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Secret of Mana

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Secret of Mana

Secret of Mana main art.png
Basic Info
Console(s) SNES,
Publisher(s) Squaresoft
Developer Squaresoft

People Info
Producer(s) Hiromichi Tanaka
Director(s) Koichi Ishii
Programmer(s) Nasir Gebelli
Artist(s) Shinichi Kameoka
Yasuhiko Kamata
Writer(s) Hiromichi Tanaka
Release Info
Japan August 06, 1993
N. America October 03, 1993
Europe November 24, 1994

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Secret of Mana is the second entry in the eponymous franchise., originally released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1993. The game is a profound leap forward in terms of quality for the series, enhancing the concepts found in the original title while adding new features and offering a more realized and deeper story.

Beyond being an important title within its own series, Secret of Mana is important to the history of Squaresoft as it's tumultuous development cycle lead to the creation of one of the company's most beloved games and influenced their relationship with one of the largest players in the video game industry.


Official packaging


There is one force in the universe that keeps good and evil in perfect balance. It is called the Tree of Mana. But a magic sword has tricked a young warrior into upsetting this balance, spreading evil throughout the land.

Thus, the warrior must undertake a dangerous journey to find the seeds of the Mana tree which have been hidden for centuries. Only then can perfect harmony be restored.

In this incredible adventure, things are not as they seem. Magic swords release evil as well as fight it. Treasure chests hold booby traps. Monsters are friends and friends are enemies. Potions give power, black magic takes it away. Dragons fly, weapons change.

It's a world turned upside down that you must help the warrior make right. And the only way to succeed is to solve the Secret of Mana.


Long ago...

Using the power of Mana, civilization had grown strong...

In time,Mana was used to create the ultimate weapon: the Manna Fortress...

But this angered the gods, and they sent their beasts to destroy the fortress...

A violent war betweent he beasts and the fortress plunged the world into chaos, and Mana seemed to all but disappear...

Before all was lost, a hero wielding the Mana Sword smashed the fortress...

Though civilization was destroyed, the world was peaceful again.

But time flows like a river, and history repeats...


  • Randi: The main protagonist and the first one of the group whom the player controls. Randi was raised by the elder of Potos village and as such was never accepted by the other children as one of them, giving him a timid disposition. After falling down a waterfall while attempting to play with his peers, he pulls the Mana Sword from its stone pedestal at the behest of a mysterious voice. Because the folklore of the village states that the sword is protecting the settlement from monsters, removing it from the pedestal is the greatest taboo and Randi is expelled form the village.
  • Primm: The second protagonist to join the party, after rescuing Randi from being the main dish of a goblin feast. She is brash, bossy, and overbearing, but means well and supports her friends earnestly. The daughter of a nobleman from the Kingdom of Pandora, Primm lost her mother at a young age. Her magic focuses on healing and support, such as charging a weapon with an elemental power.
  • Popoi: The final protagonist to join the party, who is found alongside dwarves living in Gaia's Navel. He is a Sprite, washed away from his kin in the Sprite Forest by an immense flood, and has lost nearly all of his memories from the trauma. He is the dedicated spell caster of the group, with the Mana Spirits imbuing him with powerful offensive magic.
  • Flammie: The child of legendary White Dragons, he transports the three heroes on his back when called by a little hand drum. Though very young, he has inherited his father's gift for flight and gracefully soars through the skies at high speeds.


Secret of Mana is an action RPG with a bird's eye view camera that blends exploration and combat into a single screen for fluid and dynamic action. The famous ring menu system was first implemented in this game, keeping the player from having to cycle through several pages of text to just select an item, weapon, or spell. Options are all visible at once and the player merely needs to select the command tab in question to activate it, with additional rings of commands appearing when the player presses up or down on the D-pad. The game is also multiplayer, with two friends able to control a character each with the default SNES hardware, and a third being able to participate if the SNES multitap peripheral is attached. For later released, only additional controllers are required.

The player(s) progress through the game by finding the Mana Spirits and empowering the fabled Mana Sword with the spirit's energies. Each location the cast visits contains a story that ties into the overarching narrative of Mana exploitation

Development history

Initial planning and hardware shift

Secret of Mana did not begin it's development cycle in 1991 as a Mana title, but was in fact first proposed as the fourth Final Fantasy game for the recently released Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Director Koichi Ishii envisioned that the then-new 16-bit hardware would allow for a much more dynamic play style, where transitions between battles and exploration were handled seamlessly instead of requiring separate screens as seen in turn-based RPGs.

