SaGa Frontier II - Review

A painful lesson in history

By: Jake Alley

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 6
   Music/Sound 7
   Originality 6
   Plot 9
   Localization 6
   Replay Value 3
   Visuals 7
   Difficulty Very Hard
   Time to Complete

20 hours


SaGa Frontier II

   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.

A large cave
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.

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