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- "Seiken Densetsu" redirects here. For information about the first installment of the Mana series that has the same Japanese name, see Final Fantasy Adventure.
Mana (聖剣伝説 Seiken Densetsu, lit. The Legend of the Sacred Sword) is a series of action role-playing games created by Koichi Ishii. It is owned by Square Enix (formerly Squaresoft), who has developed nearly every title in the series. Mana started out as a spinoff within the Final Fantasy franchise when its first title, Final Fantasy Adventure, was released in 1991. Ever since the release of the second installment, Secret of Mana, Mana has disconnected from the Final Fantasy franchise to become its own series. Sword of Mana, a remake of Final Fantasy Adventure, even dropped all Final Fantasy-related elements, although they were added back into the mobile versions and the Adventures of Mana remake.
Many of the games are centered around the Tree of Mana, a world tree providing life to the world, and the evil forces who wish to steal its power. The Mana series is more focused on action gameplay than traditional RPG gameplay, specifically that utilized by the main Final Fantasy series, which features command menus and turn-based battles. The Mana series' gameplay has often been compared to The Legend of Zelda series.
The series consists of four main titles, one corollary title, five spinoff games, and at least one graphic novel. Of the game titles, four have received significant remakes or remastered versions. Three games were never released outside of Japan.
The series can be divided into two distinct development periods, each incorporating unique elements of style not seen in the other. Under series creator Kōichi Ishii, the overall aesthetic was muted and placed greater emphasis on each world's fantasy setting, whereas under Oyamada, the aesthetic became brighter and more vibrant, with emphasis placed on characters and story elements with influences from modern anime and popular culture. None of the principal stories were changed between the two directors other than as was needed to meet expected cultural norms and/or publisher regulations of each era.
Ishii era (1991-2007)
Mana began under Kōichi Ishii with a proposal titled Legend of the Holy Blade: The Emergence of Excalibur, which had a story deeply rooted in Arthurian myth. The game itself was to be distributed on the Famicom Disk System and received a sizable number of pre-orders, but Square ultimately cancelled it and suggested that interested gamers instead place their orders for Final Fantasy. The Seiken Densetsu mark would be repurposed in 1991 for an entirely different story that ultimately became the first game, Final Fantasy Adventure. The game was designed with the short-burst play style of the Game Boy at top of mind so that players could mark their progress anywhere and at any time.
Since Secret of Mana's release in 1993, Mana disconnected from the Final Fantasy franchise to become its own series. Secret of Mana was met with a lot of positive reception worldwide, and it is widely regarded as one of the best RPGs of its era.
In 1995, a sequel to Secret of Mana was released for the Super Famicom, Seiken Densetsu 3, which was not localized outside of Japan because of various reasons. The game was met with an overall positive response in Japan. Coincidentally, around the time Seiken Densetsu 3 was exclusively released in Japan, Squaresoft released Secret of Evermore for North American and European markets. The combination of classic Mana gameplay mechanics with several new and reworked elements in each game set the standard for future installments in the series. In 2000, a fan translation for Seiken Densetsu 3 was released.
The series' first spinoff, Legend of Mana, was released for the Sony PlayStation in 1999 as a "build-your-own-adventure" take on the Mana formula. Though not a main title, Legend of Mana became another cult classic for the franchise.
With much of the original team having moved on by 2003, the Mana series had gone dormant, and Ishii sought to revive it. Assisted by former colleagues working under the name Brownie Brown, Ishii's revised team worked with Nintendo to release Sword of Mana, a complete retelling of Final Fantasy Adventure. The game's release also marked the beginning of the series' first compilation effort in World of Mana, which received tepid reviews for the entirety of the campaign. A reimagining of Secret of Mana was also planned as part of the compilation, but was scrapped following poor sales of Sword of Mana.
Dawn of Mana, released in 2006, was the fourth main entry in the Mana series and the last entry developed wholly within Square's control. However, it was received poorly in comparison to the earlier titles, and ushered in a period of mixed performance for the series as a whole. The interim time saw Square and later Square Enix make its first efforts toward making a Mana mobile title. Following changes within the broader company, Ishii himself left in 2007 and founded his own studio named Grezzo. His final works in the series include Children of Mana, the Seiken Densetsu 3 prequel Heroes of Mana, and the casual mobile game Friends of Mana.
Oyamada era (2009-present)
Behind Ishii was a capable understudy in Masaru Oyamada, whose own experience with the Mana games inspired him to continue where its creator left off and thereby begin the second era of the series, Oyamada was originally tasked with bringing several popular titles to modern mobile devices; one such title was Secret of Mana, which found its way to iOS devices in late 2010. Following its astonishing success, Oyamada then sought to make more of Mana accessible to modern players. For the Mana series' 25th anniversary, Oyamada chose to do a 3D remake of Final Fantasy Adventure titled Adventures of Mana, which released in 2016 and was more faithful to Final Fantasy Adventure than Sword of Mana. While Oyamada also managed two short-lived mobile Mana offshoots, ideas for future remakes quickly followed on the heels of Adventures of Mana. In 2018, Secret of Mana received an HD reboot in celebration of its own 25th anniversary. Though the remake did not perform well largely because the development was rushed and riddled with bugs and glitches, Oyamada set about what would become his most anticipated project yet.
Following a series of discussions in 2017, Oyamada and his team gathered the first three Mana games into an anthology for the Nintendo Switch titled Collection of Mana. Around this time, other meetings within Square Enix had staff considering whether to bring the entire collection Westward. They ultimately chose to do so, citing strong demand for Seiken Densetsu 3 as a key factor; and in the process, Square Enix re-christened the title as Trials of Mana and fully localized the original title for English-speaking audiences. In 2020, Trials of Mana received a full 3D reboot, which has sold over one million copies since its launch.
In 2021, the Mana series had its 30th anniversary. The same year, Legend of Mana had been remastered for the PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, and Nintendo Switch, and was later released for iOS and Android devices at the end of the year.
In 2022, the series released its first simultaneously worldwide MMO, Echoes of Mana. Though it presented as a typical collection gacha game, Echoes of Mana garnered well over one million committed players in the month prior to release, and had been downloaded four million times in its first six months. Despite a committed user base, the game was not profitable for Square Enix and thus was sunset after only nine months of active service.
At least one more title was confirmed to be in development as of June 2021, though it remains unclear where or how the new game will fit into the broader series.
- Nintendo Power volume 51, page 67.
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