Visions of Mana Dual Interviews with Series Producer Masaru Oyamada

Visions of Mana Dual Interviews with mana Series Producer Masaru Oyamada

This year, RPGFan has been lucky enough to spend a significant amount of time returning to the Mana series. It’s been 15 years since the last mainline game, so the anticipation to delve into this beloved world is intense. Fortunately, we were able to demo the game both at a media event and PAX East recently, and, in a show of even greater fortune than getting to ride a pikul and explore Visions of Mana‘s stunning world in demo form, we were able to sit down with series producer Masaru Oyamada. Twice! Scott chatted about Visions and the series entries that inspired it, and soon after, Mike and Hilary got to ask him even more questions. We hope you enjoy reading these chats as much as we enjoyed the opportunities.

Visions of Mana Media Event Interview

Conducted by Scott Clay

RPGFan: Thank you so much for your time. I am a huge Mana fan and very thankful for your time with us today. So, one of the most unique things about the Mana series is each new entry has its own approach to gameplay while still feeling similar to previous installments. Which Mana game would you say had the biggest impact on Visions‘ development?

Oyamada: So from that question, I get a good sense of how much you truly love the series. So, from the early inception of the series, Koichi Ishii has always mentioned that the main objective of the Mana series is to have an ambitious challenge as the game launches, which has always been a fundamental theme of the series overall. So, as we have developed Visions of Mana, it has been 15 years since the last installment, so for me personally, when I see that long legacy of the series, I wanted to incorporate things I personally loved and what fans loved about the series. So, in that sense, we have bits and parts of all the past games, so all the past titles have influenced the making of this game.

RPGFan: We know Visions of Mana will be a single-player game, but many of my friends and colleagues’ favorite parts of the Mana series is the co-op multiplayer. Was there any point in development where you thought about implementing multiplayer, or maybe adding it in the future?

Oyamada: So, when I think about my favorite memories of playing the Mana series, I remember playing the game with my siblings when I was young. And so when we were initially proposing the project internally, that was an idea that we had, to incorporate multiplayer elements. But when we were thinking about how we could brush up the game to make it worthy for a modern audience, and since it is the latest installment of the series after so many years, we had to think about what elements we needed to prioritize and about how to present the game to a new generation of fans. So we knew we had to satisfy a certain visual standard for the PlayStation 5 and incorporate certain gameplay and exploration elements into a new system involving elemental spirits. So ultimately, we did have to select and choose which parts we had to focus on, so we decided to focus on single-player.

However, when I think about the future of the series, I do know the feeling that you’re mentioning about sharing that experience with someone and going on the same journey together. Being able to share that feeling with someone is something that I want to consider in the future as well since it’s a feeling that I hold on to myself.

RPGFan: I will definitely be looking forward to that, then!

Using wind powers to raise rocky platforms in Visions of Mana.
Get that syrup, Val.

RPGFan: The Mana series has always had its roots in action combat with different styles depending on the game, but the combat in 2020’s Trials of Mana remake is maybe the best the series has ever had. It felt smooth, fun, exciting, and joyous to play. Did the combat for Visions of Mana start by building on what was laid out in Trials of Mana, or did you take a whole new approach to Visions?

Oyamada: So while we were developing Trials of Mana, it was a game that we had ambitions for and tried to achieve. But even while developing Trials of Mana, there was a feeling that something was lying beyond this sort of evolutionary version of the combat that we may pursue in the future, too. So there was a foundation that was laid out by Trials of Mana that has been incorporated in this game, too. But we wanted to be able to take that and incorporate it into these expansive fields and worlds for people to explore. The other sort of thing that we wanted to achieve was blending and fusing the game’s action parts with the battle to create an intertwined system, which the director was passionate and keen on achieving and realizing. As a result, I think that compared to Trials of Mana, we were able to accomplish [having] exploration with a high degree of freedom while also having additional dimensionality when it comes to battle.

RPGFan: One of my favorite parts of the Mana series is using new weapons and classes to enhance combat, which has always added a lot of replayability to the games. Of the classes you can talk about, which one is your favorite class and why?

Oyamada: So when it comes to classes, I think when players select their class, there are always people who might gravitate based on the visual element or the action-based element. So, from a visual aspect, this class hasn’t been announced or revealed just yet, but Val’s fire elemental class is something I love because it is actually reminiscent of a past character in the series. And when it comes to the action aspect, I do feel as though the classes for darkness are just something I find very cool, and when I was playing the game, I tended to gravitate toward those. And so, for this demo, you only had access to the wind and moon elements; however, when the full game is released, and there is an opportunity for people to play the game, I do hope that maybe you will give those classes a chance as well.

RPGFan: Oh I will. I will! (Laughs from the room)

A wolf-like pikul looking quizzically at the viewer.
All pikuls are the best boy or girl.

RPGFan: I am always curious about game development and how you approach it. When you create a world, such as in a Mana game, that is so colorful, vibrant, and beautiful, do you base an area or a town on the music that’s created, or do you take the town/area and try to create music based on it? Or is it a combined process?

