During the tail-end of the SNES' life in Japan, there were a number of Japanese RPGs which weren't picked up for localization for one reason or another. Some games, such as Star Ocean, were due to the complex and pricey cartridge add-ons that were required to play the game, while others were passed on simply because the market at the time could not sustain new franchises with the next-gen systems approaching soon on the horizon. One of my favorites, Seiken Densetsu 3 (which would have been known as Secret of Mana 2 internationally), was one of the games affected by these circumstances.
In early 2000, a talented team of fan translation hackers were able to provide gamers outside of Japan with an English (and later French and German) translation of the game which for the time was the most sophisticated hack of its type as the team had to modify the inner workings of the code to properly translate it. This was also around the same time Super NES emulators became popular and widespread, leading to numerous other previously Japan-only fan translations including games such as Tales of Phantasia.
What made Seiken Densetsu 3 (SD3) so memorable wasn't just one factor, but a number of factors. The first noticeable aspect of the game was its impressive graphics and music. Utilizing a more richer sound bank than most games of its time, it was able to tie this in with graphics which utilized a number of different artistic tricks to move the RPG genre away from its blocky tile-based past and into the style of graphics most known for in the later PlayStation era of JRPGs. This combination was most evident in the pre-game opening that played when the game started up which lasted almost three minutes, a huge shift from the static "music with game logo" title screens that were commonplace for the genre at the time.
The story and gameplay were also markedly above its predecessor, Secret of Mana. Unlike the original which had the hero join together with two other pre-determined characters for the remainder of the game, SD3 allowed the player to pick their three heroes from total set of nine which ranged from berserkers, healers, mages and even thieves. While the game only allowed for three "main" story lines depending on who you picked, this system still allowed for players to make the game as easy or as hard as they wished (i.e. picking two magic users and only one physical attacker).
As for the gameplay, it also featured numerous enhancements over its predecessor. Players now had the ability to store items instead of the original's four-of-a-kind limit. The weapon charge system was also modified so each attack would store energy into a combo gauge which could be utilized once filled on command for a more powerful attack. A new class and leveling system was also introduced which allowed players to branch off into either a "light" or "dark" class given that they met specific pre-conditions. Each class has its own unique spells and special attacks which lent an incredibly amount of replay value even when playing the same group of characters over again as this allowed for multiple different team combinations. Lastly, SD3 introduced a new day/night system which allowed for different status effects (such as Fire spells being more powerful on a certain day) and for monsters and NPCs to show up at different times depending on when you entered the area.
While some aspects of the game are somewhat dated in this day and age, Seiken Densetsu 3 is still one of the best games on the Super NES of its genre and still holds up well for a game originally created over 15 years ago. If you enjoy Japanese RPGs you'll be sure to love this memorable classic.