The making of Secret of Mana

The making of Secret of Mana


when we reminisce about the great games
of the past subjects like the brilliant level design or the well paced action
often come to mind. However when you bring up Secret of Mana the pure magical
field that it evoked is immediately brought up by its fans. But did the
development cycle reflect the tranquil atmosphere of the game? in this episode
we dive into the development of Seiken Densetsu 2 or Secret of Mana as it’s
known in the West Back in 1987 before the release of Final Fantasy the tiny company Square already had plans for a game named Seiken Densetsu it was
supposed to span 5 discs but the management thought it too ambitious and
risky to develop especially considering the poor financial state of the company.
Instead they put all their love and ambition in there other RPG project
final fantasy. this now legendary title turned the tide and put the company in
stable waters for many years to come But Seiken Densetsu was not forgotten!
three years down the road they slapped the title on a gameboy project in
development codenamed Jemma Knights The action-adventure game was a pet project
of Koichi Ishii. His dream was to make a Zelda-esque title with the intriguing
narrative drama of a Final Fantasy game the result was an accessible yet
intriguing action-adventure to overcome those long boring car trips as a kid. He
was already well respected for creating loved characters like the iconic Moogles
and Chocobos. The first Seiken Densetsu game also saw its share of memorable
characters including the cute but deadly Rabites and Watts the blacksmith. Quite a
few staple elements of the Mana series were already introduced in this gameboy
title. Seiken Densetsu was released in 1991 followed by international
releases under different names the game was well received
however square didn’t consider a sequel for this relatively small side project..
but time flows like a river and history repeats as the Final Fantasies past Square kept expanding rapidly and revamped up to a
team of 50 employees in the early 90s working from their new office space in
Tokyo. They became big enough to work on multiple high-end titles at once and
ready to dive into the exciting new 16-bit generation one of the trends of
that time was the increasing popularity of the cd-rom format. Being the ambitious
company as they were Square immediately recognized the endless possibilities of
the huge storage space a team started conceptualizing a grand adventure
codenamed Maru Island, planned to be released for the Super NES cd-rom
extension. They envisioned a huge world the player could visit and even consider
the elements of time traveling To support their grand vision illustrator
Akira Toriyama was asked to join the project
SNES cd-rom extension already had a However the development had a rocky start when Nintendo and its developer Sony couldn’t come to a financial agreement in 199.1 By the end
of 1992 it became clear that it would not be on the market soon if ever. The
management of Square eventually decided to drop development of games for the
ill-fated machine and requested the Maru project to be released on cartridge
instead. The team was devastated by the decision as they realized that their
original plans would never fit on a Super NES cartridge the decision was
made to discard the time travel element and envisioned art style for the time
being and use them for a future project Chrono Trigger. The leftover story and
gameplay ideas of the Maru project were gathered together and heavily rewritten
so that they could form the basis of a sequel to Seiken Densetsu: Secret of
Mana for this project Koishi Ishii creator of the
original Seiken Densetsu teamed up with Final Fantasy veteran Hiromichi Tanaka
who contributed to the story dialogue and game design. He took inspiration
from countless animated films and children’s storybooks: Neverending story
Alice in Wonderland as well as European cartoons from the 70s and 80s like
Moomin. Anime based on northern European literature and folklore were often set in a more tranquil country life setting featuring nature as an important
overarching theme series like BannerTail and Nils Holgersson taught children
important life values in a more pure and grounded manner the storyline art style
and music of Secret of Mana breaths that same pure atmosphere and that’s arguably
one of the game’s biggest appeals however the development process was far
removed from the overall tranquil atmosphere of the game after the cancellation of the cd-rom extension the team still had to meet the ever nearing
deadline. The story and tone of the game were largely altered to fit in with the
Seiken Densetsu storybook feel however there wasn’t enough time to
completely rework all the design documents and plans as a result it was a
constant uphill battle to produce a game for the limited cartridge space yet give
the player a complete and satisfying experience despite the limited cartridge
space bold decisions were still being made such as allocating a decent portion
of the memory to the game’s introduction this decision came with great success as
this captivating opening immediately swept players in the game’s mystical
world Hirō Isono was the illustrator who
created the well-known artwork portraying our main heroes as tiny
figures in front of the massive mana tree The jungle was a reoccurring theme
his work and always portrayed as the leading subject. Hirō Isono already had
a long career as an illustrator and was in his late 40s when he created the
artwork for Mana. it’s not unlikely that the developers were inspired by his work
and asked for an adaptation for their game this might also be the reason why
the crane birds never appear in the actual game yet are featured in the
