(Before getting into it, apologies for some of the screenshots being a little ‘smooth’. Being able to play this only on emulators means some players like to butcher the pixel art by applying shaders to their experience. Screw that, stick with the ol’ school.)
It’s very rare I’d discuss a Japanese only title, but why not bring to the attention of less informed readers the existence of one of the Super Nintendo’s finest RPGs? One that we never saw officially released in Europe and the US, despite it’s later appreciation in our regions. We got Secret of Mana alright, but Seiken Densetsu 3 (Secret of Mana 2) never arrived and we’ve had to make do with unofficial fan translations all these years, attached to ROMs allowing us to at least play the game on emulators. It’s not the same as playing the actual authentic piece, but unless you speak 日本語, you have very little chance of being able to keep up with the fantastic story that’s on offer. So emulation it is. It’s worth the sacrifice though, as it’s one of the greatest 2D RPGs ever conceived. Some would argue it’s a better game than it’s older brother Secret of Mana. In some respects it is, in others it falls down a bit, but they’re the perfect siblings, equally as talented as the other.
The game looks absolutely fantastic, with a high concentration on pastel colours which lend the aesthetics a wonderful flavour. Secret of Mana was vibrant, but Seiken Densetsu 3 feels warmer. Very cosy. Even the beds in the inn seem very welcoming in their own fluffy little ways. The characters themselves all receive a hell of a lot more detail in their appearance and my only frustration like most RPGs of the time is you don’t get to visually see the differences that take place when changing armor and weapons. They look the exact same throughout the game except their colour palettes change depending on what classes you have your characters as. A bit of a weird design choice and while it’s refreshing to see a different ‘look’ after playing for a few hours, it still would have been nice to see more uniqueness in your party based on your decisions.
Backgrounds are gorgeous with immense detail. Every time you’re travelling through the mountains, you’re left to enjoy the sights of oceans below you, the horizon off in the distance and it has a wonderfully grand scale about it. The detail that has gone into the towns and cities is also vast. It doesn’t feel so much like a cut and paste job as it was in Secret of Mana. Each building feels like it has its own purpose, and the local fauna that populates the areas feels more natural. Each new screen / area you visit feels fresh and we even get to do a bit of 2D battling with at least one particular boss that comes to mind on a ghost ship. It’s out of the ordinary but it still works, a bit like the side-scrolling areas in Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. The entire game is a pleasure to take in visually. Check out those bosses too, some of them are taking up at least half of the screen and look fantastic too.
We also get to enjoy the mode 7 map again, in all of its splendour! And yes, Flammie the dragon comes back for us to take a ride into the skies. It doesn’t quite have the same shock and awe after experiencing it all for the first time in SoM but it’s still a thrill riding round and looking for somewhere to park your ass.
The cast are an odd bunch in their own way. There’s something very different going on here. The characters lack the close relationship of the original trio from Secret of Mana, but they are a lot more animated and easier to relate to. Dare I say they are ‘cute’? It somehow looks more childish looking and yet the story-line on offer is a lot more adult, with the deaths of close friends and relatives playing a big part very early on. The naming scheme is an odd one. With epic names like Hawkeye, Duran, and Riesz, you can feel that little bit cooler in kicking a rabites ass! Or you can play as Kevin, Charlotte, and Angela and wonder who the hell decided these names were a great idea. Again, an odd combination of choices, moreso for Kevin as he can turn into a kickass wolfman thing. Kevin is NOT the name for a creature of the night. He even names his dog Carl. That’s my name. You should never name a dog Carl. Maybe Carlo.
Secret of Mana features on my top 10 video game soundtracks for sure. While the Seiken Densetsu 3 soundtrack doesn’t quite reach the heights of what can be found in Secret of Mana it still has it’s moments. A very bouncy, energetic soundtrack which never quite reaches the misery of Secret of Mana’s ‘In the Dead of Night’, this feels a lot more positive. Little flutes and what sounds like xylophones are constantly flowing around you, and again, it’s all cute. Sadly, the Seiken Densetsu series was never one for big sound effects so it’s always been about the OSTs, and man does Hiroki Kikuta do a freakin’ excellent job across the series. I’ll be honest though, as many times as I have played SD3, I’ve never taken a song away from it and had repeated listens. I could listen to ‘A Curious Tale’ on loop forever though.
The game is an action RPG. No taking turns here. Think of A Link to the Past featuring a leveling up system, that’s the Seiken Densetsu series. It always had this hard-on for this ‘timed’ attack mechanic though which I get because the developers don’t want you just spamming the hell out of your pad’s buttons. Still, there’s always been something frustrating with having to move your character around and wait for that bar to fill 100% so you can crack out another whallop. Sure you can hit early, but for a ridiculously low percentage of what your maxed hit would give the enemy. That’s not a problem however when you have your two partners at your side also dishing out the damage. Thankfully, the glitches with the supporting characters getting stuck as often as they did do in SoM is gone, or at least a hell of a lot less prevelant that’s for sure. The great thing about action RPGs that you can’t replicate in a turn-based game is the sheer mayhem going off whenever you’re scrapping. Your team of 3 can be taking on 3 – 6 enemies at once and chaos ensues because everyone is getting theirs in. It’s a great thing to witness and it feels like a true fight.
Spells work the same as in Secret of Mana, using the trusted ring menu system. Choose spell, choose enemy, let the bugger fly. I can’t remember if it still has the spam glitch that featured in Secret of Mana where you could just cast spell after spell after spell after spell until your ran out of your Magic Points. Then you eat a Faerie Walnut and repeat the process all over again, almost ensuring you defeat the boss without them even getting a hit in. It was so very cheap but you were so eager to get on with the great plot that you couldn’t resist getting the buggers out of your way sharpish. Back to SD3 though, and you have all of the usual spells here, fire, ice, water, wood, earth, sha- hang on a second, WOOD?? You have Dryad, the mana spirit of Wood, so you’ve got a few plant and grass based spells to play with here. All of the spells are attached to 1 of 8 different mana spirits so you have a lot of options when it comes to casting them in battle. You can also upgrade your weapons by purchasing them at the relevant vendors but again, this is totally for statistical purposes, no cool aesthetic changes here unfortunately. Even SoM weapons changed visually!
Bullshit would have you believe we never saw it released in the West because Squaresoft’s US team was deep in development with Secret of Evermore. It seems the situation was more a case of the original release having it’s fair share of serious bugs which would have cost a hefty amount to fix and then get localised for western release. A true shame as through a fans English translation, we’ve come to the realisation that this is one hell of a game that would have made a killing had it reached our shores. Square Enix released the Secret of Mana Collection for Nintendo Switch last year and… there’s no plans to release it in the West any time soon. Getting screwed again but the topic keeps coming up in interviews with the developer so with enough pushing, who knows, we may finally see Kevin and Carl arrive at our shores!!!
It’s a fantastic action RPG and it’s potentially the greatest ever non-turn based RPG ever made so if you haven’t played it yet, you have no idea what you’re missing. And if you have played, keep those fingers crossed for the collection to be released over here, and maybe uncross them at the idea of remaking SD3. We don’t want to go through that disappointment again.
Catch me as a little dog @auto2112