Genre: Action RPG
Year: 1995
Developed by: Square
Published by: Square
Platforms: SNES
Feeling Like: The Secret of Japan

I don’t even pretend to know a lot about Japanese-only video games. Up until my early 20’s, I just assumed everything was released everywhere. I mean, lots of people all over the world played and loved them. I knew electricity existed in other countries and surely they could find a TV. I had no idea how much effort, planning, translation, forecasting, localization, marketing and time goes into advertising and publishing games on a global scale. It’s a monumental task even today, resulting in a lot of reasons why companies might decide not to bring a title stateside.

Unlike my awesome friends at Michibiku, I remain uneducated and unaware of the backstory behind games that are made, and stay, in Japan. There are thousands of them, and more than a few are a step above average. Live a Live, Mother, and Bahamut Lagoon to name a few. I never got a chance to try any of these out, but in the year 2000 a fan translation was released online for Seiken Densetsu 3, the sequel to the extremely stateside and extremely popular Secret of Mana. After a short 15 years of twiddling my thumbs and reading about the game’s history, I decided to give it a try. Upon completing the game, I’m going to have to remind myself that just because a game wasn’t available to me as a kid in Canada, doesn’t mean I won’t appreciate it as an adult (in Canada).

It feels very much like Secret of Mana in the best of ways. The soundtrack is full of haunting tracks; “Where Angels Fear to Tread” is a clear nod to the outstanding “Fear of the Heavens” from Secret of Mana. “Nuclear Fusion” is a battle beat that still sounds fantastic more than 20 years later. “Swivel” sounds like something from a broken merry-go-round, but it got my head nodding and foot tapping.

Seiken Densetsu 3‘s gameplay may be archaic, but it still looks incredible

You begin the game with a choice of six characters, each with their own specific story. Very few titles offer this kind of replay value, and they all have different fighting styles and unique looks to them. Points on that board for that!  The graphics are stunning, possibly the best looking game on the Super Nintendo and I think they’ve aged great. Animations are smooth, locations range from standard dungeons, to gorgeous magic forests, to cozy villages nestled in a winter wonderland. More than a few steps above average, to be sure.

No game is, but Seiken Densetsu 3  definitely isn’t perfect and there are a few flaws that prevented it from being higher on the 500. I felt it dragged on far too long and the button mashing combat didn’t exactly get better as the game went along. I found the constant use of magic by enemies frustrating to sit through, and really slowed down the otherwise frenetic pace to the fights.

I couldn’t even begin to tell you the what happens without resorting to Wikipedia. Something about eight god-beasts (still one of my favorite video game terminologies) and an evil jester that had some personality to him. I later learned that the main antagonist will also differ depending on which character you choose. Outstanding! I chose the smallest character available, Carlie, for a reason I cannot fathom. I had my choice between an Amazon, a WEREWOLF, a ninja thief, a master swordsman and I pick a little girl who seemingly wandered over from a different game. But don’t worry, at least she has the weakest attack and whines all the time. Thankfully, you’re also able to choose two other party members to join you on your adventure. This only adds to the replay value, as discovering the best combination of fighters and styles is truly one of the game’s best perks.

The Mana games tend to have a nostalgic, almost somber tone to them sometimes. Despite the colorful graphics and brilliantly inventive songs that accompany the world, there’s always a lingering threat and the plot is never afraid to throw a few curveballs. I really enjoy the dichotomy here. If the battle system was refined and the entire game was about five hours shorter, I’d put it right on par with Secret of Mana. It also didn’t help that Seiken Densetsu 3 inexplicably only allows two player multiplayer instead of three and that it didn’t really matter, since I played through the whole thing by myself. Not the ideal scenario, but hey, I’m new to Japanese-only game and still learning.

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