opening scene. Hirō Isono stayed involved and lent his talent for the following
release. Secret of Mana begins when you curiously pull an ancient sword from a
stone in the forest and you’re consequently banished from your hometown of Potos village as the removal of the blade is seen as a bad omen a mysterious
night by the name of Jemma ascends our hero on his quest to imbue the blade with its long-lost ancient power You start the journey alone but are quickly
joined by two companions The computer takes control of two characters but an
extra human player can jump in at any point to take control this multiplayer
element was not planned from the start but was one of the ideas that popped up
during development although it wasn’t a huge hurdle to implement this concept
it’s commendable that they still went the extra mile under these pressing
circumstances the battles in Secret of Mana take place in real time meaning
that the player has full control over their character in combat
however the stamina system forces you to wait between blows in order to do any
damage leaving the turn-based essence in the core gameplay this active battle
system was actually already considered a few years earlier for Final Fantasy IV
the first 16-bit entry in the series To take advantage of the new hardware that came up with a slightly more action based battle mechanic in which the
overworld and battle ground would be seamlessly integrated however it felt
too far removed to be used in a Final Fantasy game but the idea proved to be
perfect for mana To program and implement all these new ideas Square called upon the talents of the well respected Nasir Gabelli he was a regular face at square since the NES days working as a freelance programmer on
projects like Rad Racer and Final Fantasy however mana was his first Super Nintendo project and getting familiar with the new hardware as well as hitting the tight
deadlines became a huge challenge he was helped by a small team of programmers who were assigned dedicated tasks like implementing the enemy attack patterns
and the rain command system This innovative system allows you to visually
select items equipment weapons and magic in lieu of clunky text-based menus. The
programmers made good use of the SNES graphical tricks
not only was mode 7 used effectively but the lesser known mode 5 was also
utilized. In this graphic mode the SNES outputs a high-resolution image but
with lower color depth which proved ideal for menus with large amounts of
text. Translucency effects were also put to use, The way translucency works on
the Super NES is comparable to blend modes in a program like Photoshop. Single
objects and sprites on-screen don’t hold real transparency data as it would take
up way too much memory instead the color data of two entire layers are blended together according to the desired algorithm one of the most widely used
methods was the additive based effect called averaging it blends two layers together nicely without making the end result too dark or too bright. Ideal for
simulating effects such as water The only member with the luxury of time was the newly hired self-taught composer Hiroki Kikuta An education and philosophy helped him to be consciously aware of the
possibilities to create a world in the imagination of the listener through
music. After performing debugging duties and creating sound effects for romancing
saga he was rewarded with his first big project Hiroki Kikuta had more than a
year to compose the score for Secret of Mana which was a luxury as many of his
colleagues in competing companies were given mere weeks however he worked long
hours and slept more often inside the office than in his own bed.
The Super NES audio chips solely use pre-recorded instruments called samples
Hiroki Kikuta spent a lot of time tinkering with the audio samples used in a score to
ensure the best compression to quality ratio his extra effort also shines
through in his creative decision-making such as the whale cry which opens the
game and serves as the voice of the undying Mana tree calling for help. This
unique way of introducing the game draws the player immediately into this magical
world. After its intensive development cycle Seiken Densetsu 2 hit Japanese
store shelves in August of 1993 The localization was started even before
it’s released to get the game in stores before the holiday season. This meant
that the translation had to be done in only a month resulting in a lot of
stress. The PAL market however had to wait another year for a release since
more than 80% of squares total revenue came from the Japanese market at the
time the PAL market was never considered to be a big priority. The European launch
was backed up by a decent amount of marketing and was received with great
praise by gaming press and gamers alike however even the limited number of
copies ships didn’t fly off the shelves and thus most of the following 16-bit
square games never saw a pal release All sales figures aside there’s no denying
that Secret of Mana was a step in the right direction to get western audiences
familiar with the world of RPGs Secret of Mana is also proof of the resilience of the human mind: the working conditions for the development team were far from
perfect and abandoning a large portions of the original plans must have been
heartbreaking but they no less focus their energy on the tasks at hand and
managed to deliver a great product undoubtedly the original version of Maru
Island would have been a great game and it’s fun to speculate what it could have
been but let’s not forget that how out of the ashes of this project rose 2
amazing games Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana each offering a different feel
and experience but both widely loved and regarded as some of the finest RPG
experiences the 16-bit era had to offer

