Right now, Square Enix’s Mana franchise might be the most popular it’s ever been. The original trilogy is available on Nintendo Switch, the Trials of Mana remake sold more than 1 million copies, the Legend of Mana remaster received a fairly warm reception, and a Legend of Mana anime is even on the way. So what’s next? Well, the year is 2022, so the answer is of course a free-to-play mobile game. I’ve had the opportunity to go hands-on to preview Echoes of Mana on Android, and while I can’t say it’s a grand revelation, it seems like it will satisfy its niche audience.
A Pretty Excuse to Hang Out with Classic Characters
Echoes of Mana is a gacha action RPG that contrives opportunities to throw together characters from across the franchise, in addition to a few new ones. At first startup, you immediately select which gender protagonist you would like to play as, (The one you don’t pick ends up being a separate character you meet in the story.) and then you name your character. I picked the guy and named him Maddog.
Maddog (or whoever) is immediately tasked by the Mana Goddess with finding the Mana Sword so he can save the world. The goddess gives him a talking magical sheep named Baashear (The game likes puns.) to guide and assist him on his journey. Your character is a silent protagonist except for when you select some simple dialogue choices, so it’s mostly other characters like Baashear doing the talking.
That being said, the game has a lot of short episodes that are all dialogue and contain no fighting. You can travel to new worlds by harvesting fruit from the Mana Tree, and the very first thing you do (with no explanation before or after) is break Hawkeye from Trials of Mana out of jail. But after that, in a different world, you meet two original characters: the upbeat fighter lady Duffle and cautious magician Honeycomb. They engage in stereotypical banter and are eager to help you find the Mana Sword.
However, the story in Echoes of Mana isn’t actually good, at least not in what I had time to preview in the first three chapters. The story scenes are just a parade of cute but vapid interactions with new and classic Mana characters. But if you’re the type of person who loves Mana so much that you’re willing to play it in mobile game format, then that’s probably good enough for you.
It also helps that the aesthetics are immaculate. The game is beautiful, with nicely animated characters, gorgeous original art for dozens of equippable power-ups, and backgrounds that look like they were pulled from classic Disney movies. The screenshots I have included don’t really do it justice to how nice it looks on your phone. Remixes of classic franchise music are a delight to hear as well. If you have to play a gacha game, it might as well be one that looks and sounds as good as Echoes of Mana.
Echoes of Mana Gameplay Is Exactly What It Looks Like
The gameplay in Echoes of Mana doesn’t throw any curveballs. However, the controls are actually pretty decent. You drag your finger anywhere on screen in order to move around, and you can flick your finger in order to dodge roll, which is surprisingly responsive. Dodging also has a dedicated button if you prefer. There are further dedicated buttons for your standard attack, special attacks that cost MP, and a super attack that charges over time. The layout is all typical and functional — not as comfortable as using a controller, but adequate.
Levels only last for a few screens at most and consist of a small handful of battles, at least in the early chapters of Echoes of Mana I could preview. You will win or lose in just a few minutes. The various monster types are familiar and can chip-damage you to death if you aren’t mindful of dodging, especially because standard attacks won’t stun them. Although, the one real boss I faced in Chapter 2 used area-of-effect attacks that were clearly choreographed in advance, and it was pretty easy to defeat it. It’s hard to know how easy or cripplingly hard the game can become, but there are different difficulties for each level to unlock.
The different playable characters add variety at least, as they use different weapons and have different elemental affinities. My Maddog has typical melee attacks, whereas Popoi from Secret of Mana uses slow boomerang attacks, for instance. You bring a party of three into battles, but you can also have a backup party to swap between. This lets you get experience for a lot of different characters at once, which is really nice.
In order to get new characters in the first place, you have to use the Harvest option to spend “spirit crystals” on summons. Then the game randomly spits out new characters or power-ups for you to use, and over time you, you will amass a vast collection. (You can also spend real money to get these things, of course.) Luck is naturally a factor, as each character and power-up comes in different degrees of rarity.
You can spend collected materials to boost characters’ individual stats. You can also equip one Memory Gem to a character in order to boost stats and add an extra boon of some sort. Memory Gems can be leveled up by spending collected materials too. Gear can likewise be equipped and leveled up with materials. Basically, there are tons of materials to collect to level up tons of different things over time; that’s the nature of the beast with these games. Either you appreciate the grind, or you’re like me and will never be persuaded to stick with it. If you bothered to read all of this, you’re probably the former, so — good for you!
Finally, co-op is an option in Echoes of Mana, but I was unable to try this out during the preview.
Give It a Go If You Already Like These Kinds of Games
Ultimately, Echoes of Mana likely isn’t going to do anything to convince people to play it who aren’t already either diehard Mana fans or mobile gaming enthusiasts. But people who fall into those categories will probably enjoy the experience, especially because the visuals and audio are so enchanting. For a game like this, that’s probably good enough.
Pre-registration to play Echoes of Mana is open now for Android and iOS mobile devices. It has no release date yet.