Seiken Densetsu 3 (聖剣伝説 3), released 9/30/1995, developed and published by Square
Here we are in the last game of the July-September 1995 block, and it’s a big hitter — the sequel to Secret of Mana and the next entry in the Seiken Densetsu series. I was really looking forward to this game. It’s had a good reputation for a long time. Secret of Mana had a number of flaws that I thought resulted from the weirdness in its development process, and I was hoping that Seiken Densetsu 3 would be the game Secret of Mana should have been. I was disappointed in the game, though, and in the end didn’t think it was all that good.
The game’s graphics are quite good, and the music is maybe not exactly the equal of Secret of Mana but it’s close. The game’s best known feature is that you start off by choosing three characters out of six. Although the overall plot is basically the same with all of them, there are some different bosses and events with each of them. Also the combat experience will be different based on who you pick — as well as which class upgrades you select for each person (there are two second level classes and four third level classes for each). This gives the game a high level of replayability.
I went with Duran, Angela, and Riese. Duran and Riese were quite good. The Star Lancer class has very helpful stat boosts and she has a high attack. Duran was fine as well — I made him a Lord and the healing was helpful. Angela was not as good. Magic is worse in this game than it was in SoM and by the end of the game she was basically dead weight, especially in boss battles.
My biggest gripe with the game is how sluggish and unresponsive the system feels to me. It’s supposed to be an action RPG, but you spend a lot of time watching animations and mashing buttons to bring up menus. It can be hard to tell what’s happening as you’re knocked around the screen.
SoM had a big problem where magic was too powerful, and the upper level techs were tough to use. Magic is weaker in this game — late-game Angela is still decent for attacking grunt enemies although you have to sit through the animations to do so. The 2nd and 3rd level techs do not require as much time to build up; you get one bar filled for each successful attack you do and when it fills up you get to use the tech. It’s nice that if the tech misses you don’t lose the bars and can try again.
However, in the latter half of the game, most bosses and some grunt enemies respond to magic or level 2/3 techs by powerful counter attacks. So not only do level 2/3 techs take longer to build up, but they have a good chance of the enemy walloping you in response. Because of this I just kept everyone on level 1 techs later in the game.
Another issue I had with the game is that when you’re going after the 8 mana beasts in the second half of the game, the difficulty seems to ramp up faster than you can keep up just by fighting the monsters as you go. Because of the way the weapon and armor stats work (they interface with your base stats), I had to do a lot of grinding to keep up with the enemies. There were enemies in the later dungeons that could wipe my entire party with one of their special moves, and if I was 4-5 levels behind it was hard to do much damage to them. This is really the part that made me go from not much liking the game to actively disliking it.
One side note on the graphics is that this game uses the Super Famicom’s “high res” mode to render the text, allowing them to fit more text in a box and use sharper, easier to read kanji. The next game I’m playing (Odysselia II) also uses this method, although I wonder how widespread it becomes after this point. It does cause a bit of a graphical glitch or stutter on bsnes as the game switches from the regular resolution to the high-res box (and it messes up bsnes-MT’s pixel perfect scaling mode), but I wonder what this looked like on an actual CRT.
The story is fine. With Duran, it begins with the “Red Magician” attacking the kingdom Duran serves, and he leaves home to defeat the magician. Duran’s father was a famous knight hero. Along the way he is chosen by the mana fairy and has to work first to stop the enemies from reviving the mana beasts and destroying the mana stones. The Mana Tree is dying, and to save it they need to open the way to the mana holy land and recover the Mana Sword (this area is taken straight from Secret of Mana).
Along the way we learn about the stories of the other five characters — because I chose Angela and Riese their stories are more involved (Riese needs to take back her kingdom and Angela has to save her mother), but we get some insight into the other three characters as well.
Of course getting the Mana Sword is not the end of the story. The mana beasts have been revived anyway, and we have to go track down all 8 of them and beat them — the story grinds to a halt here. Once the eight are defeated, the final confrontation occurs in a different dungeon depending on your main character choice. Once those people are dealt with, the final boss is in the Mana Holy Land.
I wonder if I would have liked this game more if I weren’t expecting so much from it. I think I first heard about this game in the late 1990s and tried playing it a bit around then. Sometimes a game can be a victim of high expectations.
So don’t necessarily take my bad experience as how you would feel about the game — it’s highly regarded and has a strong fan base.
That being said, this game was remade in 2020 for next-gen systems, and this version looks more fun to me from what I saw on youtube videos. The battle system is much smoother and faster paced, with far fewer moves that pause the gameplay while you watch an animation. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has played this version.