Oyamada: You know, it depends on the series, and there have been instances where it was a blend of both. However, for this game, essentially, what we kind of had was visual imageries already created for some of the exploratory fields in advance, which we then showed to the composers to see if they could create music that had an atmosphere that matched those visuals. And, of course, while showing those visual concepts, you also would have to share the actual storyline tied to that location as well as the character costumes and the various species and characters that are going to be living in or populating the surrounding area. And with those references and information, the composers’ scores would reflect the cultural or tribal elements of those people and regions.

RPGFan: The Mana series has always been such a colorful series with fantastic areas that are almost storybook-like. Of the areas of the game you can talk about, which one is your favorite, whether from a design perspective or your favorite to explore or play? Also, which area are you looking forward to players experiencing when the game comes out?

Oyamada: So for me, first of all, I always loved Secret of Mana, and one really important inspiration is the Mana Tree illustration that Hiro Isono illustrated in the past. So for me, the area right before that in the game is something I really love. It’s one of my favorite spots.

In terms of an action perspective, I unfortunately can’t go into too much detail at this current stage just yet. However, I mentioned earlier that the darkness element is something I personally really enjoy playing, and there is an area where the darkness elements play a key role. I personally found that area to be the most fun while playing.

RPGFan: I am really looking forward to those areas when the game comes out!

Morley looking somber.
Deep thoughts.

RPGFan: Who is your favorite new character, and why? Is it from a design perspective, their story arc, or maybe their gameplay is something you love?

Oyamada: When it comes to the story, I can’t go into any details, but including his backstory, my favorite character is actually Morley, the cat character you got to play in the demo today. I am also a father to two daughters, so whenever I look at Careena, I tend to look at her from more of a parental perspective, and I feel emotionally connected to her because of that.

RPGFan: So I have one easy final question for you. I love a lot of the recurring stuff in the Mana series, such as the rabites and the elemental spirits, but I didn’t see what I was most looking forward to today in the demo. So I have to ask, can we expect to see the dancing merchants come back? They are my favorite parts of the Mana series, and I love watching them dance.

(Laughs From the Room)

Oyamada: Please look forward to it!

(More Laughs from the Room)

RPGFan: Thank you, and I will! Thank you so much for your time today, and I am really looking forward to Visions of Mana!

Oyamada: Thank you as well!

Visions of Mana PAX East Interview

Conducted by Mike Salbato & Hilary Andreff

RPGFan: Thank you for seeing us and having us here. We’re very excited! Okay an easy question first. Since the game has been revealed, it’s been really exciting every time we see a familiar monster because we’re both long term fans. One favorite is the Molebears. So, what are some of your favorite monsters and what are you excited to include in Visions of Mana?

Oyamada: I feel as though Molebear was a monster that we were able to render in a way that was very lovable as well on our end. Do you know the Poto? I’m not sure if you get this or not, but there’s a monster called Poto. Hold on, it’s right here.

[he sketches an adorable Poto]

Visions of Mana screenshot of a cute dinosaur-like Poto

RPGFan: Oh! You could hatch them in Legend! Thank you.

RPGFan: Because we have aerial combat now in Visions of Mana, we’re curious if that has influenced the story and world design, like adding a level of verticality to the design of the areas.

Oyamada: Yes, absolutely. Actually, since the original technical testing that we did, we knew that as the game itself expanded that we also had to think about the vertical.

We thought about what would be a really great way to have players experience the game utilizing the width and the breadth of the field and also the verticality that you mentioned. That was really when we decided that we wanted to lean in on the elemental spirits as kind of the core for the gameplay, and it’s really from there that the rest of the game design sort of started to fall into place.  

RPGFan: We have a follow up to that, since we mentioned the elementals. We got a hint that they’re a more core part of the gameplay, but what can you tell us about their role outside gameplay in Visions of Mana?

Oyamada: In terms of the overall story, the elemental spirits are entities that support the world itself. They exist as a kind of fundamental entity within this world. In this game specifically, they have an existence that’s much closer to the characters that you encounter while playing.

So, whenever you see the wind blowing in this game, you might actually see tiny little Sylphids that are kind of floating and drifting about. Or. if there are any water areas, you might actually find tiny little undines that are populating that area, too.

By incorporating them into the game in that way, we really wanted to make it so you can feel their breath and their life featuring throughout this world.

Val using Sylphid's wind power in Visions of Mana
Invoking the power of wind!

RPGFan: Do you have a favorite elemental? 

Oyamada: I like Will O’ Wisp. In terms of just the character and personality and also just the visuals, I actually really like the light elemental.

RPGFan: We are very big fans of music at RPGFan, so we were all excited when you revealed the composers working on Visions of Mana. We’re curious what it’s been like working with all of them on this game, and if you have any interesting stories that you want to share?

Oyamada: Mr. Hiroki Kikuta, Mr. Tsuyoshi Sekito, Mr. Ryo Yamazaki: all three of these composers are people who I interact with rather frequently, so even when we were talking to them about possibly being involved in this project, it was more of like an extension of just our day-to-day interactions that we have.

