Friday, July 26, 2013

Pocky & Rocky 2 (SNES) Review

Received: December 25th, 2012 / Written: July 21st-26th, 2013
Year: 1994 | Developed and Published by: Natsume | Licensed by: Taito

Every gamer has got a reason to celebrate nowadays.  For me, I recently got to play Rocket Knight Adventures for the Genesis (via RetroGen adaptor) for the first time, yay!  =D  As for others, there is an even bigger reason to celebrate.
In light of recent news, one of the most highly sought after RPGs ever made for the SNES, EarthBound, has finally seen the light of the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console, not just for NTSC gamers but for the first time PAL gamers too.  After all these years this title has finally been re-released for the current gaming crowd.  Fans and gamers rejoice!  Yaaaaaay, of all the times for me to not own a Nintendo Wii U.  =(  At this point the only way for me to experience it without spending too much would be by importing the Japanese cart Mother 2 which I could play on the Retro Duo; but why does something tell me that wouldn't be right for that turn-based RPG in particular?  And for over four years now I've stopped downloading games on the Virtual Console.  What a predicament this is.  ...  I suppose I could ask for EarthBound as a Christmas gift like I did last year with Pocky & Rocky 2.

This game is awesome by all accounts, and
one of my top favorites on the SNES!  =D
The original Pocky & Rocky, which itself was a sequel to Taito's arcade game KiKi KaiKai (Knight Boy), was an obscure shoot'em up on foot in a Japanese setting that has since gotten a bit of a cult following since its release, and honestly I think it's a bit of an underrated game.  Pocky & Rocky's strengths were its charm, its intuitive gameplay, its surprisingly arcade-like quality, its difficulty which gradually increased the farther you progressed, two very likable and endearing main characters, a good amount of atmosphere, its nonstop quirkiness, a great sense of fun, and a really good soundtrack.  =)  Some gamers compare it to Konami's vastly overrated (in my opinion) The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, which is understandable considering some of both titles' similar themes, cultural settings, and levels of quirkiness.  Unlike said competition, it didn't really get well-known by a lot of gamers at the time; but despite that, Natsume figured that perhaps a sequel wouldn't be a bad idea, which we all got in 1994 (and for some reason it was released in Europe by Ocean).  Oh, but they didn't just make a sequel, they made some substantial changes in the process; so without further ado, let's talk about Pocky & Rocky 2, the least known of the two titles.  =)

A long time ago in feudal Japan, there was a highly anticipated event revolving around a harvest festival.  Visiting from the moon, a respected member of royalty comes to enjoy the festivities, and that royalty member is Princess Luna.
Image from the Equstria Daily website
Not that Princess Luna, darn it!  This game came out sixteen years before My Little Pony became good and cool!  *laughs*  Speaking of cult followings...  XD

Anyway, the princess gets captured by two hench-... species, one of which you'll never see anywhere else in the game.  One of them is an imp which you'll get to combat later on called "Impy".  =/  *cue awkward laugh track*  After this series of events unfolds Her Highness' rescue falls in the hands of one of the heroes in the last game, the Shinto priestess Pocky, who's once again accompanied by her cuddly chubby raccoon friend Rocky.
Will our two eponymous heroes be successful in their newest journey?  Will they collaborate greatly enough to ensure that the mission is a rousing success?  Who is the "master" that Impy has referenced?  Why has the princess been kidnapped?  Will we find ourselves groaning once we find out?  Will the storyline be a little sillier and nonsensical than the previous edition was?  Will some plot points pop up that will go absolutely nowhere?  Stay tuned for these things and more!  *smiles with mouth open and swiftly brings two thumbs up*  ...  Yeah, I'll elaborate on most of these later on in the review.  =<

Perusing through the October Fields
The gameplay has been left mostly intact since the last game.  The main characters can still fire an endless supply of projectiles as they move in any of the eight directions, and any time they have to deflect projectiles they can still do so by repeatedly tapping the B button (Pocky uses her staff to do so).  Gone from the last iteration are the ability to slide and the ability to cast magic to defeat a large slew of enemies in the same screen.  However, there are new capabilities you can use that compensate for those.  You can still collect enough power-ups to augment the potency of your projectiles, and now press the A button to temporarily become your companion (press A again for reversion), and you can throw said companion (R shoulder button) towards an enemy or boss in order to amass a big amount of damage towards them (in which the companion uses their super attacks which last for a certain amount of seconds).  The first stage is actually optional since it's a training stage, but you have the option to skip it if you feel confident enough.  Okay, cool!  =D  Already this is sounding like a good Pocky & Rocky sequel, so let's see what else is in sto-
O_O  Wait, who are these two, and why are they fighting Rocky over Pocky?  Wait, you choose your companion?  I was under the impression that this was a Pocky & Rocky title, but now we have to put up with this "friend envy"?
Wait, there's more???  *sigh*  =(

Steaming hot location filled with fire enemies
Okay, so Pocky is exclusively delegated to being the main playable character, while the companions join you in-game whether they be CPU-controlled or controlled with the second controller.  What was great about the first game's title was that it said just enough; you either got to take control of Pocky or Rocky, or if you had two players you would be Pocky and Rocky.  In here, however, the title feels a little like false advertising, in that the first player is always Pocky but the second character in theory does not necessarily always have to be Rocky.  That's disappointing actually, but I'm not going to let that one tiny detail affect my overall thoughts towards Pocky & Rocky 2.

All right, before most stages you get to choose who your companion will be, whether it be veteran Rocky, a shuriken-throwing Little Ninja, and strong and bulky Bomber Bob.  In the game are four other hidden playable characters: a Tengu called Tengy, a scarecrow simply called Scarecrow, a mole called Digger, and an automaton called Ottobot.  Depending on which companion you throw at a boss and/or which one you transform into their attack results will be quite different, so at least there's a good sense of variety (for example, Rocky's special attack will render him as a giant Tanuki statue while Scarecrow's will be a pillar of sickles).  However, you only have to pick one of three before the stage starts, however should you find a small character-switching icon, you can change the partner into the face it turns up; get the same while as that character and you will receive extra points.

