Fans of 90s JRPGs, especially those released for the SNES, will have been watching Trinity Trigger closely. The game boasts a veritable dream team of some of the best JRPGs of the past 30 years, including those who worked on Xenoblade Chronicles, Octopath Traveler and, of course, Secret of Mana. There is a lot going on for Trinity Trigger; fortunately, it managed to exceed our expectations in most areas.
The world of Trinitia is at the center of an endless war between the Gods of Order and the Gods of Chaos. To avoid destroying everything in their conflict, the gods agreed to choose a champion and have them fight in their stead, but not before many of their weapons, called Armas, were scattered across the surface. Giant spears, axes and swords have become home to monsters and scavengers as the gods wait to see whether the Warrior of Chaos or Order will prevail.
It’s a simple setup for the game’s plot, but it does a good job setting the stage for the adventure that unfolds. Our hero, Cyan, is the Warrior of Chaos, who isn’t portrayed as an evil force in this setting. Instead, chaos is seen as freedom, while order is more stifling and controlling. Forces conspire to prevent Cyan from fulfilling his destiny to keep the war between the gods as long as possible. Their goal is to kill one of the champions before their climactic battle can be waged.
Cyan is joined by Elise and Zantis, both of whom are drawn to aid him in his quest due to the influence of one of the world’s gods. The three heroes are bonded to the Triggers, strange beings who can transform into weapons in battle. Triggers can unlock new forms by exploring the Weapons of the Gods, which form the basis for the game’s main quest. Visit the new Arma to unlock new weapons as you try to stop Cyan from being killed. Rinse and repeat until you unlock all eight weapons for each character.
The storyline feels a little too simple at times, with the rope that guides you from dungeon to dungeon pulling a little too hard. The world, as bright and colorful as it is, never seems open enough to get lost. We’ve been told that Cyan is in mortal danger, but it never seems that danger is present enough to make us fearful. Side quests tend to be shallow and simple, with simple rewards that don’t offer much incentive for completing them. None of that is bad, but it looks like they could have had more meat to them. There’s a touch of nuance to the way the game explores good and evil, but it doesn’t tend to go much deeper than the surface level.
Where Trinity Trigger succeeds is in combat and design. Fans of Secret of Mana or even Secret of Evermore will see many similarities here; weapons or items can be chosen from ring menus, and players can switch between controlling one of three characters whenever they wish. You can even engage in good old-fashioned local co-op, which we encourage because the AI-controlled characters sometimes make some puzzling choices. They are good at avoiding obviously telegraphed attacks from the enemy, but will repeatedly fall straight into a spike trap without a second thought. Additionally, AI-controlled characters never use their powerful Trigger Strikes or Weapon Aures, making them significantly less powerful.
Multiplayer doesn’t unlock until about two hours into the game, once you’ve recruited all three characters to your party. It is local only and can be toggled on and off from the game’s main menu. There are some weaknesses we didn’t expect, like only the main player being able to open chests or talk to NPCs, but overall it made Trinity Trigger a better experience to play.
It would have been easy for the team to rely solely on nostalgia to fuel Trinity Trigger’s appeal. The combat feels familiar but avoids becoming a mere rehash of what we’ve already seen. The music was instantly recognizable as the work of Hiroki Kikuta, with several songs evoking deep memories of the Mana series, but it didn’t feel stale or dated. As much as this game wants you to know that it relies on nostalgia, it never completely relies on it. There’s a lot here to make it a great JRPG experience on its own.
Battles take place in real-time, with players hitting enemies with a series of attacks as long as their action gauge remains full. Some weapons drain faster or deal more damage than others, so you can choose which ones work best for you. There is no magic system in the game, so these weapons are the only source of power for the characters. You can choose which combination of moves each weapon uses and which stats its equipment boosts, giving Trinity Trigger a limited but adequate sense of customization.
Scattered among the regular enemies are boss fights, which introduce an armor gauge that must be depleted before their hit points can be attacked directly. Most of them have a weakness for certain weapons, but they can feel like a slog even when you take full advantage of those weaknesses. None of them feel adequately challenging, giving you plenty of warning before they unleash a major attack so you can get out of the way. We only died once during our playthrough of the game, which might make it a touch easy for some.
Thankfully, the legendary grind required for many 90s JRPGs isn’t needed here. Each weapon in a character’s arsenal shares a pool of points that you can use to level them up, so you can focus only on the weapons they use and the skills they have equipped. It’s a more efficient system that lends itself to shorter game run times. It took around 25 hours to complete the main storyline of Trinity Triggers, although you can complete it by completing side missions or leveling up all your skills.
The cutscenes that play at key moments in the game are beautiful to look at, with a sort of hand-painted anime that looks like something out of a picture book. The character portraits that are shown during most conversations are of this style, which compensates for how simplistic the animation is generally. Trinity Trigger isn’t trying to push the boat out when it comes to visuals, but what he does works well enough that you won’t mind. We ran into a couple of frame rate issues twice during our time with the game, both times in portable mode.
Trinity Trigger is clearly trying to rely on fan nostalgia for 90s JRPGs, but it doesn’t make the mistake of relying solely on it. The characters are fun. The art and design are beautiful. The combat feels familiar enough with being derivative. Despite some repetitive dungeon designs and a storyline that doesn’t hold many surprises, Trinity Trigger is a great throwback to the golden era of JRPGs.
JRPG fans can rest easy knowing that Trinity Trigger will meet their high expectations; this is a nostalgia trip worth taking. While it’s not perfect, with gorgeous graphics and music, and a combat system that will feel both fresh and familiar, it’s a strong contender for one of the best JRPGs of 2023 so far. The storyline is nothing to write home about and it’s a bit easy, but it remains engaging, especially for fans of the Mana series. Hopefully, its proximity to the launch of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom doesn’t see Trinity Trigger overshadowed before it gets a chance to shine.