Mana Series Interview and Hands-off Demo at E3 2019: We chat with series' producers about re-releasing and remaking a classic series
One of the nicest surprises of E3 2019 was the announcement of Collection of Mana and Trials of Mana. While some trademarks and ratings might have preempted the reveal, it was nice to see the Western audience receive both the original trio and completely new version of the cult-classic Seiken Densetsu 3.
As a refresher for those new to the series - Collection of Mana is the bundle of the three original 'Mana' titles for Nintendo Switch. Known as Seiken Densetsu in Japan, the three titles are as follows:
- Seiken Densetsu (Game Boy) - known as Final Fantasy Adventure in the United States and as Mystic Quest in Europe
- Seiken Densetsu 2 (SFC/SNES) - more widely known as Secret of Mana
- Seiken Densetsu 3 (SFC) - which has never been officially localized until now as Trials of Mana.
In Los Angeles for E3 2019, we got a chance to sit down with Masaru Oyamada, the producer of Collection of Mana and Shinichi Tatsuke, the producer of the Trials of Mana remake, to see an hands-off demo for the games and ask some questions about them.
When I entered the meeting room, Mr. Tatsuke began by showing me a demo of the Trials of Mana remake, which was similar but not completely identical to the one shown during Nintendo's Treehouse segment. Mr. Tatsuke explained that, like the original Seiken Densetsu 3, the game features six playable characters, and you can choose one protagonist and 2 companions at the game's outset. Each of these characters has a different fighting style, and depending on which character you choose, the storyline also changes. For our demo, much like at Treehouse Live, we chose the warrior Duran with companions Riesz & Charlotte.
I saw the opening of Duran's storyline, where he takes part in a swordfighting competition in the Kingdom of Valsena, which seems to act as his tutorial area. Soon after, I see a voiceless cutscene where Duran suffers a humiliating defeat while guarding the Valsena castle, which Mr. Tatsuke explains works as the motivation for his journey to become stronger.
After spending a little bit of time exploring the nearby town, I got to see some combat for the Trials of Mana remake in action, much like as shown in other demonstrations during E3. Duran could freely attack the enemies along in the area using both light and heavy attacks, and he could freely dodge and jump as well. Attacks could also be charged which would leave Duran defenseless for a moment, but of course deal out stronger blows. Dishing and taking damage would fill the SP gauge at the bottom, where Duran could then unleash his special moves (known as Techs in the original Seiken Densetsu 3).
It also seemed like provoking an enemy into battle would create a sort of circular arena where the fight would take place, and Duran would need to run away at the edge of the arena border to break 'aggro' and continue along the path if the player did not want to battle. Battles also ended with some Bonuses displayed on the side for things like finishing battles quickly, without taking damage, or knocking over the enemy, which would offer some bonus SP to the player.
Tatsuke: So Trials of Mana is an action game, and you can use weak attacks and strong attacks, as well as evading, to proceed in battle. So as you can see, Duran can also do charged attacks, and once the gauge fills up at the bottom, you can use a special attack. Right now there is no voice-over, but both English and Japanese voice-over will be implemented in the final release. As far as the text goes, French, German, and Spanish will also be available.
RPG Site: So I do own Seiken Densetsu 3 and I have played through it using an unofficial translation. It's immediately obvious when I compare this Trials of Mana remake to 2018's Secret of Mana remake as well as Adventures of Mana [a remake of the original Seiken Densetsu], those two games seemed to be more like faithful recreations of their original versions. Trials of Mana seems to be free to be something quite different than its original version, something new. What was the decision-making process in deciding to go that route?
Oyamada: Seiken Densetsu 3, the original Trials of Mana, had never been released in the West. However, we were aware that there was a demand from the fans, wanting it to be released. So this time around, we wanted to present this as a new title, wanted to make it modernized and more captivating - to take it in a new direction. The original version will also be available in the Collection of Mana, for those who want to experience that version.
RPG Site: I recognize a lot of the music playing in these parts of the game. Just curious, will the Trials of Mana remake offer just a redone soundtrack, or will there be an option to use the original music?
Tatsuke: You can switch between the tracks, certainly.
RPG Site: One thing I was specifically curious about is how magic works. In the original game, you would have to pause and open the ring menu to select which magic to use, how does it work here?
Oyamada: You can bring up the ring command during combat to use magic like before, but we are also planning to implement easier ways to access spells as well. Also when someone uses magic, whether it's your allies or the enemy, the action will not stop like in the original game.
