Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Series of Mana --- Interview with Ross K. Foad

Please consider donating to the Indiegogo campaign for the Series of Mana.  £1000 are needed for the project, and with your help, the remaining funds can easily be acquired.

Secret of Mana, like many other fine games, has inspired decades of fanfiction, tributes, artwork, and now, an upcoming webseries called The Series of Mana.  The one responsible for The Series of Mana is writer, director, and actor Ross K. Foad.  Mr. Foad has been in the industry now for almost a decade and has quite a presence on Youtube, acquiring almost 5,000 subscribers.   He is clearly passionate about Secret of Mana, as we will soon see, and this project will allow the game's story to be introduced to another generation of fans, as well as give seasoned fans a new take on the game.  With the 3D remake launching early next year, this is quite an exciting development in the SoM world.  The series has begun filming with production well underway, but help is still needed in realizing the full project.

Today, we are going to talk with the man himself, but first let's take a look at this video in Mr. Foad's own words:



So we're here today with Ross K. Foad, Secret of Mana enthusiast extraordinaire, and from what I can tell, someone who's quite passionate about the arts.  Tell us the basics---who you are, and how you came across Secret of Mana.

Hi Tim, Thank you very much for allowing me this time and space on your blog!

I am from Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, England.

I first came across Secret of Mana around 1996 when I bought my Super Nintendo second hand out of a newspaper.  It came bundled with a few games and one of them was Secret of Mana.  I had never heard of the game before and knew nothing about it.  At the time, I was only interested in playing Donkey Kong Country!  But after popping the cart in the console all thoughts of apes were quickly abandoned.  I fell in love so hard with this game and this feeling has not waned ever since.  Everything about the game enthralled me.  It was a lengthy quest (especially given many games could be beat in an hour back then), the gameplay was addictive, the soundtrack out of this world, the story drew me in, the characters were hugely memorable, and it had co-op multiplayer!  To date, it is still my favourite game of all time, and I doubt that this will ever change.  The emotional impact of the story cannot be forgotten either.  I recently completed another play through a few weeks ago and the ending still has me in tears.

Wow, that's really amazing.  

It has been a massive influence in so much of my life.  I am a very spiritual person, and I would say that it was The Secret of Mana that was responsible for really opening my heart to this way of thinking.  Mana is life and life is Mana.  It just resonates so much for me.  In addition, it taught me concepts of love, loss, and friendship to a point where they actually meant something.  That might sound overdramatic, but at age eight when I first played this, I had not witnessed or known anyone close to me who had died or really left my life at that point.  Mana made me consider these things in more detail.

The music has always stayed with me too.  I listen to it when writing, walking, and just needing to think about things.  There is something quite magical about it that really takes me to another world.

Though my love for the game went beyond what was confided to the television screen.  I was always the imaginative kid ­– the one who didn’t play football, but engaged in imaginary make believe games.  I would pretend to be Randi (the game’s protagonist) as I explored forests looking for Rabites with my stick (sword) in hand.

It's funny you mention that, as I often compare picturesque scenery around me to scenes from the game.  This is really quite a story you have; it seems that if there's a good candidate to create a webseries for Secret of Mana, it's you.  Now that we've discussed the game, let's talk a bit more about your background in the arts.  How did you develop a passion for film?

Both of my parents are actors, so some of it is probably just in the blood!  But I first started as a script writer on comic strip for a local newspaper when I was thirteen years old.  I spent five years doing that before my artist friend and I went onto creating a double comedy act and getting into performing live comedy sketches.  Then Youtube came about and we started to convert some of the live sketches onto there!  Slowly learning the craft of film making that way. I went solo in early 2010 and everything else has really spun off from there!

Besides the Series of Mana, what else have you been involved with, and what else may we expect from in the future?

If we are talking about projects that I have personally overseen in a similar fashion, I am best known for the creation of No Place Like Holmes (2010-present) which was the first ever, and longest running, Sherlock Holmes web series.  This was really was my training ground for what helped get me where I am today.  The evolution of that show from series one to series seven (which I am filming now) is like night and day.  That is something that has opened many doors for me including getting a spin-off book publishing deal and audio book based upon the series, getting invited to give talks at Sherlock Holmes related events, and it even led me to being invited to a private cast/crew screening and party for the final series of Foyles War by the aforementioned Anthony Horowitz.

As far as projects I have worked on for others:  Voicing characters in video games such as CDF: Starfighter (XBOX/PC), StarCitizen (PC), and Dark Matter Hudokai (Steam) is a massive highlight. Growing up playing video games, I never once envisioned that I would get the chance to do that.  Ah, they are all special for their own reasons.

As for the future? Aside the aforementioned NPLH series seven, SoM is going to keep me busy a long while!

Also, and this is a very long way off, but should the series be popular enough, I have contemplated it eventually leading to adaptations from Seiken Densetsu 3.  The world of Mana is expansive, and there are many stories that I would like to tell.

Let's talk about some of your influences in film.

Oh, God! Hard question! Too many to list.  I admire certain people in very different walks of life, but to name but a few:

Jeremy Brett --- Greatest Sherlock Holmes actor of all time (closely followed by Basil Rathbone.) Outstanding mesmerising performance aside, he continued ploughing through filming the Granada series despite the death of his wife, his crippling depression, heart problems, and dealing with unkind comments about his appearance that was the result of medication he had to take for it.

Rik Mayall --- The Young Ones, Drop Dead Fred, The Comic Strip Presents, Bottom…they all played a massive part in shaping my sense of humour.  He also taught me that you should only write what makes you laugh, and  forget what everyone else thinks.  A sentiment I try and hold myself to.

Johhny Gioleli - Johnny is the lead singer of rock bands Hardline, Axel Rudi Pell, and Crush 40.  The latter being one people might be familiar with for being the band that performs many of the best songs for The Sonic the Hedgehog games.  He is just such a chill well tempered person with such a phenomenal voice.  He is about to come out with his first ever solo album.  All the proceeds go to helping his critically disabled neighbour, Joe Barbour, who is paralyzed from the neck down from an accident.  A man with a heart and voice of gold.

Mike "The Miz" Mizanin --- I am a huge WWE fan, but the wrestler I admire most on the current roster would be The Miz.  A former reality star, he was dismissed upon arrival for his background, but kept ploughing at it to get where he is today.  Anyone who defies critics and people telling them that they can't do it but then proves them wrong gets my respect.  Plus, being an actor, I just dig his "A -lister" hollywood persona.

As a musician, I can certainly admire how centered you are within the scope of your work and your influences.  So is there a specific film style or method that's important in this project?

