Windows to the Past
Square Enix promotes Echoes of Mana as a game for both series veterans and newcomers alike. The first Mana game since 2014, Echoes lets players meet characters from across the series’ long history. And while the game may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a solid gacha action RPG that works as an excellent introduction to the series.
I should clarify that Echoes of Mana is my first experience with the series. However, if Square Enix hopes it will renew interest in Mana, I can say the action RPG does that effectively.
Heroes of Legend
Players take the role of the Mana Swordsman, an amnesiac adventurer in service to the settings mana Goddess. Players choose between a male or female character, with the character they didn’t pick appearing later as a recurring NPC. Echoes of Mana also introduces a few other original characters to fill out the player’s party. However, most are familiar faces recruited via the game’s gacha mechanics.
Every character has a standard attack, two standard Abilities, and a Special Technique. Abilities drain each character’s limited pool of action points. Meanwhile, each standard hit fills up the character’s Special Technique gauge. These Techniques are potent attacks that usually hit multiple enemies at once and often kill weaker enemies with a single strike. The party also shares a single Mega Spirit Magic gauge. Players can tap the icon once the gauge is full to unleash a devastating elemental AOE attack.
Instead of the standard RPG classes, Echoes of Mana characters have an Element and Weapon Type. Each weapon class has a few unique features, such as greater reach from Polearms and Axes having an alternative charged attack. However, two characters may fill different roles while technically carrying the same weapon. Meanwhile, Elements are unusual in that they oppose but do not counter each other. Water, for example, deals additional damage to Fire but also receives it in return.
Combat is quite fun, though managing your party can be difficult. Players can switch between their active party members at any time but can’t command them in battle. Uncontrolled party members attack the nearest enemy and are only mediocre at using their abilities. This works fine with standard engagements but can be a liability during boss fights.
The Fate of Worlds
After a brief combat tutorial, the player character is whisked away to the realm of the Mana Goddess. She explains that the worlds of the Mana series are disappearing and that she is now too weak to bring them back. However, memories of these lost worlds and people still exist as the fruits of the Mana Tree, which the Goddess personifies. Thus, she sends the player character on a quest to enter these memories and retrieve the legendary Mana Sword. Doing so will restore the Goddess’ fading power to recreate the worlds that were.
This sets up the basic structure of the plot. Players enter a memory of the lost worlds, encountering people and places from various installments in the Mana series. They meet up with returning characters and join them on a short adventure. Repeat as needed until the hero finds the Sword.
The way developer Wright Flyer Studios uses the memories has the side effect of robbing the story chapters of any real connectivity. The player character isn’t searching for the Mana Sword so much as randomly jumping between memories until they find it. The story’s reason is that the player character doesn’t know what each memory contains until they get there, but I didn’t personally find it very satisfying. I suppose it’s a decent excuse to show off bits and pieces of the existing series. However, it contributes to robbing the protagonist of any real agency. This gives the impression they are just along for the ride instead of an active participant in the plot.
An Easy In
Echoes of Mana also doesn’t have time to show players much about the worlds they are visiting. However, it’s pretty good at characterization and conveying that players are only seeing a small part of a much grander story. At times, the writing can come across as a bit like fan fiction, with established characters instantly befriending the mostly mute protagonist. However, Echoes of Mana at least got me invested enough to consider checking out the series’ earlier games.
In addition to the single-player story, there are a variety of optional quests and even a co-op multiplayer mode. Unfortunately, there was a problem with matchmaking, and I never successfully found a co-op partner.
Ultimately, I think Echoes of Mana succeeds at its primary goals. The game offers returning players an excuse to revisit their favorite characters and is a great entry point for the Mana series. Gameplay is fun and exciting, and the writing is overall pretty good. There are certain things that I think developers could have done better, but it’s still a great mobile action RPG.
Is It Hardcore?
While not perfect, Square Enix and Wright Flyer Studios’ Echoes of Mana is an excellent action RPG and a great introduction to the Mana series.