Visions of Mana Is Simple Fun But a Little Sluggish
First Published: March 28, 2024

but also there's a big dog you can ride.

Janet Garcia

Visions of Mana is the first mainline title in the Mana series in over 15 years but, as a newcomer to the series, this doesn’t mean much to me. I don’t have the weight of expectation, I don’t have nostalgia, I don’t have context for what “going back to its roots” should mean for Visions of Mana, I just have the game in front of me. 

I got to go hands-on with Visions of Mana, playing two early areas: Mt. Gala and Fallow Steppe. I spent about 30 minutes in each section. It was alright. It didn’t wow me, but it didn’t concern me either. I left my preview feeling like I saw the pain points but I’ve yet to see the full potential which leaves me optimistic for the final game. At the same time, Visions of Mana feels like it has a ceiling. It’s a generally inoffensive experience but it's hard to imagine it turning out spectacular.

Setting the Scene

Structurally, Visions of Mana is semi-open world (open zone, wide-linear, choose your favorite term for it). Mt. Gala had a more linear layout while Fallow Steppe was significantly bigger, featuring plenty of save spots (that double as fast travel points) and side quests. We were told all the sections we played were emptier than they’ll be in the final build so we should expect more quests and NPCs in the future. 


My first impression of this action RPG’s combat is that it’s a bit slow and stiff. It almost felt like an input delay was happening as I had Val, the protagonist, swing his massive sword. Luckily, some of this sluggishness is alleviated by changing characters’ classes which gives them different stats, weapon types, unique abilities, and outfits. With a quick class change, Val played more to my liking even though he never became my favorite. 

Val using the Vessel of Wind to manipulate the world.

As you get various elemental vessels, you’ll be able to switch your characters’ classes which changes things up in battle. These elemental vessels can also trigger changes in the environment, giving them a purpose in exploration as well. In the demo, this was pretty simplistic. For instance, one of them was essentially wind which can give you a boost jump or summon rocks to form a bridge to cross a gap. It’s important to mention that these can only be used in specific spots, marked by elemental indicators. This isn’t a bad thing but this limitation speaks to the linearity of the world, even when you have several directions you can go in. 

During this demo, I was rolling with a party of three: Val, Careena, and Morley. You can change characters on the fly during combat so once I embraced the pace and experimented with the classes I fell into a good groove. Careena and Morley were my favorites to fight as; Careena had a magical flair to her and Morley felt zippier when it came to physical attacks. All characters can dash and the speed of it is pretty solid. 

Morley using the Vessel of the Moon, Luna Globe, to create spots that manipualte time. These are indicated as yellow, glowing areas

Abilities wise the Vessel of Moon: Luna Globe, was my favorite. I equipped this to Morley, making him the Nightblade class. This power can manipulate the flow of time: decreasing enemies’ speed and shortening allies’ casting time if they’re standing in the affected areas. The timing of this was pretty generous so I loved using it in combination with everything else in my arsenal. It was especially helpful with wrapping my head around the battlefield since the combination of three party members, a bunch of attacks, and a horde of enemies, can get visually overwhelming.

The elemental vessel ability is flashy and effective. Beyond that, there are also Class Strikes which are delightfully OP and executable once the meter for it fills: which goes up as you inflict/take damage. Most battles are light work but the boss fight at the end of the Mt. Gala section required a bit more thought simply because of its more specific attack pattern and chonkier health bar. Definitely a glimmer of hope that there could be more interesting combat scenarios ahead.

Cozy Vibes and Simple Jumps

The world has a cozy charm thanks to the cartoonish art style, quaint houses, and small towns that scatter the area. Wandering around the world collecting items and opening chests is a simple pleasure. Visions of Mana is by no means a platformer but jumping around feels good. You get some decent height and collectibles are placed to effectively breadcrumb you around the world. 

When I reached the Fallow Steppe portion of the demo I was able to summon the Pikul, a rideable big dog. The Pikul is a great, quick way to get around and you can still pick things up even when riding. Plus, they're adorable.

The Pikul looking lovingly into the camera. It's basically a big wolf type creature.

Side quests so far seem like they might fall into the classic: “go here and kill this for me please” trope but it’s too soon to comment confidently on the scope. One nice aspect to these quests is that some will display hint zones, indicating general areas that you need to investigate. This seems like a nice way to shake up the formula a bit. 

In Short

My preview time with Visions of Mana didn’t move it up or down on my list. It seems fine and I’d like to check out the full game but if this slips through the cracks for me it doesn’t seem particularly worth diving after. The combat isn’t to die for but the secret sauce seems to be the fun of experimenting with the elemental vessels’ affect on character classes and the wholesome, simplistic exploration of riding a Pikul across the countryside.