|| SaGa Frontier II - Review
A painful lesson in history
By: Jake Alley
| Battle System
| Replay Value
| Time to Complete
The SaGa series has always been known for non-linearity and unusual mechanics.
SaGa Frontier II however puts a different spin on things by telling a linear story in a non-linear
fashion. Eighty years of detailed history unfold before the player, detailing the lives and adventures
of a large cast of characters, in an order of the player's choosing.
The game begins on the map screen. From here, two short events are available. Completing
such an event creates one or two more events, set a number of years later. In this way, while it is
possible to play out then entire game in chronological order, it is also possible to skip around,
experiencing events out of order, and generally confuse oneself. All of these events follow either
the story of Gustave, which features an intriguing plot and little action, or the story of the Knights
family, lending virtually no story and plenty of combat.
|Dawn of a new era.
Combat in SaGa Frontier II can seem very confusing at first, but it basically like
any other game. When a battle begins, a choice is given between fighting with all characters, or entering
one character in a one on one duel. Whole party fights are simple enough. Each character may attack,
use a special attack, or cast a spell. Attacks, special or otherwise, cost WP, and spells cost MP.
Each character regains a small amount of each every round, so while running out completely is
not an issue, alternating between physical blows and magic is encouraged. Certain combinations of
spells and special attacks yield combo moves which are extra effective. The game features a built
in notebook for keeping track of such combos, which is a very useful feature. New attacks and spells are
occasionally learned as well. Duels are something of a microcosm of normal battles. Rather than
the normal command list, each piece of equipment has a list of commands such as slash or thrust.
Four of these are chosen, with certain combinations yielding special attacks or spells. New spells
and specials may in fact be learned in this manner much more easily than in normal fights. Later in the game, major battles begin to take place, in which several parties
are deployed on a field, reminesent of tactical RPGs. The actual combat in these battles however
works exactly like regular battles.
While battles comprise nearly all of the game when controlling the Knights family,
Gustave events are almost always pure story, and quite gripping at that. Gustave is a prince, exiled
from his homeland for being unable to use magic. As he struggles to reclaim the throne of his homeland
through political dealings and warfare, a strange and powerful evil being is simultaneously manipulating
events from the shadows to serve its own ends. As the game spans a period of roughly eighty years,
the actions of both have a very real and noticeable effect on the world, creating a rich setting
for the game as a whole. This setting comes at the cost of character development however. Aside
from Gustave, who has no real role at the end of the game, as he passes his prime midway through
the story, little is known about any character. A number of years pass between each event in the
game during which it is conveyed that the characters go home to their families between adventures,
but there is no evidence that such families even exist until aging party members are replaced with
their more energetic offspring.
|Dueling with a slime
This constant shuffle of characters also makes character building nearly
impossible, as the final party is formed only a few short events before the end of the game. Further
complicating matters is the odd experience system. Rather than traditional levels, individual traits
increase with use in a somewhat random fashion. If a character takes a large amount of damage, there
is a good chance of their maximum HP increasing. Casting a fire spell may improve their skill with
fire spells. While many games use such systems, so little time is spent with any given character
that major growth is out of the question.
This in turn leads to a very high level of difficulty. Very little can be done in
the course of the game to improve characters, either by experience, which is largely random, or
equipment, which, in SaGa tradition, breaks with long term use. The end of the game in particular
is exceedingly difficult, culminating in two nearly impossible battles. In both cases, while skill
and training are both helpful, neither are sufficient to succeed. Completing the game simply boils
down to needing a large amount of luck. Even with a perfect strategy, the last two battles of the
game will end in defeat roughly ninety percent of the time. This is easily the game's biggest flaw,
frustrating most players to the point of giving up on the game right at the end.
|Exploring a cave
While it may end at a steep mountainside, the rough road that is SaGa Frontier
II passes through some beautiful scenery. The entire game is portrayed in lavish watercolor paintings.
Even for those who don't enjoy this artistic style may be captivated by the sheer quality of some
of the game's backgrounds. The musical score matches the graphics in style, giving a nice cohesive
feel. Dialog also blends in nicely with the overall theme of the game, lending feudalistic speech
free of translation errors.
While the characters fade in and out rapidly over the short course of the game,
and the end is such a massive challenge that few see the game through, SaGa Frontier II is overall
a rich tapestry of a game with many memorable moments. For any RPGamer who can set a game aside at
it's climax, or the rare few daring enough to brave an incredible challenge, SaGa Frontier II is
well worth a look.