Yes, I'd like an answer as to why Natsume
decided to take the Ganbare Goemon
approach with this sequel, please?  =|
This time you've only got one set of projectiles to throw as opposed to two in the last one, but the more power-ups you gain the bigger and more powerful they become, which is pretty cool.  Also cool is how Pocky can get more powerful as she equips two sets of armor, and there are some moments when you might pick up a couple of rabbit ears (which serves as an extra shield).  Granted your powers decrease as you get damaged, right down to her clothing (if you have the rabbit ears they'll be worn off last); should Pocky sustain damage in her undergarments she'll lose a life.  Your companions can come up at any time, however if they've been stunned or disappeared they'll be returning in several seconds, so it might take some time until they come back to your aid.  Like the last game there are baskets with random power-ups or items for you to use, and as an added bonus there are chests which can only be unlocked with a key.  It's not like you'll need them much, as they're very optional, but you never know what contents may lie inside.  Oh, but you know what makes this game even more noticeably different than the first one?  Shops!

Yeah, there's something I've neglected to mention about Pocky & Rocky 2 up 'til now: it's less of an arcade title and more of a console one.  Gone is the amazingly arcade-like quality that dominated the first game and now it's been replaced by something a little less arcade-like.  It's still a partially linear game, except now in a few stages there are forks in the road (still leading to the same destination) as well as doors (locked and unlocked) to enter from and stores to buy items that will serve you well.  The items will have to be bought with gold, and seeing as it's mostly linear, you do not sell anything; then again, it's not like you're going to keep those forever anyway, but still it's not a bad idea if you can afford them.  In a sense, it's not a terrible idea to deviate this one action-adventure game from the last, except there is one thing that only bothers me a tad smidge about it all: it's structured somewhat similarly to The Legend of the Mystical Ninja!

What the hell, Natsume?  That game wasn't even good to begin with (as far as I'm concerned), and now you're borrowing Konami's formula for this one title?  >_<  It's one thing if there are enemies that are out to get you from any side, that's a given, but making rooms where you walk up to random individual(s) that talk to you (or give you items), giving your characters a choice as to where to go should there be a fork, and a shop where vital items are being sold?  Yeah, those instances do not feel familiar at all!  Oh, well, at least none of your characters walk at a snail's pace if all their power-ups have been diminished (hint,... hint,... Konami!) and thank God the core gameplay mechanics were held intact from the original Pocky & Rocky while incorporating some new set of actions.  In most of these stages you'll be fighting against a midboss, and once you reach the end you'll be fighting against the real boss; defeating it will grant you passage to the next stage.

"Ride 'em, 'crow!!!"
Visually it's about on par with the last game, only with lots of new areas for you to traverse, and honestly it looks very good.  The visual style is still colorful while brimming with charm, personality, a feeling of being in a differently cultured world, and sporting a good sense of variety in terms of detail.  =)  There is this one stage which takes place in a nightly setting in a big series of grassy fields, and even though it is mostly blue, silver, and white it looks breathtaking; I especially like how the grass covers and billows itself as the characters and enemies walk through them.  Another stage takes place in a white, snowy mountain, while another one might take place inside a volcano with the magma and molten ground below you, and they both look nice.  All the other areas look great too, and it's nice that the first area from the first game makes a comeback here for the optional training stage (albeit as a vertically looping area; we also get a cameo from the first game's boss).  =)

The character animations for both Pocky and Rocky were mostly lifted from the first game while simultaneously touching them up a bit as well as incorporating some new animation for other sequences.  The other companions look and animate well, and every companion has their own visuals for when their special attack come up; for Scarecrow's case the screen will become bluer/darker as the pillar of sickles is taking place, and for Rocky the screen temporarily turns red while the Tanuki statue stands on top of where you put it.  Each character has got new stunned and lost life animations, and they're pretty humorous to watch.  I also enjoy how there will be a fluorescent rainbow effect filling up the screen and then rapidly turns to white during Pocky's transformation sequences, as it's a bit nice.  The enemies are varied in terms of their kind, and most of them are a nod to creatures from Japanese cultures and folklore, only chibi-sized and quite quirky to boot.  Not so small are the (mid)bosses, which are big very (cartoonishly) detailed while maintaining an intimidating look and feel to them.  Some examples are an anthropomorphic wolf spirit that eventually turns into a regular wolf with several tails in the back, a cyclopic creature that will try to pummel you with a whip made out of beads, and a primary colored creature with a Super Saiyan hairstyle on a cloud that will try to attack you with bolts among a couple other things.

What's noticeably different this time around are the overall profile and beginning/ending cutscene art style.  You may recall that in the first game that the overall art looked something like this:
Each artist has their own trademark manga/anime style, and seeing as the first title was really anime-like in terms of profiles and cutscenes, it was pretty good to look at.  So it's a little jarring that through two games we transitioned from this...
to this.  And it's not by the same artist either, as it shows with these two diverse art styles; in fact, the very designer is not involved in anyway whatsoever, opting instead for something in the vein of something similar to Rumiko Takahashi's style of work (Ranma 1/2, InuYasha).  Pocky's hair is much longer and brighter than before, her eyes are different, and she looks as if she's got tiny fangs in her mouth (I know they're supposed to be teeth, but they look so similar).  I'm not saying it's a bad thing or anything, but I find it very fascinating how Pocky and Rocky's in-game character designs and animations are pretty equal while the profile shots are way different in both titles.  As for Rocky, he still looks good (especially in the title), but they have drawn a mouth on him in the profile and cutscenes.  Also, I think Rocky might be a wee addicted to rice cakes this time around, as evidenced in his eyes.  =|
Rocky: "Mmm, that's delicious Pocky.  May I have the rest?"
Pocky: "Sorry, my Nopino friend, but I've prepared these for the others.  You'll have to share when the harvest festival is in session."
Rocky: "...  May I have one more then?"
Pocky: "No, Rocky, what you had is just enough."
Rocky: "But I want more!!"
Pocky: "You just ate one!"
Rocky: "They're just so good; I need more.  Moooooooore!"
Pocky: "Rocky, you're not getting another one right now and that's that."
Rocky: "But-"
Pocky: "NO!!!!"
Rocky: ={

All joking aside, there's nothing inherently wrong with the new art style, for it's still charming and nice to look at.  =)  It's just that if you were to compare two games in the same series with profile art that differentiates from each other on both counts, you'd find yourself hardpressed to believe that they are in the same series canon.  The only gripe I personally have is that there aren't as many profile/anime/manga cutscenes as I would have liked for this installment; in the first game there were profile and anime cutscenes in the title, serving as an interlude between stages, when you have to choose your character, after receiving a game over, in the options screen, and after you beat the game.  In here, the only times you'll see anime/manga profiles and artwork are in the title, the introductory cutscene, the screen where you choose which companion you want to take with you, in the options screen, after receiving a game over, and during the ending.  Sure, there are moments when new characters that join you and merchants in shops will have profiles, but they're small and relatively shortlived.  The inbetween cutscenes are now replaced by sequences of in-game visuals and design with Pocky doing various things (speaking of something else that reminds of me Konami's title); another reason "Pocky & Rocky 2" may not have been aptly chosen title: Rocky is not seen in any of the inbetween cutscenes!  But, moving past that; visuals are really good, and the cutscenes that were used aren't bad in the least... it just doesn't feel the same as before.

