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In 2006, the 6th issue of the Swedish magazine LEVEL published a very interesting 8-page-long feature about the creation of Secret of Mana, including never-discussed-before tidbits about the game's connection to Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy IV, straight from Koichi Ishii and Hiromichi Tanaka's mouths.

Seven years later, this feature has been scanned and translated in English by user Killer Bob so that non-Swedish-speaking fans can finally read it!

Here are the scans:

And here is the translation:

(Page 1)

The truth about Mana

Was Secret of Mana originally a part in the Final Fantasy-series? Was it actually developed for a Nintendo console that never was released? And does it contain a hidden fourth playable character? LEVEL has tracked down the two men behind Square's most mythical game. In an exclusive interview they tell the whole truth.

By Fredrik Schaufelberger (translated by Killer Bob)

(Page 2)

All the most beautiful stories begin with "Once upon a time..." In fairy tales, we get a whole spectrum of love, heroism and excitement served in an accessible and concise form. Who has not in their childhood been immersed in Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty? And who does not harbor an almost subconscious love for kidnapped princesses in soaring towers, amazing enchantments and "they lived happily ever after"-endings? During the 90s Square was the whole world's fairy tale-factory. Their games was to the brim filled with deep forests, magic swords, princesses to rescue and ancient beasts that lurked behind every corner. One of these fairy tales – perhaps the very best – was called Secret of Mana.

- I drew inspiration everywhere. We wanted right from the start that the game should have the same feel as a storybook for children, so I looked at lots of animated films and illustrations in western storybooks in order to get the right feel. Certain motifs and monsters I actually stole outright. Koichi Ishii chuckles content.
It's the summer 2006 and LEVEL asks him to remember the game he started planning 15 years ago. After working with the first Final Fantasy games Square offered him to create a parallel role-playing game series for the Game Boy. Seiken Densetsu – "Legend of the Holy Sword" – was released in 1991, and that year it was decided that the sequel would be a Super NES game. Ishii's role was initially only as a Director but gradually he took on more and more roles. He began designing enemies, animated characters, brainstormed the numerous puzzles and mazes and drew maps of the fairy world. Secret of Mana, or Seiken Densetsu 2, was built up more and more around his thoughts.

- I really loved working with Secret of Mana, as much as I love the finished game. There is so much of myself in it. I even designed parts of the game after my own childhood memories. There are enemies that come from my nightmares when I was a little boy.


The game's introduction is classic. White subtitles explains how the world for centuries produced the magical power of Mana and how the prosperity grew, before an empire became greedy and used the Mana to build a deadly weapon – the Mana Fortress. A great war broke out when opponents of the Empire tried to destroy the fortress and civilization was destroyed before a lone knight armed with the legendary Mana Sword alone succeeded in destroying the fortress. The world was in ruins, but peace prevailed again. Slowly but steady the people was recovering...

One day, a young boy is playing outside his home village. After a false move on a bridge, he tumbles down into the river and barely takes himself ashore.

(Page 3)

On his way back to the village, he stumbles across a rusty old sword that he without thinking picks up and takes with him. Little does he know that the weapon he just found is the ancient Mana Sword. Suddenly, their fates are linked, and he must now travel around the country in order to find the legendary Mana Tree and stop the new evil empire that is trying to resurrect the Mana Fortress.

Secret of Mana is during the initial hour a most traditional adventure game, based on a rather predictable story. The forests outside the home village Potos could as well been located in Hyrule, and those for the series characteristic little rabbits you meet looks like the slime from Dragon Quest, but with ears. It is only when the boy in the kingdom of Pandora encounter a strong-willed young girl, and decides to help her rescue her missing fiancé, as Secret of Mana becomes a game worth a mention in the history books. Because with a simple push on the Start-button on the second controller, can suddenly your best friend, brother, sister, girlfriend or any passerby construction workers be transported into the game and suddenly stand side-by-side with your character. And when the boy and the girl has ended up in an underground cave and meets the frisky little sprite, who also joins the group in the hope of being able to recover his lost memories, gaming history's most charming trio and the world's first and still best adventure for three players is a fact. This was long before Ultima Online and abbreviations like MMORPG was conceived, and role players rejoiced at the opportunity to help save the world together. But the fact is that Square never consciously planned to create a social game.

- The original idea was to have just three main characters, but the player would only control one of them while the AI controlled the other two, reveals Hiromichi Tanaka, who was the game's producer.

