30 years of Mana: creators talk Legend of Mana

Mana series producer Masaru Oyamada and FINAL FANTASY XVI Director / Legend of Mana Combat Designer Hiroshi Takai share their memories of 30 years of Mana games.
By Duncan Heaney

2021 is the 30th Anniversary of the Mana series… and there’s a whole lot of Mana to celebrate.

For example, from July 15, you’ll be able to play the critically-acclaimed Trials of Mana remake on mobile devices and a new free-to-play action RPG called Echoes of Mana releases in 2022!

There’s even a new animated series on the way based on Legend of Mana!

Legend of Mana trailer

Ah yes, Legend of Mana - with its lush and vibrant visuals, exciting combat and innovative narrative structure, it still stands proud as one of the greatest games in the Mana series. Now the game’s back, with a new enhanced version built under the stewardship of Series Producer Masaru Oyamada.

It’s no secret that Mr.Oyamada is a long-time fan of the series, so we wanted to speak to him about both the newly released game, and the Mana series as a whole

But that’s not all. We also had an opportunity to speak with the original game’s combat designer Hiroshi Takai about his work on the game too!

Legend of Mana screenshot

What was the first Mana game you both worked on?

Oyamada: When I first joined SQUARE ENIX, I worked in the department that developed mobile games. It just so happened that around the time, Mr. Ishii was working on Dawn of Mana and Children of Mana.

The conversation first started when Mr. Ishii mentioned to me that he’d really like to make a Mana game for phones. He wanted to bring Friends of Mana to mobile, but once I heard about it, I asked him to let us create a port of FINAL FANTASY ADVENTURE as well.

In the end, we decided to give both a go - and that’s how it all started!

Takai: For me, the first one I worked on was Legend of Mana.

Legend of Mana screenshot

Speaking of Legend of Mana, you’ve both worked on the game in some capacity. How did that come about?

Takai: I often spoke with Mr. Ishii while we ate lunch, and that’s how I ended up on the project.

My fondest memory of working on that game is how we experimented as we went along, including with the development environment.

Oyamada: Well, I wasn’t involved with the creation of the original game. I joined the company after development had finished.

However, one of my goals as Series Producer is to make the Mana Series playable all over the world. I’d heard that Legend of Mana was only released in Japan and the US originally, so I wanted to make it properly playable worldwide - sooner rather than later.

That’s one reason why we started the development of this remaster.

Legend of Mana screenshot

Do you have memories of playing the original game, Mr. Oyamada?

Oyamada: Legend of Mana came out in 1999, so that would be… 22 years ago. I was a student at the time, so I had more spare time than I knew what to do with.

I decided I was going to play the game from corner to corner, so I sat there with a strategy guide discovering all the different features and trying them all out. But - and I’m sure people who’ve played the game will know where I’m coming from - there’s just so much content, you can’t complete everything no matter how long you spend on it.

It continued endlessly, and I kept playing endlessly. I remember how I played for ages and it just ate up my time (laughs).

Legend of Mana screenshot

And now you’re developing a remastered version - what’s that experience been like?

Oyamada: This applies to both Legend of Mana and the Mana series in general, but I started out as just an individual player who enjoyed the games.

As an insider involved with development, whether on remakes or remasters, you begin by looking over old documentation, and end up seeing all kinds of materials that have never been publicly revealed.

Every time, I always start with a sense of excitement, and look forward to seeing what the developers were up to in the past.

Legend of Mana screenshot

What were the key areas of focus for you and the team when revisiting Legend of Mana?

Oyamada: Fans of Legend of Mana really, really love the game, so I made sure to take a lot of care to preserve the original character of the game when considering the remaster.

For example, the original screen ratio was a tiny 4:3, and we had to expand that into widescreen format. That meant that we had to add certain things in. You have to pay quite careful attention to when adapting a game that originally went on sale in 1999 to be sold in 2021, and a remaster needs to update those things without giving any sense of incongruity.

People have to be able to play it just as they remember it - otherwise it’s not a good remaster. I really spent a lot of time thinking hard about how to approach it.

Legend of Mana screenshot

What’s your funniest memory of working on the Legend of Mana?

Oyamada: As I mentioned, we often start remaster or remake projects by looking through past materials. But the developers working on the original game weren’t thinking about the possibility that the game might be remastered or ported several decades later, so there are a lot of occasions where the documentation might be incomplete, or not even there at all.

When that happens, we just have to play the original game and see for ourselves: “Ah, that’s how this bit works.”

With Legend of Mana, for example, we ended up in the situation where we have to write part of the code based on what we can see. But even though we’re rewriting new source code for the game, somehow we ended up with bugs popping up that also occurred in the original. It was kind of a strange feeling, like these bugs were there because they were supposed to be there.

Takai: I remember that for some reason, I went into the office at 5am and one programmer was already there. We worked together on the super-early morning shift - I can’t remember why that happened (laughs).

Legend of Mana screenshot

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced working on Legend of Mana?

Takai: For me, it’s when additional game content needed to be added right before deadline. To overcome it, we really had no choice but to improve our efficiency and work as much as possible. It’s why the Golems are particularly memorable characters for me!

Oyamada: I touched on this in my previous answers, but there was just a real lack of documents from the development of the original game.

Still, even without those documents, we do the best we can and get started on making the game. Once it gets to the debugging stage, though, we always get questions like, “Is this how it’s supposed to be?” And, sometimes we end up with a situation where don’t know whether it’s supposed to work like that either.

Every time, I’d get in touch with Mr. Ishii or some of the old developers and ask them, “We’ve got this issue, but do you know what it might be?” And they’d say something like, “I’m sorry, it’s been decades, I really don’t remember.” But then three days later, I’d ring them again and pester them like, “Have you remembered!?”

I can only apologize (laughs).

Legend of Mana screenshot

What do you think makes Legend of Mana such a special entry in the series?

Oyamada: Legend of Mana is really different in a lot of ways when compared to other Mana titles -that was true even at the time.

But I also have the impression that it created a really clear blueprint for the future of the Mana series. Whether that’s the picture-book aesthetic of the world, or the amount of freedom you have, or the way that the NPCs are mysterious people with heaps of individuality rather than being faceless mobs, and the way you interact with them to move the story forward.

Personally, my love for the Mana Series was the reason I got into this line of work in the first place. Even looking at the old code, you can see how the developers paid such attention to the detail created the game with so much love.

I feel like it really shaped the future of the Mana Series and exemplified what makes the series so unique.

This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the Mana series. Why do you think it’s endured for so long?

Omayada: That’s really because of the continued love and passion from all the developers, first and foremost Koichi Ishii, the creator of the series, and because of the support from all the fans, including myself who love the games.

Finally, as a big fan of the series yourself Mr. Oyamada, what is your favorite Mana game and why?

Oyamada: That would absolutely be the first game in the series, FINAL FANTASY ADVENTURE (or MYSTIC QUEST if you live in Europe).

It was the first game I ever completed, and I actually completed it right at the time when I was moving. I was having to say goodbye to my friends, so the game’s ending seemed to overlap with my experiences. It made it a truly unforgettable game.

Thanks to both Mr. Oyamada and Mr. Takai for taking the time to talk to us about Legend of Mana, and the series as a whole.

Legend of Mana is available now for Nintendo Switch and PS4:

For more Mana fun, make sure you check out our interview with the father of the series, Koichi Ishii:

The Mana series 30th Anniversary celebrations continue next week when we speak to the legendary Yoko Shimomura - see you then.

And to stay up to date with news and information about this magical series, make sure you follow the team on social media: