8GR8 #04: Seiken Densetsu 3 (Supersized Edition!)

Time for another installment of 8GR8, the feature that takes eight awesome pieces of video game music that tie around a certain theme and put them together in list form. This time, we’re looking exclusively at one game: Seiken Densetsu 3, the excellent sequel to Secret of Mana that never got released (officially, anyway) outside Japan.

Normally, in 8GR8, we look at a wide array of different games. But sometimes, it’s fun and also timely to narrow the focus. Not only are we examining a single game today, but we’re also looking at more songs from it—twelve, to be exact, rather than the usual eight. The game on the docket is Seiken Densetsu 3, an adventure in all ways superior not only to its predecessor, Secret of Mana, but to many (if not all) of the games in the series that came after it as well. Seiken Densetsu 3 claims the honor of being my favorite JRPG of all time, and the 20th anniversary of its release falls on September 30, and so there’s no better time to take a look at its excellent soundtrack, composed entirely, like Secret of Mana, by Hiroki Kikuta.

1. “Little Sweet Café”

Kicking off with one of the town themes, probably the most relaxed one. There’s a moment in games of this scope where you realize you’re inhabiting a quaint little pocket of peace before some universe-bending stuff goes down, and it’s tempting to want to stay in that pocket. And technically, you can—I mean, it’s not like there’s ever a time limit in these games, despite the pressing issues at hand. Sometimes, it even prevents me from finishing games. You could probably pipe this into a Starbucks and no one would bat an eyelash. Actually, how about you go save the universe? I’ll just sit here nursing this venti caramel frappuccino.

2. “Nuclear Fusion”

I’ll admit that Seiken Densetsu 3‘s oddball sound design is an acquired taste. The drums resemble nothing so much as a Street Fighter punch connecting with an opponent’s jaw, and intense melee combat often sounds like jelly monsters having a slapfight. But if you can get past the former, you’ll find it gives a huge adrenaline boost to many of the soundtrack’s drum-heavy songs. This is one track I think benefits greatly from it, and it contains a callback to “Meridian Dance” from Secret of Mana to boot.

3. “Splash Hop”

Following the “bigger is better” credo, Seiken Densetsu 3 features not one travel buddy animal, but two. Flammie the white dragon shows up later in the game, but before he arrives, you get Booskaboo, a turtle in a snorkel summoned at certain shores by the Pihyara Flute. Booskaboo is a laid-back kind of guy, and his theme, a loping reggae tune, reflects that well. Back in the 90s, you couldn’t swing a cat by the tail without hitting a VGM track with steel drums in it, but I love the bouncy breakdown featuring them here, as well as the effusive followup phrase that ends the loop. Few tracks in the game are as whistle-able as this one.

4. “Harvest November”

“Sultry” isn’t generally a word that comes to mind when considering desert themes, except when playing this (and possibly a Shantae game). The heat of Navarre isn’t of the oppressive variety. As deserts go, it’s actually a pretty relaxing, pleasant, and fertile place. (The game saves its scary licks for the Valley of Flames, nestled deep within the desert.)

5. “Different Road”

The theme that plays while traveling the Path to the Heavens, a series of winding caves and rock bridges that culminates in both the meeting of Flammie and a view that by Super Nintendo standards is absolutely breathtaking. I like that Kikuta managed to bake such a sense of urgency into an otherwise steady-tempo’d track; it comes early in the adventure, but there are still things to be done, a world to save, and no time to waste.

6. “High Tension Wire”

Seiken Densetsu 3 has a number of different boss themes, many of which correspond to a certain type of boss or circumstance. “High Tension Wire”, my favorite song on the entire soundtrack, plays during bosses that fly, like the harpy-esque Tzenker and one of the god-beasts[1], Dangaard, a two-headed griffin, whom your party fights while aboard a soaring Flammie. It’s not enough to just post the song; this one has to be witnessed in the proper context. The first time I entered that battle, it literally took my breath away for a few seconds.

7. “Faith Total Machine”

Another boss theme, this one playing during bosses that are ghosts, like Gorva on the ghost ship and god-beast Lightgazer. This one was a grower for me, as I originally preferred the Dolan-battle-exclusive “Black Soup”, but over time the arrhythmic drums of the intro to “Faith Total Machine” plus its overall tempo have given this one the edge over it.

8. “Three of Darkside”

Most of Seiken Densetsu 3‘s soundtrack either gets your adrenaline pumping or massages your brain, but Kikuta can unleash the creep factor when he needs to as well. I love it in RPGs when characters enter the void, and the party in this game does so in spectacular fashion, getting sucked into the nether to fight with the eighth and final god-beast, Zable-Fahr—a frightening jester-demon of two heads (later three)—after your ragtag group finds the fabled Mana Stone of Darkness just prior to its destruction. This is a song that makes you feel really hopeless—like no matter how leveled-up you are, the thing you’re up against is just too big, and you’re not getting out of the Phantom Zone alive.

9. “Angel’s Fear”

If you listen to this one for even just past the intro, you’ll recognize it as the intro theme to Secret of Mana, and if you know the names of songs that appear in video games, you might have even guessed that before you heard note one. This is a much more melancholy arrangement, however, plucked out on only a piano and an acoustic guitar, both samples sounding totally amazing on that Super Famicom sound chip.

10. “The Sacrifice, Part III”

The final final boss theme of the game, which comes roaring in after the most perfect pregnant pause where you’re not sure if you killed it or it’s entering its final phase. (Spoiler: it’s the latter.) The major key ensures that you flex your muscles and give that boss—whether it’s the Dragon Emperor, the Masked Mage, or the Dark Lich[2]—all you’ve got, while the minor bridge reminds you how far you’ve come and reins you in, making sure you give the battle the gravity it deserves. If this song doesn’t make you fall in love with those wacky punch-noise drums once and for all, nothing will.

11. “Farewell Song”

Songs like this are why I hate beating long games that allow me to get invested in the fates of the characters. The first time I beat this game, I legitimately got misty the first time I beat the game and the Mana Goddess reveals that Mana will be disappearing from the world, but exhorts the heroes to “remember me … [and] make sure your children remember…” because Mana magic will return to the world in a thousand years. Some of my not playing many RPGs is because I don’t have the time to invest in them or I didn’t get into them at the height of their popularity, but if I’m being totally truthful, a substantial chunk of it is I don’t like saying goodbye to them.

12. “Return to Forever”

Despite the title of the track, this is unfortunately not Chick Corea and his band of jazz fusion masters sitting in for the final track. Nevertheless, it still makes for an excellent end to an incredible quest. Watching Booskaboo and Flammie travel the world thinking, “Well, what are we gonna do now? I guess just hide out for a thousand years” ties up a loose end I didn’t know I wanted tied. What I like about the video for this song is that it allows ample playtime for the loop that “ends” the song. Almost half the video’s runtime is devoted to that loop, and nothing says “it’s over, man, turn it off, go do something else” like four minutes of that. Though I could sit and listen to it for much longer.

[1] Or “benevodons”, if you prefer the official nomenclature.

[2] The game gives you a different final boss and penultimate dungeon depending on which of the six playable characters you choose as your main one.

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