visions of mana

We Spoke To Producer Masaru Oyamada About How Visions Of Mana Is Bringing The Franchise To A New Audience

Expect a charming, accessible approach to design and ease of entry.

It’s wild to think that it’s been well over 15 years since the last mainline entry in the Mana franchise. That’s long enough for plenty of folks to have played video games all their life and still missed the most recent one. Of course, Square Enix has dropped plenty of ports, remakes and mobile titles in the time since, but Visions of Mana represents a pretty momentous occasion as a proper, original console release.

I recently had the chance to go hands-on with a small chunk of Visions of Mana, seeing first-hand how the team is bringing this franchise back into the forefront and how it fares against more modern efforts in its genre peers. After getting some time with the game (which you can read about here) I was also lucky enough to be able to chat to series producer, Masaru Oyamada, to further discuss the game’s development, ideas and how the series has evolved in the near-15-years since the last mainline title.

Note: Minor elements of the below discussion may have been edited slightly for clarity.

What’s it like to create a brand-new entry in the Mana series after almost 15 years?

When we first started development it was really half-and-half between, just excitement at being able to make something new and also a little bit of fear at that pressure, but as the development’s gone along, and now we’re in a good state and we’re ready to show it to the world, I’m just really filled with excitement. It’s looking really good.

I’m looking forward to the release, definitely, and seeing what people make of it.

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How do you see the public perception of the Mana series right now? How do you hope that this release is going to affect that?

That’s a really difficult question to sum up, but I think certainly that with the way the series has gone, the fact that the originator of the Mana series Mr. Koichi Ishii has left and been away for such a long time now, and we haven’t had a new game in the series for quite a while, I do imagine that a lot of the fans in the series are getting a little bit fed up. They do want to see something new.

I’m very happy to see what’s happening with the series since I joined as Series Producer in 2014. We’ve gone through a number of remakes, remasters, the old titles with Collection of Mana, Secret of Mana, Trials of Mana, and every time we release a new game or bring back one of the old games in the series we see more and more people supporting the series, more and more fans out there. I think that culminated somewhat with Trials of Mana when we re-released that version, that was really well received. I saw a lot more fan support and a lot more passion for the series out there after that game. So I think we’re in a good place with that now and the fans are hopefully a bit more satisfied.

When you first started approaching development on Visions of Mana, what were some of the core themes and ideas that you wanted to make sure were carried across from the previous games?

Since the original games made by Mr Koichi Ishii I think there has been a very strong theme in terms of the stories of the Mana games and they’re very much about meetings, partings and the way that people grow after experiencing those events. So that’s a very strong theme.

Then if you look at more specific elements in the game, I think, there are very much the core classic elements that have to be at the center of any Mana game. You’ve obviously got the Mana Tree itself, you’ve got the Sword of Mana, and you have to have a story which revolves around them in some way or another. And then going a bit wider into the rest of the world and how the game looks and the monsters, those really distinctive monster designs that Mr. Ishii made back in the day. They really have to be there in terms of the visual identity. I really wanted to prioritise those elements and have those at the core of Visions of Mana as well.

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And then finally if we look at the gameplay system, the mechanics of the game itself, in some ways the Mana series has been quite disparate in terms of the actual gameplay mechanics and the systems. It’s a series that tries to take on new challenges with every game. So the actual gameplay systems in the previous titles have been quite different. Personally, I really like what we did with Trials of Mana, I think that was very well received by the fans as well. So clearly it was kind of the direction that people wanted to see it going. And so I very much set that as the baseline in terms of where the game will be developed and evolved from. Also on top of that I wanted to go back over the series and take some elements from the individual titles that I thought were really good, pick out the best bits and put them into Visions. And also try out completely new and exciting things as well, but the base for that was very much Trials of Mana.

Elaborating on that a bit, how would you say you prioritised pleasing fans of the old games while also trying to bring in a new audience?

We do want to please both kinds of players and have it as an experience which will really resonate with both sides. In terms of the original Mana fans, the old fans of the series, what we strived to do there as an approach, a philosophy, was to make sure that whatever part of the game they’re playing, it really felt like a Mana game. It had that essence. It had that core from the titles that they had in the past and to really look at each element of the game in that sense. So they feel like they’re playing a Mana game.

In terms of the newcomers though, I think what we felt was really important for them, was to make the game accessible, really easy to get into and play and not complicated. To reduce the barriers, really. So we looked at various other games on modern hardware and how they approach these kinds of things. Obviously, there’s a lot of competition out there, so we saw what the other games are doing well, in terms of that ease of entry and accessibility. We used that to inform our choices on things like the controls, for example, the general feel of gameplay to make sure that there wasn’t this barrier to stop people getting into it. It wasn’t overly complicated.

