This week in my continuing dissection of the first three Seiken Densetsu games, we go back to where it all started for a little history lesson.
Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden was released in Japan in 1991 for Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld, but it was first conceived as a had a much grander project. The name Seiken Densetsu was originally ear-marked as a massively ambitious title for Nintendo’s Famicom Disk System add-on, which would have spanned a whopping 5 disks. Square even went as far as to advertise the game and begin excepting pre-orders to drum up interest. However, Square’s waining fortunes on the Disk System platform, entirely due to a string of poorly received releases via their D.O.G. disk specific brand, killed the project in the planning stages.
Instead Seiken Densetsu as we know it was created as a Final Fantasy spin-off and developed exclusively for Nintendo’s Game Boy. As far as the actual game play goes, it stood as a departure from the previous two Final Fantasy titles released in Japan for the Famicom. The gameplay in Seiken Densetsu has more in common with Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda, and is often credited as the first fully realized Action RPG. Like Zelda, the action takes place from a top down perspective that has you moving on a static grid-like connection of static screen environments, hacking and slashing enemies as you go. There are also many Zelda-esque puzzles that you must solve before progressing through the dungeon areas of the game. Unlike the Zelda games, however, you retain the ability to save at anytime and defeating enemies awards you with experience points and gold. These experience points advance your characters level and improve a variety of stats, such as stamina and hit points. At different points through out the game you also can be accompanied by a variety of NPCs who serve to aide in your progression by performing certain special abilities and tasks.
Seiken Densetsu was localized as Final Fantasy Adventure in North America, fully embracing it’s Final Fantasy lineage on in the West. Interestingly, beginning with Seiken Densetsu 2 (localized as Secret of Mana outside of Japan) all connections to the parent series were dropped, effectively spawning a wholly action RPG franchise.
Even today, with it’s duo-tone colors and simplistic graphics, Seiken Densetsu is highly playable and even stacks up remarkably well against such Nintendo Action RPGs as Crystalis and Zelda 2. Seiken Densetsu excels it terms of story, music, and the action/RPG integration is handled to near perfection. Seiken Densetsu was given a complete overhaul years later when in 2004 it was released for the Game Boy Advance, fully integrating itself into the Mana pantheon and given the name Sword of Mana when localized in the West.
Re-releases aside, the original Seiken Densetsu is still highly revered by fans of the genre as a landmark achievement, and remains an essential experience for fans of Secret of Mana.