Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fornaldar SaGa

I started playing the DS version of SaGa 2 the other day. No, it's not out in the US yet, and I doubt it ever will be. But I am playing it anyway, via slow as heck emulation and a incomplete translation patch. But it's still playable, and thats all that matters. That won't stop me from rushing and getting it if and when it comes out, but like I said, I doubt thats going to happen.

Anyway, for those of you unfamiliar with the SaGa series (and yes that is how it's capitalized), allow me to give you a brief description. If the Final Fantasy series was Square's pretty boy poster child (which it is), the SaGa series is Square Enix's lethal secretive high-class assassin with a secret passion for art (and the Mana series is the lovable bouncy tree-hugging hippy child but thats another story).

To use a more crude way of putting it, the SaGa series is totality hardcore, and I don't just mean in difficulty, though many of the games are a lot more difficult then Final Fantasy games in some ways. I mean that, while Final Fantasy holds your hands and strings you along a linear series of events, SaGa basically just says "look, there is stuff to do, go do it". While Final Fantasy usually uses a very normal combat system and makes sure to explain everything, SaGa just usually dumps you in a system that is totality different then other RPGs and expects you to figure it out more or less on your own. While Final Fantasy wows you with FMV and graphical wonders, SaGa takes a more subtle approach. It is, of course, for these reasons many people hate it, but it is, of course, for the same reasons many people love it. I myself love it.

And since there are way too many "Final Fantasy Retrospective" things online and not enough SaGa ones, I think I will say a few things about each game in the series. And you get to read it! Aren't you lucky?

Number 0 - Final Fantasy 2 (the Japanese one):
You might be wondering what Final Fantasy 2 has to do with the SaGa series (but you probably aren't, because your skipping this blog post, you bastard). Well see Final Fantasy 2 was the first game by square to experiment with a system of leveling up that did not use actual levels. While most agree it was pretty much a failure, the basic idea behind it would feature heavily in the SaGa games. Thus I like to count Final Fantasy 2 as SaGa 0... even though it actually is quite different in tone and only vaguely resembles it in game play. but it's my list so pppft.

Number 1 - Makai Tōshi Sa·Ga/Final Fantasy Legend:
The first SaGa game was made as a quick but quirky little rpg for the Gameboy, but was a color update for a system that was never available in the US. It has a basic story. There is a tower that leads to heaven, so you and your party climb it. Then you kill god with a saw. Then they go home. The end. Gameplay wise, you can choose a party of humans, mutants (also called espers), and monsters. Humans need to buy level up items, mutants/espers level up their stats randomly and can learn spells and such randomly as well, and Monsters eat meat of other monsters they defeat to change forms. YUM! Each item that can be equipped has a use counter that will decrease each time you use it, and after it is gone the item will break. One interesting feature is every party member has 4 or so hearts that decrease every time they die in battle, and once they run out they are dead forever (but you can always pick up replacements for most of them) This feature would be taken out for the next few games but come back in another form later. Overall, the first game is crude and not very polished, but it is interesting and forms a good solid base to build on. The biggest downside is monsters are too random and not very useful, because each form has set stats and abilities and you can only change between them semi-randomly if you eat meat, though there is a progression of tiers.

Number 2 - Sa・Ga2: Hihō Densetsu​/Final Fantasy Legend 2:
Still for the Gameboy, but recently got a DS remake that I am playing (in case you forgot). This time there are 77 pieces of a goddess statue that could give people god-like powers, and your father suddenly hands you one, jumps out the window, and vanishes for years. You grow up and decide to go find his sorry ass, and your class mates help. Gameplay wise, it's not that different form the first, but more polished, and in my opinion more fun. The major changes are that there is no stat-up items to buy for humans, instead making them level up semi-randomly like the mutants/espers, but faster and without the funky powers. Also now there is a robot player class that get stronger depending on what items you equip on them. The hearts however are gone and there is no permanent death. Also in the DS port I noticed that you actually could sometimes keep ability form other monsters which made them more useful. I never noticed this in the gameboy version so I think it was added to the port. This is probably my favorite of the gameboy SaGa games.