Just the same style I apply to all my projects that makes them enjoyable for my actors to work on. Have fun, don't stress about anything, and just get on and get it done.  I am known for the efficiency I handle filming shoots in.

And I can't help but ask about special effects...

Of course! Magic spells and the like are an important part of Secret of Mana! So naturally there will be plenty of them.  I am quite proud of how we made Neko come to life too with the prosthetic effects.  I have amassed many tricks from my years film making, but without giving too much away, I will be looking to incorporate as much as I can.

That's going to be really fun to see!  Okay, so let's talk about the fundamentals of the project.  How exactly did it come about to begin with?

I actually thought of doing this series around five years ago, but then quickly dismissed it as not being achievable.  I believed that it needed far more money and the logistics were impossible for someone like me to create, but as time went on, and I continued to gain more experience, it really became clear to me exactly how I can do it, and I really had no reason not to do it.  After writing the series, the first person I approached was Kelsey Williams, who I have worked with for the past seven years on various web-series and films.  Kelsey was the only person I could have ever imagined playing Popoie, and thankfully, she is a big fantasy fan, so she couldn’t be more excited for it.  Once she was on board I immediately started pre-production, and here we are!  And, yes, I am well aware Popoie is meant to be a boy, but there is still some dispute over whether the rushed English translation was completely accurate. In addition, many would agree that the appearance is very feminine.

Ahh yes, one of the many ambiguities of Secret of Mana that we've had to examine here at Reconstructing Mana.  What are some of the challenges of the production?

Doing this on a such a limited budget means that not every little thing is going to be possible from the game, so I have had to be conservative when doing the writing of the show.  I only write it if I know exactly how I can film it.  In addition, showcasing some of the more elaborate monsters requires a bit of thought over how to tackle it or have them represented.  Likewise for the elementals.  Creating some of them to look 100 percent like how they appear in the game would be tricky!  So some have been a case of reimagining how they might look in a more human like form.

What is the structure of the production, and do you have a timeline for its execution?

There will be three series. The first series, which is currently being filmed, will consist of the first six episodes. Each episode is around 10-15 minutes long.

The second and third will be filmed in early and late 2018 respectively.  As it stands, sixteen episodes have been written to take us from beginning to end.  The series follows the basic story of the game and a lot of the original dialogue, but with some expanded/additional/reimagined scenarios.  Not every single scenario will be reproducible due to budget restraints, but should crowdfunds pick up, this may mean that I can change that!  Regardless, there will be plenty of fan service winks and nods for those that know their Mana.  For the hard-core Square-Enix fan, there is also some cameo appearances planned from other games.

Series one is planned to start in Late 2017/Early 2018.

I placed a link both here and at the top for donations.  Talk about the budget for your project, and how exactly donations will be used.

This is a very expensive series to make.  Thankfully, I do own all my own equipment, but the costumes/props and accessories for all the characters/monsters are not cheap. Especially as some bits have to be custom made.  So, most of the funding will go towards this. Any donation whatsoever would go a long way to allow this to be the best that we can make it and allow it be much more expansive with more characters/pathways to be taken.

Well I do hope the many readers and visitors to this blog will come through for you.  And if nothing else, we all wish you the best in this endeavor.  You have the last word.  When all is said and done, what are Ross K. Foad's hopes for the Series of Mana?

I want to make this amazing world a reality. To bring the characters to life beyond a screen and to go on that adventure I wanted to as a child, but this time I am not going at it alone.  I will be bringing you (the viewers!) and a whole host of friends along for the ride!

I know that this game touched so many people’s lives like it did mine, and I want to express my love for this game in the only way I can.  Many people have created brilliant Secret of Mana fan artwork or produced amazing covers from the soundtrack (check out The Spectrum of Mana Album) but I am neither a great artist nor a musician.  However, I am an actor/writer/director with 10 years of creating successful web series.  To me this is the most logical and natural way express my love of it.  We also have to remember that The Secret of Mana is only around sixty percent of the game that it was meant to be.  There was so much cut due to cart size restrictions, and even the dialogue that is there is redacted.  This medium allows a little more character development to occur, and a few different paths to be taken.  I know that I am not the only one who wonders what else could have happened in this game.

---

On the blog side of things: Odds & Ends Part IV --- it's happening this weekend.  Square owns SoM.  Until then, enjoy some pictures from the Series of Mana project.













Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Coming soon...

Odds & Ends Part IV is still a thing, and I will hopefully have that here by the weekend.

I have also been alerted to a Secret of Mana webseries known as the, "Series of Mana."  This is a major project with its own crowdfunding page.  So in addition to the Odds & Ends article, I will have an exclusive interview with the creator of this project and what he hopes to achieve here soon.

My project with zhaDe is still on hold.  I'd say it's about 30-40% complete, and has hit a roadblock with our various schedules.  Hope springs eternal that we may finish in the next year.

Exciting things are happening with our beloved game.  Watch this space for more!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Remake! (Finally)

Square Enix has announced that there will be a remake of Secret of Mana.  Click here for the details from Kotaku:
According to Famitsu, this is a full remake with full voice (though Square Enix’s English language press release simply states that the game will have voice-overs), new musical arrangements and other new elements like upgraded gameplay. It will also have local multiplayer on all platforms.
Here's one picture from the article:


Details are scarce at this point, but I'm more than a bit disappointed with the graphics.  While the original graphics were primitive, the SNES experience had an air of realism, as oppose to the cartoon that we're witnessing now.  This is not out of step with other remakes of NES and SNES games, but it is unfortunate given that Secret of Mana deserves the best.  Part of me just wants a game with the original concept to be completed as intended.  Speaking of which, there's no mention on whether there will be any restored story elements, but we can hope that many of our decades-old questions will be answered.

Nevertheless, let's rejoice that after many failed attempts (Wonderswan, iOS/Android port, etc.), we finally have an upgrade to Secret of Mana.

Nadia Oxford at USGamer has an article that I highly recommend. 


Friday, May 26, 2017

Odds & Ends Part III

When I first started this blog, I didn't think it'd receive much traffic, but here we are one year later with almost 10000 pageviews.  Unfortunately, these Odds & Ends articles are the least read so maybe I need to think of a better title for them.  This is the third article on things that don't warrant an entire post.  You can see the first two here, and here.

The "Veedios"

In the Lofty Mountains, there is Mandela, home of Sage Joch.  Joch is one of the few guides the player has in the second half of the game, if they even know to look there.  The player
is directed to seek out Joch, and when they arrive, they receive a different clue depending on where they are in the game.

