I don’t know what was in the water at Square Enix over the past few years, but I’m excited about it. The 8-bit and 16-bit Final Fantasy games can probably only be republished and / or recreated that often. We received localizations of classic games that I never thought we would see Romancing SaGa 2 and Romancing SaGa 3. We have seen the latest SaGa, SaGa Scarlet Grace, launch on new platforms and in new regions. Even the classic Game Boy games that started the SaGa series (unbeknownst to us in the West) have been reissued on the Nintendo Switch. And now the circle is coming full circle in a way. SaGa Frontier Remastered ($ 24.99) is bringing back the very first game in the series localized under its original title, hopefully to a warmer reception than last time.
What happened last time Well it’s complicated. First of all, SaGa Frontier is a SaGa game with everything that comes with it. It’s inherently a very, very weird series that players often confuse with esoteric rules and non-standard systems. SaGa Frontier was the seventh game in the series and as such was developed with the idea that players would have a basic understanding of the unusual nature that sets SaGa apart. It’s considerably more difficult to get involved with than almost any of its predecessors. Western players, of course, didn’t have that context. We missed the three Romancing SaGa games, and while the Game Boy games had their fans, they were also a little closer to a familiar JRPG structure.
The biggest problem for poor old SaGa Frontier is that it was the first SquareSoft JRPG to be released in the west after Final Fantasy 7. Something of a lightning rod for the genre in the west, this game attracted people who had never touched a console RPG before. As the “first” JRPGs, Final Fantasy 7 was a great one. An exciting story that shimmers (for the time) 3D graphics, loads of action-packed mini-games, generally forgiving difficulties, and easy-to-understand mechanics. When “second” JRPGs go, SaGa Frontier was … less than ideal. There are seven different protagonists (eight in Remastered, but we’ll come back to that), each with their own story and no instructions as to which one a player should start with. Some beautiful artwork, but decidedly simpler than Final Fantasy 7. There are difficulties everywhere, and even in some places where you can get stuck if you haven’t leveled properly beforehand. Bizarre, opaque mechanics from top to bottom.
Almost everyone who found their love for the genre through Final Fantasy 7 bounced hard off SaGa Frontier. The game received the usual SaGa treatment from the west. It was viewed as an annoying, confusing mess. Written as not worth the time or money. The black sheep in the SquareSoft PlayStation RPG catalog. To quote a review from that period, “a depressing misfire”. Over in Japan? It sold over a million copies, was the 15th best-selling game on the original PlayStation, and was loved. It was even included in the PlayStation Classic Mini Console in Japan. The perspective clearly influenced how people felt about the game. Where is SaGa Frontier now?
First, let’s examine what this remaster brings to the table since it is relatively extensive. The greatest thing is the inclusion of an eighth main character with his own plot. Fuse was supposed to be included in the original game, but had to be cut with another character due to time and space constraints. His scenario was a bit important as he would get in and out of the other characters’ stories and tie the stories together. Its implementation here is very different from that of other characters. He basically has his own route for each of the other seven characters so you have an alternate take on their stories. This helps concrete out the rest of the cast, and I suppose if there was a big purpose a new story could serve in a remaster, this is one of the better ones. Aside from Fuse, some minor content that was originally cut from some characters’ stories has been restored.
Other additions include graphical tweaks, turbo mode, improved equipment menus, and some real game changers like New Game +, a story recap to help you figure out what to do and the ability to run away from battles. New Game + makes it a lot easier to play through the game with all characters as you get more powerful with each further run for the next. Story recap can help direct a game that is rather aimless, and the ability to run away from battles can limit much of the combat. I caution you not to rely too much on these last two additions as they will leave you in poor shape for some of the game’s challenges. All of these improvements are welcome and result in a significantly better experience. SaGa Frontier Remastered is without question the best way to play this game.
Okay, but how about this game? Should you play it Is it brilliant or is it bad? Tell me man of the future! I’ll answer your questions with a couple of questions of my own. Have you ever played a SaGa game? Do you like that? Are you open to unconventional games? Are you good at frustrating games? Are you getting a kick out of learning complicated systems so you can break the game over your knee? If you meet me with a series of “yes” answers, go for it. This is your traffic jam. Eight characters, each of which gives you approximately ten hours of gameplay for a total of eighty hours Kawazu madness. The combat system and the way characters develop are familiar to anyone who has already played a SaGa game for a few rounds. In addition, this is an extremely experimental game in a series that is not known for playing it safe.
I like SaGa Frontier, but I’ve found that I like the curios more and more as I get older. I’ve played so many normal JRPGs. So many. When I get a big old one Kawazu banana cream cake Thrown in my face, it excites me rather than irritates me. It wasn’t always like this, but it is now. I like that I don’t know what’s going on right now. I enjoy browsing the mechanics to find out what works. I still don’t like being pegged into a nasty corner, and that happens in some places in SaGa Frontier, but I see it as a small price to pay for the more pleasant surprises that come with the irritation. You may not see things the way I do. I do not grant you that. I was you once. This game is expensive. Don’t buy it just because I’m jumping around like a hypercaffeinated squirrel. If you’ve tried a SaGa game before and didn’t like it, head to the mountains right away. There are SaGa games that can change your mind. This is not one of them.
I enjoy the now well-known SaGa systems that this game uses. Statistics rise the more I use them? For sure. Learning new moves by pure chance in the middle of a fight? Get me ready, friend. As for the presentation, I think the game looks really great, and to a certain extent always does. The music? Hoo boy don’t even make me walk Kenji Ito brought fire like he always does. I think the scenario system is a very cool concept, and while I’m not overly fond of every character (making loud sounds, go into the corner and think about what you’ve been doing), I like enough of the “The Free Scenario Setup is working. Each character’s story is short enough that the game as a whole feels like a collection of mini-RPGs, and I love the new character’s perspective on things. This game is a messy mess. But it’s my kind of messy mess. One of the characters is a superhero! What’s the matter with it? I love it. By the way, start with Emilia. Thank you later.
Should You Buy SaGa Frontier Remastered? I … I don’t know to be honest. It’s an immensely buggy game with so many rough edges that at times you feel like you’re juggling angry badgers covered in Captain Crunch. But there is a real stimulus, a method for its mess, and you can feel the heart that has flowed into it all, even the parts that don’t work. Especially the parts that don’t work. All I can really say is that if you have enjoyed a SaGa game in the past, you are in the right place to see what this game has to offer. If you want some weird RPG this could be your new obsession. If you’ve just played Final Fantasy 7 and want something like this, stop now. Stop your attack. Buy Final Fantasy 9 or something. SaGa Frontier Remastered, for all its tweaks, isn’t there for the approval of the masses. It wants to make some very good friends, even if it ticks off the rest of the room in the process. You could be one of those friends. The odds aren’t in your favor, but when did SaGa ever bother with the safe bet?
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