100 Comments

  • Cyberfoxxy says:

    Secret of Mana gave birth to Secret of Mana. Wut

  • Seth Dubois says:

    This video is really well made. Fascinating as well. I learned a lot about these games that I never knew. Good stuff!

  • Steven Casteel says:

    I love Chrono Trigger and tried giving this a go like three times, but never got more than an hour or so in. Definitely going to put this and the SNES Final Fantasies at the top of my play list.

  • InfiniteComboReviews says:

    An amazing video! I absolutely loved learning more about one of my absolute favorite childhood games.

  • Jeff McKenzie says:

    I have to praise you again. Secret of Mana was an awesome game too. Enjoyed it to the fullest it had to offer. I just wish I had played crono trigger. I e looked for a used copy, but have yet to find one. Thanks again for another great video. If you could, do one on final fantasy mystic quest. Just an idea. Thanks again.

  • Aaron Bowley says:

    i love your content

  • Sheriff of Rock Ridge says:

    What’s a rabite doing in a place like this??

  • Mitchel van Eijgen says:

    It is not only possible to play this game with two players where the second player can not only jump in or leave at any given point (why has this feature never taken off?). It is even possible to add a third play the same way, if you got a way of connecting that many controllers to your console.

  • blackrat1228 says:

    Just started going through your channel and I'm going to echo many of the other comments on them that you deserve a lot more subs. Love the use of development pieces and old advert art in your videos, it feels like I'm flipping through an old issue of gamefan or nintendo power. Also the blending of little known behind the scenes stuff is great, I've watched a few vids on SoM and CT and they never mentioned their shared history . Even when I was a kid they felt like they had more in common than just a spikey haired protagonist when compared to Square's other games at the time and now I know why.

    Looking forward to seeing more from this channel.

  • anarhy09 says:

    Damn this is a really good channel! I will watch the stupid ads entirely so that you get some revenue. Also subscribed. 🙂 Keep it awesome!

  • GODLESS101 says:

    One of the best RPGs ever made. This one game encompasses a significant chunk of my childhood memories and is one of the reasons why I will always be madly in love with video games. Great video.

  • Trent Cantrell says:

    Great video covering a great game. To this day, I am still angry with Square for not releasing the sequel in English.

  • joe schmoe says:

    Secret of mana can be played with 3 people if you had the super multi tap
    Rumor is, that option is still available in the snes classic version, we just lack a 3rd controller port

  • The Game Grinder says:

    Holy cow this production is insane! Great video!

  • Prakash Budhu says:

    They worked with less and produced more back then. Today developers works with so much and produce so little. There is something to be said about that time in history

  • Sebastian Wardana says:

    I love these kinds of stories!

  • Alfred Schlicht says:

    Wth? The 3d model, background, particles, and rendering style all top notch. Wow, high quality production.

  • Fat Gaymer says:

    Great video!!!

  • Rich Nothnagel says:

    Makes me wish they would make the game they originally planned. SoM and CT are two of the best games from the 90s imo. I also heard they had to cut out portions of some of the story to fit on cartridge. Please someone find all these notes and make the game humanity doesn't know it needs.

  • ShinTensei says:

    Someone cut a check for this channel. Seriously. Please do a megaten game

  • Pieter Vogt says:

    dude. the amount of fucks i give… great video.

