Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Art of Mana

This book just launched for around $40 USD (less on Amazon). Been waiting for this for a while. Let's jump into it.

Some really iconic Mana Tree imagery here. Note the prominence of the moon in both shots. Mid-90's Square was all about the moon.

Seiken Densetsu 3 world map. Interesting how different the climates are from area to area.

Ice Country is particularly interesting because it has the same lush area in the southeast side as it did in SoM. This is a different world than SoM's world, but it uses a lot of the unused concepts (that didn't make it into Chrono Trigger). When I replay this I'll be paying close attention to the southeast part of Ice Country. It looks really interesting here.

Sketches of the Sword of Mana characters. You can't unsee the owl-like eyes of the male MC staring into your soul.

Great shot here that I've never seen before. You've got characters from the first three games all charging into battle together. In the foreground (and right) are the Adventures of Mana versions of the boy and girl in that game.

Each game has a section of its own, showing what the boxes looked like. Here's the original artwork for the heroes of Seiken Densetsu / Final Fantasy Adventure, which might bring back memories for anyone who had access to the instruction booklet of that game.

Even in the OG artwork, Amanda is scrumptious. The Dark Lord and Julius look suitably evil.

We get a few pages of enemy designs for the game. Some of these things turned up in later games. Some were even bosses, like the proto-Aegagropilon in the lower right. Unfortunately, we don't get an "enemy list" like this for the other Mana games, only the first one. Would have loved to see this for the second and third games.

Moving on, we get artwork for the Seiken Densetsu 1 remake that was released on phones in the early 2010's. It wasn't released outside of Japan, and doesn't have a translation. The new artwork for this version is super-good. Dark Lord in particular has a strong resemblance to Sheex, just with longer hair.

Here's Amanda looking scrumptious again.

Sketches. I think we have a contender with Maria from FFII as far as the most-gorgeous Squaresoft character goes. Neither has been fully-realized in a 3D game, unfortunately.

Adventures of Mana artwork. This fourth (!!) version of Seiken Densetsu 1 actually did make it outside of Japan.

Amanda and the hero battling Medusa.

NICE art here of the hero battling Dark Lord at Glaive Castle.

More sketches of important/memorable events during the game.

Here's the second game in the series. Always been a fan of the clay (?) models of the characters. Unfortunately none of the amazing Nintendo Power artwork of this game made it into the book. Not sure who owns that artwork at this point.

We may not get an enemy list but we do have the original artwork of the eight elementals. They pretty much look exactly as they appear in the game.

Here's artwork that's technically from the phone remake of Secret of Mana (which pre-dates the PS4 remake). Like the phone remake of the first game, this one is enhanced 2D instead of 3D. The artwork for it gave the characters more realistic/human proportions, increasing their height.

Artwork from the PS4 remake's intro, showing the "age of technology" and the Mana War that left the planet in ruins once upon a time. The game does very little with this era or these settings, but it's an idea that would be revisited and expanded greatly upon in Chrono Trigger. That game takes this scenario and splits it, featuring both an advanced ancient civilization AND a post-apocalyptic one.

After the conclusion of the great war, everything lay in ruins until vegetation and The Planet reclaimed it.

Here's Luka, who lives on the second floor.

More PS4 remake specific artwork with Dyluck and Emperor Vandole. We've seen all of the villain art for the PS4 version already. It's eerie how the villains are all in the process of disintegration.


Seiken Densetsu 3 finally gets a US release/name as of 2019 with the Collection of Mana.

Here's some artwork from the Collection, featuring characters from both games.

Seiken Densetsu 3 artwork. I believe all of these are from the original release in the 90's, since several of them have 1996 written on them somewhere. We've got Duran fighting the Crimson Wizard and Kevin crying in the moonlight. It was a dark game, I suppose. I'll get to it sooner or later.

Here's Charlotte (the Sprite stand-in; this time she's a healer) and Rise/Lize/Riesz depending on the version. She's crying too. Everyone's crying in this game.

Hawkeye involved in a bloodbath; Angela being gorgeous. There's a significant lack of Angela in this book, unfortunately, given how photogenic she is. Also a significant lack of artwork from the upcoming PS4 Trials of Mana remake.

This particular shot might be my favorite in the book. Not just because of how feminine it is. It does a great job telling you about this character. She lives in the shadow of her controlling mother, and said mother's cascading hair almost forms a physical prison around her in this shot. Square also explored this concept with Schala and Queen Zeal in Chrono Trigger.

The villains of the game. Crimson Wizard has always struck me as a poor man's Dalton.

More 90's character artwork. The turtle is the game's sea mount, and the dancing shopkeeper has grown a 'stache.

Unfortunately, that's pretty much it for the first three games, and the remaining 70% or so of the book is devoted to later Mana games that I'm not sure too many people played or cared about. I'd have rather seen this be divided into two books like an FF Ultimania so that the first three games could get more attention. There's also a total lack of screenshots, for some reason. It would have been interesting to have screenshots correlating with the artwork here and there to show us how the concept translated to the screen.

