You know, I was going to do an analogy about how taking charge of a new Mana game, with unrealistic expectations borne of age-old devotion poorly reflected in recent efforts, is a bit like taking charge of Newcastle United football club. But then I thought: if my 12-year-old self could see me now, talking about football at a time like this, my 12-year-old self would probably jump up and down on my head. Or strangle me with a multitap lead. My 12-year-old self was pretty tough, you know. He could totally have me.
Still, there's a certain weight of expectation that comes with each new Mana title. Kouichi Ishii seems to be shouldering it with a relative lack of stress, however, even though he's actually making two of the things at once - Children of Mana for the DS and Dawn of Mana on the PS2. He joined us on the floor of E3 this year to answer a few quick questions about the "World of Mana" titles. And yep, he thinks doing PS2 and DS versions is a bit odd too.
Eurogamer: Where do Children of Mana and Dawn of Mana fit into the Mana series overall?
Kouichi Ishii: Dawn of Mana is the first story of Mana. It tells of the origins of the goddess and the Mana tree. Children of Mana, timeline-wise, is ten years after Dawn of Mana.
Eurogamer: My first experience of Mana was on the SNES, which introduced the ring menu system and other ideas. What are the key innovations in the new Mana titles?
Kouichi Ishii: The main theme, and we actually use this more for Dawn of Mana, is this whole theme of touching, and reactions of the environment. One thing that both games have in common is that you're sent into the world and the world interacts with you. In Children of Mana, if you strike an enemy it can rebound off the wall and hit other enemies. In Dawn of Mana, the modified version of the Havok physics engine means all the objects and enemies in the world have very realistic behavioural patterns.
Eurogamer: Are you using the physics for anything else, puzzles for example, or will you be concentrating on the combat? Is magic still a factor?
Kouichi Ishii: The new series puts a lot of emphasis on the action itself. Both titles offer several different ways of fighting. Before you used to just hit a guy with a sword. This whole interactive environment plus this freedom to use and move objects - more in Dawn of Mana - has allowed for new levels of strategy. In that sense you could say... puzzle might not be the right word, but there's definitely strategy. Magic's still a significant factor too.
Eurogamer: Tell us about the multiplayer. How does it work and fit in with single player? Is it playable online?
Kouichi Ishii: Children of Mana doesn't actually support Wi-Fi Connection, but it is possible to play wirelessly with up to four players. You can carry over your own save data so your character can participate in another player's game. The key element of the multiplayer is interaction with other players, but there's a whole other theme too - of chaos, and unpredictability. When four players join together in the same game, two of them might work together, two might fight, and it creates this unpredictable atmosphere within the game, which was our aim.
Eurogamer: Generally speaking, it's working toward a co-operative goal though...
Kouichi Ishii: You could prevent other people from doing well by taking their items. We don't really like ordering the player around in multiplayer though. Obviously if you're fighting a very powerful enemy you're going to have to work together, but as far as the distribution of items goes we don't want to be in charge of that. That's something the players get to control.
Eurogamer: Do you play through the single-player game itself or specific stages?
Kouichi Ishii: You can actually play multiplayer within the story mode itself. When you get to the boss of a dungeon on your own it's actually possible to call in other players, on the fly as it were.
Eurogamer: Square-Enix obviously has this recent history of reworking older titles - you've got Final Fantasy III here on the DS. As well as the World of Mana umbrella of new games, have you considered creating updated versions of old Mana titles, such as Secret of Mana on the DS?
Kouichi Ishii: It's wide open and I don't want to dismiss it outright, obviously. Currently there are no solid plans, but if the opportunity presents itself I'd take it. I'd love to recraft some of the older games Square has.
Eurogamer: What was the thinking behind choosing PS2 and DS to work on? Will you consider bringing Mana to other formats?
Kouichi Ishii: Yeah, I don't really want borders to be placed on Mana. I'd like it to expand to all the different formats. Basically I'd like to match the gameplay to the specific characteristics of all the hardware, which is always what I've wanted to do with Mana.
Eurogamer: This week saw the announcement of the PS3 tilt control, and we already know about Nintendo Wii. As a developer you must find these quite exciting - do you have any ideas for either system?
Kouichi Ishii: I already have a lot of ideas in my head of how to use both technologies, but I really can't tell you! I'd love to, but it's beyond... the company doesn't even know, is kind of the problem!
Children of Mana is due out on DS later this year in the West, while Dawn of Mana for PS2 has yet to be dated. SNES title Secret of Mana still fetches silly amounts on eBay, and you really should play it if you haven't.