Visions of Mana looks prepped to bring Square Enix's Action RPG series back into the limelight

Note: Independently, another writer - Scott White - had the opportunity to check out Visions of Mana during PAX East. If you'd like to read his impressions on the game, you can find them here.

It can be hard to keep track of just how many RPG series that Square Enix has in its back catalog; yet with Visions of Mana it feels like a revival that doesn't require much explanation. For anyone who was a fan of Square Enix on the Super Nintendo, Secrets of Mana remains a fond classic - and 2020's Trials of Mana remake proved that the series still had a place in Square Enix's modern lineup. Needless to say - we were excited to see more, and we had the opportunity to do just that earlier this month when we were invited to Square Enix's offices to get an early hands-on with the game.

Unlike Scott's demo, ours was structured a bit different. While we still had two different bespoke builds to play - a more linear action stage culminating in a boss against a giant Praying Mantis and a far more open field area - we were given considerably more time to get acquainted with the open zone. 

The obvious comparison point will be Trials of Mana (2020), and for good reason; though Visions sports a considerably larger scope. The game is gorgeous, with both a vibrant artstyle and a surprising draw distance. Hopping aboard a trusty Pikul we had the chance to explore all of the nooks and crannies in front of us - with a few key exceptions. This meant finding treasure chests that might require some platforming, tackling enemies and combat challenges dotted across the map, and picking up sidequests from a few NPCs dotted about.

Performance was far from a locked 60 FPS, and overall it reminded me quite a bit of Final Fantasy XVI's performance mode prior to launch; according to Square Enix representitives this is intended to be smoothed out prior to release. Graphics mode targets a 4K resolution at 60 FPS on PlayStation 5 - which is what we played on. There will also be a performance mode, which begs the question if the game will support higher than 60 FPS if Graphics mode is meant to be targetting 60 FPS as it is. Unsurprisingly, we were told that Steam Deck players can expect the game to be playable on the system at launch.

Exploring the open world was interesting, but it's clear that Visions of Mana is not a traditional open world - and that's ok. Even beyond the fact that the game is split between more open areas and considerably more linear and bespokely designed levels, the open zones clearly feel like a means to fill out the world. The sidequests that we completed weren't anything extraordinary, though they were by no means bad. On the flip side, there's clearly reason to return to previous locations as you progress through the story; not only did we find a location with enemies considerably above our level in the demo, but we also found numerous areas where we could presumably use Elements we might find later in the adventure.

From what we had the chance to experience, it feels like it offers a comfortable balance amongst the game's contemporaries, both from within and without of Square Enix. Not every game needs to be a meticuously crafted open world, and I'm ok with that. What I do have more questions about are how the game's combat and mechanics might evolve later on. Some of the level design from the linear demo, even if a bit simple, was promising in that regards.

Visions of Mana's combat feels like an evolution of Trials of Mana's - and each character's playstyle can change fairly drastically depending on the Elemental that they've equipped. Karina can play akin to a Dragoon or a Dancer depending on the Elemental equipped; while I had a lot of fun having Mortrea give his best Vergil impression when he was equipped with a Katana. Combat was a bit on the simple side in the open-ended demo, but as players get access to more items and abilities - and going off of the linear demo - I'm sure it won't be too much of a problem later on.

Compared to its contemporaries, Visions of Mana looks to be a breath of fresh air in a year absolutely packed with massive, open-world RPGs - and I can confidently say I'm excited to see what the rest of the game has in store for us when it launches later this Summer on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbos Series X|S and PC.