Dawn of Mana for the PS2 is actually Seiken Densetsu 4. All these years I thought Legend of Mana on the PS1 was. They very clearly tried to capture the Secret of Mana asthetic with Dawn, in a way Legend didn't. The artwork is pretty convoluted and noisy, though, compared to SoM's relative simplicity.

Character artwork. Again, there's a lot going on here. The main guy has a wing? And a plant-arm? Is that giant leaf on Lekius' belt a scabbard or just part of the outfit? Does he have a wing too?

At least there's some sex appeal here. Grown Faye is practically naked. Not really crazy about these people being part-plant though. It's like something out of a horror movie.

The villains(?) of Dawn. The main villain seems to be Stroud, the king of Lorimar. I guess Lorimar is bad at this point in the "timeline" of the series. This game takes place before the others, which makes it even weirder that it's "Seiken Densetsu 4". Then again, the timeline of this series is barely coherent so it isn't really worth trying to figure out.

There's no arguing that this guy is a badass though. It's also noteworthy that it refers to his kingdom as "The Ice Country of Lorimar" which throws some fuel on my theory that Ice Country in SoM was supposed to be the ruins of Lorimar.

The Dawn of Mana coverage was interesting for a couple of reasons: The villain and the apparent correlation with the first three games. From there we're moving on to the rest of the series, which is pretty much all unrelated spinoffs. The artwork takes a dramatic veer off the road too.

Legend of Mana took the very slight, barely-perceptible Precious Moments Dolls asthetic of Seiken Densetsu 3's characters and went ALL IN with it.

There's just nothing appealing for page after page here. Pearl looks like a human rooster.

Next up, Sword of Mana. Interesting that this is in the spinoff section instead of the Seiken Densetsu 1+remakes section. It's fairly brief and the character designs aren't much to write home about. This one particular page looks great though, and encapsulates the game and those characters decently well.

Behold, Children of Mana. At this point the series is getting to be a bit much. If it had a coherent story/timeline throughout I think all of these sequels/spinoffs would have been better received. At least it's got the same title in all regions. Let's see what it has for art.

The character designs are a lot less convoluted than Dawn and a lot less Creepy Murder Doll than Legend. Not too bad at all.

Mana Lord seems like a badass foe. Wonder if I'm missing anything by never playing games like Dawn, Children, or Heroes of Mana.

Don't forget Friends of Mana. Okay now they've definitely made too many of these things. This was an online phone game that serves as a sequel to Legend. It only ran for several years before being shut down.

Heroes of Mana is a strategy RPG that might be worth a look if it's Tactics-style. The artwork for it depicts a large war, which would be pretty interesting if it were an SoM prequel showing the original Mana Fortress war. Of course, it isn't, it's an unrelated side-story that has almost nothing to do with the rest of the series.

There are a LOT of characters in this one, as can be expected from this kind of game. Some of the designs are pretty good, like Alma in the top right.

This game combines fantasy and technology, and probably could have been the SoM Mana War without changing much.

Rise of Mana? Now we're getting into games I haven't even heard of. Despite getting a section in this book, it hits the trifecta of low fan interest for the west: It's another phone game, it wasn't released outside of Japan, and it has no relation to any of the other games.

The main artwork is tremendous, though.

I think this is one of the elementals in the game. She's the only appealing thing about it so far.

Finally the book wraps back around to the first three games (aka the ones most people likely got it for) with some more shots from the SoM phone remake's artwork.

These last few pages are great and have some imagery I've never seen before.

Rise of Seiken Densetsu 3. This could be from the Trials of Mana remake, hard to say.

Isabella from the same game looking completely gorgeous. In the mirror she's some sort of demon.

We finally get a couple of screenshots at the end of the book, which is an interview with...

...two of the series directors. It's a good interview that I'm not going to screenshot here because it's the only part of the book with a large amount of text and it's something one should get the book to read.

"The first 25 years" indicates that there'll be 25 more. I hope that means more of the early games (and maybe sequels/expansions on them) and less endless phone spinoffs.

Verdict on this book? For the price, I don't know. It's a good book for diehard fans of the series. However, the significant lack of coverage of the first three games compared to the numerous later games is a letdown. Also, the lack of screenshots or game notes leaves it somewhat barren on information. They could have done a LOT more with this, like included more enemy designs, bosses, weapons, story, or whatever else they could scrounge up from the archives. It felt like only the most well-known artwork was included for most of this. Splitting it into multiple volumes, each covering 3 games in-depth, would have been the way to go.


  1. I suppose Fuji having all of those flowers is pretty fitting.

    Yeah, Amanda is great.

    Flammie plush plz

    That Angela picture is something else.

    My God. Pearl. She looks as warm as ever.

    Making a sequel with a "Rise" in the title rarely seems to work.

    I was liking that Isabella picture but that mirror image is terrifying!