Visions of Mana Hands-on Preview – Fresh, familiar, fantastical

Posted on March 29, 2024

A vibrant, gorgeous landscape filled with collectibles to gather, colourful characters to befriend, and spectacular elemental powers to unleash all await in Visions of Mana, an upcoming action RPG from Square Enix. Taking inspiration from its predecessors, this new title promises both comforting nostalgia and satisfying modern RPG gameplay, delivering an experience that is at once fresh and familiar.

The classic Mana series of JRPGs has had something of an HD revival in the past few years, with SNES classic Secret of Mana receiving a 2018 glow-up and its sequel Trials of Mana getting a similar treatment in 2020. Visions of Mana, however, is the first brand-new adventure in the main series in over fifteen years. We were invited to a recent preview event where we could get hands-on with a development build of this cozy romp.

Visions of Mana sees you playing as Val, a plucky young swordsman from the Fire Village. When Val’s bestie Hinna is selected to be the “Alm of Fire” for an annual sacred pilgrimage to the Tree of Mana, the pair set out into the world and adventure ensues. Eventually, they meet up with draconic wind-sage Careena and feline dandy Morley to form a party of adventurers.

The core gameplay is typical for a semi-open world RPG: you’re exploring different biomes, battling monsters, gathering materials, and completing quests. What stands out immediately in Visions of Mana is the lusciousness of its world, the detail in its character designs, and the level of polish in its animations. Magical effects sparkle and dance beautifully across the screen, and each environment is lovingly rendered in bright, fantastical hues.

The first section of the preview began in the Fallow Steppe, a lush “starting area” filled with low-level enemies and beginner quests to complete. Here, you’re introduced to the basics of combat and the class system, which is driven by Elemental Vessels. Attaching a specific vessel to a character changes their weapon – the Vessel of Wind takes the shape of a boomerang, which modifies characters to appear more agile and unlocks air magic.

You can change character with the flick of a button to completely alter your attacks and available abilities, or to access specific elemental effects. This is especially useful in group combat, where particularly powerful Elemental Vessels can be game-changing. I found it immensely satisfying to switch to the character with the Vessel of Time equipped and unleash a giant orb that freezes enemies within it, just to wail on all of my foes unabated. Depending on their class, each character plays quite differently as well. With the builds available in the preview, Val employed slow, heavy sword attacks, while Morley could juggle enemies in the air and Careena would unleash magical attacks and provide party healing.

As well as covering combat, the journey through Fallow Steppe introduced Pikuls, dog-like companion creatures that can be summoned with a button press and ridden for faster exploration. These complement Visions of Mana’s generous traversal mechanics, which are unexpectedly great to use – chaining double jumps into dashes to reach far-away treasure chests feels very nice indeed. I also managed to stumble into an area with extremely high levelled enemies and got instantly destroyed, which delighted my Xenoblade-addled brain.

The second area in the preview session was Mt. Gala, which was a more linear journey up a mountain and showcased traversal in more detail. Sections of the mountain required using Elemental Vessels outside of battle, such as summoning gusts of wind to control air currents and aid in platforming. This section culminated in a boss fight against a giant ant-like creature with a big sword, which felt nicely epic. Here, the character-swapping mechanic really hit its stride – you could summon the time-stopping orb with one character, then quickly switch to your heaviest hitter and pummel the ant’s weak points for massive damage. Alternatively, you could call down bursts of lightning and hope to paralyze the enormous insect.

After just over an hour with Visions of Mana, I’m desperate to get my hands on the final build. The combination of tight action-JRPG combat, beautifully vibrant visuals, and cosy fantasy world design makes this title feel like an old friend that I can’t wait to reconnect with.

Visions of Mana is coming to Xbox, PlayStation, and PC later this year.

Bandai Namco flew the journalist to Sydney for this preview.