But in the town of Mandela proper, there is a shrine that gives rare insight into the background of Secret of Mana.  This temple dates from the Mana Fortress war:

The orbs inside store data from that period.  The ancients called them, um, "Veedios," I think.

This temple is from ancient times, when the Mana Beast battled the Mana Fortress.  These are orbs that are also a sort of machinery.  They are a record of things from the time.  In ancient times, I believe they were called, "Veedios."

"Machinery" makes more sense than "data" since the point is that the world doesn't have this technology anymore... how would they know what data is?  These were already retranslated by swedishchefbork in 2010 and I'll be using that as my source.  Ted Woolsey worked some serious gymnastics to make things fit into a small space:

...Gzzz...Oh, my heart brea-ks when she's not a-round,  And I mi-ss her......Gzzz...

My darling~ so lovey-lovey!  [my peach-!] Catch my burning heart~! [my peach-!]

A song?  Or someone's personal video diary?

Gzz...zegazega...This one's broken!

twang... spark-spark...This one's broken!

Whoa! Exploded!

Uwa-!! It blew up!

Okay...

...Gzzz......Who was Abe Lincoln?  Correct! That makes you our new champion..!

... Question 7! Q~~! Ding-ding, co-rrect answer!
Ma'am, you're really good at this...

In the midst of harvesting Mana for their evil purposes, the Ancients watched American television quiz shows.

[Person 1]: We must restrict the use of Mana energy!
[Person 2]: What utter nonsense!
[Person 1]: We're using it up!
[Person 2]: Ha! You can't USE up Mana!
[Person 1]: Argh! You don't understand!

[Person 1]: And -now-, the discussions surrounding the management of the precious little Mana Energy remaining between the countries just aren't gonna end.
[Person 2]: It never -actually- decreases. Nonsense!
[Person 1]: W-Wait a sec, just what never decreases? --You! You cheeky little...!
[Person 2]: This is the last straw between you and me!
[Person 1]: What are you doing? Ah - hey - stop it

...

...evening news. At dawn Lorima launched missiles at the Empire......which had threatened to take Lorima's capital by nightfall.

Time for the news. Before dawn this morning, the Country of Lorimar began missile strikes against the Empire Army pressing northward. The Empire, in retaliation, announced that it will attack the entirety of Lorimar's capital Wendel within 24 hours...

This is interesting since the videos are supposed to be from Ancient times, but it says that the Empire attacked Wendel here.  So was there an Empire in Ancient times?  I thought the trouble began 15 years ago...or was this some other trouble?  Lorimar and Wendel make many appearances during the Mana series, but it is unknown where they were intended to be in SoM.

Gzzz...zzz  THERE! You can see the Mana Beast! Just moments ago it hit the Fortress...Oh! It's coming this way!  We're going off the...Zazaza...Gzzz......Gzzzaza...zzzz...Beeeep!

... Television viewers! Look at that! That's the Holy Beast of Mana!  Ah! The Mana Fortress has been ripped apart by the Beast! It's falling into the sea!  Ahh-- The Beast is heading this way... We cannot continue broadcasting, goodbye world, goodb..."

I saved this for last, because it's the most telling.  Here we have Randi and friends going up to an old recording device and finding out things about an apocalyptic past caused by an insanely powerful being.  Hmm...where have I seen this before?


Cannon Travel Locations

The ROM has far more Cannon Travel locations in its memory then what is used in the game.  Most of them go nowhere.  Here is a screenshot from a program that my fearless colleague, zhaDe, put together:


Neat, huh?  The memory locations on the right are all of the programmed Cannon Travel routes.  Each one has a starting point and an ending point.  Anything with an, "x" next to it was not used in the game, although the last two were not used either.

The strange thing is that almost every route starts or ends near the Pure Land.  The distance between all of these locations seems to be constant, so I imagine this was used for testing.

There are actually only a few unused routes which may be of interest:

78AB 78AB --- As the designation implies, this route starts and ends at the same spot: the cannon travel in the Upper Land.  This is the only one deactivated in a long block that are used in the game (see picture).  Other than a lost quest where there wasn't enough gunpowder to get you somewhere, I have no idea.

B163 4070 --- This one launches you near Kakkara, and lands you on the edge of the Empire's continent.

3BF6 BA77 --- You're launched from the waterfall near Southtown to the ocean south of Mandela.  This is also near the Pure Land, but it's a very different combination than the other routes in that it lands you north of there on the other side of the map.

70F0 94AF --- This launches near the Upper Land cannon travel and ends at the coast south of Kippo.


Another Early World Map




This has been making the rounds.  It was posted on a forum not too long ago.  I already mentioned the earlier version of Tasnica, but also notice how Kakkara had more land.  And this is yet another early map which obscures the bottom right corner.  Maybe they just couldn't figure out what was supposed to happen here?

Sudden Armor

One of the many peculiar things about Secret of Mana is the stats distortion in the final act.  Suddenly, the enemies get much harder, and the available armor takes a giant leap in power to catch up.  If we rank the armor in the game from lowest defense to highest defense, it looks like this:



Gold City

Gold City is a peculiar place.  It's part of the Empire, and its King (Manmon) recalls Queen Zeal and
the Mammon Machine from Chrono Trigger.  However, it appears that there was a lot more intended for this place.  For one, certain dialogue foreshadows something bad happening to the island:

This island's sinking under the weight of the gold!  Many have left here, and gone north to the Ice Country.

Although it's not happening fast, the island is sinking more and more due to the weight of the gold.  Eventually, it will fall into the sea.  Some of our people knew this, and secretly went north to the Ice Country.

This never happens of course, but if we're using Zeal as a parallel, that kingdom was destroyed as a result of its greed.  We spoke of the oasis these folks headed to in the last article.  It's interesting that this resort is still mentioned even after it reverts to being uninhabitable.

The main attraction in Gold City is the light elemental, Lumina.  She was imprisoned by the king to turn things into gold, but after you rescue her, his dialogue does not change.  In fact, you would expect that the town would notice after it no longer has its primary source of gold, but no one seems to care about that either.

However, according to regrs of GameFAQs:
Of note is that flag 37 can be used to despawn every NPC in Gold Isle, even though it's never used for that purpose. Wonder if it was supposed to be abandoned after you freed Lumina.
And a bit more information about Gold City can be found here.

Credits:  I borrowed a screen shot from the LP Archive.

Next:  Odds & Ends Part IV

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Scorpion Army


Well, here we are, once again.  The semester is over, both at the school I learn at and the school I teach at, so there is some time for updates.  I need to get out of the habit of letting this blog go for awhile, because it is a very difficult thing to get back into.  I have to go back and study all of the things I did before, and then try to remember what I was coming up with.  Further complicating matters is a new computer I got.  I kept everything on my last one, and had to transfer the important files over.  One of these days, I'll get into 2017 2010 and embrace cloud storage.

This article is on the Scorpion Army.  At first glance, they don't seem like they deserve an entire article.  The thing that makes this group stand out is not so much what they do, but where they're found.  Besides the heroes and the Empire, they are the only ones that find their way to some unusual places like the Lost Continent and the underground.  While characters like Watts and Neko do turn up in similar places, it is more as a gameplay element than a plot element.

Oh, and they have their own theme song.

We encounter the Scorpion Army three times.  The first is in the Underground Palace.  On the way from the Ruins, we must stop in the Underground Palace and recover the Water Seed that they stole.  They seem to be aware of the Seed's power as well, at least as a means of powering their ridiculous creations.  Not only do they have the technology to travel underground, but they also build robots:

Aha! The Water seed!  How'd you get in here?  You realize we can't let you leave...

BOSS:Welcome! We, the Scorpion army, will rule the world!

BOYS:Check it out!

BOSS:Shuddap!  WE took the Water seed......to complete our Super Deluxe Robot!  We call it "Kilroy..."

BOYS:Hubba, hubba!

BOSS:Do it!!

BOYS:Aye aye, Sir.

Ah ha!  The Water Seed!  Well…this is different.  How the hell did you get in?  How dare you discover our underground fortress!  What comes here doesn't return!

Boss:  Welcome, little urchins.  We are the Scorpion Army, who will soon rule the world!

Boys:  Cool!  Check this out!

Boss:  Save it!  It was indeed us who took the Water Seed...to transfer the energy to our Super Deluxe Robot!  The name of this invincible guardian is…"Kilroy!"

Boys:  Hehe…it's so cool!

Boss:  Now, let's get this robot going!  You need to get on it!

Boys:  Aye aye, sir!

Non-Japanese players like myself probably did not realize that the Scorpion Army was based on the Doronbo Gang, led by the villain, Doronjo, from the Time Bokan anime:

According to the primary Wikia:
[Doronjo] is an attractive blond known for her vanity, intelligence, and leadership...she along with her fellow Doronbo members...are sent on various missions...but end up getting in various battles...and losing each time and being punished for failures.
Sound familiar?

BOSS:Aiee! What's wrong?

BOYS: Too much energy...it's out of control!

BOSS:Nooo! Remove the seed!  Use the auxillary power!

Boss:  Wow!  What happened to it?

Boys:  Oh, no!  The energy is too powerful…it's no longer operational!  

Boss:  Aieee!  What!?  Remove the seed and go to auxillary power!

After the battle with Kilroy, the Scorpion Army is not even mentioned again until their next scheme.  They seem to have no connection with the Empire...so are just they a sidequest, or were intended to have further significance?  When we meet them the second time, they've imprisoned the fire spirit, Salamando, in a stove to thaw out a town in the Ice Country, making a tropical oasis in the midst of a wintry climate.  This town has a connection to Gold City, which I'll cover in the next
article, but let's take a look at the Scorpion Army here:

BOSS:YOU again!? Didn't you recognize them?

BOYS:Uh, sorry...

BOSS:Everyone's gone!  I was about to become rich!  Huh?  Fire Palace seed?  I haven't a clue.

BOYS:I saw an odd old guy when we nabbed Salamando!

BOSS:Don't HELP them!  See ya, bye!

Boss:  Oh my god…it's you again!  Didn't you slime notice them here?

Boys:  Sorry…

Boss:  Ahh!  It's over already!  After I went through all of this trouble to make money…everyone ran away!  Huh?  The Fire Palace Seed?  I don't know anything about it, and I'm already fed up with these Seeds…

Boys:  Hmm…when we caught Salamando, there was a weird old man...

Boss:  Eh, what?  What are you telling them?  Enough!  We will remember this…

The, "old man" they're referring to should be Santa Claus, but he's found in the Ice Palace coming up.  Unless they're referring to the Gigas in the Fire Palace, I don't know who this is.

Finally, in the Grand Palace, they show up out of nowhere to retrieve Randi's Mana Sword, which they just happened to find out about...

BOSS:Hey, you!

BOYS:You!

BOSS:I did some nosing around...seems this kid is the "Legendary Knight!"  Haw, ha! What a joke!  How could YOU have found that sword? Hand it over!

BOYS:Yeah!  We're gonna be rich, Boss!

BOSS:Shaddap and go get it!  Super Special Deluxe Robot, Type 2...with turbo!  "Kettle Kin!"

(after the battle)

BOSS:Too...strong! He's the REAL Knight! What idiot said he wasn't the Knight? Let's scram!

BOYS:Yeah!

Boss:  We've been waiting!  …you made it!

Boys:  It is so!

Boss:  I checked around and was told all about you!  This is the hero of the Mana Sword!  This child!  Ha ha!  THIS is supposed to be the brave knight?  So I see you do have the Mana Sword, but this must be some kind of joke.  Come on, hand it over to us!

Boys:  That's right!  I'm sure the Mana Sword is worth quite a lot, boss.

Boss:  Now, don't be stupid.  We'll have to take this by force!  Super Special Deluxe Robot, Type 2...with turbo!  "Kettle Kin!"

(after the battle)

Boss:  This one is too strong!  I guess he is the real Mana Knight!  Who are you, anyway?  Why didn't just say you're the hero?  Let's get out of here!

Boys:  Aye-aye, sir!

What's significant here is that the Scorpion Army somehow found their way into the most isolated place of the game---the underground city.  While this may be little more than comic relief, I find myself thinking about the post-apocalyptic future in Chrono Trigger.  You'll recall that Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana started out as the same project.  The designs of the ruined domes in 2300AD are very similar to the design of the underground city in Secret of Mana, and there are also quite a few robots.  I can see aspects of the Scorpion Army as a direct precursor to this concept.  They demonstrate technology in a world where there's little, possibly meaning that they come from the Lost Continent themselves, or are related to the, "Ancients" who built the Mana Fortress.  Many years ago, I read some fanfic that explored this possibility in-depth, but can not locate it now.  

Either way, the game tells us little about their background.  But there is no denying that they are the most offbeat plot element in the game.

I'll close with some insight from user regrs of GameFAQs:

Here's something interesting. 
Kilroy was supposed to make a grand entrance similar to Spikey Tiger. The doors in the back of his arena have partial functionality to open them.  [And no, there's nothing back there. You can walk inside the area a bit though.]  Looks like this:


DqypbTG

Next:  Odds & Ends Part III

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Coming up next...

UPDATE (x2) 3/31/17:  You'll notice this blog gets updated most between semesters.  The Scorpion Army article is almost complete, and it will hopefully be here soon.

School is back in session, but I do have the Scorpion Army article ready to drop on February 23rd (UPDATE: this weekend!).  Following that will be a few more Odds & Ends articles, and after that, there isn't a whole lot more we can say about Secret of Mana, barring any new findings or announcements.  On some distant day when I have my life back from educational and professional obligations, I will run through Seiken Densetsu 3 again; it's been at least 15 years.

I would recommend that everyone seek out the videos of various challenge runs on YouTube.  The way that players exploit the game's code really makes me wish I had known about these things as a kid!

zhaDe and I continue to work on our top secret SoM project.  Work is about 25% done, and although it shows much promise and progress, we are doing it on our own time, and it is unknown when (and if) it will be released.

If there is anything I've missed and you'd like to see it here, please let me know about it.

Until next time!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Lost Continent, the Mana Fortress et al

NOTE:  All featured excerpts from the script are my translations from the original Japanese.

We have arrived at the final article in our trilogy on the backstory of Secret of Mana.  You can read the first two articles here and here.  Back in August, I was writing this when I announced my extended break.  After returning a few weeks ago, I couldn't just finish it---there is so much complexity that it was going to require a review of where I was headed with things.  Making sense of the game when it is inherently patchy is not easy.

What we're about to embark on is a journey full of gaps and speculation, as there are some shaky concepts which can not be reconciled.

First, let's find out more about the Mana Fortress.  From the Prologue:

...people began to use the power of Mana in war, and this led to the creation of a huge ship called the Mana Fortress…But its enormous power touched the anger of the gods, and the Mana Beast was sent to the earth.

We see here that the Mana Fortress was the zenith of human Mana research.  Their advanced knowledge of Mana and technology allowed them to construct a floating megalith of immense power.  Unfortunately, the ship is quite generic on the inside, not giving us any clues as to its specific
capabilities.  Thanatos uses the Mana Fortress to destroy the Mana Tree at the end of the game, so it certainly was used as a weapon to keep someone in line.  But what else can it do?

We covered the war that ended the Fortress in the previous article, but what happened after the war, and how did we get to the beginning of SoM?  It seems reasonable to assume that after the Fortress was defeated, a sort of balance was achieved with Mana.  The various Mana Beasts who attacked the Fortress were scattered throughout the world.   Although the technology of human civilization had been lost in the conflict, humanity itself continued.  As Luka tells us in the Water Palace:

The survivors of the conflict were protected by the power of Mana, and rebuilt the world.

And as the Prologue says, time flows like a river, and history repeats...

At the beginning of SoM, The Empire has been at work trying to restore the Mana Fortress, seemingly because they're evil and that's the sort of thing evil people do.  As a result of their actions or some other phenomenon, Mana's power is weakening, allowing Randi to pull out the Mana Sword
near Potos.  When we first meet Luka, she gives us more exposition than we get at any point of the game, part of which tell us about the Empire's goal:

The Empire is trying to get the Seeds...you must revive the Mana Sword...you also need to visit all eight Mana Palaces. They are located around the world...the Empire seems to be trying to unseal the Mana Seeds in Palaces all across the world. 

These are snippets of dialogue from her entire speech, not all of which is given at once.  How Luka explains things depends on the dialogue options the player chooses when meeting her.  We can conjecture from this that the Seeds are "sealed", and that the Empire is trying to, "unseal" them.  But, Luka also says this:

The Water Seed is unsealed.  Use your sword to restore it!

So the Empire is trying to unseal all of the Seeds...but the Water Seed is somehow already unsealed. Next, Luka tells us:

The Mana Seed and the Mana Sword resonated together.  Now that it's done, wherever you are in the world, the power of the Seed will reach your Sword. 

If the seeds are unsealed, and need to be resealed by Randi, then why does the Empire need to do anything to them?  And if they're already sealed, why does Luka tell Randi to reseal them?  It is true that Randi's sword and his party's stats will go up with each Seed, but that has nothing to do with the Empire.  When we get to Tasnica, we finally find out what these seals really do:

Under the coral reef, the ancient continent of legend rests on the seabed.  It is sealed off by the seeds of each Mana palace.

Okay, well that came out of nowhere.  There was no mention of the Lost Continent before this, unless the player has already met with Joch.  Even then, this is quite late in the game.  If Luka was going to give all of that exposition, why not just talk about the Lost Continent?  I always thought that the Lost Continent itself was a very unsettling place.  Flying over it always gave me chills unless I had a reason to be there.   Let's take a look at it:
















Not a place I'd want to encounter while parasailing.  And this is an aerial view of a real coral reef:



This is actually pretty neat; the developers had a good concept in mind.  Back to the plot, Pecard at the Lighthouse tells us:

In fact, the Mana Palace is a switch that would refloat the continent.  The power of that ancient civilization was incredible, but I'm sure whatever lies underneath the continent is unfathomable!

To harmonize the previous two statements, if the seals on the Mana Seeds are broken, then some seal on the Lost Continent is also broken, and something about the Mana Palace (a vague reference to either the Tree Palace or the Grand Palace) is a "switch" that will bring the continent to the surface.

But let's consider the events when Randi goes to the Lost Continent.  First, he's too late to prevent the Empire from reaching the final Mana Seed.  This, in itself raises the continent.  But wait!  Didn't Randi just spend the entire game resealing each Mana Seed?  When did the Empire's mass unsealing of all the other Seeds occur?  Just listen to what the Emperor tells us in the Tree Palace:

Once I break this final seal, the Lost Continent will float!  I've already broken every seal around the world, this will be the last, and the Mana Fortress will be revived!  

In the English script, he says, "Once I break this last seal, the Mana Fortress will rise", but I believe this simply means that the Fortress will rise with the Lost Continent.

But if the Seeds are unsealed by default, then shouldn't the Lost Continent already have risen?

Let's take a look at what Jema tells us:

Randi, you're here!  The Lost Continent where the Mana Fortress sleeps has risen to the surface!  The Republic has come to keep the Empire from getting to the Fortress.  It seems that there is an ancient city underneath this Palace.  We have no choice but to get there.  

