While Square’s Seiken Densetsu series continues to this very day, it’s the two SNES / Super Famicom outings on which the franchise arguably built its enviable reputation. Seiken Densetsu 2 – better known in the west as Secret of Mana – is one of the finest RPGs ever made, while its sequel has only been held back from global acclaim by the fact that it was sadly never localised outside of Japan. That changes with the release of Collection of Mana, the western localisation of the Seiken Densetsu Collection which launched on Switch in 2017 in Japan.
This pack includes the first three titles in the franchise – the 1991 Game Boy original and the aforementioned 16-bit outings – as emulated by the experts at M2, the studio responsible for the Sega Ages 3D series on Switch as well as Konami’s recent Castlevania and Contra Anniversary Collections. The involvement of M2 should be enough to put to rest any fears that this might be a hack-job on Square Enix’s part; the emulation is utterly flawless throughout. Each title includes a music test which allows you to appreciate the gorgeous soundtracks outside of the games themselves, as well as screen filters to ensure you get the best view, either on the Switch’s screen or your television. Save states are also included for those times when you can’t reach an in-game save point, and multiplayer is possible on the SNES games thanks to those lovely detachable Joy-Con controllers.
The franchise debut – known as Seiken Densetsu in Japan, Final Fantasy Adventure in North America and Mystic Quest in Europe – arrived early in the Game Boy’s life and features enjoyable (if rather lightweight) action RPG mechanics which actually pre-date the likes of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. The visuals are quite basic and the storyline is threadbare – even by early Game Boy standards – but the mixture of real-time action and role-playing stats still clicks, even after all these years. It’s a gentle introduction to the core mechanics of the Mana series, and despite its obvious simplicity compared to what would follow, it certainly has plenty of charm.
Surprisingly, out of the three games presented here, the Game Boy entry is the one with the most screen options; you can play in black and white, with fullscreen and windowed variants, and there’s also a Game Boy Color filter which adds a spot of vibrancy to the visuals. However, the best screen filter, in our opinion, is the one which replicates the lurid green display of the original Game Boy, complete with visible pixels. It’s so convincing we were immediately hit with a strong sense of nostalgia; the only thing missing is the blurriness when objects are moving. Toggling through these screen modes is a simple case of tapping the ZR shoulder trigger, but you can’t change the border artwork or opt for a black surround, which some may find disappointing.
Released in 1993, Secret of Mana is arguably the most famous entry in the franchise, at least outside of Japan; heck, it’s probably the reason you’re so keenly reading this review – if you haven’t already excitedly downloaded the collection, of course. Even today it remains a true 2D masterpiece, with gorgeous visuals and one of the best 16-bit soundtracks ever committed to silicon, courtesy of Hiroki Kikuta. Offering hours of gameplay and some of the most memorable moments in the history of the SNES, it’s a game which surely needs no introduction; it has been re-released numerous times since 1993 (including a smartphone port and a rather divisive remake on PS4) and is one of the games you can play on your Super NES Classic Edition.
While the storyline in Secret of Mana is still pretty basic and there plenty of silly moments (such as your character’s ability to travel over the map by being fired from a cannon), there’s no denying the classic status of this game. Even the rather ropey combat – which is an odd mix of real-time and turn-based mechanics – can’t dent its appeal. During battle, you’re free to move around and swipe at enemies, Zelda-style, but you’ll often find that your attacks don’t register because your enemy is executing their recovery animation. Other times, your attack seems delayed because it has stacked on top of another attack from one of your AI-controlled companions. Add to this the fact that your actions are bound by a recharging gauge (you can attack at any time, but your blows will be weaker without a full charge), and it feels even further away from Zelda’s more immediate gameplay; it’s really not what you could call an elegant combat engine, but it’s not enough to totally sink the game, and the innovative ‘ring’ based menu system still feels fresh, at least.
Speaking of AI companions, one of the big selling points of Secret of Mana was that you could enrol a pair of friends to aid you in your quest. Using a second controller (or, if you had one, a SNES Multitap), up to three people can control the main trio of heroes. This element is neatly replicated here thanks to the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers; no matter where you are in the world, that second Joy-Con can be detached and handed to a pal for some welcome local co-op gameplay. With a massive quest to undertake packed with memorable locations, gorgeous music and a really nice sense of progression via level-ups and enhanced items, Secret of Mana remains a solid-gold classic.
Finally, we have Seiken Densetsu 3 – or, as it now officially titled in the west, Trials of Mana – the 1995 epic which would surely have followed in the esteemed footsteps of its predecessor in terms of global acclaim had it seen release on the SNES back in the day. With improved visuals, multiple playable characters and three different storylines to explore, it’s a truly stunning piece of work – which makes us insanely pleased that it’s finally available in the west in an official capacity. The localisation is great, too – so much so that it makes the English script for the other two games included here look rather poor in comparison.
The impressive ‘Triangle Story’ system means that this positively dwarfs Secret of Mana in terms of sheer scope, and elsewhere Square has improved the game in practically every single way you could imagine. Combat, while similar, has been enhanced dramatically and now flows a lot more smoothly than it did before; instead of waiting for your weapon to recharge after an attack, your blows (which have a degree of auto-targeting) always have the same power; the key difference here is that subsequent attacks fill up a separate gauge which, when full, allows you to execute a more powerful special move. Furthermore, your AI allies are smarter and less inclined to get stuck behind scenery or wander off in the middle of a tense fight.
Visually, this is perhaps one of the finest games to ever grace Nintendo’s 16-bit system, with detailed characters and backgrounds which look like genuine works of art. Kikuta’s soundtrack, too, is sumptuous; while it will naturally lack that all-important pang of nostalgia for those of us who only knew the previous game, there’s no denying that this is top-tier musical artistry; it’s incredible to think this is the work of non-CD console, too. Oddly, there are only two screen options available for Secret of Mana and Trials of Mana – fullscreen and windowed – with the former stretching the image out to give the best view. Personally, we prefer the windowed option. It’s a shame that a CRT scanline option wasn’t included here, especially as it exists in M2’s Konami retro collections.
When you consider how many titles Konami is packing into its Anniversary Collection packages – and that their retail price is almost half what Square Enix is demanding for the three games included here – it’s impossible to question the value of Collection of Mana. However, there’s no denying the fact that Secret of Mana is one of the finest console RPGs of all time, and even though it’s readily available elsewhere, playing it on Switch is like wrapping yourself up in a warm and familiar blanket; it’s just right somehow. We could argue that Secret of Mana is merely the appetizer for the real star of this collection: Trials of Mana. It’s nothing short of a masterpiece and finally getting the chance to play it officially in English is a landmark moment for SNES and RPG fans alike. Sure, there’s the temptation to wait for the upcoming 3D remake – also confirmed for Switch – but if you’re serious about this genre then it shouldn’t take our recommendation to convince you to part with your hard-earned cash. What you’ve got here are two of the finest examples of the genre, accompanied by a third likeable entry which is also well worth a look. When you consider the many hours of top-notch entertainment on offer, the price is very nearly a steal.