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20 Years of Mana: Secret of Mana's Enduring Influence
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20 Years of Mana: Secret of Mana's Enduring Influence

August 9, 2013 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

This week 20 years ago, Secret of Mana was released for the Super Nintendo. The game has remained a favorite of fans of classic RPGs -- mentioned in much the same tones as Square Soft's other SNES classics Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. Though the franchise continued through 2007 with installments on the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo DS, it never recaptured the popularity, relevance, or quality of this game. 

What has made the game so enduring? And what inspirations does it offer to contemporary developers? Recently, Die Gute Fabrik's Douglas Wilson (Johann Sebastian Joust) tweeted about his enduring love for the game -- so Gamasutra's Christian Nutt decided to engage him in a letter series about the game to celebrate its anniversary and to find out why it matters so much, even 20 years later. 

From: Christian Nutt
To: Douglas Wilson 

You recently tweeted that Secret of Mana is a big inspiration for you -- and this took me by surprise. Your better-known projects have no obvious connection to it. Can you elaborate a bit? 

From: Douglas Wilson
To: Christian Nutt

Oh man, Secret of Mana is such a big inspiration for me! Such a classic.

As a game developer, I've largely focused my efforts on physical party games (e.g. Johann Sebastian Joust, B.U.T.T.O.N.). But that's only one of my interests. Like a lot of other Nintendo-reared kids, I grew up playing JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. I'm not a natural storyteller myself, but I've always wanted to work on that kind of game. Now I'm finally getting my chance with Mutazione! It's an adventure game (and an entire fictional world) that my business partner Nils Deneken has been concepting for years.

As I finish Sportsfriends, I'll be transitioning to Mutazione full-time. I'm working as a producer, programmer, and game designer. Nils is a gifted illustrator and world-builder, so my role is to help him bring his vision to life. Nils, who grew up in Germany, had never played Secret of Mana, so I've been showing him some specific parts of the game that I'd like to draw from.

Mutazione.

Beyond the direct connection to Mutazione, Secret of Mana is a rare example of a multiplayer console RPG. It's a game best played with a friend... or two friends, if you had a multitap! People forget how totally bananas that was at the time -- you could play three of you all together! (Mind you, this was before the N64 made four-player standard.)

I'm sure Secret of Mana helped inspire my interest in getting people together in the same room to play video games with one another, simultaneously. There's a real lineage with the kinds of local multiplayer games I've been working on with Sportsfriends.

From: Christian Nutt
To: Douglas Wilson

So was Secret of Mana the game that defined mulitplayer gaming for you, at an early age? It's interesting, because, like you say, you're so well known for multiplayer games.

From: Douglas Wilson
To: Christian Nutt

I don't think I'd say it was the game that defined "multiplayer" for me. What I would say, though, is that Secret of Mana is one especially interesting example. Local multiplayer games were usually titles like Mario Kart, Smash Bros., Street Fighter. Secret of Mana was a multiplayer experience set in a more traditional story-based, "world-centric" game. At the time, that was pretty mind-blowing to me. I used to play RPGs and adventure games with my brother or with friends, and we'd just watch one person play. That was certainly engaging, but with Secret of Mana a few of us could play simultaneously.


Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Comments


Dane MacMahon
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Forgive me for a rather pedestrian post as if this were a random forum, but...

THAT MUSIC.

Zack Wood
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Me, too: that BOX ART. So powerful and mysterious.

Christopher Furniss
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Such a meaty, elaborately illustrated instruction manual, too.

Steve Peters
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I miss the days of meaty manuals. going through them was something I always did before actually beginning the game. Then again, that was back before the internet would spoil everything for me before release.

Andy Lee Chaisiri
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Yeah, it's really a beautiful work of art.

Hiro Isono was the artist behind the mana tree illustration. He passed away earlier this year.

Zack Wood
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Great note about the size and font of damage numbers!

Karl Schmidt
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I have great memories of playing this game with my brother. Music, artwork, theme, gameplay, it's all top notch. It was also one of the few console games I encountered with save game corruption bugs :) Thankfully I managed to avoid them.

A classic.

Matthew Collins
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I still play Secret of Mana every couple of years.

TC Weidner
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I agree the music of Secret of Mana, along with Actraiser, for SNES were awesome in the day.

Christopher Furniss
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I loved Actraiser so much.

