SaGa Frontier: Whom to Start?
Almost a month has passed since the remaster of SaGa Frontier launched, and it’s safe to assume that anybody with a strong emotional connection to the original has long since bought it and probably finished at least one of the game’s scenarios. RPGamer even had a review up, practically the day of release.
But what of those RPGamers who were on the fence? The ones who’d heard good things (or bad) about this title and are unsure about where to start, or whom to start with? To help, we have gathered a veritable Circle of SaGes, each tasked with taking one of SaGa Frontier‘s seven initial protagonists and explaining why (or why not) that character is a good one to start with. Or else whinge. That’s an important part of the SaGa experience was well.
Michael Baker played Lute!
I was not so lucky with my first copy of the original SaGa Frontier back in the day, since it came to me so scratched and dinged that it crashed on half the magic quests. I still enjoyed the parts I could, and this remastered version was a no-brainer chance for me to revisit, and hopefully finish, one of the great games of my college years.
As the organizer of this little feature, I was also not so lucky with the character I got. It was my own fault for saying I’d take whomever was left, because that brought the inevitable “Not it!” choice, [expletive deleted] Lute. There are reasons why his name is often prefaced with rude words, and it comes from the paucity of plot associated with him in the game. That part hasn’t changed; I took him from the start of his scenario to the final boss battle in ten minutes flat, just to check that it was still that way. But I’m an experienced enough gamer now to grok how Lute’s also the option for people who just want to go out and do stuff in SaGa Frontier’s wide, weird panoply of worlds, and so I’m enjoying the journey with him.
That said, Lute is not a character to choose on your first go with this title. Seriously, don’t. Experience the stories available on other characters’ routes first, then come back to the blue-haired gadabout another day. The remaster comes with a comprehensive and adjustable New Game + option that allows the player to carry over however much of the equipment, skills, and stats as they desire, which in turn makes a future Lute run far easier.
Paul Shkreli played Emelia!
I was barely a teenager when SaGa Frontier first came out in 1998. I have so many memories from the dozens of hours I spent in my room and on my PlayStation, playing through the Golden Age of RPGs. I found it available for rental from Blockbuster, relying on the familiar SquareSoft logo in the bottom right corner of the box as a virtual guarantee this would be a game worth playing. The illustration of Blue by Tomomi Kobayashi on the cover also helped. This was my first SaGa game… and it was baffling, enigmatic, and ugly. I loved it. That certainly didn’t mean I could actually get very far in the game. I ended up getting the game again at a resale shop years later, but never formally replayed it. I was ecstatic when Square Enix announced the remaster, and I reviewed it for the site.
I remember playing as Emelia: fond memories of being in the prison, dressing up in bunny ears in Baccarat, and a few other scenes. That is what motivated me to start as her during the remaster. I think Emelia strikes a balance between the free-wheeling scenario system of the game and a more standard JRPG story. It’s told in a series of vignettes showing Emelia and her cohort on missions to catch Joker, the green-haired international thief who murdered her fiancé. These missions don’t shine much insight or motivation onto other characters, but hey, that’s so SaGa! Emelia is a great starting character as there is near-immediate access to most locations, excellent recruitable characters, and enough of a story to chew on.
The quality of life enhancements to the game have immense scope and are as free-wheeling as the game itself. The care taken by Square Enix in bringing this over to a new generation is really impressive and hopefully demonstrates the company’s commitment to continuing to do the same with the rest of the SaGa series. Series newcomers and SaGa stans alike should consider the remaster, especially considering it’s now available on practically any device with a screen, and Emelia is a good option to start with.
Matt Masem played Red!
I’ve never completed a proper SaGa title, although I’ve given a couple a try. I’ve been more drawn to their spiritual successors like Legend of Legacy and The Alliance Alive. Octopath Traveler has been one of my favorite games released in the past few years, so playing a classic octo-path RPG remastered for the Switch seemed like a good idea!
I started SaGa Frontier as Red. What happened in the hours after I began, I’m a bit unsure. Party wipe.
I obviously was unprepared for what the battle system was and fought it the entire time. It was suggested that I read up on the battle system, as the game had a help menu, conveniently placed in the Config menu. Party wipe.
Oh, but of course, silly me thought the Config menu was for graphics and sound configuration only. I read it, but it didn’t help much. Party wipe.
Through the menu also is how I had to experience the story, since what little I gathered through player interactions wasn’t clear. Places that were mentioned in the story segments were apparently not where I needed to go. I learned that the hard way. Party wipe.
Also, early on I got a new party member from a place that I wasn’t supposed to go to. How did I realize I had a party member? He was just there in the next battle!
With all of the inexplicable systems at work, difficulty spikes all over the place, and the vast amount of RNG luck needed, I’ve come to the conclusion that SaGa proper titles are not for me. They look nice and sound just fine, but much like the Neptunia series, there’s just too much going on at once for me to figure out on my own and I have yet to feel a sense of reward for mastering a single one.
Party wipe. Power off.
(Editor’s note: In hindsight, we probably should have talked Matt into taking a different character route to start with. Red’s game has the virtue of being highly linear for its first half, with the trade-off being that it’s also the most limited in terms of where one can go and whom one can recruit for that first half, and it doesn’t prepare the player for when the options suddenly open up. It definitely benefits from the New Game + bonuses to equipment and recruitable character strength. Matt’s frustration and annoyance at the game is perfectly justifiable, and we hope he gives one of the other scenarios a go in a year or two, after the memories fade a bit. C’est la SaGa.)