When did Jema find out about this ancient city, and why is he telling us about it now?  We can conjecture that the Mana Fortress was stored somewhere in this ancient city, but the script offers us no help on how any of this fits together.

Speaking of the Mana Fortress, here's the biggest plot hole among all plot holes---if it was "smashed" by the Mana Sword in the ancient war, how is it still in perfect condition at the time of Secret of Mana?  The characters refer to the Mana Fortress, so it is unlikely that there is more than one.  Did the Empire repair the entire thing in the span of a few hours?  Or was the Fortress not obliterated, just merely captured?

Thus the Lost Continent comes to the surface, exposing the Grand Palace.  What happened to the poor coral is not explained, but I digress.  Randi needs to find a way in, and proceeds through an underground entrance nearby.  This takes us through the ancient city, featuring a working subway,
escalators, and electronic panels.  Flying Omelette points out that the ghosts on the subway are very similar to those on the train in Final Fantasy VI.  Also, it's not hard to see that this entire area was the prototype for 2300 AD in Chrono Trigger.  I imagine that everything they were going to do with the ancient civilization here was later worked into that game.  After making our way through here, we find the entrance to the Grand Palace.  The result of all of these events?  We end up back in...the Tree Palace.

This means that the Tree Palace and the Grand Palace are actually one and the same.  The fact that we can not enter the Grand Palace when we first come to the Tree Palace is an arbitrary plot device.  Once we get back to the stage room to find the Emperor dead, a corridor has appeared behind the stage.  Entering this corridor, we eventually find ourselves in this massive room of the Mana Fortress:



This room appears to be the most important room in the entire Fortress, with all kinds of epic technology afoot.  We end up here right before the final battle at the end of the game too.  How is it that this was behind the stage of the Tree Palace this whole time?  Randi fails to stop Thanatos from flying off with the Fortress, and this mysteriously causes the continent to sink again.  But, wasn't it the Seeds that do that?  And if the Fortress was so close to the surface, why go through all the trouble of finding the ancient city?

Do you need a minute?  It's okay, I'll wait here.

There's one final place in the game where the seals are mentioned.  It's after the Mana Tree has been attacked, and she's speaking to Randi:

With the last of my power, I shall unseal the power of the Seeds, and they will resonate with the Mana Sword once again!

This throws the whole thing wide open again.  Didn't the Empire unseal the seeds already to access the Lost Continent?  The game doesn't seem to be able to figure out exactly what "sealed" and "unsealed" mean.

The fact that the Lost Continent and associated content is so jumbled leads me to believe that it was a last minute invention to tie up loose plot ends and bring about the final act much faster than what was originally intended.  It's the place that sees the end of Sheex and Fanha and the Emperor, as well as the place where almost every NPC in the game suddenly turns up to show us what happened to them.  I highly doubt that the Tree Palace and the Grand Palace were supposed to be the same place originally.  I have some support for my position:



On the left is the Grand Palace after the Lost Continent surfaces, and on the right is the Tree Palace when the Lost Continent is under the ocean---both before and after the Grand Palace events.  Therefore, the developers reused the same map with only the events and sprites different.  Note how there is an incomplete representation of the Grand Palace at the bottom that one can never see normally.  This YouTube video errs when it says it's a glitch:


It's simply incomplete.  Either the developers started with the Grand Palace map and then went through a huge amount of trouble to change it to the Tree Palace, or the Grand Palace and Tree Palace events were messed with, and the maps changed at the last moment.

How the Mana Fortress, the Grand Palace, the ancient city, and the Lost Continent are connected form the heart of the game's backstory, and the various concepts are not reconciled as they appear in the final game.

Simply put---Secret of Mana makes no sense.

Next:  I didn't even get to the Scorpion Army, so that's the next article.

Credits:  Square owns SoM.  Also, a HUGE thanks to CelesDestiny once again for spotting errors.



Monday, January 23, 2017

Popoie

The last main character we have not examined in depth is Popoie the sprite.   One can see from the Spriters Resource here that Popoie is an exceptionally detailed character.  He has animation frames for a wide range of situations, depicted in an exaggerated way suitable to the character.  Popoie (or Popoi) has a bit of an odd role in Secret of Mana.  From a gameplay perspective, he's the black mage.  From a story perspective, he provides comic relief with the most exuberant personality of anyone, but also turns out to be one of the most tragic characters.

There is even debate as to whether Popoie is a he or a she.  It seems that in the original Japanese script, it was not stated, but due to the way the game was translated into English, he was clearly referenced as a, "he."  Since that's what I grew up with, and I always had the sense that the Sprite was male, I'm sticking with it for the purposes of this blog.

Popoie is mentioned for the first time before we reach Gaia's Navel:

I saw the floodwaters sweep some kid into it!!
In a recent flood, I saw a child flushed into the cave.  He just kept going…the poor thing...

Once there, we find him in a racket with the Elder of the Dwarves Village.  After washing up there in
a flood, the Elder wanted to help him get back, so they put on a show in which they claimed he was 50000GP in debt.  Note that even though he hadn't officially acquired magic yet, he can still do, "magic tricks."

DWARF: Step right on in! It's the Dwarf Village's world famous exhibit hut!  It'll be 50 GP!  The show's just starting!  First, cast your eyes on this Rabiteman! The only one in the world!  Take one Rabite, and one man, and its...Rabiteman!  Hey, you! Pipe down!  And now, presenting an actual and very rare, Sprite Child!

SPRITE: Boo, hoo, hoo...Ah!  Won't you please help me?

DWARF: Yes, folks, it's pure tragedy! Weep as you hear his story.  This poor child has a 50,000 GP debt to pay off!  It's here, working off the debt bit by bit. Oh please, gentle people.  Please help it! Even 100 GP will help.

SPRITE: Oh, joy! Thank you!  I'll take that, thank you so much...

or

Geez! A lot of nothing.  These poor people just aren't going to cut it!

Dwarf: Yes, welcome…to the Dwarf Village's famous hut of spectacles!  Our show can be seen for only 50 GP!  (We'll see it We're done here)  It's the start of the show!  First…an exceptionally mysterious Rabiteman!  Take a Rabite, then take a man, and you have the Rabiteman! Huh? You don't think he's convincing? As expected from such an audience! Your eyes are too good!  Then I guess it's time to show this rare, ineffable Sprite child!

Sprite: *sob* Oh…gentle, kind audience! Please help me!

