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I Am the Eggman
By: Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland
When Squaresoftís SaGa Frontier reached American shores in 1998, it didnít exactly receive the best of ovation, what with its queer, complicated mechanisms. Nonetheless, the game did develop a bit of a cult following, and 2000 saw the American release of its sequel, SaGa Frontier 2, which continues the franchiseís tradition of oddity. If you have a general grasp on its mechanisms, it can be quite an enjoyable experienceÖmostly.
One can find the bulk of these queer mechanisms in the battle system, which contains more diversity this time around. While the previous installment contained one mode of battle, somebody evidently played a little Suikoden and decided to add duels and strategy battles to the mix, but letís start with party battles. As before, enemies wander around the dungeons, with collisions commencing battles. In party battles, you select your charactersí commands and let them and the enemy beat the crap out of one another. When using physical skills, your characters may randomly learn new ones, which immediately become available for use; additionally, anyone may use a skill that one character has already learned. New to this installment is the ability to use Life Points (which, when completely depleted, marks a characterís death) before each round to recover all a characterís HP (if his/her HP isnít 0). If a character loses all HP in combat, he/she will be unable to perform any moves, although normal healing spells can bring him/her back into the heat of combat. WP and SP return, as well, the former allowing for the use of physical skills, and the latter allowing for the use of magic. Some characters can gradually recover either stat after each round of combat, and after battles end, a little of your partyís HP is recovered, as well. Furthermore, a battleís end brings about random stat gains, from weapon and magic levels to HP, WP, and SP, and maybe the occasional new magic spell. At the start of each round, finally, you may receive an option to retreat, although there are many instances where it doesnít work.
Letís move on to duel battles. After encountering an enemy, you may receive the option to fight either a party battle or a duel battle, the latter of which is highly desirable early on in the game, since doing so allows for easier acquisition of new skills. You select a character to duel, and combat begins. Here, you can still use LP to regain all HP, and once a round begins, you can select up to four different commands for your character to perform that round, based on items currently equipped. Duels work a little like battles in Legend of Legaia, where certain skills are performed, and randomly learned, with various combinations of commands. Dueling as often as possible when youíre able to is highly recommended, and allows for faster character development.
The final mode of combat, a rarity, is the strategy battle. In certain scenarios, your units and enemy units will dot the field, and during your turn, you may move all your units at least two spaces up, down, left, or right, or one space diagonally, although such movement canít be revoked. To encounter the enemy, you move one of your units onto an enemy unit, and combat begins. Strategy battle combat seems at first like normal party combat, though you only receive one round; furthermore, if an archer unit is one space away from the enemy unit, theyíll fire arrows when the round begins to deal some damage; this works the other way around. If you manage to kill all enemies in a round, their unit will disappear from the field, although reinforcements can replenish your units and enemy units at the end of the player and enemy turns. The biggest challenge in this instance came in the form of the final strategy battle, where victory was in my experience 1% strategy and 99% luck.
Finally moving on to interaction, I must firstly state that SaGa Frontier 2 has the best save system of any RPG Iíve ever played. Not only can you perform regular saves anywhere, you can also perform quicksaves, and easily reset by pressing the L1, R1, Start, and Select buttons simultaneously, which youíll be doing a lot if you choose to play this game. That said, inventory space is unfortunately limited, and the menu system can take a bit of getting used to; furthermore, there are many instances throughout the game where youíre unable to return to a town and recover your party.
While SaGa Frontier 2 isnít your typical RPG, it isnít very original. Many of the seriesí queer mechanisms return, despite minor modification, and the timeline system does resemble the generation system from Romancing SaGa 2. Furthermore, the game did seem to borrow a little from Suikoden and Legaia, as Iíve stated. Overall, the second SaGa Frontier isnít wholly revolutionary.
Story is equally weak. The game follows two different characters, William Knights and Prince Gustave, as well as their descendants and friends, in a series of complicated events involving some kind of Anima Egg. As you can probably tell, the story is rather confusing difficult to follow, although it is very interesting to witness the crises of various generations.
While Kenji Ito didnít compose the soundtrack this time around, music is nonetheless gorgeous, dramatic, and mood-fitting, despite being a little repetitive at points (there are innumerable variations of a few tunes, I noticed, all of which are nonetheless beautiful). There are no out-of-place sound effects, though.
One of the primary draws of SaGa Frontier 2 upon its release was its beautiful, hand-painted visual style, which words can hardly describe; saying that these are some of the prettiest graphics on the Playstation would in my opinion be a gross understatement. Unfortunately, the visuals arenít perfect, as battles do contain occasional pixilation, and the colors of the duel battles seem a bit sloppy and distorted.
The SaGas, of course, contain grossly unbalanced difficulty, and when I played, I didnít have any real problemsóuntil I reached the last strategy battle and the final dungeon. The former required a lot of luck, as did the latter, although the lack of two very useful skills probably accounted for my troubles in that instance. With that said, the game takes from thirty to forty hours to complete, though itís quite possible to finish in less time if you have the right skills, and a lot of luck.
With a unique battle engine, a solid save system, beautiful music, and a visual style that one must see to believe, SaGa Frontier 2 can very well be an enjoyable experience, especially for hardcore RPGamers. Maybe next time, Square will remember to add more balanced gameplay into the mix.
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