Seiken Densetsu 3 (Trials Of Mana)

Phew. Alright.

It’s taken me several attempts to start writing this. I’ve mentioned before that SD3 has some significant emotional attachment for me; forgive me, but I can’t talk about one without talking about the other. Suffice it to say, a game that can root itself so firmly into ones memories is something special.

I first played SD3 15 years ago, which was also my age at the time (and that, in itself, is hard to think about). I remember being utterly mesmerised by… well, everything; in every aspect, it was a shining gem in SNES’ crown, especially for the RPG-obsessed proto-punk young BB was.

I had a best friend at the time, who was perhaps even more into RPGs than I was, but lacked the means to play SNES games, and so my role in his life was to provide the real goods. Chrono Trigger was first, obviously, but not long afterwards I had to introduce him to this obscure diamond. It was the summer holidays preceeding my impending move away and out of his life, and so every day without fail he walked two miles to my house to play games and drink all of our Dr Pepper.

And then… I moved away, and life happened- a whole lot of it. We drifted apart, of course. Somehow, I never found my way back to SD3 after that, despite being a nostalgic sort and a retro-head. I wasn’t avoiding doing so, it just never happened. Even when going through the enitre SNES library to add music to my playlist, I somehow skipped SD3.

In recent times, said friend decided to entirely cut me from his life. Not sure what triggered it- we hadn’t really spoken for a long while but maintained that surface-level contact through social medias and the like, and then one day he was gone from all of them. Just a few weeks later, entirely unrelated, I got a whim to listen to the SD3 OST again, having not listened to any of it since I played it… and somehow could remember every track, each one hitting me with another wave of melancholy nostalgia.

And then 3 days later they announced a remake and a re-release at E3, and I was super weirded out.

It’s finally come time to confront all of the above- the dice have decided. So let’s talk about the game itself for a moment, and allow it its new name Trials Of Mana to represent this new start.

It’s the sequel to Secret Of Mana which I covered previously, and ultimately couldn’t stomach. It’s a very janky game, with echoes of Trials present but none of them refined into anything playable. I was immediately very nervous that I was misremembering how good Trials was, but thankfully most of the wonkiness was fixed for the sequel. Most notably, combat makes a great deal more sense now, although there are still times my character will just steadfastly refuse to do anything while enemies wail on her and more than once it’s taken a few seconds for an enemy to realise I just killed it. It’s much smoother than Secret was, and my companion’s AIs are a lot stronger too.

Visually the game is an absolute tour-de-force- some of the most beautiful landscapes SNES has to offer- and the story is fairly ambitious with six different plotlines threading together and ending in different places depending on which character you choose at the start.

Finally, and most criminally overlooked- the music in this game is fricken incredible.

Fin Or Bin:

For some reason they made Charlotte (or Carlie as I knew her) tawk wike dis, which is going to be super obnoxious in the remake when every line is voice-acted. But for this play-through, I’m gonna go put Boulevard Of Broken Dreams on repeat, re-read all six Harry Potter books, and make some new memories as I Finish Trials.

Secret Of Mana

Right, story time-

I have fond memories playing through Seiken Densetsu 3 a loooong time ago, and introducing it to a friend. Fond memories that were dormant for a long time before I rediscovered its soundtrack a few months ago. Listening through it brought a lot of melancholy nostalgia to the forefront of my mind, and I thought about playing through it again. It’s considered by some to be the best SNES game of all time (they’re wrong, ‘cos that’s LTTP, but it’s definitely up there) but I was worried about the misleading qualities of nostalgia and wondered if it was best left in the past.

Three days after I started thinking about SD3 again, Squenix announced a remake of it at E3, and a Thing Of Mana bundle for Switch, with SD3 being rebranded as Trials Of Mana and packaged up with its two prequels.

So, you know. Serendipity and all. But since I got the other two games with it, I figured I should play those first. Through a logical process too convoluted to explain, I decided to put both of them on the backlog together, and the second game in the series came up first.

Secret Of Mana, then- it’s pretty janky! Feels quite prototypical of Trials, from what I remember. The combat is pretty wonky, with a lot of enemy moves taking control away completely. The knockback time is so offensively long that getting caught between two enemies is basically an instant game over as they keep me stunlocked.

Most perplexingly, my guy alternates between a wide swing and a narrow lunge of the sword seemingly at random and with no input on my part making a difference. It’s quite frustrating to have a group of enemies in front of me, ripe for slashing, only to watch my dude poke harmlessly at the air between them.

Fin or Bin:

It’s a classic of the genre despite its numerous rough edges and I feel like most of the issues I have at the moment will stop being a problem once I get other characters in my team to back me up. It’s a Fin, but a tentative one. I feel like I’m too biased towards the bin in my haste to get to Trials, so I’m swinging it the other way, but it’s close.

Star Fox 2

The story behind this game is well-documented, and worth reading about if it sounds interesting- for the purposes of this entry, here’s an abridged version.

The first Star Fox game (or Starwing as I knew it) was originally designed to show off the SNES’ new Super FX chip, an add-on that could be put into a cartridge which allowed the SNES to display fully 3D environments. As I understand it, Star Fox wasn’t really supposed to become as popular as it did, which meant a sequel took some time to come.

Star Fox 2 was in development and slated to be released right around the time that Nintendo were showing off their exciting new 64-bit system, complete with fully-rendered 3D landscapes and environments. Unfortunately for Star Fox 2, the N64 made it look a bit… dated. Despite being basically finished and production-ready, Nintendo decided to shelve the project entirely, not wanting to embarrass themselves with such an inferior-looking game just as their competitors were stepping into the next generation.

Instead, the next Starfox game to be released was Star Fox 64 (or Lylat Wars, as I knew it), and the SNES version of Star Fox 2 was thrown into the archives.

A playable version of it has been floating around the internet for many many years now, having somehow leaked to the emulator scene, but it was only officially recognised by Nintendo 20 years later, being packaged up as one of the games on the SNES Mini, which is how I came about it.

Twenty years.

Now, I have to mention, since this is my blog and I get to make these things personal. As a kid, I was INTO Starfox. Big time. I played Lylat Wars to death. Every day after school, I’d do a run through of it (a full game takes maybe an hour? It’s very replayable). I collected all of the medals, and then I did it again on Expert mode, which for a 9-10-11 year old is a pretty huge feat. At lunchtime, me and my best friend would pretend to be Starfox. I was Fox, and he was Falco, and we’d make up space adventures together. It had a big influence on some of my fondest memories, and doubtlessly an influence on my creative endeavours and interests ever since.

It’s fair to say that, if Nintendo had made a different decision regarding Star Fox 2‘s fate, my life would be very different. Maybe it’s weird to say that about a video game? Regardless, it’s true.

To see this title screen for the first time, in an officially-recognised way- to see this relic of history, this alternate course of events that was never realised… I got pretty emotional.

Fin or Bin:

They certainly took Starfox in a cinematic direction, but it kinda feels like they forgot to put a game in there. The missions are over before you know it, and enemies seem to fall super easily. There also aren’t really any bosses to speak of, while the first title had a unique boss encounter at the end of every level. I wonder just how finished this game really was. Plus, the Super FX chip wasn’t really up to the task of these free-roam stages… it’s kind of a hard sell, looking at it from 2019. But, that’s not at all the point of this one. Getting to play this title is incredibly important in a historical sense- and Finishing it is something we were never meant to be able to do.