Tanaka began at Square at the same time as Hironobu Sakaguchi and also he was deeply involved in the early Final Fantasy games. Over the years, he would be responsible for the best games Sakaguchi himself had no time to be engaged in – like Xenogears and Chrono Cross – before he finally returned to Final Fantasy as a producer for part eleven. Today Tanaka's career is in other words about the online role-playing for hundreds of thousands of participants. But in the early 90s, he had not even arrived at the idea of an adventure that could be controlled by several people.

- The multiplayer-thing was a bonus, we had not at all planned it from the beginning, he continues. But we suddenly discovered that it was quite easy to program the ability to control all of the three main characters and realized that many players would probably prefer human teammates over computer–controlled ones.

(Page 4)


When Square started the development of Secret of Mana, it was for the CD-ROM player that was going to be released for the Super NES. But we know that story now – the whole CD-project was cancelled, but Nintendo's partner Sony took care of the technology they had started and developed their own CD-based console that they named PlayStation. When plans for Nintendo's CD-format went up in smoke, both Ishii and Tanaka were at first prepared to even throw the unfinished Secret of Mana into the fire. But the management did not want all the work already done would be in vain, so they instead asked the team to compress and rework the game so that it would fit on a standard Super NES-cartridge.

- Quantities, and now I really mean quantities of materials disappeared when the CD-format was discontinued, says Tanaka. We had to redo the game from scratch. I think almost half of what should have been there from the beginning had to be removed.

Thanks to the extremely ambitious original plans was Secret of Mana a game that constantly pushed the boundaries of what the Super NES console could handle. But the game suffered from recurring slowdowns so they were forced to exclude a lot of enemies, locations and story-segments that were planned. Square was furious at Nintendo for allowing suspend work with the CD player. There are even those who claim that the Secret of Mana-incident was the reason why Square in 1996 chose to dump their former partner for Sony.

- The development of Secret of Mana was both messy and incredibly stressful, says Ishii. When the CD-version was discontinued, we constantly had to fight against an inadequate hardware which failed to achieve the grand plans we had. It was a development period that went in constant uphill battle and I'm honestly surprised that the finished game did not become an unmitigated disaster.

- Many of the ideas we had for the CD-version came fortunately to use later, when we did Chrono Trigger, says Hiromichi Tanaka. In fact, the original version of Secret of Mana was not at all the same game as we eventually released. The first version of the game had for example a much darker tone.

(Page 5)

The different orientations of Square's games for the Super NES has often led to speculation about a fragmented company where development teams pulled in different directions. But there is equally as much truth in that the games, and the teams behind them, influenced each other. In the same way as parts of Chrono Trigger originally had been intended for Secret of Mana, was the latter a further development of Square's Super NES-debut Final Fantasy IV. It was when Tanaka, Koichi Ishii and the legendary programmer Nasir Gebelli investigated the possibility of developing that game's active time battle as they got the idea for their innovative combat system.

- Secret of Mana is in many ways the game Final Fantasy IV could have been, says Tanaka. Many of the design decisions we discussed during the development of that game was used in Secret of Mana instead. The whole game represents a direction we were considering with Final Fantasy IV, but ultimately avoided.

In Secret of Mana, all three heroes have their own stamina meter. Every time someone performs an attack, they must wait a short time before they can hit with full force again, otherwise it gives the attack only a fraction as much damage. In this way, the battles become like a real-time version of the Final Fantasy-system. Along with experience points and the often copied function of weapons and magic becoming stronger the more they are used, gave the stamina meter Secret of Mana a more RPG-like tone and separated it even more from all the soulless The Legend of Zelda-clones that around this time flooded the market.


Secret of Mana's perhaps greatest strength is how it with the simple logic of fairy tales makes even the most weird elements feel completely natural. Who can ever forget a place like the forest of four seasons, where newly blossomed buds and pink cherry blossoms are just a few steps away from the snow-covered trees and frozen ponds? Charming details like the heroes opening chests by lifting them over their heads and pound them into the ground, all the shopkeepers in the whole game dancing behind the counters or that the little cat Neko running around with a big bag on his back and sells items for unreasonable prices, makes you smile constantly. But despite the storybook framing the story never becomes childish, instead it is from beginning to end a beautiful fable about heroism, betrayal and true friendship.

- Compared with the Final Fantasy-series, I always felt that Secret of Mana was more my game, admits Ishii today. I was probably the biggest brain behind the world, I created it in my imagination and drew it up from scratch. It's probably silly of me, but sometimes I feel like I let other people visit my own world.

(Page 6)

The Mana Tree stands in the center of most events in the Seiken Densetsu-series. In the first Game Boy-game, it is the tree that needs to be saved, while in Secret of Mana it has received a more symbolic role.

