As I write this, it’s Saturday, September 30, 2017. That marks 22 years since Japan was graced by the presence of Seiken Densetsu 3 (AKA Secret of Mana 2). Sadly, it never received an official release in the US. This was due to the fact that by the fall of 1995, the SNES was on the (rapid) decline despite a number of smash hits still yet to come. 32-bit war machines were starting to become all the rage, and it would take months to translate Seiken Densetsu 3. So it was never meant to be. It infuriated dedicated SNES owners who saw previews of the sequel in their favorite magazines but knew they would never get to play a proper translation. Thankfully, the “repro” scene changed that when a fan released a fan translated version of the game. It was a special moment for all Secret of Mana fans who longed to finally play the Japanese only sequel. I really like Mana but I am not one of its biggest fans. However, I’m all about the sequel. It’s f*cking awesome!
One of the biggest differences between this game and its predecessor is that while Secret of Mana forces you to use a specific character, Secret of Mana 2 gives you a choice of six. After selecting your main character, you pick two allies. The game employs various changes depending on the characters you select. It increases the game’s longevity significantly and is an awesome improvement. Some characters may even fall in love or find themselves embroiled in a lack of mutual respect. It makes the many different combinations you can form all the more interesting and invites you to experiment and beat the game several times.
Each of the six characters represent one of the six countries. The game begins with three countries at war and three as neutral territories. The relationship between the three characters you select for your party will evolve as the game progresses. Also new is remember how in the previous game there were eight different types of weapons? Now each character can only wield their specific weapon. I didn’t mind this as I felt the weapons in the first game were a bit of an overkill and I found the US translation lacking. I much rather have a complicated storyline with layers and a simple weapon system than a complicated weapon system with a basic storyline.
THE STORY GOES…
Combat is improved. Say bye bye to that annoying meter from Secret of Mana. Instead, your character won’t be able to strike for a brief moment. No need for a stinking meter, especially one that didn’t properly ration the damage ratio.
Another improvement: unleash a powerful blow after your bar is full.
Steve’s father, Loki, served the kingdom of Forcena as one of the elite “Knights of Gold.” But at a time in Steve’s young days, Loki went away, never to be seen again… meanwhile, Steve’s mother was battling an illness. After losing his mother, Steve was raised by his aunt, Stella. Though he hardly remembered his father, swordmanship ran in his blood. With this skill, he came to serve King Richard as a mercenary for Forcena.
Steve’s eyes grow heavy and weary as he drifts off into past memories…
Steve’s father goes on to explain how this tribe is the most powerful faction of all. Loki remains confident, however, thanks to standing alongside Prince Richard. Time passes and one night Prince Richard rushes to address Loki’s wife, Simone. Sadly, Loki and the Dragon Emperor both fell into a bottomless pit after Loki rushed in to save Prince Richard from certain doom. Prince Richard and his men stayed for a week after, searching for Loki but to no avail. Simone was crushed but proud of her husband to be a Knight of Gold to the very bitter end.
Although Steve can barely remember his father, he remembers his father’s final words. Steve took the task seriously but was devastated when his mom faced a deadly illness. Simone’s sister, Stella, pleads with her why she didn’t seek help earlier? Simone, with a heart of gold, explained how if word got out that she was sick then surely Loki would have rushed home to tend to her. She didn’t want to be a burden and so she kept things mum. In her dying request, Simone asked her sister Stella to look after Steve and Wendy. Stella honored it to the ends of the earth.
Pandemonium breaks out while Steve is snoozing. A loud commotion awakens him and chaos ensues.
Wizard may not be the most creative name out there but he’s certainly no joke.
Wizard sends a fiery column blast your way to quickly confirm the severity of his powers. Luckily for you, the Wizard tends to other business and spares your life… for now.
Fortunately, one guard managed to escape within an inch of his life, Loki’s son, Steve. It appears as though Altena is sending spies to Forcena. Perhaps an invasion is in the works…
Sibling bickering begins. But underneath it all is love.
Fortune Teller and Steve have their own bickering session as well.
Another huge change in this sequel is changing classes.
Before Steve can leave, Aunt Stella stops him. She knows better than to argue or plead, but she knows she can offer Steve a parting gift…
Continue the legacy of your father.
Additionally, Aunt Stella lets you know that she’ll let Wendy know and to talk to King Richard before leaving. This is a touching moment and symbolizes what Secret of Mana 2 excels in: storytelling and having a TON of heart!
Determined to redeem himself, Steve sets out to find and kill the Wizard.
Combat as mentioned earlier is vastly improved. I found the haphazardly implemented meter from the previous game to be a nuisance. Thankfully that’s gone and now waiting between strikes somehow feels a lot smoother. Battles happen in real time and slain enemies grant you experience points in order to level up. When an enemy is nearby, your character automatically assumes a battle stance. A power bar allows you to deliver an extra powerful blow.
