When the name Square Enix is mentioned to people the Final Fantasy series is the first thing that comes to mind. However, long before Squaresoft joined with Enix, its Secret of Mana RPG on the Super Nintendo sent ripples through the Industry due to its high quality, imaginative design and the multiplayer aspect that meant you and friends could play through together. But the game's sequel never made it to the West, much to the chagrin of gamers everywhere. Did we all miss much, though?
The story side of SD3 can be quite confusing, as there are actually six characters to take control of through the adventure, with your choice of which three will make-up your team effecting the way everything unfolds. There is Lise, a princess from the Kingdom of Rolante looking for Eliot, her brother. Then there is the human-beast hybrid, Kevin, who was exiled from the Beast Kingdom due to his mother's death changing his mind so he never wants to fight again. Angela should be a powerful magic user from Althena, but struggled to match others so proved to be an embarrassment for her mother and was told to leave. Carlie, a half-fairy, half-human from Wendel is on a mission to find her friend Heath, as is Hawk, a young assassin out looking for revenge for his desert companions. Finally the powerful Duran of Forcena is up for selection, a brave swordsman. Therefore, there is a wide selection, which may prove daunting for some...
Squaresoft is renowned for some of the most eye-poppingly extravagant visuals in any game it creates and its work on the Super Nintendo was 99% of the time exemplary, putting other companies' efforts to complete shame. The first SNES Secret of Mana outing was pretty for its time, but come 1995 the game did not look too wonderful. But over the years, Squaresoft had become fully accustomed to the Super Nintendo technology and was churning out gorgeous titles on a regular basis. Now whilst some may question this slightly, Seiken Densetsu is in my opinion the best example of how the SNES was easily on par with many of the early PlayStation offerings. The richness of colour throughout was breathtaking, the character variety equally mouth-watering, with a general 3D feel to the surroundings without any pre-rendering. Everything has a hand drawn, water-coloured appearance, but so intricately pieced together that it could be classed as a work of art. Other than a modicum of slowdown when pushing too much around on screen, nothing surpasses SD3 on this side of matters.
Musically Secret of Mana was one of the most sonically pleasing out of the whole SNES lifetime, so good that a purchase of the game's soundtrack would not have been crazy. And in good tradition, Seiken Densetsu 3 somehow raises the bar even higher with a mixture of cheerful tunes that actually make you feel happier after playing, dark and moody pieces that suit the eerie locations, those that rouse you, getting you into a fighting frame of mind, crazy, wacky music such as found in Item Shops, or those that even manage to send a shiver down your spine! Again it is hard to find fault with the game in this area...
Before going into any detail, it may be worth confirming just which in the series this is. Seiken Densetsu was a Final Fantasy side adventure that arrived on the original Game Boy as Mystic Quest / Final Fantasy Adventure. Then the game’s sequel hit the SNES under the name of Secret of Mana. Finally there is this, Seiken Densetsu 3, which would most likely have been named Secret of Mana 2 if it had hit US and European shores. Anyway, once you have chosen three characters out of the selection of six, you begin as the first one picked and eventually meet the other two along the path to the game’s end. When you move around the worlds you are faced with various enemies that can be attacked in an action environment; so you run around using your weapons or magic to defeat the crafty creatures in your way. This works very well, but not quite like in Zelda, as when you defeat each one you gain experience that eventually leads to you levelling-up and becoming stronger.
The familiar ring system returns for items, allowing easy access to anything you require; from ‘healthy’ candies, chocolate bars and jars of honey (all from SoM) to magical ropes that help you escape caves and small weapons that can be thrown at enemies. Another recognisable return is the issue of day-to-night changes, which is actually a welcome return as it brings a nice element to the game, with some areas best tackled during the daytime due to the type of enemies lingering around at night being too gruesome. You can also meet different people once daylight fades away, bringing a skilful component of timing your progress just right to obtain paramount information. But it is not only imperative to watch the time, but the actual day of the week, as certain magical elements are stronger or weaker depending on whether it is their specific day or not. Therefore, should you not realise when it is, you could be at a major disadvantage in fights and not even understand why!
Something that springs to mind when talking about the Day/Night system is that should you have Kevin of the Beast Kingdom in your team when night falls, he changes into a brute of a monster, with far more strength than before. Not only does he change, but also your whole team can over time thanks to the introduction of a ‘Class Change’ system. As you play through the adventure it is possible to head down a dark or light path, depending on how you feel. This means that their new class can be determined and the abilities and spells that are accessible alter accordingly. It might not effect the actual storyline, but is still a worthy inclusion for the dark few amongst us…
Whilst wandering around, constantly fighting and losing energy rapidly, it may come as a great comfort to know that there are special Angel statues littered around the world. Some of them merely save your progress, but others also replenish your highly valuable health points. Bliss! As for how the battle system is implemented, any of you who have played and other Mana title will be familiar with this. On approaching an enemy, such as the annoying Rabites, your weapon automatically comes out so you can begin slashing away. It works very well; simple and fun to execute, especially against tougher foes later in the game. And the more you fight, the more abilities and magic come into your possession. Not bad at all...
With a vast world to work your way through and enemies that can really have you tearing your hair out, Seiken Densetsu 3 actually proves to be a longer experience than its lengthy predecessor. Not only do you have the ability to level yourself up, gaining new abilities by the dozen along the way, but there is the challenge of special enemies such as the Black Rabite, supposedly the most difficult creature created by Squaresoft ever. Should you not want to go for the ride alone, though, you still have the option of bringing a friend along for the ride, which really helps to extend things much more as your comrades will likely slow you down. There is lots of fun to be had with the sequel to Secret of Mana that is for sure.
The classic Mana gameplay returns and feels just as fresh as it ever did. Had this been released in the West it would be remember today as one of the finest SNES RPGS, no doubt.
The end of the Super Nintendo's lifespan had some gorgeous games being released for it, and Squaresoft's Seiken Densetsu 3 definitely rose head and shoulders above, even putting 32-bit PS games to shame!
The score to Secret of Mana was such a memorable one that buying the soundtrack on CD was advisable. However, Square managed to take SD3 to another level, squeezing the SNES sound chip as hard as possible.
This game can be so tough at times it might make you feel like crying, but perseverance is the key as you quickly level-up, gain new abilities and kick some booty!
As said before, it is a crying shame that due to technical bugs in the Japanese release and the game being too large for Western cartridges at the time, this never made it to the West and can only be found fan-translated on the Internet. But this pushes far beyond Secret of Mana and would have become an instant classic had it arrived on our shores. All that can be hoped is that either it gets re-released on the DS, or becomes downloadable on the Revolution.