Visions Of Mana Preview: Classic Feel And Vivid Visuals Underpin The Return Of The Action-RPG Series
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Visions Of Mana Preview: Classic Feel And Vivid Visuals Underpin The Return Of The Action-RPG Series

Despite being whimsical and colorful adventures with flexible action-RPG combat to boot, the Mana series has largely existed through remakes instead of new entries for the past 15 years. This is what makes Visions of Mana–the first fully-realized entry in the modern sense in a long time–such a big deal for fans of Square Enix’s dormant franchise.

Visions of Mana makes the most of its newest outing with vast regions to explore, breathtaking vistas to take in, and an emphasis on magical elements woven into both its combat mechanics and exploration that create synergy between the two.

Now Playing: Visions of Mana | Announce Trailer

Having had the chance to play a brief two-part demo for Visions of Mana, I was left eager to dig into its systems as that’s where the game’s real potential lies. I spent the first part of the demo exploring the open region of Fallow Steppe, which let me get my feet wet in basic battles against enemies sprinkled throughout. The three controllable characters–Val, Careena, and Morley–all had their own combat classes with their own assortment of magic spells, and I could switch between any of them on the fly. It felt like pretty simple action-RPG fare with light and heavy attack combos and a mix of magic, but after this warm-up, I got to play through the Mt. Gala dungeon, which is a more linear story-based scenario with greater combat challenges.

I also had access to more advanced combat classes at Mt. Gala, and once I got to mess around with Morley as a Nightblade–a swift ninja dual-wielding daggers–I started to really feel the flow of Visions of Mana’s combat. This came in handy when I faced off against Mantis Ant, the gargantuan beast lurking at the end of Mt. Gala. With a huge combat arena and a fast opponent with multiple targetable parts, being fast and closing the gap was my solution to taking it down. Instead of using a heavy attack, I would teleport next to my target and start serving up quick combos, almost like a Warp Strike in Final Fantasy XV.

While the Nightblade class was definitely more of my speed when it comes to my preference in action combat, Val and Careena had their share of effective abilities such as fireballs and wind gusts to tack on big damage from a distance. The best damage dealer is the Limit Break-style Class Strike, which you can activate after filling up the CS Gauge. Each character has their own based on their class and they all come with brief, beautifully animated cinematic cuts before wreaking havoc.

Taking a step back, what I’m intrigued by is how the class system works. Elemental Vessels can be equipped to any character and these determine their class. However, each character has their own unique set of classes when equipping the same Elemental Vessels. For example, when Val has the wind-based Sylphid Boomerang, he becomes a heavy sword-wielding Rune Knight but if Careena equips that same Elemental Vessel, she turns into a nimble Dancer. And I could only access the Nightblade class if I had the Luna Globe equipped to Morley, or the paladin-inspired Aegis set to Val. This all may sound like standard action-RPG stuff, but combined with the variation available in each class and the specific playstyles they offer through every party member, it seems there’s a lot worth digging into that can genuinely change the gameplay experience.

It’s worth noting, though, that Visions of Mana sometimes doesn’t feel as fluid as it should be. While it’s definitely a step up from the Trials of Mana remake from 2020, there’s a bit of a stickiness when it comes to how characters move and attack. This took some getting used to and the targeting system was often a point of frustration in the demo–while the game does feature a lock-on mechanic, the camera struggles to follow the target, and since the right stick changes the target you lock onto, you can’t really move the camera to get a better view of the combat arena. We’ve seen several action-RPGs get this right in the past, and the hope is Visions of Mana can improve this small but important aspect before launch.

There wasn’t much story content shown in the demo since it was more focused on combat and the use of Elemental Vessels. From what I can tell, the main protagonist Val seems like your typical headstrong lead, but Visions of Mana appears to be giving its other party members proper screen time as well. After the Mt. Gala portion of the demo, I got to see Careena take the spotlight alongside her adorable owl-cat hybrid name Ramcoh as they saved the wind sylphid Mantis Ant. With her background of being half-dragon and half-human, she’s dubbed the One-Winged Oracle and the wind Sylphid agrees to lend her his power. In talking with the game’s producer Masaru Oyamada, he mentioned that we can expect to explore the various cultures that fill Visions of Mana’s world along with a story about questioning things that are taken at face value.

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As Oyamada told me, “One thing that we wanted to explore thematically was this idea that there might be certain things that people think of as a normal way of looking at the world. But that might not actually be the case. And so this feeling of sort of questioning what you feel is common sense is definitely an important theme to support the story.”

My broadest takeaway from playing roughly 30 minutes of Visions of Mana is that it’s going for a classic RPG feel. It’s not necessarily breaking the mold, but it’s a modern extension of Mana’s core elements wrapped in a bigger, more vibrant fantasy setting. While I’m interested in unraveling the possibilities with its class system, I’m hoping combat can be tightened up a bit more or evolve in a way that makes sense for the flow of its gameplay. However, it’s going to be the story, characters, and sense of adventure that will likely determine whether Visions of Mana can stand out among the sea of great RPGs we’ve seen in recent years.

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