  • Boxer Blake says:

    Very interesting! Thank you for your research and editing. SoM remains my favourite RPG to this day, though part 3 is closely behind it.

  • Craplatte says:

    Pressure indeed creates diamonds!

  • Shritistrang says:

    I never knew that Secret of Mana was inspired by such cartoons such as Nils Holgersson. I am pleasantly surprised.

  • Nicholas Hay says:

    Great production value. Thanks for the effort. I love these titles, and they heavily influence my dungeon mastering style. Liked and subscribing.

  • jeremy forrest says:

    I'm confused. At the beginning you state they were talking about making a Seiken Densetsu over 5 discs, but then talk about how they decided to make FF1. Are we talking Hard Disk for a Japanese computer?

  • Ivan Setiono says:

    I love your channel , subscribed and I’m looking forward to watch every single video with my 9 year old daughter 🙂 to share the retro love

  • Dangermuffinz says:

    Great video, VERY good work!! It looks amazing and the story is great :).

  • Julian Millo says:

    I actually died laughing at how ridiculously good the editing of this video is

  • Roy Soetantio says:

    Great video, but "Sourses"?

  • Vova Syhin says:

    The remake unfortunately is a shit infested, frustrating, bug infused, experience that square has not fixed to this date. I fucking loved the original and wanted to own the remake, however had no choice but to refund my purchase and send a colourful email to their PR department. Assholes.

  • Ecktor says:

    Seiken Densetsu
    ♥️

  • Don Mega says:

    Interesting why there's no mention of seiken dendetsu 3 which is also an awesome title

  • wolfenstein 43 says:

    I knew that Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger were part of the same developing team but I had no idea that it was supposed to be an actual one game. I feel like we missed out on one of the biggest games of all time but at the same time I am glad people were able to experience what we got. SoM and CT are classics.

  • Cedesciu Wax says:

    Great video strafefox! ++

  • John Kilfeather says:

    man, i remember when i first played Secret of Mana way back when. Me and my mom went to this tiny audio/video rental place all the time called Melody House. I would be allowed a single game for the weekend to rent. Eventually i came to Secret of Mana.

    i put the cartridge in at home, and after the ritual blowing and fiddling got it to work.

    Immediately i was blown away by that whale cry and the amazing intro. That moment was so far beyond anything i had previously seen that it wouldn't be replicated again for years. The soundtrack more than anything else was what captured my young self. Even when i wasn't playing i'd have it on so i could hear the music playing. The mournful tune as he was exiled from Potos was my favorite.

    I spent so many weekends playing this game, crying when other renters would delete my save file, happy when i FINALLY beat it after months of attempts.

    When they remade it, i bought it that very day it came out due to the nostalgia alone.

  • truealchiemist says:

    This was beautifully done however there is one issue. The ending credit theme is from Legend of Mana on the PS1 which had a different composer.

  • RanmaLP says:

    Fantastic insight on one of my most precious gaming experiences, thank you!

  • Gürer Özdil says:

    Dear Jeroen, I would like to thank you and congratulate you for this phenomenal video. This is a video every Secret of Mana fan must see and share. Secret of Mana is a title that was gifted to us fans with many sacrifices made by the development team to deliver it before the deadline after they were informed that the Super NES ND(Nintendo Disc) System was cancelled. Thank you to you Jeroen and the developers of Secret of Mana for everything they have done to bring this unforgettable game to us fans.

  • toh ping Tiang says:

    Tranquil… everything goes to hell once Oracle starts playing.

  • Joe H says:

    Blown away by the quality of this video. Not sure how anyone could down vote this. Subscribed.

  • Lowpi says:

    Best game of all times.. Best musics too

  • Tetra Digm says:

    10:11 are you fucking retarded? "western" audiences are literally who RPG's were made for. the japanese got the idea to start making RPGs AFTER they played american ones. there has literally never been anything to begin in japan, all they do is see other peoples ideas and work off those. like all asians, they have no talent or ideas of their own.

  • Mrs. Roper says:

    hate the ring menu.