There’s a load of different locales to traverse throughout the journey. It helps keep things interesting. I also like how the characters are well defined and you grow rather attached to each one of them.
Secret of Mana 2 has this epic sweeping feel to it in spades.
Square lends Seiken Densetsu 3 a very slick almost theatrical presentation.
Presentation is such an underrated component of these type of role playing games. A game that nails it can really suck you into its world and take you on a magnificent journey. Secret of Mana 2 got it so freakin’ right.
Peaceful times this ain’t. You find yourself in the middle of war.
[Classic Steve. Thinks he’s so sly but no -Ed.]
Yet another massive change is the brand new day-evening-nightfall transitions. This isn’t merely cosmetics, either. Similar to the Breath of Fire games, certain events can only occur at certain portions of the day (or night, as it were). I especially love seeing your character entering a door during nightfall. It’s super atmospheric, particularly when playing on a late evening with the lights turned off.
Transitioning from early evening to late nightfall is a thing of beauty. It adds a whole new sense of wonder (and strategy) to this game which simply did not exist in the previous game.
Rabites are sleeping, vulnerable to attack during the night, for example. In other instances, certain events can only be unlocked during a certain time of the day (or night). Back in 1995 this was truly mind-blowing. And even today it impresses me. It’s stuff like this that occasionally blurs the line and makes me forget, even if just for a second, that this is a real breathing world.
Leveling up is a classic staple of the (action) RPG. I like how this game makes you pick one category at a time to specifically level up.
There’s some callback to Secret of Mana as seen here with the innkeepers.
Remember the infamous cannon traveling method? It’s back.
Flammie returns to transport you as well, in addition to a brand new sea turtle creature. He looks rather ridiculous but there’s something oddly endearing about him and that includes his bizarre name, Booskaboo.
Traveling at night is always super atmospheric, thanks to being able to see the bright yellow lights down below.
Encounter many different enemies throughout. Best of all, the three player option has been retained. Now this is a sequel done right.
Gigantic boss monsters abound. The action is intense and the visuals are fantastic to boot!
They’re intimidating as hell!
Sending you the best of wishes…
Just in time for Halloween, Secret of Mana 2 is ideal to play around this time of the year.
MAGIC AND MORE
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Secret of Mana 2 fared extremely well with most everyone who has been able to play it. Super Play loved Secret of Mana when it came out so it was no surprise that they worshiped and championed Secret of Mana 2 as well. Consensus seems to be that most people prefer this game over its predecessor. It had a better story, more playable characters, improved combat and the list goes on and on. Truly a shame that this game never saw the light of day in the USA. If they really wanted to, they could probably have rushed a translation in time for that holiday season of 1995, but it was probably deemed a lost cause because of how fast the gaming landscape was changing as 16-bit began to wane and wane. Then again, with the amount of characters and dialogue, this probably turns it into a first quarter of 1996 release. Sadly, it was perhaps doomed from day one to stay in Japan.
Seiken Densetsu 3, or Secret of Mana 2, is one of the finest action RPGs in 16-bit history. It’s sad that Super Nintendo owners back in 1995 didn’t get to experience this gem, but fortunately fan translations have somewhat rectified past sins. If you enjoy this type of game and you haven’t played Secret of Mana 2 yet, then make it a point to do so ASAP. The visuals are stunning. Seeing still pictures is one thing but seeing it in motion is entirely another. I love the art direction — it’s very Chrono Trigger-esque. Seeing the screen explode in flames is downright breathtaking. I don’t consider myself a graphics whore but Secret of Mana 2 has some of the sweetest visuals I’ve ever seen in any Super Nintendo game. The sound and music is equally as impressive. But the main thing is the game plays like an absolute dream. Whereas I felt Secret of Mana felt a bit clunky at times, this one gets it almost perfectly right. From having six characters to select, smoother combat, more unique bosses and day night transitions just to name a small handful of positive changes, Square shows us how to program a sequel right (and then some).
Secret of Mana has a ton of fans and rightly so. I enjoyed it a lot as well, but I’m not its biggest fan. Although I gave it a rousing 9 out of 10 score, to me it’s a low 9. Something about it always felt a bit missing or lacking. Secret of Mana 2, on the other hand, nails it out of the park. The replay value here is higher than most other games from the genre thanks to the multiple endings and party choices. And if you happen to have two friends on hand, you can even experience the awesome three player mode. A proper sequel should build on everything from the previous game as well as fix its shortcomings. This is a shining example of exactly that. Not only is Secret of Mana 2 one of the finest action RPGs on the SNES, but it’s one of the best SNES games, period.