Koichi Ishii's newest RPG, Ever Oasis, is a lightweight but pleasing game that's charming beyond words. It's also a little familiar for fans of the Mana games, the beloved action-RPG series that got its start on the Game Boy.
I learned through a recent email interview with Ishii that Ever Oasis' similarities to Secret of Mana and the rest of the Mana series is by design. Ishii was inspired by far more than just the Mana titles, though: Ever Oasis' lush colors, compelling world, and unique characters are also woven from Ishii's past work on Final Fantasy, as well as from his observations on Egyptian architecture, nature, and spirituality.
The interview offers a clear picture of the message Ishii's studio, Grezzo, wants to convey with his game – and why Secret of Mana-style local multiplayer system was heavily considered, but ultimately scrapped.
USgamer: Ever Oasis’s main mechanic -- turning a desert into a fertile oasis -- appears to be based on growth and rebirth. What motivated you to adopt this theme?
Kishii: "Life and death" may seem like the beginning and the end, but I believe that "living" means discovering your life’s purpose as well as "struggling" to never giving up.
You can grow and build experience by challenging yourself to see how much of your life’s purpose you are able to fulfill during this life, which in turn can take you up to the next level. What you couldn’t accomplish in this life will be carried over into the next life in a different form. I feel like that kind of repetition is the path that souls travel. Those kinds of thoughts that I have may be deeply embedded in the gameo’s themes.
USgamer: Ever Oasis’s art style blends plants, animals and sprite-like fantasy creatures with ancient Egyptian aesthetics. It’s distinct and interesting. What was Grezzo’s inspiration for this hybrid style? Did you start out with a clear picture of what you wanted the characters and the world to look like, or did the style evolve over time?
Kishii: Plants indicate a water source, create oxygen from taking in carbon dioxide, bloom into flowers and heal, promote greening by dispersing their seeds, and provide living organisms its fruit. All of nature, including these plants, is the personification of unconditional love.
Organisms living in harsh environments tend to appreciate what they have more than those living in lush environments, which tend become less appreciative and start thinking it’s their right to have what they have.
Spirits are silent advocates of nature. Those who co-exist with nature have stronger feelings of respect and appreciation. Worshipping nature and respecting animism is the key to not forgetting the feeling of appreciation. Perhaps ancient Egypt had a strong tendency of following such practices due to the many natural disasters they faced.
What I’ve been imagining in terms of world creation (from the original Final Fantasy up to the Mana games) became clearer when I travelled to Egypt 10 years ago. I was able to seize that opportunity and tie it into this project.
It might be better to say that the blurry image inside my head became clearer rather than calling this an evolution.
USgamer: The Nintendo 3DS still has life left in it, but is there any particular reason why the 3DS was chosen as Ever Oasis’s main platform instead of the Nintendo Switch?
Kishii: The big reason is that more people own the 3DS than the Switch. We also felt that the unique 3D feature would allow the players to immerse themselves in the world of Ever Oasis, so that’s how we decided to develop this for the 3DS.
USgamer: Your work on the Mana series is well-known! What inspiration from the Mana series (if any) made its way into Ever Oasis?
Kishii: There are some features in the battle system that were carried over from the Mana series. I’ve always wanted to change the overall concept of single-character action games and party-based RPGs. I strived to find a way while I was creating the battle system for the Mana series. The image I had for Final Fantasy 11, where players formed a party with other players and ran around, finally came together when I worked on Zelda, and this resulted in the visual appearance of Ever Oasis. The system itself might be closer to the battles from the Mana series.
The party being comprised of three people is also a shared characteristic. At minimum, we need a Fighter, Wizard and a Cleric in a party for a RPG. We were very aware of this in the Secret of Mana. Also three was already cutting it pretty close back in the day due to hardware limitations.
In terms of changing characters and controlling them (...), we determined that a three-character party would be best where players would be able to choose instinctively and without stress.
USgamer: Since Ever Oasis is an action-RPG with multiple characters in your party, some people were hoping multiplayer would be an option. Did Grezzo ever plan to have a multiplayer option in the game?
Kishii: What you feel from an experience differs depending on who you shared the experience with compared with just by yourself. I’ve always felt strongly about making this a multiplayer game, but decided to first focus on building the world and the play cycle. A multiplayer element was incorporated into the Secret of Mana, but this was under the assumption that friends, siblings and family members will be playing together. The time you have to play with family and friends as a child isn’t a large chunk of time. That "time" turns into precious memories. So, that’s why we incorporated this feature. If I were to get an opportunity to create another game, then I want the first thing I incorporate to be the multiplayer element.