  • Daniel Garland SoundBolt says:

    You had me in happy tears with this vid! D': <3

  • Mr Buckle says:

    i remember as a kid renting this game from a hollywood video store and my hair standing on end from the pure atmosphere of the game. one of the best pieces of art every made

  • Extra Lives says:

    Great job, Strafefox. This is an excellent, concise history.

  • callme jazze says:

    loved the game and still do also had to give you a like for all the effort !!

  • Morten 85 says:

    How can people dislike this video ? It has so much information and is just made awesome!

  • Frederick Clark says:

    Love it, thanks for publishing all this data

  • Delirithdure says:

    Such a beautiful representation for a classic game. your doing great work on your end! good luck!

  • Ar Y says:

    First of all: could I love your voice a little more?
    Second: Seiken Densetsu and Chrono Trigger have a huge place in my heart 💓

  • Win Win says:

    Where can I find a wallpaper of secret of mana tree in highest quality as possible like in this video

  • Kasita C. says:

    What a great work you made here for my beloved game!

  • Adam Willard says:

    Some of the best production I've seen on YouTube. Great work!

  • U Miami says:

    It hurts watching this as the talent is unreachable. Perfect

  • felixontheinternet says:

    Just amazing ❤️ thank you so much

  • anottakenusername says:

    SNES FORCE – "The perfect game? In Japan people are being mugged for it" LOL. Also, your production values are godlike.

  • Neon Shark says:

    Holy shit. What kind of video-editing software is this guy using? And how much time and effort is he investing in these vids?

  • Saa says:

    Whales?! For the last 25 years I thought it was wolves howling in the opening of Secret of Mana 😀

  • Balázs Gyekiczki says:

    Great editing!

  • psyance_ql says:

    One of my favorite SNES games and another great video!

  • Liam3072 says:

    I wonder what are the sources regarding Secret of Mana being linked to the Maru project. Most of what I've read from the devs seem to imply that the Maru project is only linked to Chrono Trigger. Hiroki Kikuta himself said in a reddit AMA that neither he nor the developpment team ever heard of a CD-Rom-based Secret of Mana, although he acknowledges that there may have been talks about it at the top of Squaresoft. To me, given the informations I could gather, it seems the only link between Square's CD-ROM project and Secret of Mana, is that Secret of Mana was started to fill a gap, given that Tanaka no longer had a game planned and really wanted to do an A-RPG. But whether there's anything from the initial Maru Island project in Seiken Densetsu II, I doubt it.

  • Marlon Anthony says:

    Never played this, never knew it was birthed out of left overs of Chrono Trigger, one of my favourite games of all time. Thanks to your video, i'm going play it now. The original, mind.

  • Truman Groves says:

    I love these videos! Awesome.

  • -0melette- says:

    this is insanely well produced, it leaves you with a feeling of awe after its over. You should be proud of your fantastic videos.

  • Samuel Carrier says:

    Your videos are always top quality; it's the only channel where I'm sure to learn something new about games or subjects I was already very familiar with! To think that Chrono Trigger's origins is tied to the Super Nintendo Play Station… Amazing!

  • SevenDeMagnus says:

    Cool

  • Acsnaara says:

    "The active battle system was seen as too much of a departure for final fantasy 4" – oh boy just you wait

  • Falchion Of Eternity says:

    I didn't know Secret of Mana started out as huge Chrono Trigger story. Fascinating.

  • Jahdiel Valentin says:

    Man I love your videos. Would you ever make a video like this about Legend of Mana?

  • InternetTAB says:

    TWO extra human players 😉

  • Nathan Lukeson says:

    Could you please do a Dragon Quest video.

  • Margatroid says:

    Watching this really makes me wish we could have this kind of game development again. The stuff we get now that attempts to copy this era, like Octopath Traveler, just doesn't get the feel right. There's something about the simplicity of the hardware and attempting to stretch its capabilities to their limits that creates masterpieces like this. I wish modern developers could be put in such a box and challenged to create the best they could with the available tech, rather than being able to do basically anything. And I think the staff's focus on philosophical and aesthetic themes had an enormous impact as well. I really miss games that could make me feel in the way that these could.