- The Mana Tree is our interpretation of the cradle of life, it is there everything has arisen, explains Ishii. A tree is a great fit as a metaphor for life, with its widespread branches representing different choices, or the clear division between the trunk, branches and foliage which can be said to symbolize the various stages in life. Our fundamental idea was that we would create a world where everyone had the same origin and were a part of something bigger, where everyone had something divine in them. Sakaguchi-san also recycled that idea with lifestream in Final Fantasy VII.


Super Nes was equipped with two control ports. With a multitap, four could play. So why Square chose a middle road with three players in Secret of Mana has remained one of RPG-history's great unsolved mysteries.

- Well, this may not sound particularly romantic now, but basically, it was only about technical issues, sighs Ishii. We really tried with four players, but the hardware refused. Though at the same time, I wanted to simulate the feeling of playing as a family. Mom, dad and child. Three persons. And looking at it from that angle I definitely think we succeeded. Ishii leans back in the chair and laughs.

- I love cooperation in games. When my friends and I were younger we always sat and played board games together and I remember how much I loved the feeling that the game involved someone more than just me. I once thought that if those who played Secret of Mana would start to quibble comradely about who would play the guy and who gets to be the sprite, then we had succeeded.

Secret of Mana was never the perfect game. Above all, the artificial intelligence is legendarily poor, with a computer that often find it much more fun to get stuck in walls and run straight into fire-breathing monsters instead of doing trivial things like help you defeat the enemies. And it's because of that, the human cooperation becomes so important. Secret of Mana alone is absolutely not the same game as Secret of Mana with two friends. Every battle that could have become routine turns into a battle of life and death when you are sitting on the couch and yell at your teammates that they should come and help you out of the corner where three wicked hedgehogs bombard you with attacks.

- The reason why multiplayer modes in this type of games is so unusual is probably the issues with keeping the story exciting even when multiple people are involved, argues Ishii. But if you succeed with that, the experience can be fantastic, because when you collaborate you get drawn into the game in a completely different way. You live it.

- I miss these old games a bit, admits Tanaka. Before you could only play with people sitting next to you in the couch and it gave a completely different sense of community. Before the internet revolution we had to build our characters around the world. Now we are building the world around our characters.

(Page 7)


Today it is almost impossible for us to understand how desperate the situation of European console role-players was in 1993. We're talking about a time when the title Final Fantasy was considered obscure and experience points still was associated with Dungeons & Dragons - societies or similar deadly youth cults. Tobias Bjarneby* had his own RPG-corner in Super Power, importers bought every little cartridge with the Square-logo on it and university evening classes in Japanese was filled with resigned role players who realized that their only chance to enjoy all fantastic adventures was to make it on the Japanese own terms. Europe was the u-continent of RPGs and even if Secret of Mana was a golden exception when it was converted to the PAL-format, it took so long before the game was released that everyone with some sort of fascination for Japanese adventures already had imported the American version. Secret of Mana flopped and what could have been a historic turning point in Square's attitude towards the European market led instead to the company staying away from Europe for another four years.

*Famous gaming journalist In Sweden

Another unforeseen problem appeared also in the English version. Square hired their American frontman Ted Woolsey for the translation job, whereupon he took with him his wife and kid to the Square headquarters in Japan and got exactly 30 days to present a complete English version of the script. In addition to the time pressure Woolsey blamed his poor translation on the necessity to cut down the conversations and make them one-third as long as in the Japanese original, because of the font choice. But the hardcore fans became very upset, arguing that Woolsey's translation was completely wrong and that everything from the names of the items to the dialogue was totally incorrect. When Square moved from Washington to Los Angeles in 1996 Woolsey chose to leave the company. Unconfirmed rumors claim that RPG-fans in the U.S. organized a ten-day festival to celebrate the news. But neither a sloppy translation, poor AI or lost content means nothing when I take my first steps in the stream where the adventure begins, and see the grass swaying in the morning breeze, really feel the water that bubbles up between my feet and listen to the beautiful melody carried forward by the wind. The gray everyday with homework, laundry room times and macaroni with ketchup disappears, and is replaced by shiny swords, flying dragons, evil generals and forgotten continents. How a game with such obvious flaws so totally manages to take over my mind, I can not even answer. But I guess that is what is called magic.

Side note on the sixth page:


If Secret of Mana is the game we remember as Squares failed attempts to launch itself in Europe is the Super NES-sequel Seiken Densetsu 3 the sad consequences of it. After the lack of sales success, Square chose to not even translate the sequel to English and even today it is only released in Japan. Seiken Densetsu 3 was in many ways the perfect continuation of the series. Equally beautiful storybook aesthetics, six playable characters (though only three simultaneously) and a versatile, non-linear story that made a whole world wish that they understood Japanese. Instead, Square U.S. gave us Secret of Evermore, a game based on the Secret of Mana-engine developed by the company's American division and which is even today brought up as an example of everything that is disgusting with American RPGs. Technically, there was nothing wrong with it and composer Jeremy Soule's soundtrack belong to his best works. The problem is just that Secret of Evermore is a silly, unattractive and on all levels uninteresting rubbish game with a protagonist who mostly looked like Commander Keen. To top it all, it had no multiplayer option.

