30 years of Mana: composer Yoko Shimomura talks Legend of Mana

The creator of the magical Legend of Mana soundtrack shares her memories of working on the game, explains why the tracks are like her children and shares a message for the fans.
By Duncan Heaney

If you’ve played Legend of Mana - or even listened to one of the trailers - you know how incredible the music is.

That’s all thanks to composer Yoko Shimomura, whose work on the Legend of Mana soundtrack is… well, legendary. The game’s music is beloved by fans, and she continues to get questions and requests for signings for it to this day.

Now the game is back - just in time for the Mana series’ 30th Anniversary. All of Shimomura-san’s original marvellous melodies are in there, and many have been rearranged with her supervision. You can even switch between those remastered tracks and the original compositions through the menu!

To celebrate the return of the game - and a major milestone for the Mana series - we spoke to Ms. Shimomura about working on Legend of Mana, and other games in the series.

We hope you enjoy!

How did you come to work on Legend of Mana?

The plans for Legend of Mana sprung up when I wasn’t in Japan - I was working on Parasite Eve at the time. I have an incredibly faint memory of Mr. Ishii, creator of the Mana Series, contacting me by e-mail and saying, “We’ve decided you’re going to be working on the game, so we’re waiting for you to come back!”

What were your primary inspirations for your tracks from the game?

My inspirations for it were illustrations - pictures of the game, drawings of the towns and so on. I have a memory of gazing at these a lot while I was composing the soundtrack.

I really liked the whimsical yet cute feel of the visuals - they left an impression on me.

What do you remember most about working on this soundtrack?

There are quite a few things I remember about working on Legend of Mana. For example, it was the first time in my life that I’d had to write combat songs that sound like the songs that play when a wrestler comes into the ring.

One day, when I went to the office, there was a mountain of wrestler theme songs sat waiting on my desk and I thought to myself, “Wait, does this mean they want me to listen to all these?” That day, I listened to those songs all day long.

Then there was also the time we went to Stockholm, Sweden. It was around when it would have Golden Week in Japan - so it would have been May.

It was dawn by the time we finished recording, and even though it was May, it was snowing when we left the studio! I remember thinking to myself how incredible it was that it had started snowing just at that moment!

If you could go back in time, what would you change about your work on the Mana games?

I don’t think there’s anything I’d like to change…probably.

It might be a bit much to say this about my own songs, but I don’t think I could change the songs to make them better, even if I was to change the melody or make a completely different song.

What emotions did you channel when you were composing the music for Legend of Mana?

Well, there is the world, the stories, the quests, the towns and other areas and so on, so there are lots of places which all have their own particular feeling to them. The emotions for them are naturally all different from moment to moment.

I mentioned this before, but when I was writing the wrestler-sounding combat music, which I had never done before, I was asking myself why I had to write those sort of songs - so perhaps I was a little bit miffed at that (laughs)!

What was your role on the newly released version of Legend of Mana?

For the remaster there was someone else working on the arrangements, so my role was to supervise everything - to oversee all of the songs. Of course, I was there during all the recordings, and I checked all the tracks.

How did it feel to work on the soundtrack again after all these years?

I think that it is a great honor.

It may be a bit presumptuous for me to say this about the music for the original game, but I think that the soundtrack is loved by a lot of people. Some songs have been newly rearranged this time around, and I’ll leave it up to everyone listening whether the updated tracks are better than the original ones!

But honestly, I’m very happy. I always say that the songs I make are like my kids, and these ones really repay my efforts. They look after me well (laughs)!

How do you feel about that fact that lots of new players will hear your work on Legend of Mana for the first time in the remastered version?

Quite a lot of time has passed - I worked on Legend of Mana back in the olden days. Well, perhaps not quite “the olden days”, but it was some time ago.

If the songs were all made to sound current at the time, then I’d be a bit worried that everyone would listen to them and go, “Wow, that sounds dated!” But the songs generally didn’t really follow any trends, so even if you listen to them today - even if the younger generation were to listen to them - I think that people will still be able to enjoy them without them sounding strange.

Legend of Mana wasn’t the only Mana game you worked on, of course - you also composed for Heroes of Mana. How did that project start for you?

Thinking about it, I recall being approached and being asked if I wanted to work on it or not.

I’d left my job and became a freelancer, and I thought the fact that they still let me work on the Mana series was such a huge honor. I replied back to them saying, “I want to get started right away!”

What memorable moments do you recall from working on that game?

Of course I always say this, but I remember running around worrying that I wasn’t going to make the deadlines in time!

Then, well… the opening song wasn’t quite as I wanted it to be. It felt a little bit off to me, so I remember remaking it from scratch.

Finally, what would you say to fans who still love and listen to your work on the Mana games?

Lots of fans would often say to me, “I love Legend of Mana!” when I met them - during signing sessions and other events. The original soundtrack is in a paper box, and lots of people would bring those to the events. By the way, those were so easy to sign - because of the quality of the paper!

Though I digress! Seeing this I thought to myself that the game is really beloved, and people really cherish the soundtrack. All of this is truly an honor to me.

It’s because of the fans who have always supported the games, that the soundtrack of the original game is available to purchase, that we were able to create an arrangement album, and the game itself has been remastered.

The fact that we could do all of this is thanks to the support from the fans, so I am incredibly grateful. I hope that you will all continue to enjoy the Mana games!

Many thanks to Ms. Shimomura for speaking to us - and her incredible work on the Mana series too. Legend of Mana has a truly inspirational soundtrack, with full of memorable melodies that will stir your soul while burning themselves into your brain forever.

You can hear both the original tracks and some rearranged versions in the newly released Legend of Mana on PS4, Nintendo Switch and Steam.

To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Mana series, we’ve been speaking to some of the most influential creators who worked on the series. Check out our interviews here:

The Mana series isn’t slowing down - we recently announced a wave of exciting new projects, including a mobile version of the excellent Trials of Mana remake, a new mobile game Echoes of Mana, coming in 2022, and even a new animated series based on the sublime Legend of Mana. In short, there’s a whole lot of Mana to look forward to.

To stay up to date with information about all these projects, make sure you follow the Mana series on social media to get the big news first!