Artwork of the Mana Tree, from Children of Mana
|Developers||Square Enix (formerly Square)|
|Publishers||Square Enix (formerly Square)|
|Platforms||Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, iOS, Android|
|Platform of origin||Game Boy|
|Year of inception||1991|
|First release||Final Fantasy Adventure
June 8, 1991
|Latest release||Rise of Mana
March 6, 2014
The Mana series, known in Japan as Seiken Densetsu (聖剣伝説?, lit. "Legendary Sacred Sword"), is a medieval-fantasy action role-playing game series from Square Enix, created by Koichi Ishii. The series began as a handheld side story to Square's flagship franchise Final Fantasy, though most Final Fantasy-inspired elements were subsequently dropped, starting with the second installment, Secret of Mana. It has since grown to include games of various genres within the fictional world of Mana, with recurring stories involving a world tree, its associated holy sword, and the fight against forces that would steal their power. Several character designs, creatures, and musical themes reappear frequently.
In 2003, the series comprised five games; since 2006, it has experienced a revival through the World of Mana campaign, with four new games released in the span of one year. As of 2008, the Mana series comprises eight console games and two mobile games, in addition to four manga and one novelization. The Mana series reception has been very uneven, with Secret of Mana earning wide acclaim, such as being rated 78th in IGN's yearly "Top 100 Games of All Time", and being highly praised for its musical score, while the games from the World of Mana series have been rated considerably lower. As of March 2011, Mana series titles have sold over 6 million units.
Square trademarked Seiken Densetsu in 1989, intending to use it for a game project subtitled The Emergence of Excalibur, and led by Kazuhiko Aoki for the Famicom Disk System. According to early advertisements, the game would consist of an unprecedented five floppy disks, making it one of the largest titles developed for the Famicom up until that point. Although Square solicited pre-orders for the game, Kaoru Moriyama, a former Square employee, affirms that management canceled the ambitious project before it advanced beyond the early planning stages. In October 1987, customers who had placed orders were sent a letter informing them of the cancellation and had their purchases refunded. The letter also suggested to consider placing an order on another upcoming Square role-playing game in a similar vein: Final Fantasy.
In 1991, Square reused the Seiken Densetsu trademark for an unrelated Game Boy action role-playing game directed by Koichi Ishii. Originally developed under the title Gemma Knights, the game was renamed Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden (published in North America as Final Fantasy Adventure and in Europe as Mystic Quest). Beginning with Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu was subsequently "spun off" into its own series of action role-playing games distinct from Final Fantasy, with four titles released between 1993 and 2003. The Legend of Mana was made 2D because the PlayStation could not handle the full 3D world Ishii envisioned where one could interact with natural shaped objects. In 2005, Square Enix announced plans for World of Mana, a new series of titles in the Mana franchise, whose titles would span more video game genres than the original series. Koichi Ishii decided even before he worked on Final Fantasy XI about creating new Mana games, but first wanted to create a goal for the new series, and eventually decided to make it about exploring how to add "the feeling of touch" to a game. After he saw the game Half-Life 2 at E3 in 2003, he felt that its physics engine was the one he needed. World of Mana went on to comprise five games and one manga. Koichi Ishii served as director or producer for all Mana games. In 2006, a Mana installment for the Wii was considered but did not enter development. In April 2007, a month after the release of the final game of the World of Mana, Ishii left Square Enix to lead his own development company, named Grezzo.
Creation and design
The Mana series is the result of Koichi Ishii's desire to create a fictional world. In Ishii's opinion, Mana is not a series of video games, but rather a world which is illustrated by and can be explored through video games. When working on the series, Koichi Ishii draws inspiration from abstract images from his memories of childhood, as well as movies and fantasy books that captivated him as a child. Ishii takes care to avoid set conventions, and his influences are correspondingly very wide and non-specific. Nonetheless, among his literary influences, he acknowledges Tove Jansson's Moomin, Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
While some titles of the World of Mana series do share direct connections with other installments, the games of the series have few concrete links. There is no overall explicit in-game chronological order. Further, according to Koichi Ishii the games do not take place in exactly the same world, and characters or elements who appear in different titles are best considered alternate versions of each other. Instead, the connections between each title are more abstract than story-based, linked only on the karmic level.
