Visions of Mana Interview: Masaru Oyamada and designing a world touched by the Elemental Spirits

When we had the chance to play the upcoming Visions of Mana earlier this month, Square Enix was kind enough to offer us a chance to have a chat with the Mana Series Producer, Masaru Oyamada-san. We talked about the long wait for another release in the series, and what the goals were when developing it.

RPG Site: So, it's been nearly 2 decades since the last truly new release in the Mana series. Obviously we had the Trials of Mana remake a few years that was a milestone for the series as it had been dormant for quite a while at that point. With that being said; what has been the goal with Visions of Mana, considering that it's essentially a revival for what must be one of Square Enix's most seminal and beloved RPG franchises?

Masaru Oyamada: So a strong objective that we had was that, this series, it's been 15 years since the last mainline game launched. When the original inceptor of the series, Koichi Ishii, originally left his position - we found ourselves in a situation where we weren't able to release a new game in the series. Yet in the end we still really wanted to release a flagship game for the Mana franchise as a whole. Trials of Mana in and of itself was a very ambitious remake; the reception for that was well-received by fans, and we conducted a survey just to gauge interest from users - with many expressing interest in a new installment in the series. Ultimately, our hope is to be able to deliver such a title to fans is what has lead us to Visions of Mana.

RPG Site: Speaking of Trials of Mana, one thing I definitely noticed when playing through the demo is that it does feel like Visions of Mana, to a certain extent, is an extension of a lot of the ideas that were present in the Trials of Mana remake. Was that an intentional decision, or was that something along the lines of it simply being the most represantive of the series as it is now? I understand that Mana has had a storied history - much like Final Fantasy, in that regards - in delivering games with pretty different gameplay styles from one entry to the next.

Masaru Oyamada: With Visions of Mana, there definitely was a feeling that we wanted to be able to inherit many of the qualities that were present in Trials of Mana. We originally thought of that game as the "evolved form" of an RPG experience; so yes, building off of that was one of our intentions. As you know, historically, one of the most distinctive features of the series was the fact that each sort of game had it's own unique gameplay. That was something that Koichi Ishii sort of established as the identity of the series, and I do feel that this allowed us to deliver plenty of appealing games in the past. With Visions of Mana, one thing we really wanted to do was to take all the best-recieved parts of previous games and put them together, with a particular focus on Trials of Mana. Really, the goal was to try and make a game where longtime fans can see the "echoes" of what came before, while also acting as a series primer to players taking their first step into the franchise.

RPG Site: Speaking of both returning and new fans - Trials of Mana was notable for being the first time the series released on multiple platforms at the same time, and it seems like Visions of Mana has focused even harder on delivering the game for more players. It's on PlayStation, it's on PC, it's even on Xbox; yet I can't help but notice that the game isn't releasing on Nintendo Switch, despite the series having such a storied history on Nintendo platforms. Especially considering that the first 3 games in the series were Nintendo exclusives, and that the Trials of Mana remake released on Switch. Was there any specific reason that the team has focused on the higher-end consoles and PC, this time around?

Masaru Oyamada: That's definitely a tricky question to give a direct answer to. For Trials of Mana, the main thing was how we had to consider the future of the series, and how to cultivate a playerbase for future entries in the franchise. When we thought about the next, say, 10 years of the series' future we felt it was paramount to really solidify what we wanted "Mana" to be going forward. Some of those core tenets included a focus on expansive environments, and a richer experience overall. As a direct result, that's what informed the hardware we decided to develop for. That's all we can say specifically, at this moment.

RPG Site: That makes sense; we actually interviewed another creator last year that expressed a similar sentiment. That, as a developer, if you're targeting a certain level of fidelity there comes a point where at least the current Nintendo hardware becomes tricky to consider. That being said - having played the demo, I can see where you're coming from. The game is looking absolutely gorgeous, and the wide open zones are quite a bit more expansive than the ones in the Trials of Mana remake. There's places you're clearly meant to return to, later on when you've gained more equipment and abilities - and I even ran into enemies of a much higher level than what is clearly meant to be the general level of your party for the area.

I guess a good follow-up question would be, then - what's the overall structure of the game looking like, then? The demo I played today was split into two sections; there was a far more linear stage that culminated in a boss, and then of course there was the section that took place on the open field. What's the balance between those look like for the full game?

Masaru Oyamada: In terms of a specific ratio between linear and expansive stages; when I think about the world, we wanted to develop something akin to a globetrotting journey. We want to take players on a big adventure across the world we've envisioned. In the demo you experienced last week, I'd say that we wanted that to be representive of the balance players will find in the full game, and what players can expect overall. Like you said, depending on the strength of your party and what elemental vessels they've obtained there's a focus on offering reasons for players to return to the places they've already been to find something new. The same applies to the more linear sections of the game, too; we wanted players to have a reason to better explore even the areas they've already visited, to see what the game's world can offer.

RPG Site: Is there anything else you'd specifically like fans and new players to know, as we head closer to launch?

Masaru Oyamada: We put a lot of care into expressing Visions of Mana's world and nature through its environments in its own unique way; and we wanted to design a world where you can truly feel the effect that the presence of the elemental spirits have had on those that live in this world. It's our sincere hope that when players get the chance to play the game, that they might take the time to let that atmosphere sink in, and to maybe find all of the little details we included along the way.

RPG Site: Thanks for having us, and it was great having a chance to talk about the game!

Visions of Mana releases for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S and PC later this year.