RPGamer Feature - Children of Mana Interview with Kouichi Ishii

Children of Mana
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB: E10+
Release Date: 11.01.2006

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Secret of Mana was one of the first multiplayer RPGs. Many RPGamers have fond memories of hooking up a second controller to a Super Nintendo and playing the game with a friend or family member. Children of Mana, in stores next month, brings Mana multiplayer action to the Nintendo DS. RPGamer had a chance to talk to Mr. Kouichi Ishii, Senior Vice President for Square Enix and Executive Producer of Children of Mana. The following questions were asked by various media.

Could you please give us a brief introduction and explain your connection to Children of Mana?
Kouichi Ishii: I have worked on Final Fantasy I, II, and III, as well as a director of Final Fantasy XI. I have worked on a few Mana titles, and am currently involved in the World of Mana project as well.

This is the next Mana game, following the Sword of Mana. The aim in producing this game was to try to create a 2D action title for the Nintendo DS. One of the features that I am most excited about is an idea that originated back in the days of Secret of Mana, which is trying to go for a multiplayer mode. This idea was finally realized in Children of Mana, where several players can pursue the quest simultaneously. Different from the Sword of Mana and Secret of Mana titles, Children of Mana features a branching story line with quests that can take you in different directions from the main story. You can power up your character as you obtain items, and these two elements lead a greater complexity than has been seen in Mana games before.

This title features a different feeling for the main character, the monsters, and the type of interaction that you'll find in the terrain -- all of which increase the complexity as well. For example, there is a pinball feeling when you hit enemies; they might bounce off walls and back again.

With multiplayer being a large component of the game, why is there no online with Nintendo WiFi?
Kouichi Ishii: The emphasis for this title was going back to the same sort of feeling that people had in Secret of Mana. I wanted to create a game where people would play with others very close to them, such as siblings and friends, rather than people spread far apart.

Where does the idea for the story come from, both for this game, and the series?
Kouichi Ishii: This is the same for both the Final Fantasy series and the Mana games. Whenever I work on a game, I draw inspiration from, first of all, the love of making things, but especially from memories of my childhood, which were weaned from all sorts of different areas, such as movies, and books. They were mostly absorbed as abstract images, and it's those images that have formed the style of the games that I work on now. That is the way the characters are designed, how they move, how you might see a dragon howl or roar in a particular scene, all come from these images that I absorbed as a child.

Just as I was recalling these ideas, I remembered that when I was working on Final Fantasy I, II, and III, and some of the other Mana titles. One of the most important things to me in development of games is the feeling of the world that I am creating. As a child, I read a lot of fantasy books, and I felt a lot of the emphasis was on the creation of the world itself. I wanted to take that feeling that I had even as a child, and apply that to my work now. I am also very careful not to follow conventions too blindly. For example, when reading science fiction and working on things that have science fiction elements now, I am able to break conventions where it makes sense the purpose of the story and the creation of the world.

I played Secret of Mana with my brothers, and when we played together, it was a lot easier. Does Children of Mana compensate for this, or will it pretty much be the same way?
Kouichi Ishii: Balancing an RPG like this, or an action game like this, for the single player experience versus the multiplayer experience is a very complicated task, because you already have to deal with the basic fact that, with games of this type, leveling up tends to make these games easier already. One thing you will find while playing the game is that when you have several players on screen at once, there's a lot more interaction. It's a bit more lively, because as we said earlier, when you hit an enemy and they go flying, you can have many more of those interactions on screen when you have more than one player, and this can lend to the feeling of the game being harder when you play multiplayer.

With single player experience versus multiplayer experience, in terms of difficulty, it's more important to think of the general play style, or feeling, that each one invokes. For example, in single player mode, the player will have a good sense of the world around him, and be able to think about where they should be going in the next few moments in the game. With multiplayer, you will find the interactions are so much more complex, and that so many more things are happening on the screen, that it lends a very unpredictable moment-to-moment kind of feeling, that is very different from single player. This is probably much more important than considering whether single player or multiplayer is more or less difficult.

What new challenges or hardships did you encounter in bringing Children of Mana to the DS?
Kouichi Ishii: One of the biggest challenges in designing this game for the Nintendo DS was having set forth the goal of creating a really good feeling action game in 2D; we were then challenged with how far we could realize that goal. That was the primary challenge, both as a goal we set for ourselves, and a practical matter during development. I feel we were able to overcome that challenge very well, and the primary areas that we focused on were the feeling of the main character, the enemies, or the objects in a 2D world how to best realize their existence and create the right feeling of interaction of those elements to the player.

From a positive standpoint, what does the Nintendo DS bring to the game? Which DS-specific features lend itself well to the game?
Kouichi Ishii: The first thing that I thought when I first saw the DS and thought about developing on it was whether to rely more heavily on the stylus and touchscreen as a mode of interaction or use the direction pad as traditional games have. I found that a combination of both tends to work very well. It really depends on what sort of feeling or experience you are trying to create for the player. There are times when bringing a feeling of action in a game can best be achieved by simplicity, depending on what kinds of actions you are asking the player to perform, this can be accomplished on either one. Sometimes actions are simpler on the direction pad, depending on the nature, and other times it requires a touchscreen and stylus. It really is a design decision.

