Koichi Ishii (石井浩一, Ishii Kо̄ichi?, born July 9, 1964) is a former Square Enix employee and current president of Japanese studio Grezzo. He is best known in the gaming community as the creator of the Mana series.
Mr. Ishii began his career working for Square on the original Final Fantasy in 1987. He was also a prominent contributor in other early Final Fantasy titles as well as the early SaGa games. With Final Fantasy finished, Ishii came up with the concept for a seamless world system for combat and exploration that would become the hallmark of the Mana franchise. Unable to get the idea green-lit for the next numbered Final Fantasy, he was instead allowed to make a gaiden title for the Game Boy in the early 1990s. Titled Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden, the game became the first entry in the Mana franchise.
The Mana series
With the advent of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Ishii developed ways to utilize the new Mode 7 effect the system offered which can be found in many of Square's games from this era, such as rendering flight. When Nintendo was collaborating with Sony to build the CD peripheral for the system, Square was contracted to build a game to show off the new possibilities of the CD format and Ishii was allowed to make Secret of Mana. However, Sony and Nintendo came to a disagreement over the rights of the new CD system and Nintendo scrapped the project. Still contracted to make a game and not wishing to scrap the work that had been, Ishii's team reworked and edited the game down to fit into a cartridge, leading to parts of the story and game world to be cut from the game. The game proved to be successful despite the development problems and Ishii was allowed to make a new sequel called Seiken Denetsu 3. Building on concepts from past Square RPGs and Ishii's own Mana series, Seiken Denetsu 3 became one of the biggest games to fit onto the aging cartridge system of the Super Famicom. The game was quite successful in Japan but the SNES lagging popularity abroad along with the company's policy shift towards working on Sony's new CD based system, the PlayStation, made it so the game never saw release outside of Japan.
With the company's new home on the PlayStation, Ishii helped develop SaGa Frontier before getting the chance to work on Mana again in the form of the very experimental Legend of Mana. In the aftermath of the game's release, several members of the development team left to form Brownie Brown. The game was marketed along with several other major Square franchises. Afterwards, Ishii was put on development for Square's first MMO Final Fantasy XI which largely took up his time from the Mana franchise. In 2003, he got the opportunity to remake the original Seiken Denetsu to the Game Boy Advance. He had the game drop many of the Final Fantasy elements as well as adding in story and gameplay elements from previous Mana titles like Secret of Mana's Ring Menu system, Seiken Denetsu 3's Calendar system, and Legend of Mana's crafting system. The game also allowed players to choose between two different protagonists. The game was developed with the help of Brownie Brown who all had experience developing the earlier Mana titles.
World of Mana
In 2006, Ishii embarked on an ambitious project to reintroduce the Mana franchise to world by following in Square Enix's new business model of building cross-platform franchises like the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII and the Ivalice Alliance. Calling it the "World of Mana", Ishii wanted to experiment and bring out the series to a wider audience. The project's biggest change was trying to create a more interconnected world with its stories while the gameplay changed up genres. The project began with Children of Mana, which largely played like older Mana games but it's core gameplay structure was more dungeon crawler to take advantage of the portable nature of the DS. He then released Seiken Denetsu 4 (Dawn of Mana) for the PlayStation 2 which was the first numbered entry in the franchise in eleven years. The game utilized a very experimental game design that involved utilizing the game's new physics engine and the story served as a sort of prequel to the other games, specifically Children of Mana. The game was also the first fully 3D entry for the Mana series and utilized several ideas meant for Legend of Mana that the PlayStation couldn't handle at the time. The final title released for the project was Heroes of Mana, set several years before the events of Seiken Denetsu 3. The game was an RTS game utilizing the DS' touch screen for a better interface. Due to the companies lack of experience developing these styles of games as well as the genre not being widely popular in Japan, the game had difficult development.
After Heroes of Mana released, Kochi Ishii decided to leave Square Enix and form his own company called Grezzo. The company helped develop several ports of Nintendo classics like The Legend of Zelda titles for the Nintendo 3DS and develop games like Line Attack Heroes and Flower Town. Grezzo also developed the 2017 action RPG Ever Oasis for the Nintendo 3DS.
Ishii's message to fans
When approached by Square Enix for its 2021 celebration of the Mana series at 30, Ishii-san gave the following answer when asked what he would tell fans:
“The Mana series sets itself apart from other Square Enix series such as FINAL FANTASY and SaGa, in the way it continues to undertake new challenges, and present values and ways of playing that connect to future ideas. It’s an eccentric title.
I also stuck by my ideals for development when I was the director for FINAL FANTASY XI. The fact that I could continue to work in a style that constantly takes on new challenges in development without having to deviate from those ideals, is all thanks to those who supported me.
I think of the Mana games as being the culmination of my desire to express my gratitude to all those who supported me - and to live up to their expectations.
Please join me in looking forward to the birth of new Mana games in the future - from new staff who will be carrying this torch!”
Creation and Inspiration for Mana
Involvement for Mana
- Final Fantasy Adventure (1991)
- Secret of Mana (1993)
- Trials of Mana (1995)
- Legend of Mana (1999)
- Sword of Mana (2003)
- Children of Mana (2006)
- Mana Mobile (2006)
- Friends of Mana (2006)
- Dawn of Mana (2006)
- Heroes of Mana (2007)
|Executives||Koichi Ishii · Mikiharu Oiwa · Masaru Oyamada · Hiromichi Tanaka|
|Graphic Design||Nao Ikeda · Hiroo Isono · Hiromi Ito · Shinichi Kameoka · Goro Ohashi · Masaki Ohtani · Noriko Sasaki · Kazuko Shibuya · Kazuhiko Takahashi (animator) · Kazuhiko Takahashi (background designer) · Koji Tsuda · Airi Yoshioka|
|Sound Design||Takayuki Aihara · Takayuki Hattori · Kenji Ito · Masaharu Iwata · Hiroki Kikuta · Chiharu Minekawa · Tsuyoshi Sekito · Ryuichi Sakamoto · Yoko Shimomura · Masayoshi Soken · Nobuo Uematsu|
|Scriptwriting||Ryo Akagi · Nobuyuki Inoue · Masato Kato · Yoshinori Kitase · Masato Yagi|
|Programming||Nasir Gebelli · Shun Moriya · Masaaki Saito|
|Translation||Kaoru Moriyama · Ted Woolsey|