Pocky, under the guise of Rocky, fighting
against a snow witch
The soundtrack is good, but in my opinion not quite as good as the first game's, making this yet another addition to the "first sequel regardless of being an improvement or not overall having an inferior soundtrack to that of its original predecessor" category; though by the end of the day it all revolves around personal preference.  To each their own.  =)  The music is a mixture of electric beats with traditionally oriental-sounding Japanese music, which really befits all these respective stages, incorporating a really good sense of atmosphere.   One of the best songs, and my personal favorite, takes place in the third stage in the October Fields, and what's nice about it is how slow and ambient it is until eventually it builds up to a good-sounding finale, bringing out an adventurous feel.  The themes for the water, snow, and fire stages sound good, and the jingle that plays when you're in the store is cute but repetitive.  The other themes are good too, like some of the regular (mid)boss themes, but the final boss theme?  Ehhh!  <=|  I also like the ending and credits theme, even how the latter is a slight remix of the previous title's credits theme, as it's very nice.  A lot of the sound effects were lifted from the original Pocky & Rocky, and this time there a few new ones, like the transformation spells and soundbytes for when Pocky attacks, gets damaged, and when she utters the word "magic".  =)

Okay, so now it's time to talk about its difficulty.  The first Pocky & Rocky was a game that gradually got harder as you went along, and even in the easiest difficulty it kept you really busy.  This follow-up has got moments of challenge, and it's got three difficulty settings, except it's not quite as challenging as before.  Conversely, Pocky & Rocky 2 is a lot more manageable by comparison, and considering that Natsume developed it, I find it rather shocking that the difficulty was considerably toned down from game number one.  The enemies will still come about as you move along, and moving at a steady pace is still the requirement in order to prolong survival, not to mention you have to carefully maneuver your character a lot.  However, due to the slightly different structure, there are aspects that help contribute to the alleviation of the difficulty.  The extra armor and rabbit ears can help you survive a little longer, and the more power you get the stronger the projectiles will be; getting hit will deprive you one by one of power-ups and/or armor until your attacks are not quite as potent.  Of course, there will be times when you must alternate between shooting projectiles and moments where you most deflect enemy projectiles along the way.  Oh, and you don't have to beat it in one sitting necessarily, since there is a password system; however it's only shown if you get a game over, but luckily it's short and to the point.  =)

This battle on top of Gordon's head is nice,
but it's nowhere near as great or heart-
pounding as the one on top of Flammie's in
Seiken Densetsu 3  =)
The difference also lies in its design; the first one was completely linear with an arcade-like difficulty, while this one was mostly linear but had moments where you had to make different routes, thereby lessening the arcade feel.  Another thing that separates the two: reliance on special moves.  What did you have to rely on the most in the first game?  Magic.  Okay,... what do you have to rely on here?  Your companion!  It doesn't matter who you choose to accompany you, for with the exception of two stages, you need them!  In the first game unless you had two players your character was on their own, while here the second character will accompany you in your travels.  No matter how many times the other character gets hit and disappears, you'll still be around, but you'll have to wait until they pop right back.  During the (mid)boss fights you'll often find yourself launching your friend onto them in order to dish out the most hits; here's the drawback to the special techniques: they remain on one big part of the screen, and unless said (mid)boss gets there they won't sustain any damage.  They're still manageable and require careful maneuverability and tactics to take them down, but boy do the companions make it easy; that's one of the reasons Pocky & Rocky 2 is more manageable than the first Pocky & Rocky.

Another reason is because it's got a password system, which means it doesn't necessarily have to be beaten in one sitting.  The enemies attack you and throw projectiles at you, but it doesn't really feel as hectic or as fast as the original.  There are some differences between the settings, in particular the boss fights and the fact that you may or may not have to put up with lots of projectiles to deflect.  The final boss is quite easy; at least, easy enough that you'll never get a game over if you follow his strategy long enough and score a big amount of points (there's a detail that helps a lot with the score, but I won't give away what that is).  There's also a timer, but let's be honest, are you going to worry about time when the enemies and bosses give you something else to worry about?  The shops and different paths also make it a little easier, if not for the fact that Natsume took Konami's Ganbare Goemon approach (and that's a bad thing, in my humble opinion).  =(

Plot-wise, yeeeeeah, let’s talk about that. <=|  The plot is simple enough, where you must save someone of great importance. Here is what I take issue with: its translation and the way it was handled. The first Pocky & Rocky may not have been perfectly translated, but it was better handled there than it was here! A lot of the dialogue sounds so simplistic and sometimes so bad, with lines such as “I am Pocky.”-“So you are Pocky, I am sure that we will meet again.”, “You came here to rescue Princess Luna, didn’t you? Well, defeat me first.”, “Before you talk to me, you better think about who yoou are talking to. If you don’t understand, you are not worthy to be alive.”, et al. Every time someone asks who Pocky is, she always answers the same way; be flexible! >.< There are moments when the translation just feels off, and the words pop up slowly (letter by letter). In the first game the cutscenes’ dialogue came at a steady pace, but here it is painfully slow by comparison. In Pocky & Rocky 2’s cutscenes the words come up slowly, and when it comes to the next row of words it takes its time to get there; there is even one solitary moment where for some reason it is a lot slower than everything else. What is the point?! Oh, well, at least when it comes to fighting the bosses you can speed up the text by holding the Y button; and fortunately you can skip the cutscenes by pressing Start.

