design that needs to be accounted for. While enemies do also counter spells, they seem to do so less often thankfully. Of all the reasons to purchase Collection of Mana, Trials of Mana singlehandedly justifies the collection's price tag, especially since this is the first time the RPG has been officially translated into English. That said, both Final Fantasy Adventure and Secret of Mana are more than worth playing. The collection showcases an era of gaming where Mana was still finding its identity. It makes for an experience unlike any other, watching a franchise grow and change with each entry. As far as collections go, Collection of Mana is a surprising, lovely treat.

Screenshot for Collection of Mana on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Offering three of the best action RPGs of all time, in one complete package, Collection of Mana is a must play for fans of the series, the genre, and the medium. Final Fantasy Adventure's humble simplicity shines to this day, culminating in an unforgettable adventure; Secret of Mana fleshes out its predecessor's gameplay in all the right ways while establishing the Mana franchise's aesthetic; and Trials of Mana offers western games the opportunity to play one of the greatest sequels of all time with an official English translation. Collection of Mana has its quirks, but there's no good reason to skip out on this legendary compilation.

Also known as

Collection of Mana

Developer

Square

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

3

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date None   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date None   

Comments

Our member of the week

Why they didn't include Sword of Mana, which is essentially a retelling of the first game, is beyond me. I love the first, it was my very first rpg outside of Zelda, but sword of mana looks so gorgeous by comparison and holds up better imho. 

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

I never understood why Seiken Densetsu 3 has an INSANE amount of fanart for it (mostly the girls) despite being a japan only title most of its life (excluding translations)

I just can't bring myself to pay that much for the collection though. Even if it is a solid set of games

Our member of the week

Flynnie said:
I just can't bring myself to pay that much for the collection though. Even if it is a solid set of games

I already own original copies of all three (european of the first two, japanese of the third) all complete in box except for the first, but I'm still getting this regardless. It's my childhood right there. They were some of the VERY FEW games of that era to be translated in my native language (French) which meant they were my entry point into the RPG genre at a young age.
 

( Edited 23.08.2019 12:10 by RudyC3 )

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

I am still tempted but I just can't bring myself to spend £30 but I understand the nostalgia!

Our member of the week

Bit disappointed after I got my physical copy of this. The French translation included of Secret of Mana is the original, not the improved iOS version script which fans managed to backport as a patch for the original SNES version.

Moreover, because the French and Greman translation only ever existed in 50Hz form, this port to Switch runs them at 60Hz instead so some of the cutscenes which were sped up for 50Hz so the music would match, such as the intro sequence, now run too fast, so the cutscene completes before the sound effect that plays during the mode 7 camera pan of the world map doesn't get to complete its playback and ends abruptly.

I mean it's great that these games can be played in those languages at 60Hz at last (the original carts had a security check on bootup preventing those games from running on 60Hz modded PAL machines or NTSC machines) but then a slight rework of the cutscenes associated would have been welcome.

EDIT: Also none of the included scaling options scales up the status screens of Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana right. Those used the SNES's special 512x224 resolution mode in a 4:3 aspect ratio and here screens using that mode result in uneven pixel scaling.

( Edited 02.09.2019 14:38 by RudyC3 )

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

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