Of the three, actually, Mr. Sekito is the one who is actually the physically most distant from the rest of us because his office is in Osaka. He’s a much more senior person than the rest of us. I guess he would fall in the category of people who typically would be in the retirement stage.

So while he actually visited us in Tokyo, we were talking about how—he was kind of joking in a good manner about how—once he reaches full retirement age that, he might get kicked off the project or something like that and what we would do if that were to happen.

That was a funny little episode that came to mind.

RPGFan: We’ve noticed influence from many of the other Mana games in Visions. What are some elements that you personally enjoyed incorporating into Visions and updating from the older games?

Oyamada: I’m actually very happy that you’re able to feel the presence of the past games in this game too.

When it comes to myself, I have always been a very big fan of the Mana series. So, on my end, when I was creating visuals for Mana, I really wanted to pack in all of what I felt were the best parts about the past games.

Oyamada: That might be things like from Secret of Mana, when the weapon changes were introduced as a feature, or things like from Trials of Mana, where class changes were introduced. And from Legend of Mana, you know, when you were able to interact with curious creatures and different species, right? Those were all things that came to mind. On a personal level, I always really wanted to be able to take journeys, take users and players on this grand journey across the world. From that perspective as well, it’s really important for me to be able to create a field that is incredibly expansive. And to also create a variety of different lands and regions for people to explore.

A cliffside treasure chest overlooking a bay in Visions of Mana
What a view!

RPGFan: In the demo today, we saw references to Dudbears and we got a Niccolo coin. So we’re curious if you can tell us anything about how they play into this game? 

Oyamada: I’d like you to think that there is something. So as you sort of experienced the demo today, it does feel as though you found it, is all I can say.

However, now that you have found it, all I can say is that I hope you infer what you will from that.

RPGFan: That’s fair. Sounds like there will be some callbacks. Thank you! 

RPGFan: In the demo, there were several buildings and structures and even stones with interesting markings and glyphs. Is that something that is part of the story? Are we gonna learn about that? 

Oyamada: It doesn’t have a role. It’s a story that’s been going on for a long time. The story is about each region’s characteristics, their lifestyle, and their culture. So, uh, in terms of, um, the glyphs that you came across, rather than thinking of those as something that has some sort of purpose, they’re actually just more something that we wanted to incorporate as details because the world itself is something that has lasted for a long time.

In thinking about what the characteristics of each of the different regions could be, villages, and, populated areas, we wanted to be able to add little details that give life and give a sense of people actually living and populating this land. I don’t know if you can see it, but there are some buildings that look like they were built a long time ago.

However, one thing I can say is that in the demo that you experienced today, you might have noticed that there were some enemies that were much stronger, much more powerful than you could defeat at this point in time. Those are sort of intended to be enemies that you probably come back to later in game after you become a little bit stronger and take them on. Within some of the areas that might potentially be unlocked beyond that, you might potentially come across old buildings that might allude to things.

So I do hope that that’s something that you look forward to as well.

RPGFan: As a follow-up, one thing we like about the game so far is that it really does feel lived in. I mean, we went to an area with a farm and we saw a little table with cheese. Those details are really, really nice because sometimes open world games just feel empty.

Oyamada: Thank you so much for that comment. Actually it makes me very happy to hear comments like that.

Val, Hinna, Morley, Careena, and Ramcoh stand on a stone walkway talking to a man.
“Let me think about taking on this side quest…”

RPGFan: Okay, we’re going to end on maybe our silliest question, because I want to mention it. You obviously are fans of Legend of Mana for a lot of reasons. What can we do to get Yoko Shimomura on this game?

Oyamada: You know, I have approached her, but however, it’s very difficult just because of the fact that she’s so busy because she’s involved in Kingdom Hearts and also Final Fantasy, but she’s also working on the orchestra concerts she does.

But yeah, in general it’s just very hard to get a hold of her.

Actually, I did want to ask you a question since you had a chance to play the demo. Was there anything in terms of the mechanics or just like the overall controls that, as you were playing, stood out or felt off or anything like that at all?

RPGFan: I think it played pretty smoothly. I definitely noticed some Final Fantasy XIV inspiration during the boss fight specifically, like the markers on the ground. I also think it made it a little bit easier to follow. Otherwise, I think it controls great. It has a really nice feel to it. And I like that all the classes really do feel different when you’re playing them. Like, some are faster than others.

Thank you so much to everyone involved with the presentation and interview! It was lovely and we appreciate your work and dedication. This looks to be a stellar game, and everything recounted here is making me impatient to play more. Visions of Mana releases this summer on Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.

For even more Visions of Mana coverage, be sure to check out Mike’s hands-on preview based on his time with the game, and Scott’s own hands-on video coverage below!

Mike Salbato

Mike Salbato

Mike has been with RPGFan nearly since its inception, and in that time has worn a surprising number of hats for someone who doesn't own a hatstand. Today he attempts to balance his Creative Director role with his Editor-in-Chief status. Despite the amount of coffee in his veins, he bleeds emerald green.