The plot itself is a really big step down from the first game, in my opinion, and I'm sorry I have to say that but it's true.  Princess Luna gets kidnapped.  Okay, what's next?  You get to Princess Luna, only for her to get kidnapped again.  Fine, whatever.  Impy mentioned that it was under the orders of the "master".  Who is the "master", and why would he ask for the princess to be kidnapped?  You can have it anyway you want for the former, but once you find out near the end of the game the reason for the latter, it's enough to have one groan for it's such a low root for motivation.  I'm not saying that motivations like the one found here have never once popped up before (for posterity I'm not revealing what it is), but it is just weak; in fact it's so weak that it makes the villainess Maleficent Mizrabel from Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse wreaking havoc once more in Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion solely because everyone started forgetting about her for over a couple of decades seem legitimate by comparison (yet it doesn't make sense considering the earlier game's conclusion).  It just feels shallow a reason to do all this.  The first game's translation and dialogue was a joy to read, while in here it's a little less fun.

The stakes also don't feel quite as high as before.  In the original you absolutely had to defeat the main villain otherwise the world would turn to the dark side; now with that said,... what exactly were you fighting for here?  It's to save Princess Luna of course, but otherwise, how exactly does it affect anything?  The world didn't feel like it was in danger, even as you got a little farther; all you to worry about was a superficially upset character.  That doesn't make things suspenseful, it just makes things feel anything but.  There were even few plot points that served no purpose, like Impy implying that after the last battle they would combat each other again only to never happen or be referenced again.  I had a bit of a hard time swallowing this plot, and for a lot of games I'm mostly lenient when it comes to the story for lighthearted games, but it was just hard here.

Nothing like a refreshing water-filled locale  =)
I've said all this negative stuff about the game, and frankly these problems are very minor since they are issues I personally have with Pocky & Rocky 2 (and it might not bother others as much as it did me), but I just want to make it perfectly clear that: I like this game!  =)  I really do!  Yeah its translation and plot is not as stellar as the last game's, it was significantly less challenging, and it deviated so much from the arcade-like quality that defined the previous Pocky & Rocky even going so far as to utilize the Ganbare Goemon approach (which was a big mistake, and I honestly wish they didn't do that), I found this sequel to be very fun.  The controls are still great, especially the new ones that were implemented here, and I'm glad that the gameplay was held mostly intact from before.  The visuals and sound are really good, the cutscenes and profile shots look good, and there is still some charm that was present from before.  Yeah the title is a bit misleading, in that it's all Pocky but not necessarily all Rocky too (unless you want it that way), and that the fact that two characters were present at once alleviated a bit of challenge, however it's a very solid sequel.  It's sort of like what World of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck is to Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse, in that it is as much of a step forward as it is a step back; the original Pocky & Rocky felt very self-contained, and while I'm not saying this sequel was unnecessary, it's proven to be a competent entry overall.  =)

While the first game did good enough to warrant Pocky & Rocky 2, this follow-up sadly didn't get as much recognition from the get-go.  While, like the previous game, it would attain a cult following in the following years, it's flown past gamers' radars often and didn't sell quite as much.  Maybe that explains the high price range in gaming and online stores nowadays?  Give the first game some credit, it's very affordable by comparison (I bought it at 3D Games for $30-something, and it was still a decent price).  Interestingly enough, Pocky & Rocky 2 got released again for the Super Famicom in 1998 as a Nintendo Power edition, and after having tried to look up that version and what might possibly be different, I surprisingly had a hard time finding anything about it; so I'll just presume it was re-released for the sake of being re-released.  Not even the first game was re-released anywhere, so it's pretty notable.  And that's why I waited until Christmas of '12 to play this game, because I didn't want to shell out a lot of money for it.  In the end, I'm glad I played it, and I recommend for those that liked the original and those that like all things quirky.  =)  Just don't expect it to be as hard and decently plotted as the previous game.

It's time to tackle Pocky & Rocky with Becky for the Game Boy Advance next!  We'll see how it fares in comparison and whether or not it lives up to the two games in the series.  I mean, after all, when has Natsume ever let us gamers down?  *looks abruptly to the side*  What?  They didn't make that one, they only published it for the American region?  And it's clamored to be the black sheep in the series?  =|  ...  Sounds like it's going to be a real fun time...............  I hope.
8.5/10
P.S.: By all accounts I should give this game an 8 since it had a Ganbare Goemon approach and had a weaker plot than the last game, buuuuut it at least was fun and had all the great gameplay, spirit, quirkiness, and charm that dominated the first Pocky & Rocky and more, so the score I gave in the end is completely justified.  =)
P.S. 2: As opposed to Princess Luna (the alicorn, not the game princess), I still find it mindboggling that between the first two seasons Princess Celestia's sister underwent a major redesign in Friendship is Magic; thereby currently looking a lot different than she did when she was introduced in the two-parter premier.
P.S. 3: Rocky only appears in the beginning and ending cutscenes, which I suppose is better than Rocky not making an appearance at all during any cutscenes.
P.S. 4: The EarthBound news Print Screen grabbed from the NintendoLife website.
P.S. 5: To each their own.
P.S. 6: ... I owe readers my thoughts on The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, don't I?  =(
P.S. 7: Part of me feels I didn't get enough screenshots, but I certainly hope that the amount I had here is sufficient enough.
P.S. 8: Oh, and just for fun:
Rocky: "Help, Pocky, help!!!  I can't swim!  Help!!"
Pocky: "Just get up!  It's not that deep!"
Gamer: *shrugs*

Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and I hope you have a great day and summer!  Take care!  =)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Impressions: Seiken Densetsu 3 (SFC)

Received: June 15th, 2013 / Written: July 7th-11th, 2013
Alternate Title: Secret of Mana 2 [INT]
Year: 1995 | Developed and Published by: SquareSoft [|O|]

This game will forever remain a classic, but
how does the "sequel" fare in comparison?
When you think about it, it's very amazing how far SquareSoft (currently known as Square-Enix since Enix merged with them in 2003) has gone since its halcyon days.  Since their breakthrough hit Final Fantasy way back on the Famicom/NES, which is the very title that saved them from extinction after an unfortunate series of poorly received titles, this company has been for the most part dominating the world as far as turn-based RPGs were concerned.  That title did well enough to garner a full-fledged series, but it wasn't the only series that they have been working on since then.  Among the Final Fantasy games they have also crafted the SaGa... um, saga (with entries such as The Final Fantasy Legend, Romancing SaGa, and SaGa Frontier to name a few) and as for the other series, they are none other than the video game series known as Mana.  =)

