Words cannot describe how much I've been looking forward to this game. I've promoted it at every opportunity in Japandemonium, replayed much of the original game, and even had a remix of the opening theme music running on my computer. Even though it was a remake, and I knew there wouldn't be much changed in the game, this became my #1 most anticipated game of the year as soon as I learned of its existence.
I am fanboy, hear me drool.
My constant appreciation of the music meant that it took me a while to get used to the new version of "Let It Begin" that awaited me at the start menu. The violin was an excellent choice of instrument there, but it's definitely a new variation on the old tune.
That describes most of my experience with this game, in fact. I'm still in the first world right now, but almost all the dialogue has been word-for-word with the original. Dad still exits through the window, the local parents are still ridiculously blasé about their children risking their lives, and Mr. S is still the most badass monocular mini-slime the world has ever seen.
I went for a balanced party, with one member from each of the four character groups. While the new character generation system isn't nearly as in-depth as the one in Dragon Quest IX, it's always nice to have more choice and variety available. Factoring in gender, character model, and color, there's a total of thirty-two variations each for humans and espers, and another sixteen for robots. Monsters have the same basic three choices, but then again, monsters have never suffered from a lack of variety in this game. My main character is a human male, model 2 (the one with the glasses).
"... and Mr. S is still the most badass monocular mini-slime the world has ever seen."
As I mentioned before, a lot of this game is near-identical to the original, and not in a bad way. The combat is still mostly the same, as is the music, as are the overworld and dungeon maps. The first big difference is in presentation. The soundtrack may be composed of the same tunes, but they don't all sound the same. There's been some major work done on the music to bring it up to modern standards. The maps are functionally the same, but a lot of the background scenery makes the first world look brand new to me. It's really an interesting feeling how everything is so familiar and yet so different.
The next major change in the game has to do with transparency. Many of the systems in the original were pretty opaque, with no way of telling how they worked or what they did. For example, monster transformations always seemed to be a bit of a crapshoot, and the effects of equipping a MAGI were left to the imagination. Well now it's all clear, mostly. The game has an index of monster-meat transformations (most of which I need to fill in as I go), and from the status screen I can see the last three types of meat my monster ate (which probably affects my current form). My monster has also inherited abilities between forms from time to time.
The MAGI menu now tells me exactly how a particular stone affects my character, taking away any guesswork. What's mystifying me is that there seem to be more varieties of MAGI than I remember... And they all seem to be connected to field abilities.
And that's our cue to go into the new material. Much of the stuff that's been added to SaGa 2 (that I've seen so far) is on the functional side of things, such as the aforementioned transparency or the addition of an item storage system. There's a bunch of minor side-quests now focused on the Muses, a set of minor goddesses who, once befriended, give the player points that can be traded for "threads," items which can be used in battle to link character attacks. Whether or not they have any larger impact on the game has yet to be seen.
To sum up my thoughts on this, SaGa 2 is an old game that feels like a new one. Even though I've played the original enough times that I can recall the floorplans for half the dungeons on command (cf. the "fanboy" comment), and those floorplans seem to be left unchanged, each level I've seen feels new. While the battle system is 90% unchanged from the original, the presentation is so different that it looks like a whole different game.
My inner fanboy rejoices.