Visions of Mana – Hands-on Preview

After a fifteen year wait, the next entry in the long-running Mana series is slated to arrive within the year. Visions of Mana is shaping up to be something that will please fans and newcomers alike, and I (a newcomer) was able to get a sneak peek with some hands-on time with the game thanks to Square Enix. Though the series is one that has always been on that elusive backlog list for me, after getting some time with this new adventure, I’m ready to go back to the beginning and play all the series has to give me right now. 

From the moment I was dropped into the first area featured in the demo, I was charmed by this vibrant fantasy world. The open field, known as ‘Fallow Steppe’, was the perfect place to get to know the protagonist, Val, and his band of buddies. I didn’t get a whole lot of narrative context in this section – or in the demo at all – but I was privy to some of their party banter that hinted at the journey Val, along with childhood friend Hinna, were undertaking. Hinna has been chosen to travel to the Tree of Mana and play an integral role in rejuvenating the flow of mana – a magical energy – to the world, with Val as her guard. It was clear that the two are thrilled to go on this journey together, and the banter between them was very sweet. I wasn’t able to learn much about the other party members Careena and Morley, but Careena and her small beastly buddy Ramcoh seem to possess some kind of powerful magic, and perhaps play a key role in the story. 

My time in Fallow Steppe was spent doing side quests like clearing critters from the front yard of a stressed out villager, picking fights with groups of adorable (but grumpy) foes, and collecting random resources that I assume will be used later in crafting or combat, but the most important part was the way I travelled across the map itself. You can run, sure, and it will allow you to spend more time enjoying the game’s appropriately rousing score, but you’ll get where you’re going more quickly with the help of a Pikul. Pikuls are the game’s mounts – adorable huge wolf-like creatures with eyes that invite you to stare into their souls. When you call them using your bell they do sort of fall down on your head in a slightly alarming way, but once you get past the initial shock, it’s all cuteness all the time. If you put your controller down for a moment and your character starts doing their idle animation, the Pikul will lie down and have a little rest too. I’m ready to ride with the Pikuls until the end, even through tight and inconvenient spaces. 

The second part of my demo put me in a section called Mt. Gala, a winding linear mountaintop path that had me giving my Pikul a rest and getting to experience one of the game’s ‘Elemental Vessels’. These Elemental Vessels contain mana from different elements, and can be used to access new areas or switch up combat. Using elemental triggers found throughout the world, you can conjure up powerful forces like gusts of wind to propel you across large gaps, or high into the air. The one I had access to, Sylphid’s Boomerang, did just that, but I’m excited to see what the others will do. 

Elemental Vessels also allow characters to switch to new classes, with each new element granting a different set of skills and stats. When testing out these elemental powers against a gigantic mantis I fought at the peak of Mt. Gala, it quickly became clear that these powers can absolutely be used to turn the tides in a fight and get you out of sticky situations. Each new class also comes with a new look for your characters, and given this is a classic JRPG with the aesthetic to match, I predict we’ll see some gorgeous and generally wild outfits. 

Visions of Mana clearly has a lot of depth to it, and I was only able to scratch the very surface in the limited amount of time I had with it. But even in that short time, I was captivated by the bright and inviting world, even as someone who had no history with the series. I wanted to know more about Val, Hinna, and their relationship. I was intrigued by Careena, with her one broken wing, and Ramcoh, who followed along eagerly as we explored the world but whose presence raised a lot of questions. This is a series known for taking players on grand adventures, and when the aesthetic looks as beautiful as this I’m more than willing to go along for the ride. 

Visions of Mana will release later this year on PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series S | X. 


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