Seiken Densetsu 3 - Reader Retroview  

More Masterful Mana Makes Me Matriculate Meaningfully (in its direction)
by JuMeSyn

35-45 hours


Rating definitions 

   1995 was a year in which the Super Nintendo was at its peak in quality RPG releases. Japan would sustain that peak into 1996; North America would see it fall away too quickly. Even at the peak of RPG translation for the venerable SNES, however, quality titles were frequently left in Japan. Tales of Phantasia and Der Langrisser were two other big titles stranded in Japan in 1995, one of them still unreleased on the eastern side of the Pacific. Seiken Densetsu 3 should have been released in English, considering the success Secret of Mana had been for Squaresoft. For reasons that have never been made explicit, however, the game was stranded in the Land of the Rising Sun and has remained there ever since. To anyone who wanted more Secret of Mana, tracking down its sequel ought to be made a priority.

   Seiken Densetsu 3 is set 1000 years prior to Secret of Mana, where unsurprisingly nasty people covet the power of Mana for themselves. The overall story is not terribly original, but its details and its execution are masterful. The player chooses from one of six potential characters before beginning, and each of them has a different tale to progress through. These tales range from Hawkeye’s being framed for the murder of his friend, to Angela’s being compelled to leave her station as Princess rather than become a human sacrifice for her mother’s ambition. Early in each protagonist’s story s/he will run into the other two members of the party, and these two are also selected by the player at the beginning. There are three different sets of enemies the characters can come upon as their main antagonists: each set of opponents will only be fought in two scenarios, although the other two sets will appear in every character’s story.

Cheap!  Having wings AND arms is an unfair advantage! Cheap! Having wings AND arms is an unfair advantage!

   It should be noted that, while Seiken Densetsu 3 can only be obtained in its cartridge form in the original Japanese, the ROM world has produced a very good translation. It is courtesy of this translation that many story details were made clear to me, as during the initial play of the game I had no idea what was going on outside of combat. This method is only recommended for persons who possess the original cartridge, but must be mentioned as a means of greatly easing the problems inherent to playing a Japanese-only release.

   Seiken Densetsu 3 plays in a fashion that Secret of Mana players will immediately recognize, though a moment for adjustment is required. Enemies appear onscreen and are fought onscreen in real-time. Magic usage requires the caster to abandon regular attacks and movement for a moment. Item usage is generally instantaneous, making items quite useful through the duration of the game. Instead of having 8 weapons that gain power along with each character gaining skill levels, as Secret of Mana did, each character upgrades his/her weapons in standard RPG fashion at most new towns. Each character fights somewhat differently as well; Kevin is a whirling dervish in combat who uses claws for dual attacks; Angela uses her staff to smack enemies once. Later on the characters will be able to charge more powerful attacks that are akin to magic in that they have a wind-up time, but these charged attacks are usually worth the wait. Control is good in combat, as it needs to be. Squaresoft did make an unfortunate alteration to magic casting however; to prevent players from chain-casting spells before enemies can move, it is now impossible to cast a spell when doing anything other than standing relatively still.

   Interactions have been made less annoying thanks to the ability to hold nine of any item now, in stark contrast to the limit on 4 of each item in Secret of Mana. There are many times more items than were present in Secret of Mana, which is made manageable by item storage ability. While only 10 types of item can be in the current inventory at any one time, others can be put into storage and accessed when the screen is clear of enemies. The ring menu system continues to work well, and in-battle use of it is easy. Shopping is slightly problematic because of an inability to directly observe what effect a weapon or piece of equipment will have upon a character other than the one in the lead. This is navigable, but takes longer than one would probably like. One crucial piece of interaction that is much harder to deal with without a conception of what is occurring onscreen is the class change system. Each character can change classes twice, branching between Light and Dark, with a total of 4 potential ending classes for every character. Enacting the first class change is fairly easy if one knows to look for it; enacting the second without a translation or a walkthrough is damn near impossible.

Showing off her poor night vision, Angela prepares to painfully attack a rock. Showing off her poor night vision, Angela prepares to painfully attack a rock.

   Secret of Mana was not an easy game, but it is compared to its sequel. Experience is slowly accrued in Seiken Densetsu 3, and the gains it gives to character statistics upon leveling up most welcome. Even early enemies can pack a nasty punch, while later enemies frequently pack instant-death spells that work very often along with brutally powerful attacks of the less instantly deadly sort. Bosses early on are tough but beatable; bosses later on are a mixture of very nasty and only mildly nasty. Coupled with the probability of not understanding exactly how to go about accomplishing objectives thanks to the game being in Japanese, Seiken Densetsu 3 will not be an easy play.

   Seiken Densetsu 3 also packs a rather long quest into its cartridge. Completion of it in less than 40 hours will be hard to accomplish, and 50 hours is quite possible considering just how much there is to do. Naturally the replay value is very high, as not only will the player have to complete the game three times to see every area (and to fight every enemy team, for there are three final bosses), but the incentive to see what happens when different classes are used, as well as playing through the story of all six characters, adds up to a title that will not be put aside in less than a month.

   Aesthetically Seiken Densetsu 3 puts some of the best graphics seen on the Super Nintendo into its cartridge. The sprites making up all the characters look good and have plentiful animation, with the little bonus of every class having a different special attack. Spell effects look very good, and enemies are about at the apex of SNES graphical capabilities. Many bosses are screen-filling behemoths that nevertheless animate smoothly and have quite impressive attacks of their own. On the audio front Hiroki Kikuta turns in a most impressive score. As befits such a lengthy title, there are nearly 60 compositions total, including multiple boss themes. Some of the tracks will prompt different assessments based upon individual preference, but there is no shortage of tracks to choose from. As for voice acting; Squaresoft would not begin to use it until the PS2 era, so of course there is none to be found in this game.

   Seiken Densetsu 3 is exactly what the English-speaking world can never get enough of: a truly high-quality title with massive replay value. Had it been released to the English-speaking world it would have vaulted to the top of Squaresoft Action-RPGs available, competing mainly with its predecessor in the Mana series. Lacking that easy way of playing it, there is the dark world of ROM playing thanks to a superb translation being quick to locate. This is not the preferred course to be taken, but Squaresoft forced it upon players when it declined to localize the game in 1995. Any RPGamer with a taste for an incredible Action-RPG owes it to him – or her – self to play this one.

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