|Final Fantasy Adventure
Released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden
Released in Europe as Mystic Quest
|Game Boy||The first game of the Mana series was marketed in Japan and the United States as a Final Fantasy game and drew many stylistic influences from the Final Fantasy series, but deviated in that it presented real-time, action-oriented battles comparable to The Legend of Zelda, rather than traditional turn-based battles. An enhanced port was released on mobile phones in Japan, which features an artistic style closer to the original game than that of Sword of Mana. In 2004, Square polled customers regarding interest in porting Final Fantasy Adventure and several other games to the Nintendo DS.|
|Secret of Mana
Released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu 2
|Super Nintendo||Originally planned for the SNES CD-ROM add-on in development by Nintendo and Sony, the game ended up being altered to fit on a standard cartridge when the add-on project was dropped by Nintendo. The game introduced the Ring Command menu system, which enabled prompt access to features such as items or magic spells. In 2003, the game ranked 78th in IGN's yearly "Top 100 Game of All Time".|
|Seiken Densetsu 3||
||Super Famicom||Seiken Densetsu 3 introduced a degree of nonlinearity to the series, allowing players to choose at the beginning of the game a party of three members out of a total of six characters. Distinct encounters and endings can be seen depending on the characters selected. It was never released outside of Japan due to technical bugs and the game being too large for Western cartridges, although an English language fan translation was released by Neill Corlett in 2000.|
|Legend of Mana
Released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu: Legend of Mana
|PlayStation||Legend of Mana features different gameplay from its predecessors. The locations of the game's world are represented on a map by artifacts placed by the player, with different artifact placements allowing him or her to obtain different items. The game features temporary sidekick characters that the player can recruit, breed or build, and a weapon and armor creation and tempering system. It also features a story with many diverging subplots. Critical reaction was mixed at the dramatic shift in gameplay and story structure from Secret of Mana.|
|Sword of Mana
Released in Japan as Shin'yaku Seiken Densetsu
|Game Boy Advance||Sword of Mana is a full remake of Final Fantasy Adventure developed by Brownie Brown. Features of the original game were reworked to be brought more in line with the direction the Mana series had taken with the later games.|
|Children of Mana
Released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu DS: Children of Mana
|Nintendo DS||Children of Mana is an action-rpg with randomly generated dungeons which was developed by Next Entertainment. Creator Koichi Ishii was most interested in the further development of multiplayer gaming that was first attempted in a limited way in Secret of Mana.|
|Friends of Mana
Released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu: Friends of Mana
||Mobile phone||Friends of Mana is a multiplayer role-playing game set in a fictional world called Mi'Diel. A part of the "World of Mana" series, Friends was a rarity for its simultaneous multiplayer rpg gameplay. The servers for the game were shut down in February 28, 2011.|
|Dawn of Mana
Released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu 4
|PlayStation 2||Dawn of Mana is the first fully 3D game in the Mana series, utilizing the Havok physics engine seen in Half-Life 2 that allows a large amount of player interaction with their 3D environment. In the series in-universe timeline, Dawn of Mana is set at the very beginning, while Children of Mana takes place ten years later.|
|Heroes of Mana
Released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu: Heroes of Mana
|Nintendo DS||Heroes of Mana is a tactical role-playing game and a prequel to Seiken Densetsu 3. It was born out of the desire to make a real-time strategy game similar to Age of Empires, StarCraft, and Warcraft: Orcs & Humans.|
|Circle of Mana
Released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu: Circle of Mana
||iOS, Android||Circle of Mana is a card battle game released on the GREE platform on March 5, 2013. Players fight to defend the Tree of Mana using cards featuring characters from Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3, and Dawn of Mana. All worlds are connected through the Tree of Mana, and players must recover the Sword of Mana to restore the balance. Cards can be combined to make them evolve and players decide what skills the characters become proficient in, like Seiken Densetsu 3. Players can also battle each other for points in coliseum mode.|
|Rise of Mana
Released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu: Rise of Mana
||iOS, Android||A new Mana game was unceremoniously announced, said to be releasing on iOS "soon" and Android in Summer 2014. The game returns the series to its Action-RPG roots, however this time as a F2P (free-to-play) game with microtransations for things like weapons crafting. The game features 8-player co-op. Set in the new land, Miste, the story revolves around the angelic Lasta and the demonic Darka engaged in an ages-long war for the mortal world. One of each side falls to the mortal world by accident and must share the same body in order to survive, allowing the player to switch between the two characters at will. No international release has been announced, however Square Enix did trademark the name in Europe several months before the announcement. The soundtrack features contributions by composers from previous Mana games, (Tsuyoshi Sekito, Kenji Ito, Hiroki Kikuta, and Yoko Shimomura) and was released on April 23, 2014.|
A common element of the series is its seamless, real-time battle system. The system was developed by Koichi Ishii and improved upon by Hiromichi Tanaka, out of a desire to create a system different from the one featured in the first few Final Fantasy titles. While action-based, the Mana battle system is intended to be playable even by newcomers as well as veterans. The system is coupled with the distinctive hierarchical "Ring Command" menu system, featured prominently in Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3, and to a lesser extent in later installments. Each ring is a set of icons with a textual infobox explanation which, upon selection, allow the player to use an item, cast a spell, look up in-game statistics, or change the game's settings. Navigation within a menu is achieved by rotating the ring through the cursor left or right, while switching to a different menu is achieved by pressing the up or down buttons. Although not part of the series, the spin-off Secret of Evermore, developed by the North American Square Soft, was also built upon the "Ring Command" system.