  • karim dib says:

    My favorite game.
    Again What a vidéo !

  • Sanime says:

    I just wanna know the specs of your PC when you made this video compared to the first retrospective one you made in 2014.

  • nicholas bradferd says:

    one of the designers on the game was Nasar gebelly, who grew up in the U.S working for Serious software, one of the most important developers of apple II software.

  • drencoss says:

    i have to say having stumbled 'out of knowhere' upon your channel it is of an exceedingly high quality the content you are putting out and im very stumped as to why you only have 59k as it screams of 300k plus to me.

  • Adam D Pendragon says:

    Such an amazing game, when I played it as a kid I loved it more than words can express. Need to play it again on a big flat screen or projector with serious surround sound.

  • William Hart says:

    you need chrono trigger video

  • Ignis says:

    I don’t understand why people like this game. I’ve played through to the dwarf village, but only on my third playthrough. On my previous playthroughs, I would be unable to progress at all.

    Edit: When I played, it didn’t have an opening. I played the original, not the remake.

  • One 7 Decimal 2 Eight says:

    if I'm not mistaken, if you had a multi tap you could play this with 2 friends, making it a 3 player game.

  • Dekuman says:

    This was written from a European perspective but Secret of Mana was a big success in North America.

  • RoanCarter says:

    This video is a work of art.

  • Paul Newhouse says:

    still my fave game!

  • RGB Crafts says:

    I wonder why Legend of Mana is so underrated though.
    I've never played Secret of Mana for I was never to find one copy back then.
    But the inception of being the original idea for Chrono Trigger is stunning.
    Much respect is due to Square Enix on 16-bit and 32-bit era. They never were
    afraid of trying new things and overcome difficulties around the development.
    Pity is they don't follow that premise anymore.

  • Smoove King says:

    mana is a better game then Chrono. but Chrono has a better story

  • Throwed Genji says:

    What! how am I just now seeing these man, best presentation I've seen and of my favorite games to. Funny thing is I just went from playing Secret of Mana to Chrono trigger. Still havn't beat Secret of Mana in over 10 years LOL they sure packed alot of content in the game even for snes game, cause its one of my favorites but I never finish it

  • Fabiano Donadon Dall'Acqua says:

    I always get a little emotional when I see something about Secret of Mana. But this video was something to the next level. Thank you for putting time into this. I really appreciate it. And I wish I could shake Hiroki Kikuta's hand, the soundtrack I still hear to this very day.

  • squick1842 says:

    The making of Final Fantasy 7 or Xenogears or Valkyrie Profile! Please!

  • Michael Gum says:

    Now do Chrono Trigger!

  • Ødin Øctaviano says:

    sourses

  • Sinn0100 says:

    Well…we thank those amazing people for their sacrifices as we got a truly amazing 16-bit title. I will admit to not playing this right away when it came out. I had both the Sega Genesis and Snes and…if I remember it right I initially skipped over it as I wanted to be even. What I mean by that is I generally bought one game for my Genesis and the one for my Snes. I do the same (generally) with my Xbox One X's, Switches and PSPRO's (yes we have two of every console including the enhanced versions connected to two 4K UHD screens in our master bedroom as we are both gamers).

  • CorneliousRR says:

    I don't think there is a single content creator on here that does your kind of work that is anymore near as thought provoking and moving as how you present the material. You always manage to share the details of each game's development as crowning achievements in humans' history and makes me as a fellow content creator moved by the love and care that goes into each video. Your work is amazing, never stop.

  • snickle1980 says:

    My childhood…That's all i have to say about tha'at.

  • Stew Tube says:

    30 seconds in and Im already in love with your channel dude.

  • Def ect says:

    I watched your Streets of Rage video first and now this one, you clearly put a considerable amount of effort into your videos unlike most. Well done.

  • Joshua Drew says:

    Just found this channel. Excellent work

  • BigA says:

    I’d love to also see a history of on Trials of Mana, now that it’s been officially localized to North America.

  • Don says:

    This channel is gonna be major eventually.

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