Number 3 - Jikuu no Hasha ~ Sa・Ga 3/Final Fantasy Legend 3:
The last of the gameboy ones. I admit I have mixed feelings about this game. On the one hand, it's story and setting is pretty interesting. In involves this thing that is flooding the past to destroy the future or some such thing and you have to do something or another to get somewhere and travel though time on a cool ass-spaceship. Said cool-ass space ship is the coolest part of the game really. It has tuns of upgrades, functions, and even weapons. But sadly, rather then stick with the interesting gameplay of the last two games, they scraped the whole thing and you instead get a generic level/experience system and normal equipment. Instead of having monster and robot party members you can install robot parts or eat meat to transform your human/mutant characters into them, but unfortunately the already clunky transformation method is even more clunky here, as you may randomly change at level up and lose any cool powers, and robot parts do the same thing. One sort of nice thing is you can equip spells for each party member regardless of form or race, which is nice, but kinda seems to easy.

Number 4 - Romancing SaGa:
The first game for the SNES, and it was also remade for the PS2. I am not sure how faithful the PS2 ports gameplay is to the SNES version because it takes a lot of ideas form the later SaGa games. Regardless, this game first introduced the "glimmers" or "sparks" that would teach party members new commands and abilities during the heat of combat. However gone are the different races or many of the quirky random sci-fi elements form the previous games. Now the setting is normal boring everyday fantasy, and there is little variety to the characters or the setting. The story has to do with an evil god, and some gems, and stuff, but honestly it's less about the main plot and more about the side-quests anyway. This also marked the point where your characters were no longer set from the start of the game, you would instead have to find people to join your party and quite a few of them could be hidden though out the world and there were many to choose from with there own personalty and skills, though anyone could more or less train in anything else.

Number 5 - Romancing SaGa 2:
The second SNES SaGa game. This one is probably the most interesting setup wise. Instead of playing a normal adventuring party of characters, you play a series of kings or queens who rule a little nation, and you spend most of the time expanding your territory by doing quests and slaying monsters. However, after a while, or if you somehow die, you pass on your skills and abilities to a new generation. The hearts form the first game return in the form of "Life Points" which do down if you get knocked out, or if you are damaged while knocked out. You cannot restore these except by very expensive and rare potions, and your party members die forever if you run out as in the first game. However, like the first game you can always replace them. Like Romancing SaGa you have to find most of your new party members which are more generic classes then actual characters. You also learn attacks for weapons and can "master" them where they become available to the next generation for free. All and all it's a very interesting experience, but the game is still the only one without ANY way of playing it in English. Oh well. I managed to get sorta far anyway just by winging it.

Number 6 - Romancing SaGa 3:
The last and many people think the best of the SaGa games on the SNES, and while I have a soft spot in my heart for Romancing SaGa 2, it's hard to beat this one. Gameplay wise, it is a more refined version of concepts done in Romancing SaGa and Romancing SaGa 2 with some extra twists and a whole lot of refinement. It doesn't have the generation system Romancing SaGa 2 did, but it is a good experience anyway and probably has more direction and plot focus, while still letting you wonder around doing things as you want. The story has to do with a death ellipse that kills every newborn child except one every 200 or so years, and that one child has always grown up to shape history. It has been 16 or so years since the last one and people are waiting for the child to appear. And so on and so forth. This time, it's more the characters then the side quests that make the story worthwhile. Each one has it's own little quest to do, and they all sort of meet up at the end. It still has the Life Points but now you can recover them at the inn, and should a character die, there may be a way to revive them, but I am not sure of the details of it.