The Mana series features several recurring characters and beings, including Final Fantasy creatures such as Chocobos in Final Fantasy Adventure and Legend of Mana, as well as Moogles in Secret of Mana and as a status ailment in Seiken Densetsu 3 and Sword of Mana. Watts is a dwarf blacksmith wearing a horned helmet who upgrades the player's weaponry. Usually, an anthropomorphic cat merchant is found outside of town areas and allows a player to save the game and buy supplies at high prices. This role is played by Neko in Secret of Mana, and Niccolo in Legend of Mana and Sword of Mana. In the Japanese games these merchants share the name Nikita.
The Mana Tree and the Mana Sword, called Excalibur in Final Fantasy Adventure's English version, are recurring plot devices which have been featured in every game of the series. The mystical Mana Tree is a source of magic which sustains the balance and nature of the series' world. The Mana Sword is typically used to restore this balance when it becomes lost in the games. Final Fantasy Adventure explains that if the Mana Tree dies, a member of the Mana Family will become the "seed" of a new Tree. A sprout of the Mana Tree is called a Gemma, while protectors of the Tree, who wield the Mana Sword, are called Gemma Knights. In Seiken Densetsu 3, a Goddess is said to have turned into the Mana Tree after creating the world with the Mana Sword. The Mana Tree is destroyed near the game ending in Final Fantasy Adventure and Secret of Mana, but a character becomes the new Mana Tree in the former game.
Elemental Spirits, also called Mana Spirits, are beings who govern the magic elements of the series' world, and are at the core of the games' magic system as they are used to cast magic spells. Eight types of spirits have appeared in the series since Secret of Mana, and each embodies a different element. Their names are homonyms of mythological beings or phenomena. In Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3, usage of their power is enabled upon the main characters' meeting with them. In Legend of Mana, the spirits serve as factors in the Land Creation System. In Legend of Mana and Sword of Mana, multiple spirits of the same elemental type appear. In terms of storyline, in Seiken Densetsu 3 and Heroes of Mana, the spirits are charged to protect the Mana Stones in which the Mana Goddess sealed eight elemental benevodons (God-Beasts in the fan-translation of SD3). In Dawn of Mana's North American version, each spirit speaks with a particular European accent, such as French or Scottish.
Rabites, known as Rabi (ラビ?) in the Japanese versions of the games, are cute, fictional, rabbit-like creatures appearing as a common enemy in the series since its beginning. The Rabite has become a sort of mascot for the Mana series, much the same way as the Chocobo represents Final Fantasy, and is one of its most recognizable icons. The Rabite resembles a bodiless, one-toothed rabbit with large ears that curve upward and form a point at the tip, and a round, puffy pink tail that moves by hopping along the ground. It is most commonly yellow colored, but also pink, lilac, black, and white, and are variously minor enemies, "superboss" characters and even friendly units and pets. Rabites are also mentioned in Final Fantasy X-2 with an accessory comically named "Rabite's Foot", which increases a character's luck statistic; as well as Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, where they appear in the description of one of the game's optional missions as an endangered species due to being poached for good luck charms. Rabites have appeared prevalently in several pieces of Mana merchandise, including plush dolls, cushions, lighters, mousepads, straps, telephone cards, and T-shirts.
Flammie, sometimes spelled Flammy, is the name of a fictional species of flying dragons, as well as the proper name of some its members, featured in several games of the series. A Flammie's appearance is a mixture of draconian, mammalian, and reptilian features, and its coloring has varied throughout the series. Flammies typically serve as a means of transportation in the game by allowing a player's characters to ride on a Flammie's back to different locations in the game's world. In Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3, the Super Nintendo's Mode 7 graphic capabilities allows the player to control a Flammie from either a "behind the back" third-person or top-down perspective, and fly over the landscape as it scrolls beneath them. In Children of Mana, the player selects on a world map a number of destinations he or she wishes to fly to with a Flammie. In terms of story, the Flammies were created by the Moon Gods, and are part of an endless cycle of destruction and rebirth as the stronger versions of Flammies—known as Mana Beasts, or God Beasts (神獣 Shinjū?) in Japanese—destroy the world and the Mana Sword and Tree restore the world.