I always thought they were real eyes. Deus from Xenogears has eyes all over its body (in its various forms):

So the eyes on the Frozen Flame are probably based on those on Deus, which are themselves most definitely based on Ophanim, Merbabah and other ancient religious imageries.

Quantum realities.

As in, multiple realities, each with their own laws of physics. Gameplaywise, that translates to multiple battle systems within the same game.

One universe with CC's battle system.

One with Xenogears' battle system.

One with Final Fantasy's ATB.

One with a classic, turn-based system à la Dragon Quest.

One with an action RPG system.


And the final battle is fought beyond time and space against an enemy that can change the final battle's battle system at will.

And Gilgamesh makes a cameo as a fellow interdimensional traveler.

Has there ever been a Mana game that involves time traveling? Perhaps a Chrono and Mana crossover.

Well, Masato Kato was the scenario writer for Children of Mana, Heroes of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 4 (Dawn of Mana). I never played those games but there's some sort of temporal event in SD4 that's reminiscent of the Dead Sea from Chrono Cross.

Hey guys, long time no see. I'm just dropping by to post something interesting I found in liner notes written by Hiromichi Tanaka for the "Seiken Densetsu Music Complete Book" (a compilation of all Mana soundtracks released in 2011 for the Mana series's 20th anniversary).

Quote from: Liner notes translation
[...]upon getting word from Nintendo that they were developing a CD-ROM adapter for the Super Famicom, we decided to start a project in a different direction from Final Fantasy IV, which at the time was in the middle of development and was touted as a next-generation RPG fitting the large storage capacity the new cartridges had. The development codename for the new project was Maru Island, and we were making it as a collaboration work with Akira Toriyama-sensei after we established contact through Shueisha. I frequently ran back to the office just to receive and look at the screen mock-ups that Toriyama-sensei did in the initial stages of the project.

Despite that, the CD-ROM adapter was never completed. Once everyone learned that the CD-ROM adapter was never going to see a release, they decided to abandon everything that had been planned for development since the very start, including Toriyama-sensei's contributions, and decided to revise the project in order to make it release into a ROM cassette. We said that we would wait for the CD-ROM to make a collaboration project with Toriyama-sensei, but when it was revised, it actually became an entirely different project with an entirely different direction. That was what later on was completed into the game we know as Chrono Trigger.

Thanks to the high speed of the ROM, it was possible to seamlessly make the action visible in the field without the need to make a transition into a battle screen. But in the end, the new RPG I wanted to start making — one that didn't have a command-style battle system (Motion Battle System) and tested the reflexes of the players — wasn't a title that existed at the moment.

Upon seeing that my goal was to make an action RPG, and learning that an ARPG was the next game we were going to make, I decided to make it into a sequel for Seiken Densetsu, so we reestructured everything to use the world setting we had already from the previous game, and Seiken Densetsu 2 was finally completed.

tl;dr: Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana both originated as the same original project, the original Squaresoft/Akira Toriyama collaboration, which was going to be a Super CD-ROM action RPG codenamed Maru Island. When the Super CD-ROM was scrapped, the collaboration was rebooted as Chrono Trigger while the action RPG concept was reworked as a Seiken Densetsu sequel.

So if you think the boy and the girl here:

look like the boy and the girl here:

maybe it's not a coincidence after all...

Source for the liner notes (be sure to read all of Tanaka's notes if you're interested in the genesis of the Mana series):

Damn, I'd like to say something interesting but it's been a while and there's so much to consider... I might lean towards discarding the Pocket Dimension theory too, I guess. Mmh...

Regarding A, I actually have a question: assuming this is the blue aura while fighting the outer shell, does the aura not appear in any time period? For example, if one takes the bucket (or the telepod gate in NG+) to 1999 and fights Lavos, does the aura still appear?

If the aura does not appear when fighting Lavos in one Time Period, then I think we could reasonably say that the aura is a gate effect transporting the team to the time period in which the aura is not present (and the period in which it isn't present, it is missing because it is unneeded). This would seemingly specifically counter the PD theory, as the aura should always be present.

If, however, the aura is present in all time periods, then I believe it would be reasonable to suppose it is a random battle effect with no meaning or that it is a Pocket Dimension.