Mana began life on the original Game Boy as Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden in 1991, which eventually got released in the West as Final Fantasy Adventure and Mystic Quest in America and Europe respectively.  Naturally it did well enough and got positive praise, so SquareSoft decided to take it to the next level by releasing it for the Super Famicom/Super NES in 1993.  That sequel was Seiken Densetsu 2, or as many like to refer it to by, Secret of Mana, which is the title that picked up traction for the series (which coincidentally is likened to the equivalent of an action-oriented version of Final Fantasy, minus the ATB system of course).  Secret of Mana did incredibly well and received the most positive of acclaim, and for good reason.  The storyline was enriching (despite a month's worth of translation by Ted Woolsey), the gameplay was great, the game could be played up to three players, the level of atmosphere was fantastic, Hiroki Kikuta's soundtrack simply rocked, the final boss fight was epic, and it introduced the ring menu system which would be used throughout the series as a result.  It was re-released for the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console in 2008 and even remade for the iPhone in 2010; I'm not even certain how a touch screen version of the game would even work, but it sounds oddly fascinating.  Unfortunately it's one of those titles that falls in the trope where it's enamored by critics but has left the gaming audience polarized (sort of like Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars and Kirby's Epic Yarn).  Eh, go figure, I really like it and it's one of my top favorite A-RPGs of all time, so I guess that makes me a critic.   ...wait.  =/

This battle was truly dramatic!
Once SquareSoft saw that it did well, they figured that Nintendo's 16-bit power machine could handle at least one more Mana game, so a sequel was in the works!  And the sequel was released a couple years later... in Japan, that is.  =(  Due to various issues and reasons, the sequel that many call Secret of Mana 2 was never released in the West officially, which meant that for most gamers they either played it via emulation or landed themselves a repro cart with a full translation.  Since I don't do either--although the latter does sound nice its fairly expensive for my tastes--it wouldn't be until the Summer of 2013 that I would import the Japanese cart of Seiken Densetsu 3 (thank you, Retro Duo, you've made it all possible).  So, how does the third Mana title fare both by comparison and as a standalone?  You'd be quite surprised.  =D
I only ordered the cart, so I don't own the manual and the box.  Wow, look at the title's structure, look at that great-looking kanji, look at that generically blue background in the cart art.  It really makes you wonder; granted, I looked up the cover and there's more occurring on there, but you get the idea.  All right, time to share my impressions for my sixteenth Super Famicom cart!  =)

Choose your characters!
The first thing I've noticed is that once you press Start you're brought to a screen with six characters to select from.  Unlike Secret of Mana where the three characters were pre-chosen for you every single time, you have the option to personally choose which of the three out of the six key characters you want in your party.  Okay, already this follow-up has an edge over its predecessor, so what else is there?  Well, I looked up that depending on which character (same column characters have equal paths; i.e. Duran and Angela) you pick first you may find yourself heading to a different route later on than if you were to choose a different character.  Also, you may bout against a different set of three final bosses depending on who you choose; so basically who you choose will send you on one of three possible paths.  Oh so it's a "choose your adventure" kind of game?  Nice!  =D  Already it's sounding like it's a better title than the previous Mana.  I've only played through Seiken Densetsu 3 once, so I can only comment from what I've experienced.  For my first playthrough I've chosen in the order of my choice Kevin, Duran, and Angela; I've yet to play as Charlotte, Reisz, and Hawkeye.

What a beautiful misty forest this is
Like the last game, Seiken Densetsu 3 is an action-oriented RPG with a party of three.  For the most part the gameplay structure is similar, though I have noticed that it's really more polished this time around.  Maneuverability is really good, and you can run simply by holding down the B button; great touch.  What's very nice is how even if your allies get stuck behind a rock or other item, you can still move about even though they are offscreen; thank you, SquareSoft!  To choose between the characters just press the Select button to select which character you personally wish to take control as, and this time the power gauge is different.  No longer do you have to hold down the attack button until it fills up and flashes wildly; for this iteration all that is required is to attack enemies.  For each hit that you land on them each bar in the gauge will fill up, and once it flashes (by the end of the game there will be three different portion lengths) you can hold or press down the B button to do a tech or combo attack to use it up.  Once you use it up, you'll have to start the process over again should you want to try again.  The bigger the gauge the more potent the special attack will be.  =)

Fighting familiar Mana baddies on the
yellow brick road to Oz
But you must be wondering: is the ring menu system here?  Yes, it is, and it's put to good use.  With the X button you can access this wonderfully inventive and intuitive system, and to shift over to any of the other two allies' ring menus just press either of the shoulder buttons.  =)  Each character, while carrying the same amount of items, all have a different set of magic which they can use to either heal themselves, cure diseases or curses, use it to make themselves stronger, or even conjure them to attack the enemies (most can attack all at once).  That's pretty sweet, but as is the case with most games in the genre using the magic will decrease your MP, so only use them when you have to.

The best part about this game?  You can now carry up to nine of each item for your menu!  Thank you, SquareSoft, you have no idea how helpful that is.  As much as I love Secret of Mana, I have to confess that the four-per-item policy felt a little restricted, so it's nice to see that you can carry more here.  Not impressive enough, well how's this then?  If you manage to collect more than nine of the same item, they'll be going to the storage system.  That's right, a storage system, where you can put items that you no longer require and can store up to ninety-nine of the same item in the pack.  How sweet is that?  =D  You can access the storage with the Start button, and at this point you can either trade the item you don't need for something you do need or you can fill up the items you do have in the ring up to nine.  You only have room for ten kinds of items which you can carry at a quantity of nine, so bear this in mind.

Enemies can be fought at night as well as day
On a visual level Seiken Densetsu 3 is absolutely beautiful to look at.  =)  The areas are more detailed this time around, the colors are well-chosen, and most of the areas have a unique look and feel to them.  Every area looks atmospheric, and I enjoy the little touches like flowers or grass gently being blown by the breeze of the wind, and they're well-designed areas too; like grasslands, cliffs, mountains, misty forests, forests with a series of flowers that shine brightly at night, snowfields, deserts, castles, and more.  Another neat touch is how many of these areas (mostly outside) have some shade into them, and what's cool is how if a character or enemy steps in that spot they'll blend to that surrounding and become darker.  That's awesome!  =D  I like how it lends the game a really good sense of atmosphere, kind of in a similar way that Natsume's first Pocky & Rocky did it.  The areas are wonderful to look at, and they must be seen to believed.

