How Can I Play It?: Secret of Mana & Final Fantasy Adventure
Want to check out Squaresoft's classic action-RPGs? Good news: You have options! [Updated 8/25/17]
We put together this week's podcast in response to Square Enix's Seiken Densetsu Collection for Switch — if nothing else, it's the last best chance we'll ever see an official English localization of the legendary Super Famicom action-RPG Seiken Densetsu 3.
Until that happens, though, the only way to experience SD3 in English is by hoisting the Jolly Roger and playing a ROM hack. That's not what the How Can I Play It? series is about, though — our goal is to offer recommendations on the best ways to play classic games through legitimate releases. Publishers certainly don't make that easy sometimes, as with SD3, but thankfully U.S.-region fans have plenty of options for playing the two games we discussed on our latest podcast: Final Fantasy Adventure and Secret of Mana.
Of course, if you don't mind wading through Japanese text, the SD Collection for Switch makes for a pretty good option. The compilation was programmed by the wizards at M2, and it features their usual high quality. On top of that, Nintendo made Switch region-free, so the only barrier to play is the unfamiliar language. You can see the collection in action on a stream I hosted a few months back:
But if you prefer to game in English, here are your other options.
Final Fantasy Adventure
The original Seiken Densetsu wore the subtitle "Final Fantasy Gaiden" in Japan, but there was nothing "sub" about that connection when Square brought the game to the U.S.; they dropped the Japanese title and put the subtitle front-and-center. It's admittedly dated these days (due to its brain-dead artificial intelligence and the fact that The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening casts a long shadow), but still remains entertaining.
Game Boy (Final Fantasy Adventure)
If you still have some sort of Game Boy-compatible device around — any Nintendo handheld released prior to the original DS — you can play the original version. The cart isn't too uncommon, and if you don't need it complete in box, you can definitely find it for less than $20. Chances are pretty good the save battery will still work! Those things last forever.
Game Boy Advance (Sword of Mana)
If you have a Game Boy Advance of any stripe, a DS, or a DS Lite, you can also play Final Fantasy Adventure's "modern" remake, Sword of Mana. This one is a tough recommendation. It looks absolutely incredible, with beautiful hand-crafted pixel art, but the breezy feel of the original game becomes completely lost beneath the endless, inane chatter. This game doesn't have the framework to support an epic, morally ambiguous saga, but by jove, that didn't stop them from trying.
Mobile/Vita (Adventures of Mana)
Honestly, your best option for experiencing Final Fantasy Adventure would be through its most recent incarnation, Adventures of Mana. Despite wearing a new title (which rather effectively merges its original U.S. name with the Mana brand), this is an extremely faithful recreation of the Game Boy adventure. It incorporates polygonal graphics and effects, but it does so in the service of a tile-by-tile remake. If you're looking for gameplay improvements, you won't find them here, but it does look decent and includes a revamped localization. We'd recommend the Vita version, since the mobile game may not have much longer to live (what with iOS's imminent fatal update and all). [Update: This app has been updated for 64-bit OS compatibility.]
Secret of Mana
Despite a rocky history that resulted in a fairly uneven (possibly unfinished) game, Secret of Mana largely overcomes its failings thanks to its brisk pace, its magnificent soundtrack, and best of all, three-person multiplayer action. There's still nothing else quite like it, nearly 25 years later.
If you have Super NES hardware sitting around, or a modern clone console, the original cart isn't a bad way to go. But you'll need a multi-tap controller for three-person play. You'll also need a healthy bank account; the cartridge alone rarely sells for less than $50. D'oh!
Virtual Console - Wii
You can play Mana on Wii Virtual Console, which means it comes with the usual caveats. The emulation is a little dark-looking, and while Wii outputs original-resolution visuals to old-school CRT televisions, it'll look unpleasant (and suffer from frustrating display lag) on an HDTV. Of course, you can also play through Wii U's backward-compatibility mode, which degrades the visuals a bit but irons out the upscaling lag. In Japan, Mana has also come to Wii U and 3DS Virtual Console, but Square Enix appears to have given up on VC in the U.S., frustratingly enough.
While not the best option, this does at least exist as an option. Once again, legacy iOS games come with the warning that the upcoming system update will break any game not updated for 64-bit compatibility, and it's hard to know if Square Enix intends to bring its older titles along for the ride. [Update: This app has been updated for 64-bit OS compatibility.]
Super NES Classic Edition
Aaaand assuming you can somehow get your hands on one, the Super NES Classic Edition will include Secret of Mana. We're not really sure if this will support three-person multiplayer (and if so, how), but other than that one quirk this seems likely to be the best way to play the game in English on modern televisions.
In what has to be the quickest amendment you'll ever see to one of these roundups, Square Enix has announced an Adventures of Mana-style remake of Secret of Mana for PlayStation 4, Vita, and Steam. It's not the Steam collection, but it does bode well for the prospect that they'll eventually give us Seiken Densetsu 3 in the form of one of these remakes...
Well, the PS4/Vita/Steam remake has turned out to be… not indefensible, exactly, but definitely not ideal. For the moment, the Wii Virtual Console is still the most faithful reissue of the game available in the U.S.… though you'll need to hurry to buy it, since Wii Point sales end in March 2018.