Lucky Number 7 - SaGa Frontier:
The first on the playstation, and the best of the series. Period. Why? Ever since Romancing SaGa, there has been no monsters or robots or mutants. Now there are monsters and robots and... mystics? Well they are SORT OF the same thing. SaGa Frontier can only be described as taking the whole series, from the lovable gameboy ones with their strange sci-fi/fantasy mix and multible races, to the snes ones and their refined gameplay and storyline, and mashing them all together. Them maybe adding some Final Fantasy 7 on top of that. Also, monsters now absorb skills and shift based on what skills they have, making them a lot more useful. SaGa Frontier also features seven different storylines told from a different main character's perspective. To be fair Romancing SaGa and Romancing SaGa 3 also sort of did this, but all the story lines only really differed in the introduction as far as I know. In SaGa Frontier, they all have their own quests, different party members that can be picked up, and end boss. To be fair, two of the seven main character's quests are almost entirely sidequests that anyone can do with a end quest at the end, but most of the others have their own tasks to do. The one complaint I have with this game is the graphics often look washed out or low-res compared to other playstation games.

Number 8 - SaGa Frontier 2:
the second one on the playstation. Really this should have been called Romancing SaGa 4, becuase thats almost exactly what it is. Then again SaGa Frontier was going to be called Romancing SaGa 4 at one point when it feels more like SaGa 4. Anyway SaGa Frontier 2 is a huge disappointment to me. Once again, they did away with the extra races. Once again the setting is mostly generic fantasy. Although now it uses wonderfully painted watercolors for everything. The biggest offense of this game is instead of non-linear exploration, you basically go from scenario to scenario in a long continuous narrative with set parties. It does let you somewhat visit a few places in between this little "history lesson" with the last party you used, but it is quite limited in the opportunity to do so, which also makes the end of a game incredibly hard because you can't really build up very much if you rush into things. Still it's not the worst game in the world, it's just incredibly bland compared to SaGa Frontier.

Number 9 - Unlimited Saga:
For the PS2 and the last SaGa game that has been made, not including remakes. Unlimited Saga is unlike any of the other SaGa games, or indeed unlike most any other RPG. Instead of a normal RPG set up of a character moving on a map, the game plays more like a mix between a board game and a table top RPG. You move a miniature figure along the map space by space, and on each space there can be monsters, treasure, and/or traps. You also have many skills you can use to pick locks, disarm traps, and other things. Instead of dice rolls you use slot machine like reels for determining if you succeed or fail at an action. Combat also uses reels, and some abilities you learn take slots on them. Oddly enough, in this game your Life Points are your only real life and your HP is more like stamina, which can be annoying as enemies work the same way, and you can hit enemies over and over but unless you are lucky enough to hit a LP point or two they will never die. Level ups are done by giving you panels after quests, but the problem is, they are more or less random and you have to use them even if you have to get rid of good ones to do it. Even so, I liked the game. It was different and very much felt like a tabletop game and not a video game. Still it could have been better.

I guess I could have talked more about graphics and sound, or gone in more detail about gameplay, but screw it, I am tired.


  1. I can't get into modern RPGs. They're too... eh. I can't even describe what I dislike about them. I can't even say I really dislike them, just that I'd never play them due to a lack of them looking interesting at all. Maybe it's because modern games overfocus on delivering a narrative rather than just letting a player play. The way you described the SaGa series, it seems to be trying to avert that, but I'd have to play them myself to see, rather than just having them described to me.

  2. They do focus less on narrative to be sure. Of them all only a fair bit of SaGa Frontier and small parts of Romancing SaGa 3 actually put that much effort into narrative the way most RPGs do. But that may be as much as a downside as an upside. Without that much narrative to drive the game, it ends up felling often too grindtastic and aimless.

    The difference is, combat and exploration is actually fairly fun on it's own and not tied down to the story. There are tons of side-quests and such, but even going to random places and finding stuff is often rewarding. Though thinking about it this is more true with the later ones as the gameboy games are more linear in where you can go and when.

    Mostly I like it because it's got interesting gameplay mechanics that are unlike most any other rpg.