The Mana series has had several different composers. Final Fantasy Adventure was composed by Kenji Ito; it was his second original score. Ito's music is mainly inspired by images from the game rather than outside influences. The scores for Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3 were both composed by Hiroki Kikuta. Despite difficulties in dealing with the hardware limitations, Kikuta tried to express, in the music of Secret of Mana, two "contrasting styles", namely himself and the game. This was to create an original score which would be neither pop music nor standard game music. Kikuta worked on the music for the two games mostly by himself, spending nearly 24 hours a day in his office, alternating between composing and editing to create an immersive three-dimensional sound. Kikuta considers the score for Secret of Mana his favorite creation. His compositions for Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3 were partly inspired by natural landscapes. In 1995, Kikuta released an experimental album of arranged music from the two installments, titled Secret of Mana +, which features one 50-minute long track.
Legend of Mana's score was composed by Yoko Shimomura, and of all her compositions, she considers it the one that best expresses herself. Kenji Ito returned to the series with Sword of Mana. He also composed roughly one third of the Children of Mana soundtrack, while the rest was composed by Masaharu Iwata and Takayuki Aihara. Ito was the main composer for Dawn of Mana, assisted by Tsuyoshi Sekito, Masayoshi Soken, and Junya Nakano, as well as main theme composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. In North America, purchasers of Dawn of Mana from participating retailers were offered a sampler disc, titled Breath of Mana, which features a selection of tracks from the game. Shimomura has returned to the series with Heroes of Mana, while also contributing one song to Rise of Mana.
A five-volume manga based on Legend of Mana was drawn by Shiro Amano and published in Japan by Enterbrain between 2000 and 2002.     It features a comedic story about the game's main character, here named Toto. A German version was published by Egmont Manga & Anime in 2003. A collection of four-panel comic strips, drawn by various authors and titled Sword of Mana Yonkoma Manga Theatre, was published in Japan by Square Enix on January 16, 2004. It included a questionnaire that, if sent back, allowed participants to win illustrations signed by Koichi Ishii and Shinichi Kameoka, as well as special T-shirts. Enterbrain also published a Sword of Mana manga adaptation in Japan on February 25, 2004, drawn by a collaboration of authors led by Shiro Amano. Two days later, Square Enix published a two-volume novelization of Sword of Mana in Japan written by Matsui Oohama. An original manga, named Seiken Densetsu: Princess of Mana, was drawn by Satsuki Yoshino and published in the Japanese magazine Gangan Powered on February 22, 2007.
The Mana series has been mostly well received, though each title has seen varied levels of success. RPGFan called Final Fantasy Adventure one of the best things to happen to the Game Boy, while IGN considered it the best action RPG on the console after The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. GameSpot referred to Secret of Mana as "one of Square's masterpieces on the SNES". The game has appeared on several list of top games, including ranked number 97 on Famitsu's top 100 games of all time. Famitsu rated Legend of Mana at 31/40 and Heroes of Mana at 32/40. The NPD Group ranked Legend of Mana as the top seller the week of its release, and in 2006 was re-released as part of the Ultimate Hits series.
Many of the World of Mana titles have not been as critically successful as the original five games in the series, and though the franchise has been praised for their attempts at trying new ways of experiencing the games' fictional world, there have been various gameplay design flaws that have hindered the later games. 1UP.com commented that despite the game's excellent presentation and storytelling, Dawn of Mana did not match the level of gameplay of the early Mana games. Prior to the World of Mana games, RPGamer called the series a "treasured favorite". After the release of Heroes of Mana, they commented that the World of Mana series is "cursed", and the future of the series looked "bleak".
The music of the Mana series, especially Secret of Mana, has received wide acclaim and fan enthusiasm. The Secret of Mana soundtrack was one of the first official soundtracks of video games music released in the United States and thus before fully mainstream interest in RPGs. The Secret of Mana's opening theme, "Angel's Fear", was rated at number 7 on IGN's Top Ten RPG Title tracks, calling it a "magical title song that captures our hearts". It was also featured in the third Orchestral Game Concert. Secret of Mana is also the number 6 most remixed soundtrack on the popular video game music site OverClocked ReMix, with Seiken Densetsu 3 tied at 18. The music of the other titles have also been well received. RPGFan called the music to Final Fantasy Adventure "addictive", despite its low, MIDI-like quality. GameSpy called Children of Mana's music some of the best Nintendo DS music yet and referred to it as "beautiful". Game Informer complimented Dawn of Mana's music, calling it good. IGN referred to Legend of Mana's music as "beautiful" and stated the background music brought "intensity", "suspense", and "subtle nuance" to the game. Other reviewers echoed similar praise with GameSpot calling it "excellently orchestrated" and RPGFan calling the music one of the game's good points.
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