Dwarf: Come on! Please sympathize with him! There will be many tears as you hear him speak!  This poor child is in debt! He owes over 50000 GP!  We're getting the money back little by little. We hope someday he can repay all of it! Come on, friends! I know you have big hearts.  Just 100GP will go a long way!

Sprite: Wow! Thank you! I'll take that right now.

or

Seriously? That's asking too much? What a bunch of fuddy duddies!

After confronting him backstage, they come clean about the whole deal:

SPRITE: Aiee! Did you overhear what we just said?

ELDER: P...please forgive us!  This child really IS a sprite child.  It used to live in the Sprite Forest, but a flood brought it here. I thought I'd help it earn the money to return home...

SPRITE: Good idea, huh?

ELDER: Hey! You have to apologize, too!

SPRITE: Harumph! Okay. I was wrong!

ELDER: I'm ashamed of myself. I'll return your money...

ELDER: Sorry!

SPRITE: Didn't mean any harm!

Sprite: D'oh! Were you listening to us now?

Elder: Oh no…please forgive us! This child really is a sprite child.  Up until recently, he was living in the Sprite Forest, but was swallowed by a flood and carried here.  I thought I'd earn travel expenses for him to return to the forest. I only had his best interests in mind. It was his idea, too.

Sprite: Pfff! What a gifted genius I am! Hehehe…

Elder: What…won't you apologize too!?

Sprite: Pssh! Okay, I was wrong!

Elder: My reputation is very important to me. I will return your money.

Elder: My behavior was inexcusable. Please forgive me!

Sprite: Shit, I really messed up.

I always thought this was a bit of a weak excuse for a racket.  Why not just come clean about why he needs the money in the first place?  If they're going to fork over cash for a huge debt, they'd most likely do so to get someone back home.  If the Elder wanted money, he could take a commission off that plus the proceeds from the show.

In a game with mostly one dimensional characters, he's a rare example of personality.  Take his exchange with the Mana Spirit, Gnome, for example:

[GNOME :] You can't barge in here! We gnomes won't allow it!

SPRITE: What a wind bag!

GNOME:Little brat!

SPRITE:Take this!

GNOME:This is an outrage!

[GNOME :]Oh, no! You can't just selfishly barge in here and mess the place up! This is gnome territory! Now hurry up, get the fuck out!

Popoie: What an old sod! I'm here now! Why don't YOU go out!?

Gnome: Who died and made you king!? You're an impudent brat mocking me like that!

Popoie: Son of a bitch! How's this!?

Gnome: Dickwad!

After falling on his head at one point, he remembers that he's from the Upper Land, and the party travels there to take him home.  Unfortunately, he hits his head on the landing from the cannon travel, and suddenly forgets where he's from yet again.  Indeed, his character brings out the sillier aspects of SoM.

Once at the Upper Land, the heroes realize that they're too late, and the Sprite's village has been ransacked by the Empire.  The Wind Palace to the north contains the only survivor, Popoie's grandfather.  Grandpa's speech is a bit more graphic in the Japanese:

GRANDPA: Uhh..sounds like...'Zat you, little tyke?!

SPRITE: Grandpa, can't you see me?

GRANDPA: Empire's men came and undid the Wind seal...A bright flash stunned me!  The others...they're...

GIRL: This is awful!

SPRITE: NO! They must have escaped!

GRANDPA: I...suppose so...Uwa, ha, ha!

SPRITE: Graaandpa!

Popoie:  Grandpa!

Grandpa:  Oh…that voice…is that you, little one!?

Popoie:  What happened!?  Can't you see me?

Grandpa:  Some of the Empire's men came to break the wind seal.  I was in the Wind Palace at the time...I was lucky to only lose an eye.  The others didn't seem to fare as well…

Purim: This is terrible!

Popoie:  I won't believe it!  I'm sure everyone must've escaped to somewhere else!

Grandpa:  …surely, so…Ugh…cough cough…

Popoie:  Grandpa!

We get the sense after this that Popoie is of a very special breed of individuals, directly connected to Mana.  He now has extra motivation to avenge such a horrific attack on them.  When we get to the
Mana Fortress, we have a most interesting exchange before the final battle.  It is revealed that by defeating the Mana Beast and mana disappearing, Popoie will disappear as well:

SPRITE:…...Whaddaya mean? I'm NOT gonna kick the bucket!  My world is separate from this one.  It just means I won't...see you again.

Popoie: What are you saying!?  I won't die!  This world has been divided into two---where the sprites live, and where you live, and they will be unable to meet [without Mana].

Thus, the sprites are connected to the world through Mana.  When it disappears, they can no longer be part of Randi's world, and can only live in their world.  But what precisely does this mean?  Let's circle back to something Grandpa said earlier:

GRANDPA:Gwa, ha! Okay, okay!  Tyke! We sprites are a part of Mana. That beast couldn't have beat us!  But humans are breaking seals, and releasing monsters......which are consuming our source of life...Mana!

Grandpa:  Hehe…please listen carefully.  We sprites are a part of Mana.  When humans break the seals on Mana seeds, they are trying to resurrect the demons of old times.  When Mana disappears, Sprites will disappear from the world too.  It's quite a sad thing...

While this does provide some explanation, it does not really tell us who the sprites are, or what their world is like.  It's a shame we did not get to learn more about them, as I think it would have made the ending, and Grandpa's ordeal all the more powerful.  Also, despite Popoie's promise, there is no reason for the player to return to Grandpa, although doing so restores the party's HP and MP for free.  I do see some similarities between the sprites and the other games in Square's great trilogy of the 90s.  In Final Fantasy VI, we have the Espers from a separate world who are exploited for their abilities, and in Chrono Trigger, the Kingdom of Zeal is a far off place where those who can use magic live.  I'm very disappointed that I haven't been able to find anything else significant about Popoie, even on Japanese sites.

This story would also be the perfect segue into a sequel---Randi and Purim need Popoie back for some reason...but how to do so?

Next:  I will finish the article I was supposed to months ago, and complete the trilogy on the background of SoM.

Credits:  Square owns SoM.  


Monday, January 16, 2017

Odds and Ends, Part II

That awkward moment when you return to your blog after five months, and forgot where you were headed...

Unfortunately, graduate school and piano teaching take priority over this, and weeks easily turn into months when you want to update again.  I've been going back over my notes and catching up.  Since I lasted updated, Google has released a new translation algorithm to reduce errors.  The result is more coherent sentences, but not showing a translation of individual words hampers my ability to gain a deeper understanding of the text, so I will still have to use other means of translating.  