I think I recall that there is a way to battle Lavos without this aura, but I have no save game with which to check, nor am I in a location where I can check.

Apart from overworld scenes, Lavos always appears in the blue aura, except in 1999 after the defeat of his first form. Right after it's defeated in 1999, you see his shell on solid ground. I'm not sure what happens if you defeat his first form, return to the End of Time, and rewatch the 1999 AD eruption again. The eruption has a shot of him in his blue aura so it might be interesting to check if this shot is the same if you've already defeated his first form.

In any case, some sort of "Pocket" space does exist, even if it's not a Time Error-based "Pocket Dimension". The Ocean Palace disaster explicitly shows the characters teleporting/being teleported in and out of the blue aura zone. Besides, Lavos is just too large to fit in the Mammon Machine's hall and in Magus's summoning room, unless he resided in his own patch of space when he appeared there.

Time, Space, and Dimensions / Re: A little issue about Time Bastard
« on: August 07, 2009, 08:01:42 am »
That does sound like a plothole :( Although, perhaps the non-Time Bastard part was charged so much (65 million years on its own + 65 million years with its clone) that even if one half disappears the other half still had accumulated enough power to look powered-up on its own.

Time, Space, and Dimensions / Re: Issue: Lavos pulls back Chronopolis
« on: August 07, 2009, 07:40:40 am »
Unrelated, but:
A form of the future has to be set for time travel to be possible. When Crono travels to 2300, he sees a future, therefore a future must exist for him to see. Perhaps this is just the result of the likeliest of outcomes being the outcomes assumed by time. Things don't have to go that way, but unless the shadows of these events remain unchanged...

Actually, the Gates were created by the dying planet, which wanted to relive its past. So 2300 AD has to go that way since it already has. Everything Crono does in the game is in the planet's past. The Gates "come from" the planet's present which should be sometime after 2300 AD.

Hmm, so does anyone know any details of when it will begin?

No idea, but the news has now reached GameSpot:

Woah, Crono was the first character that came to my mind when reading the part about Zoah... but it can't be him, can it? :?

Curiously, the mushroom that turns Funguy into a mushroom-man is found in Shadow Forest, where that lost Zoah backstory was supposed to be hinted at... And this mushroom Key Item is described as "An expensive delicacy found only in the Guardia region". Mmh... Could Zoah be the one that dropped this mushroom in the forest?

Time, Space, and Dimensions / Re: Issue: Lavos pulls back Chronopolis
« on: August 06, 2009, 11:37:49 pm »
   In the year 2400, during a
   counter-time experiment, the
   Flame goes out of control...
   This causes the dimensions
   to rip apart, resultin' in
   the Time Crash.
   Engulfed in an enormous
   dimensional vortex,
   Chronopolis was hurled ten
   thousand years back in time.
   Perhaps it was the awakenin'
   Lavos who pulled the Frozen
   Flame back through time to it.
   Maybe so that Lavos, who saw
   the possibility that some young
   adventurers might destroy it,
   could create a backup plan.

What's weird is that the game says "possibility" and "backup plan". If it were set in stone from that Lavos's perspective, wouldn't the possibility be a certainty and the backup plan a "plan B"?

To round things out, Chrono'99 has collected fan art of Chrono fan creations, including Lena Andreia's Aurora Anrui and Maia, and Chrono'99's King Zeal and CE wallpapers (1024x768 and 1440x900).

Actually I also did these Aurora and Maia fanarts; I listed Lena Andreia as the original character designer just out of courtesy.

Site Updates / Re: Site Maintenance
« on: August 06, 2009, 11:07:13 pm »
Ah, just when I'm back from vacation.

Chrono / Gameplay Casual Discussion / Re: Trivia and other Tidbits
« on: July 03, 2009, 06:43:43 am »
This is a very simple trivia but maybe some people didn't noticed it:

Belthasar designed both the Blackbird and the Sylbird.

Time, Space, and Dimensions / Re: Why did Lynx need Lucca?
« on: July 03, 2009, 06:21:08 am »
Therefore, at the time of Belthasar's "orchestration", Serge has never even existed yet.  In fact, Serge is a descendant of the people working with Belthasar during the orchestration.  How can Belthasar orchestrate a plot to empower a person that has never yet existed?  Unless, creating Serge was part of the plan too....?  Could this help to answer why Serge is so important (or detrimental) to the survival of Home World, and why Schala could hear him crying?

The ending of the game shows that even in other dimensions, Schala Kid is looking for her "Serge". They're basically soulmates. CC's Schala was probably bound to hear/see/meet Serge too just like in the other dimensions.

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