Seiken Densetsu 3
  • Genre:
    • Action RPG
  • Platform:
    • Super Famicom
  • Developer:
    • Square
  • Publisher:
    • Square
  • Released:
    • JP 09/30/1995
Score: 90%

This review was published on 08/30/2014.

Seiken Densetsu 3 is an action role-playing game developed and published by Square for the Super Famicom. It was released in Japan on September 30, 1995, and never anywhere else. The Seiken Densetsu series started out as a Final Fantasy spinoff on Game Boy; the first game was called Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden in Japan, Final Fantasy Adventure in North America, and Mystic Quest in Europe. Then the second game in the series, Seiken Densetsu 2, was released in North America as Secret of Mana, to which it got critical acclaim. Basically, Seiken Densetsu 3 is Secret of Mana 2, even though that isn't its official name. Sometime in 2000, Neill Corlett released an unofficial patch that translated the game into English, allowing English speakers with ROMs and emulators to finally enjoy Secret of Mana's long lost sequel. The sequel to Secret of Mana has big shoes to fill, and Seiken Densetsu 3 does so with flying colors.

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Mana is the magical source of energy that gives all things life in the world of Seiken Densetsu 3. Long ago, the Mana Goddess used the Sword of Mana to defeat eight powerful forces of disaster known as the God-Beasts. The God-Beasts were then sealed within eight Mana Stones, and shortly after that, the world of Seiken Densetsu 3 was created. Afterwards, the Mana Goddess transformed herself into the Mana Tree and fell into a great slumber. Many years later, a war breaks out between different countries that wish to release the God-Beasts from the Mana Stones to obtain ultimate power. The intense conflict is draining the world of its Mana and causing the Mana Tree to wither away. Mana is essential to the survival of the world, so this conflict threatens the world in more ways than one. It's up to three heroes of your choosing to put a stop to this madness. If you've played any of the other Mana or Seiken Densetsu games before, then you should be pretty familiar with this setup. You can't have a Mana game without Mana playing a central role, after all.

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Graphically, Seiken Densetsu 3 is a powerhouse. It's one of the most visually impressive games on the system, especially when it comes to RPGs. The colors are amazingly vibrant and mask the hardware's limitations quite well. Those familiar with Chrono Trigger will notice a similar art style in this game. That's a good thing, because Chrono Trigger looked wonderful. The only thing that's off about the graphics is that black colors are often replaced with various shades of purple. This gives dark areas a purplish tinge that might unsettle some. It's more of a stylistic oddity than an actual blemish. Music is pretty awesome, as well, with many tracks featuring a neat drum sound effect. The drum effect can be grating on the ears at times, though. Of course, as good as the music is in this game, it still has nothing on Secret of Mana's soundtrack. That's no fault of its own; Secret of Mana's music is merely hard to top. Seiken Densetsu 3 is a total bombshell when it comes to graphics and music.

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One of Seiken Densetsu 3's unique features is how the story changes depending on which characters you choose. There are six characters to choose from at the start of the game, but you're only allowed to have three of them on your team. Once three characters have been selected, there's no turning back, so this is the most important choice in the entire game. The intro to the game changes drastically depending on which of the six characters you selected to be your protagonist. Each intro involves different characters, locations, and stories, shedding light on each hero's motivation for going on the adventure. It's actually worth it to see each intro, as they further add to the back story. Beyond that, the game is divided into three separate scenarios, and the three scenarios are shared by two characters each. Sadly, this is where the game is a bit of a letdown. There are only minor differences between scenarios, like the final dungeon and boss, but the rest of the game is nearly identical. Further, your party will have little to no dialogue after the intro, resulting in poor characterization. You do get some extra dialogue if you pair two characters from the same scenario, but not by much. There are many reasons to replay the game, but this isn't one of them.

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The most notable aspect of Seiken Densetsu 3 is the class change system. All characters begin the game as neutral classes, but can change class twice. The first class change can be done at level 18 and the second one at level 38. You can't simply grind up to those levels, though, because you have to be at certain points in the story to change classes. Furthermore, the second class change requires a rare item. Once a character has met the prerequisites to class change, they must choose between the light or dark path. Each character and path gives access to a different set of classes. For example, Duran starts out as a fighter, but going down the light path changes him into a knight, and going down the path of darkness turns him into a gladiator. Classes are irreversible and they determine a character's stat caps, spells, and equipment. Because every class specializes in different abilities, there is no perfect team. The point is to form a team with classes that complement each other and focus on a particular strategy. An example of a good team would be a character that buffs, another that debuffs, and one that inflicts big damage. This adds a ton of replay value to the game, since trying different class combinations is fun.

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All battles are fought in real time, just like the previous Seiken Densetsu games. Press the attack button and watch in awe as your character takes a swing at the nearest foe. The stamina percentage from Secret of Mana has been dropped, so you can now attack with impunity. As convenient as this is, it makes the game susceptible to button mashing. To counteract some of the button mashing, there's a meter at the bottom that fills up as a character fights, and when it's full, the character can unleash a powerful technique depending on his or her class. While you can only control one character at a time, it's possible to switch characters in the heat of battle with the press of a button. Characters not being controlled by you will be handled by the AI. The AI will never cast spells, though, so all magic must be used manually. The ring menus return for item and magic use during battle and they make things fast and convenient. The game still supports co-op, much like Secret of Mana, and that's spectacular. It only goes up to two players instead of three this time, but it's still a great feature. Overall, Seiken Densetsu 3 has way better combat than Secret of Mana.