That giant ghoul sure looks happy  {=|
Oh, but you know what's even better?  Day and night!  Yes, as time passes by the day will gradually turn to night and vice versa, with the sunsets and sunrises in-between.  In the inns you can even decide to sleep 'til day or 'til night, and the great thing about it all is how the characters and enemies blend well with the surroundings, especially when it comes to the transportation sequences.  You know, I really love that touch; it was done very nicely in games like Drakkhen and the first two Breath of Fire RPGs, but I really love how SquareSoft went the extra mile with this game!  Kudos!  =)  The characters have got very good profiles that are well-drawn that will change in the course of the game, even though I couldn't help but feel that they were a little bright in certain spots.

Such an unusual creature has never been
witnessed before
Speaking of the characters, they've been rendered very well.  Each of them has got their own character traits and personality, plus all of them have really fluid walking and brisk running animations.  =)  Also, as was the case in Secret of Mana, they do express their emotions from time to time.  The NPC look and animate nicely, the enemies look lighthearted yet intimidating as usual (with regulars like the rabites, fish with harpoons, and little devils alongside newcomers like the desert rhinocerous/turtle amalgam and mysterious magical spheres with eyeballs), and the Mana spirits look very exceptional this time around.

The overall highlight, however, are the bosses.  As great as Secret of Mana was, one of my complaints was that many of its bosses looked the same; not the case here.  =)  Each boss looks different than the last, and their various designs range from great to spectacular; some designs might be cartoony, but most designs try to look as realistic yet colorful at the same time.  Take for example a giant monster practically made solely by flames, another being a wall boss that constantly summons two Zero enemies to try to take you down, or how about a towering behemoth trying to pummel you whilst holding on to the very top of a tower?  There's more than that, but they look and animate wonderfully well, and some of them look effectively creepy and might make you feel nervous.  <=O

Normally I like ninjas but these two I could
not stand!  >=(
Secret of Mana had a decent enough amount of challenge, but it's not a game I considered to be hard like some claim it to be.  Seiken Densetsu 3 ups the difficulty by a few notches, while at the same time trying not to be too difficult right away and waiting at least until the last third to provide the most challenge.  SquareSoft tries to maintain a balance all throughout, especially when your characters level up as you progress and the enemies get tougher as you go.  There are many amenities that this game benefits from in terms of challenge.  For starters, any time you enter a battlefield the enemies will appear with their level information (i.e. Level 7, Level 24) and name briefly popping up on the screen.  That's great, since you'll be told how strong the enemies are without having to second-guess as you go, also when they're down for the count you'll be shown how many experience points you've earned!  =)  As for the bosses, just make sure you're leveled up just enough and properly equip yourself, then you'll be just fine.  You can save in this game as well, either in inns or in front of statues; there are two kinds of statues, the silver ones just let you save and the gold ones refill both your HP and MP and after it will let you save.

The capacity to carry nine of each item really helps, and the storage system proves to be a real lifesaver if you've got plenty in stock and you've run out of them in your ring.  The only time you can access your character menu [ Y ] or the storage menu [ Start ] is when there are no enemies in sight, so if your item count in your ring is low bring it back to nine and if you really need to use it use it while you have a chance.  Especially if the next part of the area leads to a boss fight, you never know; also, save often.  If a boss or series of enemies is too tough for the moment, level up just a bit until you feel you can take them on with no problem.

Another asset for the difficulty: the class changes.  You've likely heard of this even if you haven't played it, but basically each of your characters can change classes two times, once when you reach Level 18 and the next after reaching Level 38.  The first change will require that you stand in front of a Mana stone, and as for the latter change you'll need a special item.  The reason this is important to know is because your characters' stats will slightly increase and they may do techs and magic that they could not do before the fact.  The first time you're given the option to choose Light and Dark, while the second time the item you present will be your character's new defining moment.  The final class combination will be ranging from Light Light, Light Dark, Dark Light, and Dark Dark.  It won't affect the ending or anything, but whatever destiny you choose for your character is up to you.

What's pretty nice this time around is how there are different modes of transportation.  You travel on foot, you travel by boat, you travel by cannonball; the third of which sounds just as implausible as it did in the last game, I mean seriously wouldn't that hurt just a bit?  =/  Oh, but there are a couple extra ways of getting around, which I'll happily go over in brief detail.  =)
The first of which is a fun method of transportation, and it usually gets summoned in the beach.  And once you're there use the flute in the ring menu as your character shows off their flute-playing skills that surpass even those from Illusion of Gaia.  You better watch your back, Will, 'cause you've got some real competition up against you!
After that happens you'll be given a ride by a big, cuddly, round giant turtle called Booskaboo (as far as I looked up), and riding on the water has never been more fun.  =)
Interestingly enough this turtle in particular has a duckbill and a pair of flippers as opposed to feet.  Huh!  Must be some species of animal I've never heard of.

But of course what's a Mana game without a chance to ride the greatest mode of transportation of all time Flammie?
That's right!  That wonderful white-coated, yellow-haired, four-winged creature of awesome has returned once again, and he's a lot better than ever!  =D  Once summoned via the Roll Drum/Wind Drum (whatever you wish to name it) he'll come pick you up and let you soar to great heights.  But it doesn't end there!  You can fly as high up as you can or you can soar while very close to the planet's surface, and boy can he fly!  Try flying very close to the ground, it's an amazing experience and you can almost feel the breeze as you whoosh throughout Mana.  =)  It's even possible to view from third-person or from a bird's eye view with the shoulder buttons, but the best part about it all?  The total inability to get lost!!!  It's true, and Seiken Densetsu 3 really benefits from that.

Now as much as loved flying on Flammie back in Secret of Mana, I often had a tendency to get lost while I was airborne, so as a result I had to rely on looking at a map in another screen or hope that I land in my proper destination.  It is much more accessible here, but what's great about this game is how any time you're in transportation mode (save for the Holyland) there are couple maps in the upper corners of the screen, with the left one showing the whole world while the right one gives you a closer look at which portion of the world you're at.  They're very helpful and serve you very well.  On top of that, to make things even better, there are flashing dots that signal where you're supposed to be headed next, which is great, since it reduces all possibilities of getting hopelessly lost, and as a result it's largely easy to follow, even if it is all in Japanese.  Once again, kudos, Square!  =)

There is even a single battle as you fly on top of Flammie's head, it is so awesome in so many ways than one.  It's even viewed in two different perspectives, and it was so great that I wish I got screen captures of that while I had the chance.  It's just incredible!
 
