Secret of Mana Redux

How was the incredible title screen sequence for Secret of Mana made?

Lore

How was the incredible title screen sequence for Secret of Mana made?

January 24, 2022

This is excerpted from an article that was originally published in Japanese at i-mezzo.net. It was translated by Sevon and posted here with permission.

[Secret of Mana] was released on August 6, 1993 [in Japan], but the title screen sequence has touched the hearts of many people and is fondly remembered to this day. This time, Composer Hiroki Kikuta reveals on Twitter how [Angel’s Fear/Fear of the Heavens] was created along with precious memos from the time. Koji Sugimoto, who had just joined Square, also reveals some programming secrets.

According to these Tweets, the images and title sequence were created, then the song was composed afterwards to match the timing! That’s why the reveal of the main image and the appearance of the flock of birds perfectly matches the song!

For the [Secret of Mana] title sequence, I actually loaded it on the SFC and watched it play out on the screen. Then I measured the timing and composed [Angel's Fear/Fear of the Heavens] to match. You can see things like "1:05 birds fly" written in the notes.

Sevon's Note: It's hard to read the handwriting, but the gist of it is---
Opening 32 sec | image at +/- 2 | 1:05 birds fly | 1:22 Square [logo]
Total time 1:36
Image reveal
open 29 sec - full 10.5 sec
Note that this is the timing for the original Japanese version, where the Square logo doesn't appear until the very end.

In addition, it took the Super Famicom about a minute to decode the background image, so it seems they were using super compression technology! The image had to be compressed in order to fit inside the limited ROM capacity of the Super Famicom. Since it took a minute, the logo and text scroll were there to stall for time.

A technological point of interest in the [Secret of Mana] title screen is that the background image is a highly compressed lossy algorithm JPEG.

The heavy calculations take a minute to finish, so immediately after a reset, the image decodes in the background from bottom to top while the text and screen wipe are displayed. This was the work of Programmer Yoshieda.

Sevon's Note: Satoru Yoshieda

PS: I received additional information from Mr. Sugimoto (Square Enix)!

When the image is displayed for the first time, the processing hasn’t yet finished and is still happening in the background.

To be more specific, the image when it first appeared wasn't finished and continued to be decompressed behind the wipe (the black bars on the screen). (It ended up being placed so that the image pans from the bottom up)

Thank you, as always!

PPS:

According to Akira Ueda (formerly at Square) and Mr. Kikuta, the flamingos initially weren’t meant to fly, but Mr. Ueda decided to make it happen!

On a whim, I cut out an illustration of a flamingo and divided it into parts, then made a 16 frame animation with the wings flapping. Before I knew it, there were so many flying flamingos.
The flamingos in the [Secret of Mana] title sequence weren't originally meant to fly, but were able to take flight thanks to Akira Ueda's efforts. Developing for Square back then had a real feeling of freedom—it was fun.

In conclusion, that magnificent title screen wasn’t planned out from the start: a minute was needed because of technical issues, the birds were made to fly on a whim, and only then was [Angel’s Fear/Fear of the Heavens] created to match the long sequence timing. It’s a miraculous combination of music, art, and technology, isn’t it? Maybe they’re all geniuses…

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