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Your first objective in Seiken Densetsu 3 is to gather all the Mana Spirits, not unlike Secret of Mana. This part of the game takes you on a tour through most of the world, one location at a time. After acquiring all the spirits, the game changes gears and becomes fairly nonlinear in its second half. There are eight areas and you can visit them in almost any order, kind of like Mega Man in RPG form. You've got something like an airship at this point, so travel between areas is convenient. The only problem with the second half of the game is that there are a lot of recycled areas mixed in with new ones, which feels like padding. Still, the freedom here is nice. Enemy levels will scale depending on the order you tackle areas, meaning the last areas you do will always be the hardest. It fixes that problem Mega Man games tend to have, in which all levels have the same difficulty. The level scaling doesn't prevent you from leveling up higher than the enemies, though. nonlinearity in RPGs is always appreciated, and Seiken Densetsu 3 has that covered.

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Boss fights in Seiken Densetsu 3 are intense. Right off the bat, the first boss in the game is so large, it fills the entire screen! It's also pretty hard for a first boss. Almost every single boss in the game has attacks that hit your entire party for massive damage. These super powered attacks usually can't be avoided, either, so healing is essential. Buffs and debuffs are really useful on bosses in this game, as they can completely change the tide of a battle. Exploiting elemental weaknesses is important, too, as every bit of extra damage helps. Many late game bosses also have a tendency to counterattack magic with powerful techniques. Counterattacks make bosses challenging, but they have the side effect of making magic too risky to be worth using. That sucks, because boss fights are exactly where you'd want to use the most powerful magic. As a result of that, offensive casters won't have much to do during boss fights. The game is already heavily biased towards physical attacks as it is, and this only worsens that. Bosses in this game are still great, even if they render magic pointless.

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This is the first game in the Seiken Densetsu series to feature a real time day and night system. Other than changing the way everything looks, the day and night system affects certain aspects of the game. For one, some monsters sleep at night, allowing you to get the jump on them in a fight. Conversely, some enemies only come out at night, like zombies. One of the playable characters transforms into a werewolf at night, too, which increases his attack power. There are also subtle changes in towns depending on the time of day, with many townsfolk sleeping inside their homes at night. You don't necessarily have to wait for the day and night transition, either, as it's possible to force one by sleeping at inns or using special items. In addition to the day and night cycle, the game has a week system. Each day of the week is represented by one of the game's elemental spirits. Casting spells of the same element as the day will enhance their potency, and on some days, inns will let you sleep for free. As interesting as this all is, none of it has a huge impact on the game, except when it comes to werewolves. Nonetheless, it's still a neat feature.

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Leveling up is handled differently than in the last two Seiken Densetsu games. Monsters are still ruthlessly murdered to gain experience points, but this time, leveling up prompts you to boost a stat. One stat point of your choice can be raised at every level up, allowing you to customize your character's growth. Stats aren't fully customizable, though, as there are artificial caps on how much each stat can be raised. These caps are based on the character's current class and level. All stats max out eventually, so it's not about the end result, but how you get there. Depending on their class, certain stats will influence the spells some characters learn. For example, raising intelligence will make mage classes learn new spells. Prioritizing the proper stats for each class is important if you want to learn spells early, or if you simply want the character to be better at what they do. There are times when you have to make tough choices between two important stats, though it doesn't matter in the end. A standard leveling system would have sufficed, but this isn't bad.

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Bugs will bug you in Seiken Densetsu 3. There are quite a large amount of bugs in this game, many of them major. How major are we talking? Well, a couple of classes in the game can equip shields, but shields are broken. Shields are supposed to protect against elemental damage and add to your evasion. The problem is that they don't actually guard against any elements, and evasion doesn't work. Some shields do still partially work, like this one shield that blocks most status afflictions, but that's one of the only ones that works. This is kind of a big deal, because shields are supposed to be the big selling point to certain classes. Another massive bug is the one involving critical hits, or the lack thereof. Critical hits almost never happen, even if a character's luck rating is high. A spell later in the game is rendered completely useless due to this bug, as the spell's sole purpose is to boost critical hit rate, which it does not. There are countless more bugs, but those are some of the worst. It's a shame such a high quality game is so buggy.

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Seiken Densetsu 3 is outstanding. The graphics are marvelous, the music is grand, and the game is exceedingly enjoyable. It surpasses Secret of Mana in all departments save for music, and while the music isn't better than Secret of Mana, it's still good. The scenarios could have been handled better, but the countless class and character combinations make up for it. Some of the bugs make the game feel less polished, though they don't delegitimize the experience. Indeed, this game is an experience worth having. Seiken Densetsu 3 is long, fun, and it has tons of replay value. The only tragedy is that it never got released outside of Japan.

Word Count: 2,255

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