Seiken Densetsu 3 is often referred to as Secret of Mana 2 in North America, where it was never officially released. A spokesperson for Square mumbled something about bugs in the code when asked why the game was not localized, when originally the company had intended to localize and release the game in late 1995. The game is in many ways a sequel to the popular Secret of Mana, being set in a very similar world. The world was created by the Mana Goddess, who defeated the eight elemental God-Beasts using the mythical Mana Sword, and sealed them inside the eight Mana Stones. After her success, she transformed herself into a Mana Tree and goes to sleep, guarded by a host of faeries.
The general premise of the game is that the main character is in some distress, and sets off on a journey to consult with the Priest at Wendel. Along the way, they make a stop in the village of Astoria, and meet up with one of the aforementioned faeries who watches over the Mana Tree. It is an exceptionally long and dangerous trip, and apparently of all of the faeries who set out together, only this one survived, and even then barely so. The faerie decides that she has no choice but to ordain the main character as the Chosen One. By doing so, it allows her to basically move into their head, forming a symbiotic relationship with them. Fortunately the faeries had also been en route to Wendel to speak with the Priest, so it all works out for the best, more or less. Some typical trials and tribulations ensue, but the long and short of it is, the main character, with two secondary characters, must travel the world to thwart the Forces of Evil, which are attempting to re-awaken the God-Beasts.
When beginning the game, the player is asked to choose three characters out of the six available. The first character chosen will be the main character aka the Chosen One, and their storyline will be the one given the most attention. What is interesting to note is that there are essentially three plotlines running through the game, with three separate Forces of Evil. Two of the six available characters will be involved in each plotline, and whichever plotline and villain(s) the main character is concerned with will become the primary villain(s) for the game. Therefore when choosing characters, the player must consider the character’s abilities and design, as well as their story. Some players prefer to choose one character from each plotline in order to see as much of the overall story as possible, while others prefer to pair two characters who share a plotline, as this does offer additional dialogue and story development. Suffice to say, Seiken Densetsu 3 offers most excellent replay value.
The game mechanics are very much akin to Secret of Mana, which many more people are familiar with. The game utilizes a ring-like menu system, and real-time action combat. There is a decent AI in the game that will control whichever two characters the player is not presently controlling, and the player need not control the main character but may choose any of their party members (therefore it is not necessary to forgo playing the game as one of the weaker but arguably more interesting characters).
The area in which this game shines, other than its stellar replay value, is in class diversity. Each character is given two opportunities to change their class. They begin with their neutral class, and at level 18 may go to a Mana Stone, concentrate really, really hard, and change to a more advanced class. Then at level 38 they do the same thing again, only this time they also need to bring a special item with them to facilitate the transformation. Each time the character changes or advances class, they are given two choices: a light or a dark class. For example, Duran who begins as a Fighter, must initially choose between advancing to a Knight (light) or Gladiator (dark). If he chooses Knight, he can later choose then to become a Paladin (light-light) or Lord (light-dark). If he initially chooses to become a Gladiator, however, these paths are lost to him and instead must choose between Duelist (dark-dark) and Swordmaster (dark-light). There are, then, four final classes for each character to choose from. Yet another area in which the game offers considerable variety and replay value.
Overall, the game is quite charming. It was developed by the team responsible for the first few Final Fantasy games, and was released during the “good old days” of Square. The story progression is a bit cliche and predictable as you go from land to land, stone to stone, boss battle to boss battle, but the graphics are decent, the music is nice, and it is great fun to watch the three plots weave themselves together. It will never quite compare to games like Chrono Trigger or the FF games, but any Square fanboy or fangirl will likely enjoy the game regardless.