Published on March 29th, 2024 | by Nathan Misa

Visions of Mana Hands-on Preview: JRPG Joyride

ImpulseGamer recently had the welcome opportunity to check out Visions of Mana, the first mainline game in the long-running action role-playing game (RPG) series in 15 years. These are our first-hand impressions of Square Enix’s revisit and fresh revival of the beloved franchise.

Do you ever get that inexplicable craving for a cozy, light-hearted, colourful RPG like I do?

With so many video games these days focused around high-stakes storylines and grimdark worlds, it’s sometimes nice to get lost in an experience that’s a little more familiar. Visions of Mana, the latest entry in Square Enix’s long-running Mana RPG series, fits the bill perfectly.


During our hands-on preview opportunity, I got to dive into two distinct sections of Visions of Mana showing off the semi-open-field environments of Fallow Steppe and Mt. Gala, which seemed to be set in the opening hours of the game’s mostly yet-to-be-revealed storyline involving protagonist Val and his childhood friends on a pilgrimage to the sacred Mana Tree. The premise on offer, however, is boilerplate but charming enough; as the appointed soul guard, Val is accompanying his friend Hinna, who has been named Alm of Fire, to Mana Tree to help rejuvenate the flow of mana power, embarking on a coming-of-age adventure as they travel.

For those unfamiliar, Visions of Mana is an action-RPG played in the third-person perspective, with an emphasis on exploring the world both on-foot and while riding quite possibly the cutest new fictional fantasy creature in RPGs this year, the Pikuls (think a black wolf crossed with a fox and the face of Toothless the dragon), who can be summoned at any time. Your party of three are all represented on the field, and each member is fully controllable both in and out of battle. The preview build showed off a lot of inter-party banter amongst the small group, which was light-hearted and funny, though the lip-syncing work for the English dub wasn’t the best on offer.


The opening Fallow Steppe area is a lush, vibrant set of open fields filled with enemies that the developers couldn’t help but make look almost too cute to fight (think flying fairies, anthropomorphic porcupines, and cute looking slime creatures). The Mt.Gala section of the preview was more of a guided slice of the main story, which showed off some of the light platforming and special abilities that can be used to navigate certain areas of the map. It was nothing too drastically different to other RPG titles on the market, but definitely expansive and full of little secrets and side-quests to discover for completionists and anyone wanting to get lost in the world.

While I wasn’t able to engage in many story-based quests during my short preview session, just by exploring I was able to discover a set of hidden treasure chests atop a ruined tower, and a well-hidden mob with a high-level mini-boss encounter that was genuinely tough to beat. It was in these sections I was able to get a good grasp of the action-oriented, real-time combat systems of Visions of Mana, and for the most part I was pleasantly surprised. Each party member has a series of basic, string-able attacks to unleash against foes that differ based on their weapon type and class type, as well as special elemental abilities that unleash unique moves depending on the corresponding element equipped. Some of the special abilities included a helpful regenerative heal effect, a spell that restricted enemy movement and others that unleashed basic gusts of wind and bursts of fire. There’s a whole system, called Elemental Vessels that govern the customization opportunities of combat and even using these abilities during exploration sections, which I hope is nicely fleshed out by the time of the full release.

As for the visuals, Visions of Mana leans into its high-fantasy RPG origins with wonderfully impractical but distinctive character designs, costumes and cute flying dragon side-kicks. Val is the typical heroic anime-esque protagonist, a beaming knight sworn to protect his friends with a big sword. His childhood friends Hinna and Careena are bubbly and sassy companions, while Morley, a bunny/humanoid nobleman, rounds out the core party with a painful past. The enemy variety, meanwhile, was excellent, with a ton of different cute critter and monster designs that series creator Koichi Ishii directly translated from sprite-form into the game’s modern engine.

I’m not a long-time Mana fan as some, but it’s all definitely still in-line with what has come before in this long-running franchise. The English voice-over, for those who don’t switch straight to Japanese VO with English subtitles, was appropriately up-beat and expressive for a world-spanning adventure, with the southern-belle performance of Careena being a surprise highlight.

The game offered two graphics modes during preview that prioritized either performance or visuals, and for the most part the performance mode held 60 frames-per-second during exploration, with a few obvious dips when I engaged in fights with large-sized mobs. I hope that the developers can tidy the frame-rate up in time for launch, but it’s clear there is some optimization work to do. As mentioned earlier, character models, while lively and colourful, lacked lip-syncing during cutscenes and there was a lot of awkward animation work that definitely took me out of the storytelling at times. It’s not a big-budget title by any means, but every bit of polish helps if Visions of Mana is going to stand out from the crowd of high-quality Japanese-developed RPGs we’ve been all spoiled with in 2024.

All in all, I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into Visions of Mana once the full game is in our hands. As a big fan of Tales of Arise and action RPG’s in general, the real-time combat systems and colourful fantasy world teased in this preview session has been more than enough to capture my interest. If the quality of the characters, quests, storylines and lore can hold up the fantastic artwork and fast-paced gameplay, then we’re in for another JRPG treat.

Visions of Mana is set to release in Q3 2024 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC and Steam.

About the Author'

A senior writer for and former writer for MMGN and Ninemsn, Nathan has been reviewing video games and interviewing talented developers since 2012. As a nostalgia tragic eternally tied to the glorious 1990s, he's always playing retro gaming classics whenever he's not entrenched in the latest RPG, or talking your ear off about why The First Law book series is better than Game of Thrones - to anyone who dares listen.

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