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Something that the series has always done well is have a really quirky, really interesting cast of characters. What can you tell me about the main cast in Visions of Mana?

I think you’ve seen three of the main party in the demo that you played. The first one is the main character Val. He’s what’s called a Soul Guard. Essentially his childhood friend, Hinna, she’s been selected to be the Alm, a very important ritualistic position and his job is to obviously guard her on her journey that she has to go through in that role. So, I mean he’s not just a bodyguard, there’s a lot more to him as a character and he really has that determination to see the journey through to the end and protect his friend.

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Val was really made to feel like a heroic protagonist character. He has to be that cool, classic hero. The way he plays as a character had to have that good balance between attack and defence. You just feel like he’s a really capable and really heroic character. So, that was very much the perspective we took when designing him.

The second character you’d have played would be Careena. She’s a young girl from the Dragonfolk race. She’s from a place called The Veil of the Wind and she’s accompanied by a small, white dragon creature which may be familiar to people who played the series in the past and they come as a team, they fight as a pair in the game.

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Essentially, she’s more of a support character. She uses her abilities to help the other party members. I think the main draw for Careena will be to see all the cool actions she does in combination with her little dragon, Ramcoh. 

The final member of the party you would have seen is Morley. Who’s a feline character and a  swordsman. He’s very fast, he’s got very high attack power as opposed to a more defensive fighter. He’s kind of a slightly trickier character to play. He’s harder to master. He can do some really cool stuff when you know how to use it, though.

We put a lot of effort in to really try and make sure that those three characters very much feel like very different people, the way you control them and what they do, and that there’s not much overlap. And there’s obviously more characters available to choose from in the full game, and we hope players have a lot of fun with that.

Speaking to how some of those mechanics develop over the course of the game, I got a sense that there might be a lot of opportunity to return to previous areas and open up new paths as you get new powers. Is that right?

You seem to have a very good understanding about how it’s structured! Yeah, that’s exactly right.

The world itself, the locations and the areas you’re going to be visiting and exploring are that much bigger and more expansive than we’ve had in previous Mana games. But the exploration side of that really needs to be fun and exciting. We’ve done a lot to make that a really enjoyable part of the game. So just like you said there’ll be, for example, a powerful enemy that you may see in the area or on the horizon, and maybe you can’t take on that enemy yet. So that’s something you have to get more powerful to come back and defeat later. Or there’ll be puzzles scattered around the world, things that you need to use different Element Vessels, different abilities to unlock. And you can do these things between quests as a little break from the main story and just go out and explore, really. So there’s lots of those kinds of exploration elements and puzzles and fun stuff to do while you’re looking around and exploring this great world.

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Talking about side content, do you have a rough idea of how long it will take people to play if they’re on the main path or if they’re trying to do everything?

We’re right in the middle of the final tweaks and adjustments of the game and that can affect the play volume quite a lot. So it’s very difficult to give a specific answer now, as that may well change over the next couple of months. What we’re aiming for here, what we’re definitely going to achieve is, it’s going to be equivalent to most of the RPGs you see out there, nowadays. A solid chunk of gameplay, it really is going to be a satisfying experience. Even just playing through the main story, that’s going to be equivalent to a lot of the games you’ve seen in recent years. If like you said, you play through everything, you’re a completionist, you’re trying to do all the puzzles and all the side quests etc., it’s going to be a very long gameplay experience in that sense. There’s a lot of fun in the game though, so don’t worry about that.

One thing from the demo that I really wanted to ask about, is I was picking up a lot of something called Grizzly Syrup, and I really want to know what that is because it was everywhere.

[Laughs] That’s something we haven’t revealed yet. I can’t tell you the specifics about it today, but it is one of those things I mentioned that’s part of the exploration, something you’re going to go around the world collecting. And I think people who played the past games in the series may have a little bit of a hint of who wants this kind of stuff and who it points to appearing later on. Uh, I’m just going to leave it there. But yeah, it’s something you collect and you’ll find out later on who’s looking for it? How is it important? But I’m not going to tell you today.

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I look forward to being able to answer that for myself eventually! Lastly, the Pikuls, the rideable, wolf-like creatures in the game. Where did the idea for those come from?

That one was actually designed directly by Koichi Ishii, the father of the Mana series himself. He designed that all on his own. I basically asked him, I said, “Well, we’ve got this massive world now, it’s a huge place to explore. We’ll need some kind of transport. What can we put in here?” And he came up with that idea, so it’s all him. Amazing.

Thank you so much for talking to me. I really enjoyed what I played in the demo so I’m looking forward to playing the full game!

Thanks as well. You brought up some great questions and I really enjoyed talking about the game. We’re going to do our best to push through to the end and get the game out, so you can expect great things and look forward to it!

Visions of Mana is slated to launch for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S and PC later this year.