RPG Site: Perhaps a related question. In Seiken Densetsu 3, when I had Angela as a companion, she was never quite smart enough to use effective spells on her own. I repeatedly had to open the menu to command her to use certain abilities. Will their behavior be improved here?
Tatsuke: We have redesigned the AI systems completely. If you set up Angela to use her magic, she will use it that way. We cannot show you this now, but eventually, you'll be able to set up the behavior to act in certain ways.
RPG Site: So this is more of a broad question. What sets Mana apart from other RPGs? What would you say makes it unique?
Oyamada: One of the major characteristics of the Mana series is the aesthetic of the world and characters created by Mr. Koichi Ishii. The series uses more cute visuals and cute characters/enemies, but the storylines remain serious and emotional, and that combination is something we feel is unique to Mana.
RPG Site: How was the decision made to take these classic games and re-release them as Collection of Mana in Japan for Nintendo Switch, a few years back? Further, when was the decision made to localize Collection of Mana to the West, which of course would entail localizing a game that had not been released in the West prior with Seiken Densetsu 3?
Oyamada: So around when the Switch launched, we got word that it would be possible to play Super Famicom titles on it, eventually. We had also been hearing from Japanese fans, for a while, that they wanted us to release classic games like Seiken Densetsu 3 on newer hardware. As for releasing the game worldwide, since Seiken Densetsu 3 hadn't been localized previously, it posed quite a challenge for us to release Collection of Mana in the West. But, when we first showed the Trials of Mana remake, which is what we were working on first, to the Western team, they expressed a strong interest in releasing the original version as well. That's what spurred us on to extract to code from the original Seiken Densetsu 3 and take on the task of localizing it.
RPG Site: Just to make sure I have the timeline correct, the Trials of Mana remake was in development before Collection of Mana was greenlit for localization?
Oyamada: That's correct.
At this point, the demonstration began a battle against Fullmetal Hugger, one of the earliest boss encounters in the game. I immediately noticed that the action did not pause whenever the boss performed various actions or party members used their own abilities - something that allows combat to be quite a bit more fluid than the original release.
Tatsuke: His eyes are weaknesses, but that's also a dangerous area to be, so you have to time your attacks and dodges well to maximize damage output and minimize the damage you take. You are also able to switch between your three party characters quickly while you fight. Companions will use abilities on their own based on their behavior set up.
RPG Site: In terms of the remake's storyline, has it been fleshed out or expanded upon from the original, or will it largely follow those same plotlines as before?
Oyamada: What we can say right now is that the primary plot will be the same, but we can't go into too much detail about that right now.
RPG Site: One small thing that was added to the Secret of Mana Remake were these 'Inn Scenes', where the three characters would have a discussion about the current events in the game. Anything like that in Trials of Mana?
Oyamada: That's also something we can't go into much detail about, but what I can say is that as far as game systems go, a lot of game volume has been added. I can say that the game's growth systems are new.
RPG Site: So in the original game, you could eventually change your character's classes and choose between a few upgrade paths. I assume you can't say too much about this now either, but will this work similarly in the remake?
Tatsuke: Yes, the same classes do exist, but we can't say more than that right now.
RPG Site: This is more of a forward-thinking question, but what do you see for the Mana series going forward? While I'm personally quite excited to play both the Collection and Trials of Mana remake, do you think Mana series will see a comeback in terms of a brand new entry?
Oyamada: So right now, that is a goal we are working towards. This is one reason we decided to take Trials of Mana and head in that 'new title' direction - making it a full remake - something akin to a new title. We are trying to figure out what sort of new and modern features the Mana series should exhibit, and we felt this was a good opportunity to challenge ourselves and get feedback from players and try to work towards that ultimate goal in the future.
RPG Site: You said earlier that doing the localization for Seiken Densetsu 3 was challenging. How so?
Oyamada: For the Collection, the text in the Japanese ROM was pretty much already at full capacity, so when we wanted to bring into other languages, increasing the character limits was the main obstacle. The original game also used a fixed-width font, which also added headaches, and we ultimately had to expand the ROM capacity overall.
RPG Site: Was there anything else you wanted to say about either Collection of Mana or Trials of Mana?
Oyamada: I do want to say that we never would have known that people wanted to play the original version out in the West had we not began to hear more and more feedback from western players about Seiken Densetsu 3 in recent years. We really appreciate the feedback and we want to continue listening to fans about what they hope to see from Mana in the future.
RPG Site: I'm looking forward to playing these games. Thank you for your time.
Collection of Mana is available now for Nintendo Switch eShop and a physical version will be available on August 27. The Trials of Mana remake is set for release in early 2020 for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC via Steam.