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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.


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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