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SaGa Frontier - Review

Missed Opportunity

By: Red Raven


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 5
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 6
   Plot 4
   Localization 6
   Replay Value 4
   Visuals 5
   Difficulty Very Hard
   Time to Complete

7-10 hours per character

 
Overall
5
Criteria

SaGa Frontier
 

   This game, at some point, had a lot of potential. Released in a laxed period in gaming activity, March of '98, Saga Frontier poised to change the very way we played our RPGs. "Free Scenario System", "Non-linear Gameplay", and other such buzz words were commonplace for this game, it seemed to be the next big franchise RPG. I'm trying to keep a straight face at this point. My problem is not unique, the majority of players feel that this is one of Square's biggest PSX mistakes. While I agree that Square overestimated the market for this type of game, I cannot in good conscious call this game a complete waste. It had its moments. So without further adŁ, let us begin.

   As far as the battle system goes, nothing too new. Battles are initiated by touching a creature on the screen. You have five members in your party at a time, and input everyone's command at the same time. Besides attack, item, and defend, you may use either your techs or your magic. Techs are related to the weapon you're using (sword techs, gun techs, ect.), and are learned during battle by using that weapon. Magic is learned the same way with the only difference being that you can only advance the element that you used to begin with (light spell = more light spells). An interesting addition is the fact that you can string together combos of techs, and sometimes magic too, to deal an amount of damage greater than those attacks would achieve alone. This all depends on the speeds of the characters, and if the enemy attacks in the middle of different characters' turns. Falling in battle results in that character losing a Life point (most characters have 7-10). Characters can be revived and ready to attack with a simple healing spell. If enemies attack a fallen character then another Life point is removed. If the main character has zero LP, then game over. Life, Weapon (tech), and Magic points can be replenished to maximum once resting at an inn, or in a (rare) tent. HP is fully recovered at the end of each battle, which is always nice.


These are the graphics you can expect.
These are the graphics you can expect.  

   Outside of battle you will be a bit bored and a bit lost. The boring part is equipping and managing your characters. Besides choosing weapons and items for that person to take into battle, you must organize their techs and magic to use them efficiently; a human character has only 8 open slots to use in battle . Each character you recruit can be customized into whatever you want: a mage-type, fighter-type, or both. That is only possible if that character is human, if it's not then you'll have other problems to contend with. A robot can equip a bunch of items and each item will raise a certain stat, but no magic allowed and only robot techs. If you recruit a monster, you can only equip accessories, and your monster's stats grow after killing and absorbing another monster's powers. Finally, you might recruit some Mystics. They are like humans, except they have less tech slots and are really only good at magic. Most of the time, you'll stick with humans since they level up in the ways were are used to, and they're easier to manage.

   When I mean lost, I mean you have absolutely no idea of where to go. Tired of having NPCs tell you what to do next? Play this game. You'll understand why everyone now fears the term "non-linear gameplay". Square really dropped the ball on this one. We're lucky that there are only like 12 places to go in the entire game or no one would have finished it.


Bored.
Bored.  

   Actually, I suspect a lot of people didn't finish because there is very little plot. Each of the seven main characters has something resembling a story, but many times it is handled in such a way that it is less than entertaining. The reason why plot was scored a four instead of something lower is because of the plot of T260G, Emelia, and maybe Asellus. The rest have less plot than you'd find in a standard RPG's side quest and some have none at all (Blue and Lute). Saga left out a LOT of good story material such as the mysterious Trinity corporation. Trinity frequently appears throughtout all 7 character's stories, but we learn nothing else about them at all. It's a shame, really.

   Within the music spectrum you'll find some nice boss tunes, but that's all you'll find. Music is only adequate across the board. Sound effects are pretty basic too from what I remember. Both are just good enough to stop you from muting the T.V., unless of course you have a good CD handy.

   The lines in the originality department are blurry for this game. While "Free Scenario System" and "Non-linear Gameplay" are original in console RPGs, they are handled so badly that I'd hate to associate future games by saying "It was like Saga Frontier." Five party members, from four different species, and learning techs on the fly are original ideas. Saga has also the interesting feature of a 'quick-save', just two buttons pressed can save you a lot of grief. Besides those, it's a toss-up.


Lost.
Lost.  

   Having enough text in the game to fill a small sheet of paper, I would only hope that it would be good, grammatically speaking. It was. No glaring mistakes or errors.

   Visuals are 2D across the board. The sprites themselves almost have a 'clay' look to them, a bit odd to say the least. The backgrounds are very similar to FF7. A little too similar, with all the dark dirty colors and such. Overall, blah.

   Now the big section: Replay value. The seven main characters have their own "unique" storylines, but they overlap in some respects. The biggest overlap, and quite possibly the most annoying ever, are the side quests. These aren't actually tied to any story, they are just events really. These events are used to gain access to more powerful magic or to get another character. The mistake most people make is that they do all of them their first time through. This is bad for many reasons. First, over the course of playing the 7 different main characters, you will have to complete all of the events as part of the various plots. Second, the events never change. This means you'll do the same exact things more than once for 7 different people. It gets old VERY quickly. The only difference between character A and character B is the plot, which we know by now isn't good. Try that 7+ times, then you'll realize why you're questioning your sanity.

   For a gaming disaster like this one, it is only logical to assume that the difficulty is near impossible. It is. The battles themselves aren't hard, just everything else is. Unlike most RPGs, money is extremely hard to come by. You're best equipment will be the worst stuff dropped by dead enemies most the time. You can save yourself a lot of pain by using a cheating method, in fact I can think of no other way to beat this game. Besides that, those stupid side quests might keep you from beating the game. You almost have to go through them all over again just to beat those insanely hard last bosses. The extreme shortage of party-healing spells (only 2 or 3) doesn't help either. Neither do the lack of tents (2 or 3 total) to rest before the final boss. Not good.

   Saga Frontier had the potential, the ideas where there. The rest of the game just couldn't keep up. Like I said before, it did have a few moments, so it wasn't a complete waste. Of course that comes from a person who bought it for $20, instead of full price. Take that for what you will. So if you're looking for a semi-cheap diversion, pick this game up. Worst case scenario: You end up liking it and saying so in a chat room. Don't look here, you won't get ANY pity from me.





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