Visions of Mana Looks Like the Nostalgic Throwback RPG I've Been Craving

A blast from the past.

Visions of Mana
Square Enix

It’s been over 15 years since Square Enix released a brand-new Mana game, even though we’ve seen a few remakes. That makes Visions of Mana a momentous event, a chance for the franchise to finally push forward. In an unexpected twist, though, the way to do that is by directly embracing the past. Visions of Mana looks like a throwback RPG given a coat of modern paint, and I’m hopeful it might fill a void that’s kept growing in recent years.

A new trailer released by Square Enix shows off a bit of combat and exploration in Visions of Mana, alongside dozens of previews sprouting from PAX East. While have been largely positive, the thread that runs through almost all of them is a “classic feel.”

It’s sometimes hard to peg what a game feeling classic or nostalgic really means, but in this case, it seems like a deliberate effort on Square Enix’s part to evoke a feeling, an attempt to capitalize on the nostalgia so many players feel more the heyday of ‘90s RPGs. Every aspect of the game feels laser-focused on evoking those memories: the whimsical storybook art style, the crunchy but somewhat janky-looking combat, cute animal companions, and the classic hero with a big sword.

In an interview with Eurogamer, Mana series producer Masura Oyamada says "Through creating all these various remakes, we had already been thinking a little bit and exploring the idea of a new installment, but with the release of Trials of Mana in 2020, seeing how the game was really received well by fans, that became a defining moment when we decided it was the right time to be able to create a new release."

With that context, it makes sense that Visions looks so similar to Trials of Mana, as the 2020 remake seems like it served as a foundation for the new titles. What’s really important here, though, is how both games embrace an idea that’s becoming disappointingly elusive in modern games, the smaller-scale AA experience.

The cost of video game development has been exhaustively discussed these days, putting more and more emphasis on big AAA experiences needing to succeed. Square Enix certainly falls into that category with its big games, like Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, but the company has also shown a willingness to greenlight smaller, more experimental titles, games like Paranormasight, The DioField Chronicle, Harvestella, Valkyrie Elysium, and more. Not all of these have had the best results, but there’s an argument to be made that we needed smaller experiences more than ever, more restrained in their scope.

Visions of Mana’s art style evokes a classic storybook style while still feeling modern.

Square Enix

That’s exactly what appeals to me about Visions of Mana. It’s cute and charming but crucially doesn’t look overwhelming in its scope and gameplay ideas. So many RPGs flourished on systems like the PS1 and PS2 because they honed in on specific elements: contained stories like Parasite Eve, dynamic combat systems like Vagrant Story, and unique party mechanics like Radiata Stories. So many of those era’s games had strong core elements that made them unique, with a restrained scope that squarely kept the focus on those core elements.

Maybe it’s too early to truly judge, but everything I’ve seen of Visions of Mana feels remarkably similar to the games of yesteryear. Every new look puts its cast of characters and gorgeous world first, but just like Trials of Mana it doesn’t look like it’s bogged down by side quests, open world activities, or optional content.

Some of the best games of the last few years have been massive 100-hour RPGs, like Baldur’s Gate 3 and Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. But a part of me yearns for RPGs that I won’t have to play for weeks on end.

Visions of Mana launches this Summer on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

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