Final Fantasy Adventure
on the Nintendo Game Boy (Seiken Densetsu in Japan), to the unforgettable Secret of Mana
on the Super NES (number two in the series but with no plot continuity ala Final Fantasy). For anyone who has played through Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3 promises pure joy, retaining as it does every remarkable feature of its predecessor and then upping the ante in true Squaresoft fashion.
The beatific title screen
Nevertheless, in 1995, when the sequel to Secret of Mana was released in Japan the Super Famicom was reaching its golden years and Square of America feared that by the time they got through translating this bear-of-an-RPG that Nintendo's promised N64 would already be released, rendering the 16 bit system obsolete. As gamers of the time recall, Nintendo pushed back its release of the N64 again and again, leaving ample time for Square to have localized the game. For this reason, and because of the numerous disadvantages of the cartridge medium, Square ditched Nintendo (even after showing the press demos of Final Fantasy VI
characters rendered using N64 hardware) in favor of the Playstation. In hindsight, Square's transition to the CD format was, of course, well worth the considerable risk. Try to imagine Final Fantasy VII
on the N64 and one can't help but shiver.
Seiken Densetsu 3 comes closest of any RPG on the Super Famicom to surpassing Final Fantasy VI's eminence, lending us all ample reason for ruing the N64-era jerks at Nintendo for helping to keep it from us. Starting with the music, Hiroki Kikuta
, most underrated of game composers, provides a diverse score lively and moody as his Secret of Mana OST with three times the music of the predecessor. What this allows for is a constant flux of sounds as you explore a sprawling simulated world over many hours of gameplay.
Monstrous boss battles abound
Seiken Densetsu 3 retains the action-RPG formula of Secret of Mana, allowing players to team up with two friends for simultaneous play, or solo venturing with two non-playable characters. The enemy AI is excellent for the Super Famicom, and the programmers have also solved the annoying problem encountered in Seiken 2 of having ones NPC stuck in a corner and having to double back for it. The graphics are marvelous by SNES standards, most noticeably in the giant bosses and the picturesque landscapes. The story is more fantasy driven than most RPG's, so dragons, canons, and giant turtles serve as means of transportation, rather than trains and dirigibles.
Traverse across diverse landscapes
The most impressive quality of Seiken Densetsu 3 is its inexhaustible reply value. The gamer is asked at the beginning of the game to choose three among the six playable characters: Duran the knight, Kevin the feral wolfboy, Hawkeye the thief, Riesz the dragoon, Charlotte the child magician, and Angela the buxom Sorceress. You then start out with the backstory to the character you first chose and meet the other two characters some time later. This amounts to six different introductory episodes, each complemented by unique ending chapters, and final bosses. Those playable characters and villains you don't chose also pop up in the game as minor characters, adding to the depth of the narrative.
Stunning design from start to finish
Gameplay is likewise exceedingly deep. As each major hurdle is overcome, the player has the option to alter the three main characters, much in the way Bahamut transforms your mages into wizards and black belts into ninjas, and whatnot, in Final Fantasy I
. Only here you are given two options at each step in the way, allowing your characters to learn the darker skills (focused on aggressive skills and black magic) or lighter ones (defense and white magic), or some combination of the two. Each character is more specialized in their abilities, more so than in FFVI, so there is much to experience in story and gameplay in each new go-through.
Today, when hyper-Japanimized games like La Pucelle enjoy popularity in the States, we might find it hard to recall a time when a major RPG like this one could be overlooked for localization. Tobal 2
was perhaps the last good Square game left behind, and the success of Wild Arms secured the place of successive minor RPG's on American shelves, culminating in the unlikely resurrection of the Arc the Lad series. Seiken Densetsu 3 will always remain the proverbial one that got away among 16 bit generation RPG fans, to say nothing of the merits of Final Fantasy III
, Front Mission
, Gun Hazard
, and the marvelously weird Live A Live
. We can only hope that these lost gems will be given a second chance, perhaps in a refurbished state, on the Nintendo DS. Or, for those who don't mind spending the extra effort, if ever there was a game worthy of installing an emulator and a translation patch on one's home computer, this is the one.
Originally published 8/11/04
The Seiken Densetsu series follows a varied and sundry pedigree, from the comparatively unknown