Though this proposal was effectively describing an 16-bit rendition of Final Fantasy Adventure on superior hardware, it did not occur to Ishii to connect the project with his handheld title during the early phases of development. Instead, he saw the project as a sequel to Final Fantasy III in the beginning and maintained that mindset until the leaders of Square denied the proposal. As Final Fantasy III was the second million-seller in Squaresoft's history, management did not want to risk losing the audience that the third fantasy acquired by shifting the focus of the fourth game into an action RPG--the criticism of the system changes between the first and second Final Fantasy games were only three years old at the time and still fresh in the minds of players and gaming press alike.

Development was not shelved, however, and Squaresoft repurposed the proposed systems for the upcoming SNES-CD platform announced in June of 1991. The game was given the project title of "Maru Island", and was set to take full advantage of the CD-ROM medium as possible. A massive island with intricate environments, time travel as both a plot point and gameplay feature, and multiple endings chosen by the player's actions were all conceptualized and ready for implementation when the specs of the SNES-CD were announced. To further the appeal of the game to the Japanese market, famous manga artist Akira Toriyama was hired to design the characters and main illustrations for the game. This was a deliberate action on Squaresoft's part, seeing the incredible success that the Dragon Quest series had achieved with his help.

Unfortunately, relations between Nintendo and Sony soured over the SNES-CD add on, and the peripheral was quietly cancelled by 1992. Not wanting to waste the time and resources put into the Maru Island project, development shifted to the regular SNES hardware and several cuts were made to accommodate the tremendous difference in storage capacity. Time travel, the multiple endings, and close to half of the story were cut from the game to meet this hardware restriction. The cut content and illustration deal was shelved for the time being, and would be utilized for a landmark title later on. Though the development team was initially distraught over much of their work being invalidated and rendered useless, Ishii rallied the team together and gathered the remaining assets and story content to turn the game into a fully-fledged sequel to Final Fantasy Adventure.

Rebirth and refinement

For the game's setting, scenario writer Hiromichi Tanaka reviewed the feedback Squaresoft had received for Final Fantasy Adventure and worked with Ishii to clarify the concept of "Mana" for the title. Tanaka had felt that too much emphasis was placed on the Mana tree itself in the previous game, leading some players to assume that the timber was the source of all mana and not just one physical avatar of the substance. With this in mind, the Mana sword was implemented to further convey the omniscient quality of mana that can appear in several forms, and also to add an element that separates the Mana tree from the "Mother Earth" symbolism that had become popular since the 1970's.

With the hardware limitations of the SNES prohibiting the use of all the story content drafted for the CD version, the setting and scenario for the game was rewritten with these hindrances in mind and became much lighter in tone. Ishii wanted the feel of the game to resemble a storybook for children, and took inspiration from a variety of sources; Flammie the dragon is based upon the character Falcor from The Neverending Story film adaptation, and the tone of the game was designed to match anime based upon Northern European folktales and books Ishii enjoyed as a child. The serene, pure beauty of nature presented in Moomin, Banner Tale, and The Wonderful Adventures of Nils left a large impact on the man in his youth, and he sought to emphasis this naturalistic tone in his game.

The playable cast of the game can be considered akin to a family of sorts, with a man, woman, and a child battling alongside and supporting one another to accomplish a mutual goal. Ishii states that this was not a deliberate choice on the staff's part, but rather emerged naturally through the concept of three people journeying together and was the most suitable for the game's tone. The priority on the game's contents feeling natural to players is also seen in the character Flammie, who serves as the means of aerial transport for the group. Where as any given Final Fantasy title would use an airship and another game might use a mecha, it was decided that flying on the back of a graceful dragon was the best match for the game's pure fantasy setting.

The core principal the development team adhered to was to create a sense of realism through the game's combat system. Because battles and exploration would take place on the same screens, careful considerations were given to the way the characters interact withe enemies--merely touching or bumping into an enemy deals no damage, short-ranged attacks will have no effect if the character is standing outside of the monster's reach, and the player cannot perform full-powered attacks at their leisure in the same way that a boxer cannot throw haymakers without fatigue setting in. This last aspect was of particular importance, as the waiting time between characters performing attacks was a deliberate inclusion on behalf of less skilled players who are unaccustomed to action RPGs and only had previous experience with turn-based games. By enforcing a cool down period for both characters and monsters, the tempo of battle could be kept at a reasonable pace and allow for rookie players to build up their own abilities.