In the Manaverse, everything's better with Flammie!  =D

So right now it sounds like SquareSoft has made a flawless sequel to a very great game, and it also sounds like they fixed every grievance that was found in Secret of Mana, right?  Of all the things that this iteration improved upon, I find it disappointing that the soundtrack wasn't one of them.  If you haven't heard that game's music, I recommend you give it a listen, as it's really quite good.  Once more the soundtrack was composed Hiroki Kikuta, and the music from this game suffers from a similar issue that was evident in ActRaiser 2's score.  Both were done by the same composer, they tried to improve upon the predecessor's music, they tried to add some more orchestration to it all, they tried to make it as atmospheric as much as they could, but ultimately all they ended up doing is make the previous title's soundtrack superior in and out of comparison.  Though that's not to say that Seiken Densetsu 3's music is bad (for the most part), and unlike ActRaiser 2's case, it's actually decently good.  Unlike Secret of Mana's music, the majority of the songs I feel work best when heard in context.  Due to the fact that it's not as easy to feel invested in the game's music (even though it's easy to get invested in the game itself), at first I thought "Okay, it's a big step down, even for SquareSoft standards" but the more I played the more I got to appreciate what was here (the good stuff at least) and many of the songs grew on me.

You better hope it doesn't get all angry once
he comes back to the upper surface!  D=
There are various songs that I like though, like the introduction theme, I think it really sets the tone for what's going to come.  Also, the piano sounds absolutely brilliant whenever it's used, particularly in this one charmingly jolly piano-driven melody taking place in the forest lit up by glowing flowers.  The theme for when you ride on Booskaboo is decent and is largely a fun number with the calypso and flutes playing in the background.  As ecstatic as Flammie's theme sounds, I love listening to it as I fly in the air, it really gets you in an adventurous mood even though there's this one great part that doesn't come out until after the third phase.  =)  And that's something that I've noticed with a lot of this game's songs, the first two phases sound exactly the same but once the third phase comes then it all sounds very different and gives a different edge until it loops back to phase one; and usually it takes around two to four minutes to get to phase three.  That's crazy!  There are many different boss themes throughout, which is great, since it lends the boss fights a big variety in the aural sense, and many of them don't sound too shabby.  And the individual town themes are nice to listen to as well.  The ending suite is good and the victory fanfare for after you defeat a boss is cute and can work as a fun number to dance to.

The reason it's hard to get invested in this game's music?  Well, the melodies are there, the instrumentation is good, the instrumentation is there, it just doesn't come up quite as strong due to how soft they sound.  Granted, they can work if you want to listen to music that isn't loud or rambunctious, but if you're in the mood for exciting action-packed music?  Yeah, you won't find a lot of that here, I'm afraid.  =(  The character select/file select theme is a weak song, and one of the castle themes sounds majestic but comes across as okay, to name two.  One of the boss themes that's heard during the last third I thought was a very odd choice, as I felt it to be a little out of place.  The obligatory sad theme, which doesn't sound too bad, I didn't find to be that effective; and it's probably due its low, subtle understated quality.  I feel bad for talking like this, considering the music is usually one of video games in general's highest quality and usually I feel highly for it.  For Seiken Densetsu 3's case, I felt about medium towards it.  A lot of what's there is good, there's no doubt that Hiroki Kikuta tried to outdo himself, but due to its quality it turned out to be a step down, but not too much of a step down as I initially thought.  The sound effects are very good, for many of them sound like they were lifted from the previous game or in some cases some from Chrono Trigger.  The healing sound is great, the individual magic spells emit great sound, and what's neat is that depending on the ground the characters walk on you'll hear different-sounding footsteps (i.e. in the snow you'll hear sloshing and in the desert you'll hear soft trudging).  I love that, it gives it personality.  =)

A lot of the bugs that were present in Secret of Mana were rectified and addressed, and what's nice is that despite one or two of its characters being stuck in a certain spot due to their low AI you can still roam around while they're offscreen, so it alleviates a lot of frustration in this regard; though you can still delegate control to one of the allies with the Select button.  The great thing about the allies though, is that they can automatically execute their techs when their gauge is up, so there's some fun to be had; they also attack the enemies too.  However, SquareSoft didn't make a bug-free game per se.  There are a few instances where characters, enemies, magic, and/or portions of the menu are behind an invisible foreground due to clipping issues, and it usually lasts until everyone is scattered or until all the enemies are gone.  Here's an example:
Thankfully there are only a few instances of it occurring, so luckily it's not something you have to worry about often.

When it comes to obtaining very important items, you have to make absolutely sure that there's an available space in the ring, for otherwise you won't get it and it won't automatically be placed in the storage.  I learned that the hard way with one of the earlier vital items.  >_<  Like its predecessor after a certain enemy has been vanquished they'll leave behind a chest, which may contain an item that you desire or an item that goes back to storage.  Some of them will just have the items to grab hold of, but Square decided to do something different.  There are chests that when opened will randomly ignite the wheel of traps, and unless the marker lands on "OK" the character that opened it will be hit with a trap that will have portions of damage sustained.  As a result of that I was very hesitant to open a lot of the chests so I could avoid the traps... except it turns out that items that may be very important for later on are placed inside chests, certain ones which are required for the last class change; thank goodness I realized that and thought of looking it up before it was too late (I knew I needed something, I just didn't realize what it was at the moment).

As you level up and progress your game the enemies do get tougher, and of course, that's to be expected in this genre.  There are some enemies I don't like though, like the werewolves near the end of the game that sometimes use a special attack that will wipe out most of your party members' HP, leaving you to heal your party as you combat it.  I thought their "cheap mandatory hits your character takes despite being stunned when it happens" tactic in the last game was total BS (thank God they don't use that here), but this is just worse and unacceptable!  >=(  I thought I hated the werewolf enemies before, but this has made me hate them even more; and that's surprising considering the only werewolf I actually do like is Kevin, who fights as a human by day but fights as a werewolf by night.