Ed Alexander
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Is there an iteration of Secret of Mana I haven't bought? So much love for this game.

I kind of wish Square would port the iOS version to a digital title on some console or another. I really enjoyed the face lift, even though the lack of tactile controls doesn't suit the gameplay very well.

Currently waiting for the Wii U Virtual Console update to come so I have another excuse to play through again!

Ryan Watterson
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Have you played Secret of Mana 2 (Seiken Densetsu 3), the Japanese only SNES game that received a fan translation a decade or so ago? That is the best game in the series. Legend of Mana on PS1 is quite good as well

Ed Alexander
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Absolutely, I got the translation from Neill Corlett's site the day it came out! I still revisit it every few years, which reminds me I'm due to play through again soon...

I was also in GameStop picking up my preorder of Legend of Mana the day it came out. While it had some really esoteric features, the amount of crafting in that game was unprecedented and really felt rewarding to make every aspect of your character.

Greg Wondra
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I missed out on 'Secret,' but really enjoyed 'Legend of Mana' on the PS1....arts, music, gameplay.....all fantabulous

Alan Youngblood
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"I'm actually surprised there aren't more RPGs and story-based games coming out of the indie scene. I suppose it's because content-heavy games are so difficult to make." <- This hits the nail on the head.

After starting two studios around RPG-esque games and continuing on to make my own personal RPG project, it is a beast. The first game never saw the light of day; the second one barely broke even (though it did alright on sales and critiques, a lot of the revenue went to pay back investments). I still think it's worth it and a great idea.

The trick is to out-smart the feature creep and ambition components and focus on solid writing and gameplay. Many of Square's games during their golden years like the Mana series were made with teams of 20-40 developers. Compared to modern AAA with hundreds of devs per project, this is relatively small. 20 person teams may still be larger than practical for many indies, but considering the advances in technology and tools, it's not hard to imagine that clever indies can achieve more RPGs and story driven games.

james sadler
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Every now and then I load up one of these old titles and play through it over a week or so. Part of it is nostalgia and part of it is trying to figure out a mechanic or something. I can say that I haven't played through Secret of Mana in a really long time though. I never had anyone to play along with me when I was a kid so I never tried that function. :(

Good interview. I agree that we need to see some great indie JRPG's. I am really surprised I haven't seen many pop up, though the content quantity is probably one of the larger issues. I've had one on my back burner for a few years that I plug away at here and there, but it is more a hobby of love versus a product.

Damien Ivan
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Oh man, I forgot about that music. Wow, that's good. I don't usually enjoy most JRPG-style music, but this is really pretty.

Damien Ivan
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One nit-pick: regarding the sentence "I find it interesting that you say you're not including combat, but Mana is still a big influence for you -- it's a pretty combat-heavy game, being an RPG (and I mean, it has "sword" in the title.) "

"Secret of Mana" does *not* in face have the word "sword" in the title lol. Unless you edited something weird, this sentence doesn't make any sense. =)

Tray Epperly
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The Japanese name of the series is Seiken Densetsu, which means "Legend of the Holy Sword." Pretty sure that's what he was referring to. :)

Fernando Coelho
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Sorry to disagree, but I don't think Secret of Mana was the top title of the series, I find Secret of Mana 2 better. Secret of Mana feels too linear, the only variation you can have is the main weapon you use, OTOH on secret of Mana 2 not only you pick 3 between 6 characters, each of a different class, but you can also change class twice in the game (giving you a total of 24 final classes to choose from). It also implements multi-player gameplay, but as fas as I can remember only two players can play at the same time.

Finally, I think the DS games are very underrated, specially children of mana, it is a great and fun game.

Ps: before someone bashes me I have played and finish Final Fantasy adventure, Secret of Mana 1 and 2 and Children of mana, I am a huge fan of the series, just find SoM 2 to be the best.

Eduardo Torrelli
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Such a great game. I believe almost all the rpg's that I enjoyed the most, even to this day, were on the super nintendo. Secret of Mana was among my favorites, especially for the fact that it was multilayer. (yes I bought the multi-tap for that game) Games like Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Evermore, Illusion of Gaia, just to name a few, hold many found memories. With that being said it also makes me said to say I haven't really felt that type of love or amazement from an rpg game really since then. I really wish they could bring that magic back.


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