visions of mana

Visions Of Mana Hands-On Preview – An Encouraging Return Of A Classic

Happy Mana Tree Friends.

It’s wild to think that it’s been well over 15 years since the last mainline entry in the Mana franchise. That’s long enough for plenty of folks to have played video games all their life and still missed the most recent one. Of course, Square Enix has dropped plenty of ports, remakes and mobile titles in the time since, but Visions of Mana represents a pretty momentous occasion as a proper, original console release.

While I’ll admit I’ve not explored the huge catalogue of Mana spin-offs and other bits enough to call myself a solid fan, memories of Secret of Mana on the SNES as well as a dabbling in the most recent remake, Trials of Mana, have meant enough that my interest was well and truly piqued with Visions’ announcement. Now, thanks to the folks at Square Enix, I’ve had the opportunity to play a couple of short portions of the game myself and it’s shaping up to be something approachable by even total newcomers.

visions of mana

The preview build I played consisted of two sections of the game. One, a linear “dungeon field” segment that had me climbing a winding mountain and culminated in a boss fight, and another that let me loose in one of the game’s open zone areas. The former is a properly canned, convention-ready demo while the latter was a bit more of a freeform slice of the in-development game where I could stretch my legs and get a bit more of an idea of how its different systems come together.

Story-wise, I didn’t have a ton of context for either of these sections, but the overall plot is one that sees protagonist Val accompany his childhood friend, Hinna, on her quest to the great Tree of Mana in order to fulfil a long-held and vitally important tradition. It’s once again a spin on the quest for a magical, world-tending tree that’s synonymous with this series (and many others), so I’m curious to see how these new characters come into their own and what twists and turns await in their journey.

visions of mana

The Mana series has long hinged on ideas like nature and the elements and the way they factor into gameplay here feels appropriate. Your party will gradually accrue “Elemental Vessels” based on different elements and these are useful in a few key ways. While out exploring the world you’ll often come across Elemental Triggers which, as long as you’re in possession of the corresponding nature, will affect the environment in one way or another to help you get around – like a Wind trigger that summons uplifting drafts or holds aloft platforms to jump across.

Val and friends are quite nimble when out in the field, making exploring fun and breezy, and I imagine that this system of Elemental Triggers will create opportunities to return to previous areas with new powers in tow, so there should be fairly good reason to take the time to explore in Visions of Mana. Of course, you’ll also come across plenty of materials and items to collect, hidden chests, characters with side quests to offer and something called “Grizzly Syrup” that was never fully explained to me but was so ubiquitous as to feel pretty important. The overall structure of these zoned areas and how you traverse them is very reminiscent of other modern JRPGs like Tales of Arise, although the addition of the huge, rideable wolf pup-looking Pikuls is a very charming bonus.

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visions of mana

Similarly to that game, Visions of Mana’s dangerous fauna roam the fields in plain sight and will engage when you get close to them. Battles play out mostly in real-time with a fairly stock-standard combination of light and heavy attacks along with special attacks that cost MP to cast and are seemingly based on your character’s chosen Elemental Vessel and by effect their class. You can switch between all of your party members during battle, or even in the field, and they’ll otherwise act according to how you set them up ahead of time – something I didn’t get to fully explore but seems straightforward enough.

Both abilities and items can also be used from a radial menu that pauses the action when pulled up, which helps allow for some breathing room if things get overly hectic, though (and potentially just owing to it being early-game) I found fights quite easy-going throughout. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if that’s the case across the rest of the game either, keeping things nice and light would suit the overall tone, I think. The boss fight against a huge Mantis Ant in the second section I played did bring a bit more of a thrill, so it’s definitely there if you’re looking for it.

visions of mana

All throughout my demo, it was hard not to be completely charmed by Visions of Mana’s lush and painterly aesthetic, with its sweeping vistas and intricate character designs calling to mind games like Dragon Quest, Eternal Sonata or, again, Tales of Arise. It’s a strong look that seems very accomplished in these small portions I was able to witness, so I’m excited to see more of this world come to life. Enemy designs are as adorable as ever as well, maybe so much that it was hard to want to fight them at times, and if you’ve been playing these games for a while it’s always nice to see classic creatures looking their absolute best.

So far, in at least the short amount of time I’ve been able to spend with it, Visions of Mana feels somewhat safe. That’s more praise than criticism though, with this preview having struck a nice contrast to the dozens of hours of Dragon’s Dogma 2 I’ve been putting in lately. It’s light, it’s breezy, and it’s got all the hallmarks of a veteran franchise. I can’t wait to journey to the Tree of Mana later this year.