RetroVision – The Many Names of Seiken Densetsu Part 1

Let’s get one thing straight right from the start, Final Fantasy Adventure is not a Final Fantasy game.  In fact, it’s actually better known as the original entry in the Mana series, and the predecessor to the well loved and highly respected Super Nintendo title Secret of Mana.  However, whilst its original title in the West played off the success of Final Fantasy, back in Japan the game was always known as the start of something new.

As such, a brand new title was given. This title was Seiken Densetsu (聖剣伝説), a name which translates as “Legend of the Sacred Sword”. Moreover, whilst this game has gone by many names in the West, the title of Seiken Densetsu is something that has remained with the series since the very beginning, being present across the series’ multiple releases across a variety of platforms.

Seiken Densetsu Box
Original box art for Seiken Densetsu (聖剣伝説). This translates to Legend of the Sacred Sword.

To those who have never played the game, the initial entry in the Mana series follows an unnamed hero and heroine, as they set out to defend the legendary Mana Tree.  All in order to protect the land and its mythical powers from those who are seeking to abuse that power. The game brought with it RPG elements inspired by Final Fantasy, and combined these with action, adventure, and puzzle elements. Today it still stands as one of the very best Action RPGs on the Game Boy, and a classic that is certainly worth any gamer’s time.

However, despite this quality, when it came to releasing the game in America, Square felt it necessary to change the title.  This was because Square believed that tying the game into the Final Fantasy brand would ultimately help sales.  As such the slightly misleading name of Final Fantasy Adventure was born.  Interestingly though, this link actually does come from the Japanese title.

FF Adventure
Box art for the North American release, now titled Final Fantasy Adventure as part of a marketing strategy.

No don’t worry, you did read that right.  In fact, it turns out that the original title of the game upon release in Japan actually held the sub-title, of yes you guessed it, Final Fantasy.  “Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden” to be precise.  The catch though is the word Gaiden, a word any retro fan will instantly recognise from Ninja Gaiden.  You see, the English translation of the Japanese word Gaiden is “Outside Story”, or Side story.

So, as you can see, Square was also trying to boost the awareness of the game back in Japan too.  However, they made it quite clear that this wasn’t a true Final Fantasy game, but rather something new that was inspired by Square’s genre defining series.  Unfortunately, this nuance was completely missed upon the Game Boy title’s 1993 release in North America.

FFA Chocobo
Taking inspiration from Final Fantasy, a Chocobo originally served as a mount in Seiken Densetsu. This was later changed to ‘Chocobot’ before being removed from future remakes for ‘Cannon Ball Travel’ which originated in Secret of Mana.

So all we’ve seen so far is the original Japanese are American releases.  Yet already it’s becoming a little difficult when trying to make sure that you’ve got the right game.  This is especially true when looking back on this classic series and it’s original title through modern eyes, as a search for Mana may not actually find you the game you’re after.

Furthermore, this isn’t the end of the confusion when it comes to the original release.  You see, before we can move on and look at the game’s multiple re-releases, there’s one more thing we need to consider.  Yes, in typical retro fashion it’s the afterthought that is Europe.

Final Fantasy Adventure Map
The complete world map for Seiken Densetsu / Final Fantasy Adventure / Mystic Quest on the Game Boy.

In what will come as a surprise to nobody, Europe would not see a release of Seiken Densetsu until two years after the original release.  Nevertheless, this gap did give Square some much needed time to carefully evaluate their decision to brand the game as Final Fantasy in America.  So what decision did they go with then?  Legend of the Sacred Sword, or Final Fantasy Adventure?

Well, would it surprise you if I said neither? Probably not.  But what was surprising though, was the odd decision to not even the use of the word “Mana”, a term the series would become synonymous with in the west. Instead they chose to call the game Mystic Quest.

Mystic Quest Box
Box art for the European release with the game now titled Mystic Quest. This brings the total number of titles for this game to three, and counting.

Arguably, Mystic Quest is quite a fitting name for the series.  One that certainly represents the game better than Final Fantasy Adventure. Nevertheless, Square would continue their search for a permanent name for the game in the West.

Going forward this search for a permanent English name would actually end up taking more inspiration from future titles in the series, than it ever would from the three original titles we’ve just seen here.  Most notably taking inspiration for the 16-bit JRPG classic Secret of Mana.  Arguably this search still continues today, and we’ll be exploring this ongoing search in part 2 of our investigation into the many names for Seiken Densetsu.

Simon Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that I've written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DudeXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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