Programming was chiefly handled by Nasir Gebelli, and would be his largest project at Squaresoft. The inclusion of multiplayer was not planned from the beginning, but was experimented with and then fully implemented after the staff noticed that it felt boring to control one character while the A.I. handled the other two. Ishii consideres the multiplayer feature to be a "happy surprise", and the team was easily able to add it to the game's code since the programming involved is much less complex than the A.I. logic.


Production / Direction

  • Producer, Concept / System Design, Scenario Message Data: Hiromichi Tanaka
  • Director, Chief Game Design, Animation / Monster Design: Koichi Ishii

Game design

  • Battle System Design, Monster Logistics: Goro Ohashi
  • Map System Design / Data: Yasushi Matsumura
  • Map Data: Toshiyuki Inoue


  • Lead Programmer: Nasir Gebelli
  • Monster Control Programming: Satoru Yoshieda
  • Boss Monster Programming: Taku Murata
  • Message Programming: Masaaki Saito
  • "Ring" Menu Programming: Ryu Muto
  • Calculation Programming: Yoshiyuki Miyagawa
  • Sound Programming: Minoru Akao
  • Demo Programming: Fumiaki Fukaya

Graphic Design

  • Chief Map Graphic Design: Yasuhiko Kamata
  • Map Graphic Design: Tetsuya Takahashi, Manabu Daishima, Misako Tsutsui
  • World Map Graphic Design: Akira Ueda
  • Map Design: Hidetoshi Kezuka

Character Design

  • Player Character Design: Shinichi Kameoka
  • Monster Character Design: Hiroyuki Narushima
  • Character Design: Shinichiro Okaniwa
  • Magic Animation: Shintaro Takai
  • Monster Animation: Noriko Sasaki

Sound Design

  • Music Composer: Hiroki Kikuta
  • Sound Effects Design: Yasunori Mitsuda, Kenji Ito


  • Main Visual Artwork and Package Design: Hiroo Isono
  • Network Management: Keitarou Adachi
  • Debug Support: Tsukasa Fujita

English Credits

  • Direction: Kaoru Moriyama
  • Translation: Ted Woolsey
  • Support: Weimin Li
  • Staff: Chris Budd, Lynn Novak, Kaeli Kreider, Kathryn Renstrom, Kelly Beloit, Nathan Williams, James Gillis, Charlie Wilson
  • Focus Group Testing: Andrew Ruggles, Joshua Gabbard, Roger Henty, Simon Kunz, Max Kunz, Chad Bye, Carl Holzboog, Brandon Stewart, Jesse Anarda, Jeremy Devenport, John M. Phillips, Marc Coluccio, Charlie Molls, Kurt Lentz


The tumultuous development cycle of Secret of Mana had a negative influence on Squaresoft's relationship with Nintendo. Though a successful game was salvaged from the aborted CD version and the shelved development material would receive critical acclaim as Chrono Trigger in 1995, considerable time and financial investment had been put into the ill-fated SNES CD peripheral. From the perspective of the management of Squaresoft, these finite resources could have been put to better use in other projects and, as with several other third-party developers at the time, much disappointment was expressed over Nintendo's lack of transparency regarding it's joint venture with Sony.

In addition to this, the prototype for Secret of Mana was Squaresoft's first foray into developing for CD-based hardware and gave the company first-hand experience at the immense scope of the medium: 700 megabytes of data compared to a standard SNES cartridge of 4. The CD medium was also considerably cheaper to produce, even with publisher licensing fees factored in, allowing for substantial profit margins when compared to expensive cartridges.

In 1994, Sony would release its first home console, the Playstation, and go on to take the marketplace by storm by embracing the CD format and building the hardware around fully three-dimensional polygons. When Nintendo announced that the successor to the SNES would eschew CDs for cartridges in 1995, Squaresoft moved development focus to Sony's new machine


The vermilion cranes shown on the game's box art and title screen do not appear in the game at all, being a personal touch added by illustrator Hiro Isano. With the revival of the series through 2016's Adventures of Mana, the cranes have since appeared on the cover of each title and become part of the series' iconography.


External links

Official Square Enix site

Mana logo.png
Main titles
Side stories