To be honest, there's only a handful of articles left and once those are done, I think I've covered most of what can be said about this game.  It's up to Square to reveal the rest!  In the meantime, here's Odds and Ends, Part II.  For Part I, click here.

The Extra Character

There's been a lot of interest in this unused character that can be found in the ROM data:



It can be found among the Emperor's bodyguards, so there is some speculation that there was a fifth one originally.  I doubt that's the case, as we've established that the game follows the tradition of the Four Heavenly Kings.  This character may be unfinished, as evidenced by the simple palette and lack of defining features.  It could just be an early attempt at representing a bodyguard that was scrapped.


However, recall this page from a Japanese promotion:



The inset image is of Thanatos' final form in the game, but the art shows Thanatos' gown as being white, not dark grey as depicted.  If the extra character is an early version of him, perhaps the drawing represents the character in a transitional phase between the two?  At the end of the day, there's no proof that this character was Thanatos.

My esteemed colleague, zhaDe, reminded me of this animation in the memory:


zhaDe's opinion:

"I still think he must have had something to do with the temple full of bald guys (which is of no use at all really) in the mountains. He looks bald too.  He looks kind of like a priest or some religious important figure and from the side view, it looks like the things on each side are wings (don't know why he would have wings.. but makes sense that he would live high up in the mountains if he did)."

I looked through the sprite table for both Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, and could not find other possibilities.

Moon Palace growing?

One of the most mysterious places in the game is the Moon Palace.  It is a Palace surrounded by...a bunch of nothing  Take a look at the world map:



Having a Palace surrounded by impassable darkness is very similar to concept of the Dark Palace in Seiken Densetsu 3, the Tower of Bab-il in Final Fantasy IV, and Magus' Palace in Chrono Trigger.  However, these are different concepts altogether.

The existence of the Palace is strangely hinted at the first time we're in Kakarra with flashing stars placed near its geographic location.  However, there is an impassable barrier, and the player can not proceed any further.  The Moon Palace is so rarely mentioned that I doubt many players would figure out the significance of this area.  Looking at a prerelease version of the desert, we see that the entrance was added later.  If you were just going to fly there anyway, why add something that ends up making no difference?  It is highly unlikely that you're going to walk there the first time since you'll have have Flammie by then.



Surrounded by mountains in a prerelease shot.  A southern passage through was added for the main release.

In order to cross the whole lot of nothing, one must ride a ferry piloted by a chobin foot named Karon.  Karon is a reference to Charon in Greek Mythology, whose ferry carried recently departed souls across the river Styx to Hades.




Let's see what Karon has to say about the void (my retranslation in blue):

Welcome to Karon's ferry.  Next stop: Moon Palace.  There's a lot of nothing in the palace. Don't get lost!

Welcome!  Welcome to my ship; I am Karon.  We will go to the Temple of the Moon.  Inside the Temple, the universe may continue indefinitely for all I know.  Don't get lost!  

After disembarking the ferry, we find a Palace similar in appearance to the rest, with hardly any content inside.  The only puzzle is to find an orb sealed by Lumina's magic, break the spell, and enter the stage room.  The orb is in a room full of nothing; we can presume that this is the same nothing from the desert.  There are no enemies or anything else here.  When we meet Luna, she says the following:

I, Luna the moon spirit, have awaited you.  So sad this place has grown...but enough!  Take with you my powers!  GO! Mana is fading...

I am Luna, spirit of the moon.  I've been waiting for you for what seems like forever.  Come, I will also give you my power.  Mana is being lost from the world.  Let's hurry!



Note the mention in the English translation that she's "sad" about the "place" growing.  Is it possible that the void is spreading?  Or is the Palace inside a link to some ever expanding universe? 

There is only one other mention of this area---when we're dealing with Sage Joch:

Surprise...went to the Moon Palace.  It floats eerily in the Sea of Wonders at Kakkara Desert's end...

"Eh? The Temple of the Moon? It's a strange place that seems to float in the sea of outer space [or ocean of the universe] on the outskirts of the Kakkara desert.

For a concept so fascinating, it hardly has any effect in the game beyond this simple scenario.  I'll close with one last thought---what is the precise difference between Moon magic and Dark magic?  Shade's magic appears to be derived from dark elements (Evil Gate, Dark Force), as opposed to Luna's Magic (Change Form, Lunar Boost, Moon Energy).  I could just as easily see the Moon Palace as the Palace of Darkness.


The Unstoppable Phallic Geshtar Machine

Have you ever stopped and looked closely at the shape of Geshtar's vehicle?  




Things that can't be unseen...

Upper Area in Grand Palace (whip area)

This one has always bugged me.  I got stuck up here awhile back, thinking there had to be a way out, but it seems that there is no peg on the lower level to whip back to.  Probably something unfinished, but why leave it in the game where a player could get stuck?




Magic Rope at the Lighthouse

I don't know if I've ever seen this mentioned.  If one uses the Magic Rope in the Lighthouse, they're magically whisked away to...the same room.


Neko


Years ago, I made the acquaintance of someone who was an intern for Square's art department in the early 2000s.  When discussing the development of Secret of Mana, he was told that there was no way to appropriately localize Neko for a foreign audience.  





It did not take much searching on the Googles to discover the importance of cats in Japanese culture.  Neko is Japanese for, "cat", which are said to bring fortune and good luck.  The Maneki-neko figurine is one that is often placed in shops a symbol of beckoning customers.  I have a vague recollection of reading about a Japanese legend which corresponds to the Neko character, but am coming up blank at the moment...

Nevertheless, Neko made far more sense in Japan than it did elsewhere.  

Water Travel Revisted

Awhile back, we talked about the notion of a water vehicle that was intended for Secret of Mana.  While reading the script one day, I came across this dialogue from the pirate, Sergo, regarding the state of the seas.

I'm Sergo, pirate and scourge of the 8 seas!  At least I used to be...The oceans have grown too stormy...I stowed away 'cause I missed my ship so much.  Wonder if the oceans will ever be safe again!?

And later...

The ocean's suddenly grown calm! And Meria's had a complete change of heart!

Yes, Sergo does help us escape in the desert, and helps illustrate another obscure minor character, but why is he necessary in the first place, especially as a pirate?  Also recall what Pecard told us in the Lighthouse:

The seas are rough, and boats don't pass through here much, but I continue to look at the sea.

This seems like quite a bit of exposition for nothing.  Were they supposed to sail the eight seas with Sergo at some point, or is he just an attempt at making this incomplete game somewhat deeper?

Next: Popoie

Usual Disclaimer:  Square owns everything, and the Spriters Resource is amazing.