The main characters aren't the only ones that use tech attacks and cast magic, for the enemies and bosses can also do the same.  And speaking of the bosses, all of them require a certain pattern or powerful magic to be cast on them; make sure not to use a kind of magic that benefits for them, otherwise you'll be healing them by accident, so use the ones that don't do them good.  You'll also be dealing lots of damage to them should you execute plenty of high level tech attacks.  Here's the thing about the majority of the bosses: the amount of time it takes to beat them.  I don't know know if it's because you haven't reached the highest of levels yet, because the bosses have a crapload of HP (ranging from thousands to tens of thousands), or because the highest amount of damage your characters can deal to them are in the mid-to-late hundreds, but a lot of them take a very long time to vanquish.  Even when you're properly equipped, stocked, and leveled up it seems to be the case.  There were boss fights that lasted between fifteen and thirty minutes, if not even longer.  That's ridiculous!  C'mon, Alcahest as a whole never took this long to defeat in Alcahest!  I mean, it doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing or reduce the game's quality exponentially or anything, but it's just unusual and somewhat distracting.  =|

Nothing special here, I just wanted to show
off my party members' new duds  =)
But those are just minor issues and nitpicks of mine in what is otherwise an outstanding successor.  =)  I thought it was gripping and largely atmospheric, housing perhaps some of the most beautiful of non-prerendered visuals seen in Nintendo's 16-bit console.  The animations were improved, and I loved how most of what made Secret of Mana great was transitioned here with no problems, and in some cases even improves upon said classic.  The ring menu system is great as usual; even if it's only used when accessing your items, getting ready to cast magic, buying or selling items, and when you have to summon a Mana spirit to open a way (the menu for when you equip your characters is far different).  I liked that you could carry more items, in the ring and in the storage, I thought it was a great implementation.  The bosses looked great, and riding on Flammie and Booskaboo were very enjoyable while they lasted.  =)  Yeah, I'll admit that I was a tad disappointed in the soundtrack at first, but as I progressed a lot of what was there I began to appreciate; it's not quite the marvel that Secret of Mana's music was, but Seiken Densetsu 3 is mostly fun to listen to (but mostly in context to the game).

Remember how the anthropomorphic cat merchant Neko often wandered around and managed to show up in various places, often beating you to the punch?  Well,...
now his kin and/or brethren are at it.  Once the last third of the game starts these two will conveniently show up, one selling the armor while the other sells weapons.  These cat merchants must have psychic abilities to know exactly where you're going to show up.  =<

Even though a lot of its bosses take a long time to beat, they're fun to battle, and I have to say that I loved the day/night system, it really lends the Mana world some atmosphere.  =)  I think it's great how each character has their own strengths that make up for their weaknesses, as well as having character and personality that define their own charm.  Also, the emotional expressions look great.  Speaking of atmosphere, there was plenty of it around, and I liked how you could never get lost while riding on Flammie or Booskaboo, it really makes the experience fresh and rarely frustrating; another plus was that despite it being all in Japanese it was mostly easy to follow.  I beat the game with all my characters at Level 57, beat it in three weeks with the time of over forty-two hours (hooray, the magic Hitchcock number).  And I had a blast playing it, despite its few issues, and I like how it has got a lot of replay value due to how it's structured.  The final boss was intense yet it made me feel quite nervous, and I beat it on my first try; though I heard that since I chose the Kevin/Charlotte storyline I looked up that it's the easiest out of the final bosses in the different storylines.  I thought it was a really good battle, though I can't imagine how much more difficult the other two will be.  I guess I'll find out one of these days.  =)

Is it a perfect RPG?  No; that award goes to Tenchi Sōzō (Terranigma), in my humble opinion.  =)  As far as I'm concerned, Seiken Densetsu 3 is one of the top three best RPGs that America never played, next to the aforementioned Tenchi Sōzō and Ys IV: Mask of the Sun.  Sometimes I wish these games were released outside Japan during their heyday, because they're all such great and enjoyable RPGs.  Do I recommend it?  Hell yeah!  If you want to see the best the Mana series has got to offer, or for that matter, the best that SquareSoft has got to offer during the 16-bit days, then I recommend you import it (or, if you can afford it, purchase a repro cart).  Out of the three Mana titles that I played (one of them being Children of Mana), this is my overall favorite.  But if you want to hear my honest opinion, I think you'll find much more appreciation for this game if you've played Secret of Mana beforehand.  Enjoy!  =D

Even though I admit to not being a big SquareSoft fan (I'm more of a Quintet/Enix kind of person), I found their games (that I played) to be fun.  Having finished this game, it makes want to try another SquareSoft title!  It really excites me the possibilities that I could choose from.  *pulls out a list*  =D  In fact, I wonder which one I should tackle next?  Lord knows there are many good games to choose from!  *looks at list*
Uhhhhhhh *puts list away*, we'll see which one I pick in the future.  =|

My Impressions: 9.5/10
P.S.: In case anyone's wondering: yes, the Moogles do make an appearance here.  Santa and Rudolph don't make a cameo this time around.  =(
P.S. 2: Since I brought Children of Mana up, I figured I may as well share my basic feelings towards it in a nutshell: Expostion-Exposition-Exposition, Story-Story-Story, Dialogue-Dialogue-Dialogue, Action-Action-Action, rinse and repeat.  Any time your character swings a hammer towards an enemy they slide back and then ricochet off walls, and if they hit you then you'll be sliding back and ricocheting off walls.  I swear they should've called that one Pinball of Mana, it would've been much more appropriate.  I honestly thought it was repetitive and tedious.  Don't play Children of Mana unless you're a real Mana enthusiast.  =(
P.S. 3: Oh, my God, I own sixteen Super Famicom carts!  =O  I wonder if there's any more room in my video game cartridge drawers...
P.S. 4: I really need to review Illusion of Gaia one of these days.
P.S. 5: Did I mention how awesome Flammie is?  =)
P.S. 6: I sure have referenced ActRaiser 2 frequently very recently.  Will I stop any time soon?  NEVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!
P.S. 7: Since I own the Super Famicom cart, I experimented to see if it could be played with two players, and it can.  The second player controls the one whose profile is shown in the upper left corner.  However, I looked up that it can only be played up to two players, so no third player is required, unlike Secret of Mana.
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and I hope you have a great summer!  Take care!  =D