Of course, another feature of the DS that played a very large role in development of Children of Mana was the ability to have wireless communication, allowing multiplayer interaction. The very idea that you can use the character that you spent time leveling up and customizing yourself with other people's character that they spent time working on really brings a lot of fun to this title.

Is there any additional content or balancing done for the US version of the game?
Kouichi Ishii: Comparing to the Japanese version, there is no great increase in content, but the elements that are already in the game seem well balanced for the North American market as they were, so this is not felt to be necessary.

With regard to the multiplayer, does the design reward players for working together as a team, or is it more free-roaming?
Kouichi Ishii: The multiplayer game is designed for players to cooperate in a limited area. This is definitely the way to have the most fun. One of the design elements that tries to create that sense of play is items are rewarded by events that both players are participating in. There's no need, for example, to compete to gain material reward in the game, by going to different areas ahead of another player, or trying to reach monsters first.

With regards to the World of Mana series and the three titles so far, are we going to see an obvious correlation between the titles story-wise -- are they going to follow each other or how does that work?
Kouichi Ishii: There is a slight connection between them, but it's not based so much on story or history as it is by a slightly more abstract connection. Characters from different Mana games share the same name, but these are not necessarily the same characters. It is better to think of these characters as having been reborn from a different existence or a different life from another title, though sometimes with the same personality. Something might have changed from the previous title, and it might be the karma that they have accumulated or the personality influence they have taken from the previous title. Ultimately, each title is different. It's not exactly the same world though many elements are shared.

What made you decide to take Children of Mana in the dungeon crawler direction, as opposed to the other games in the series?
Kouichi Ishii: When first talking about what sort of concept the developers wanted to pursue for this title, they decided that they wanted a new feeling in the game that was sort of a fun-for-all action type game. They decided the best way to accomplish this in the case of multiplayer would be to have the layout of dungeons automatically generated. This would give them the greatest playability and the greatest number of differences in the feeling of battle from session to session. It's important to note that the one player mode does not feature randomly generated dungeon layouts.

Where did the idea of the pinball effect, mentioned earlier, come from?
Kouichi Ishii: When designing games, I try to come up with a theme that will drive the direction and development for that title. For example, when working on Final Fantasy XI, one of the themes I brought to the development was how best to create a tactile experience for the players through the screen. I wanted people to feel they were actually touching objects and interacting with real terrain. In doing so, I gained a great appreciation for how people can feel the existence of objects in the game, and started to think about novel ways I could use a screen to give players that type of feeling. That took to placing emphasis on an entirely new area when designing Children of Mana, and I felt that this had a very large impact on the development.

Could we see a Mana game for the Nintendo Wii?
Kouichi Ishii: That idea is currently being considered, with a lot of forward momentum. In general, I feel there is a great amount of possibility on the Wii, as it presents tremendous potential.

Was the decision to make Children of Mana as a 2D game based off the technical limitations of the hardware or was it based off the style of the game? Are future 2D Mana titles also being considered?
Kouichi Ishii: When designing the game, it isn't necessarily always hardware considerations that if a game is going to be 2D or 3D, but rather what sort of game we want to make -- what sort of feeling we want to create for the player. That is usually the concern that drives the decision. In this case, for the type of game they wanted to make for the Nintendo DS, 2D was simply appropriate for the gameplay and style. The same type of influences we were talking about earlier.

As for future titles in the Mana series, that is a decision that will be made, in the moment when thinking about what sort of game they want to create as a Mana title. The decision will be driven by the style and what sort of game they want to make.

You mentioned being influenced by books and movies. Is there a specific mythology that inspired you to create the storyline and essence of the Mana series and specifically Children of Mana?
Kouichi Ishii: I was inspired in a number of ways by the setting or the world of different works, but these were not works that inspired me in a very specific that made me want to draw an exact element, rather more of a general sense of the kinds of things that were possible in creating a setting or a world. There are so many references, I don't want to mention them all, but I will mention Moomin, the world found in Alice in Wonderland, and Lord of the Rings. These contributed in the most general and abstract way to the way I think about creating the world in a game.

In September's Famitsu, it was revealed that Heroes of Mana would be the next title for the Nintendo DS. Do you have any details about it?
Kouichi Ishii: I am a fan of real-time strategy games, such as Age of Empires, Warcraft, and Starcraft, but I found that the type of versions that have been appearing are somewhat rare in recent days, and I wanted to make one myself to meet all the needs that I have for a real-time strategy game. When I first saw the Nintendo DS, it struck me that using a stylus was a very good way to bring people back into an earlier strategy type of gaming. I wanted to pay attention to that one element and think about a concept for a new game. That is how Heroes of Mana for Nintendo DS was born.

Is there any chance of a Secret of Mana remake?
Kouichi Ishii: The answer is very simple. If the fans want it, we will certainly consider doing so.

How involved was Nintendo in developing the game?
Kouichi Ishii: As far as the development of the content was concerned, Nintendo did not have any involvement. However, they cooperated greatly on the technical side, helping us to realize the game design goals.

Does Square Enix have any plans to provide virtual console releases for the Nintendo Wii?
Kouichi Ishii: Square Enix has decided it will participate, but have not decided which titles. That is currently under consideration and they would like to have that information to you soon.

RPGamer would like to thank Mr. Ishii for his time and Nintendo of America for setting up the interview. Children of Mana ships November 1.

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