Square Enix's SaGa series is ready to make its leap into the next generation with Unlimited SaGa.
However, unlike many games that make that transition, the team responsible for Unlimited SaGa didn't make beefing up the polygon count its main priority. The PSX installments gave this series a reputation for showing gamers unique art styles, and the new title will continue the tradition. Using the illustration of Tomomi Kobayashi and art direction of Masayo Asano, both of whom were involved with the two previous SaGa titles, Unlimited SaGa's visuals use a "Sketch Motion" system. This unique look conveys detailed graphics unlike any other game to date. This new animation technique also renders the game unable to be classified as either 2D or 3D, but a blend of the two.
Moving from graphics to sound, Unlimited SaGa is the first game to completely support five-channel sound throughout the entire game. This is done with Dolby's "Pro Logic II." A surround sound system is not required to hear all of the game's music and effects, but those lucky enough to own such a thing can experience the game in a more powerful way. Who wouldn't want to hear Masashi Hamauzu's compositions coming from all directions?
Odd graphics and sound aren't the only things Unlimited SaGa has in common with the original Playstation's additions to the series. The new game once again enables players to select from multiple characters, all of which have individual stories to tell through separate, but intertwined quests. A total of seven main protagonists are available, which matches the number of the first SaGa Frontier, while obviously exceeding the two stories told in SaGa Frontier 2. What keeps the seven stories tied together is a common goal among the heroes; all are seeking the Seven Wonders, which are large structures shrouded in mystery. Legend has it that gods lie within the Seven Wonders that, upon release, will trigger the beginning of a new Golden Age. Having personal reasons for trying to accomplish that feat, each character sets out in search of one of the Seven Grand Menaces, who play the roles of "the bad guys" and are trying to use the Seven Wonders' power for their own selfish purposes. The rendezvous point for the protagonists is a festival taking place in one of the game's cities. Some of these quests are said to be over 40 hours long, which means that well over 200 hours of gameplay may be in store for those who delve into this game.
Unlimited SaGa is a very non-linear affair. A "Free Scenario System" is in place, similar to what SaGa Frontier had going on. Players almost constantly have a plethora of options regarding where to go and what to do next, and the order in which they are done is entirely up to he/she who holds the controller. This helps ensure that, much like snowflakes, no two adventures will be exactly the same.
Character development does not rely on any single level-up plan. Each ability possessed comes with its own level. The key points at which stats and abilities improve are scenarios such as the completion of a dungeon or entrance into a new town. It is at these times when hit points are raised, and characters can learn how to use different weapons. Characters can obtain new abilities after battles, which will be indicated by a lightbulb appearing over their heads.
Moving around in the game's dungeons and fields is done in a very board game-esque fashion. The party isn't visible as a group of individual character models. Instead, the group appears as a single, colorless figure moving along different paths. An on-screen window displays an image of the terrain around the party while traversing these trails. Side paths often appear that can lead to battles, treasure, or a trap. Which way is the right way can only be discovered through trial and error.
Many different "systems" have been mentioned in this preview. Gameplay wise, the "Reel System" probably has the biggest role of them all. In battle, the Reel appears before a character executes his/her action(s) for the turn. From there, the slot machine-like interface is used to quickly assign an element or effect to attacks. Pressing circle at the best time will stop the Reel and add a bonus effect to the action. If the player's quickness and reflexes fail, no such bonus will manifest itself. Pressing the square button instead of circle will hold the action, and combine it with the next character's. The "Reel System" is not only present in battle. Should a player stumble accross a trap, the Reel must be satisfied in order to evade damage. It's mainly a test of agility, with a touch of luck thrown in.
Unlimited SaGa is currently on schedule for shipment to North American retailers on June 17th of this year. Europe will see the game later in the summer.