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Square Enix’s Messiest RPG Series Deserves A Comeback


It’s been 15 years since the last proper game in the Mana series, and that one wasn’t even any good. The Final Fantasy action-RPG spin-off’s legacy has been marked by more downs than ups, but the peaks still burn so brightly in fans’ memories that it’s hard to believe the franchise won’t one day make good on its earlier promise. Visions of Mana is being pitched as exactly that. I hope it doesn’t let us down.

Officially revealed during last night’s Game Awards ceremony, I initially mistook Visions of Mana for a Dragon Quest game. The trailer looked very pretty without being overly busy, and showed open environments and real-time combat that found a nice balance between barren PS2-era 3D zones and modern arenas bursting with too much detail. Not quite a big-budget blockbuster or a bold retro HD-2D reimagining, it seems to be charting a humble new beginning for the verdant fantasy franchise.

Mana series illustrator Airi Yoshioka’s designs sported glow-ups befitting the current PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S console generations, while snippets of a score by returning composers Hiroki Kikuta, Tsuyoshi Sekito and Ryo Yamazaki sounded promising. The action, meanwhile, centered on the massive Mana tree and a handful of fights bookended by familiar Rabites and a Mantis Ant boss.

Visions of Mana will come to PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, and PC sometime in 2024, at a time when Square Enix has been dipping into the back catalog more than usual. We recently got Star Ocean: The Divine Force and Valkyrie Elysium, fine games that were nice for longtime fans but didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Will the return of Mana be any different?

The series began as Final Fantasy Adventure on the Game Boy in 1991 before getting its own title and a breakout hit on SNES called Secret of Mana. The top-down action-adventure was like The Legend of Zelda with an RPG twist, including a leveling system, weapon combos, and a varied magic system. Instead of traveling alone you were accompanied by two AI companions, and like Final Fantasy there was an overworld map you could eventually traverse via a flying dragon.

The pixel art was gorgeous. The music was beautiful. To this day it has some of the best scored environments of any RPG. And despite a clumsily localized script, the dungeons, destinations, and pacing made it an unforgettable journey. The series continued with a Japan-only sequel (Trials of Mana), an experimental PS1 game (Legend of Mana), and a fantastic Game Boy Advance remake of the first game (Sword of Mana). Then things quickly unraveled.

A warrior battles a giant green ant.

Screenshot: Square Enix

The 2006 DS game Children of Mana was a randomly generated dungeon crawler that felt unimaginative and repetitive, and 2007 PS2 game Dawn of Mana took the series into 3D with a clumsy targeting system and character progression that reset after every chapter. A 2007 real-time strategy game for the DS called Heroes of Mana was overly simplistic and bland. The series’ identity fell apart outside of its unique art-style, pretty music, and familiar monster designs.

To rebuild, Square Enix returned to basics by remastering and porting the original games. In recent years fans were blessed with the Adventures of Mana remake, Collections of Mana ports, a Secret of Mana remake, a Trials of Mana remake, and the HD remaster of Legend of Mana. The series’ highlights have been assembled and modernized on every platform. The only thing missing was a new Mana game to rival the ones from 20 years ago.

“The development team have been working hard to ensure that Visions of Mana remains faithful to the series that players know and love while also offering fans and newcomers a fresh new experience with an all-new story, characters, and gameplay mechanics,” Mana series producer Masaru Oyamada said alongside the game’s announcement. It’s a promising start. But Mana fans have been burned plenty of times before. Please don’t let this be one of them.

                  

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