Genre: Role-Playing Game
I feel like I’ve lamented before about how we in the States have been fortunate. We get plenty of games that other countries beg for, but it wasn’t always that way. A lot of classics from Japan didn’t make it over here, and they are slowly starting to trickle in. Plenty of them are coming through their publishers, partly because of the desire to fill in historical blanks and partially because of the fans demanding it. In the case of Romancing SaGa, we got our wishes eventually, though not exactly in the way that purists were looking for.
While in 2005, we saw a stylized remake of Romancing Saga (subtitled Minstrel Song), it was faithful to the original in many ways, despite the obvious upgrades in appearance. Though we had some experience with the SaGa series with SaGa Frontier and the Final Fantasy Legend series, the real meat of the series stayed overseas. The name SaGa has been bandied around in our neck of the woods, but when a translation group decided that we needed to see the original in all of its glory- well, is it really that glorious?
Romancing SaGa is notorious for one thing: a lack of linearity. That said, there is an
overarching plot to be told in the midst of all of the aimless quests and side stories. Taking place in the world of Mardias, a large scale war was waged by three gods, the predominant of the three being Saruin. While the gods were taken care of and Saruin sealed away, it has been quite some time and there are dark forces looking to unseal the evil god to wreak havoc on Mardias again. It is up to your intrepid band of gathered forces to take on those beings and keep the world safe.
At the beginning of the game, you will choose one of eight main characters- four male and four female- to start your journey. While they all have unique opening sequences, they all end up in the same world with plenty of the same missions to help the nations and people in the world being oppressed by the darkness or manipulated by Saruin’s followers.
This game is the very definition of open ended. You find characters by running into them in taverns, helping them solve their problems, or hiring them as mercenaries. Characters build their stats by utilizing what you want the character to be better with, a la Final Fantasy II. Want someone to specialize in a certain kind of magic? Have them keep using it in battle and their MP and levels in that magic will rise. Keep using a spear and your character will learn new techniques (at random) and their strength stat will raise. While characters have higher aptitudes for certain skills, but really, with enough effort any
character can become proficient with any of the abilities. It just takes patience.
In fact, patience is the name of the game when it comes to the actual gameplay, as well. Rather than all of the plots and quests being open from the start, side missions appear to open and become unavailable based off of your characters’ HP. While this mostly means that your party will be ready for the quests available to them, you may find that you need to grind levels to continue during a lull. Adversely, you might also find that you’ve outclassed a quest accidentally, making it very difficult to actually see everything the game has to offer in one playthrough.
The open world nature of Romancing SaGa is where most of the contention for the game comes from. Unlike Final Fantasy II, there is no track leading you to where you need to go next. While role-playing gamers in the past were used to having to talk to everyone to figure out their next move and fighting hordes of enemies to level up, sometimes in a painfully slow crawl, this concept doesn’t translate well to the general market today. This isn’t meant to be insulting. The genre of RPGs has evolved into something else, where popular modern games like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and even Fallout may be open world, but they are huge and have hundreds of small quests to do to bolster your character through the game. Romancing SaGa has a much smaller world that is tougher to explore- you can’t go to most places until you’ve heard of them or found some mode of travel to them in an already explored locale- and the quests probably equal out to about fifty or so, if memory serves. Bearing in mind that these are not all open at the same time, the world feels a little
The bonus to all of this is that each small quest feels like its own story, weaving together an overall narrative that feels like it affects different groups of people and nations differently. One kingdom may have had its ruler replaced by one of Saruin’s followers while another finds you roaming the sewers of a busy town, hunting down a force that has been kidnapping women for their vile purposes. None of these stories are breaking much in the way of new ground for the time, but knowing that you may experience different conflicts and personalities than others playing the game lends a decent amount of individuality and replayability to the game. No matter how much or how little you go out of your way to experience, the game always feels like it was a thorough journey.
Visually, the game lines up about on par with Final Fantasy IV. The overworld is pleasant to look at and uses smaller versions of the actual sprites used in battle. Enemy sprites can be incredibly detailed, the final boss being a rightful and gorgeous example. The palettes are bright and colorful, and each locale feels like it has its own flavor given the style, which gives this a leg up on the aforementioned Final Fantasy IV. The player may not be wowed by the graphical specs of the game, but there is nothing glaring to call out.
The music, however, is fantastic. In true Squaresoft fashion, it is rare to hear any tunes that would rank below a ‘good’ rating for the system at the time, and many of them go above and beyond. The final battle, yet again, feels like it shines here with ‘Coup de Grace’, but there are enough melodies that stand out to note that plenty of people will have different favorites and songs that resonate with them. Sound effects throughout the
game are, once again, on the same keel as Squaresoft’s offerings for the time.
Clocking in about 55 hours of time with a thorough run through, Romancing SaGa stands as a game that modern players will either be glued to or will put down an hour in. While it has plenty of charm, its unorthodox-for-its-time leveling system and simple graphics may drive some gamers to find other ways to entertain themselves. The translation feels spot on by DDSTranslations, as it tends to fall in line with the remake’s conventions from the Playstation 2, however, and it is worth a check to see all of the work that was put into making this game fully accessible to the masses.
Bottom line: if the non-linear play style doesn’t deter you, you should definitely figure out a way to play this game, using the remake or otherwise. If it sounds like a snoozefest to power through? You may be better off skipping this one (or watching a playthrough, if that’s your thing).