Ryan Radcliff played Blue!
I remember being sent to my aunt’s for the summer and, so that I wouldn’t annoy the adults, I was allowed to rent one game a week from Blockbuster. The summer of ‘98 was when I chanced upon SaGa Frontier. Never owned, purely rented, this game was an interesting and messy experience. There was no internet to assist me, so I tried each champ out until I hit a snag and moved onto a new character. I beat a few characters’ stories, but most of my experience is a blur these days, so jumping into the remaster seemed like a fun way to reminisce and get frustrated all over again!
Blue is broken. At least that’s how I remember him back in the day. It was my plan to recreate this brokenness and maybe try out his brother’s side of the scenario as well.
As it turns out, it takes a while for Blue to break the game, near to the end of his story, but when it does you can basically Dr. Strange your way past any tough battle. That being said, his early story is rather bland. Aside from the equally obtuse objective of murdering his brother Rouge, not much quote-unquote plot occurs until after you have collected the requisite brands of magic. Also, the ending still leaves me believing the team ran out of resources and just slapped a game over tag as the final battle concludes. I’m hoping Fuse’s additional chapter helps fix some of these story issues.
Still, I had fun jumping back into this wacky world. There isn’t much direction, and things can go bad pretty quickly, even if you are prepared. SaGa Frontier takes me back to a much different time in my life, and replaying it has definitely been rewarding, albeit occasionally frustrating! Since his scenario’s basically all the magic quests and little else, he’s a good one to play on a second or third playthrough, when you know where to find things and benefit from the New Game + carryover, but don’t forget to quick save after every fight, just to be safe.
David McBurney played Asellus!
I’ve been a fan of SaGa Frontier since picking it up from a used game shop not long after its original release. This was my first SaGa game and I was in the right frame of mind to be fascinated by its unique approach to how an RPG can be constructed, both narratively and mechanically. I’d been wanting to replay it for years and kept putting it off so this remaster was a perfect excuse.
For this outing I was excited to tackle Asellus, who was advertised as having restored content that would help spice up the replay. Asellus has one of the game’s more fleshed-out scenarios and an immediately otherworldly narrative. There’s a striking dreaminess to our protagonist waking up in a mysterious, gothic castle and quickly piecing together the events of her kidnapping by the Lord of Mystics, Orlouge. This premise gives the scenario a strong opening and a more directed feeling, even if it will still let the player wander off into certain doom pretty early on. For better or worse, the restored content is pretty spare, only ever additive and optional, and so most of my memories of the game still applied to this playthrough. That’s not to say I encountered nothing new, but the game has been kept relatively close to what it was in 1998, with little attempt to change what it has always been at its heart. Still, this remains one of the standout sections of the game and one I was all too happy to jump into. While I haven’t completed her story yet, it’s as compelling a vignette as it ever was. It’s the kind of story that would be too lean to fill out a full-length RPG by itself but that can shine in this smaller anthology format. The format also works to underline the stark contrast to other characters. Asellus’ quickly revealed Half-Mystic status really feels special in a game with so many characters and protagonists because no one else operates like she does. I’ve always had a soft spot for this entire scenario but it’s still written in SaGa‘s signature style, light on character-building and dialogue, so much is left to interpretation even in this relatively cohesive plot.
Asellus is a reasonable character to start with: she has access to a lot of recruits early on and a story that splits the difference between heavily directed and non-linear, which will help a new player understand how much they can get along with the very unique nature of SaGa Frontier. Difficulty spikes will happen; you will die sometimes and you might just have to throw yourself at the fight again and see if things play out better, but that’s what keeps it interesting and makes replays feel like such an adventure. The light hand taken to updating the game has also ensured this is the only version anyone should bother playing now.
Sam Wachter played Riki!
When I was a kid, SaGa Frontier was an accidental rental from Rogers Video. I remembered seeing the cover with Blue on the front and thinking the game was clearly some sort of Final Fantasy spin-off. Boy, was I wrong. When I popped the game into the PlayStation, I found I had seven different stories to explore, and I wouldn’t complete any of them until a couple years later when I borrowed the game from a friend. I spent many hours over multiple summers constantly going back to SaGa Frontier. The game is terrible at explaining itself and its expectations to the player, and, like an idiot, I kept going back to it because clearly I didn’t take kindly to feeling like an idiot. With my strategy guide in hand, I managed to beat Blue’s and Asellus’s stories in my teens, but with the remastered edition, let’s just say I was forced into something different.
Riki is not a character that stood out to me. As a kid I sort of hated how naïve Riki was, but I would never get far enough into his story to say more. As I said, SaGa Frontier is terrible at explaining itself, so I never got a good grasp on the Monster mechanics. Riki has the ability to absorb monsters and take their abilities, and along the way he can befriend other monsters who can do the same. Riki’s quest to save his homeland with the power of nine rings is a mixed bag, though I appreciate that not every ring resulted in a boss fight or dungeon. However, there are a lot of puzzles that the game does not explain very well that will definitely have you pulling your hair out. May I never see a Magma Slime ever again!
That being said, Riki is a terrible character to start with and is best played after you’ve tried a few other scenarios. While I was able to complete his story in eight hours, his boss fights are rough and some of them are puzzle-based, which can be annoying when provided with little explanation. The balancing in his chapter is also all over the place, to the point where you are clearly on a crappy rollercoaster which starts and stops and never quite feels smooth. Once you’ve dabbled in other stories and have a better understanding of SaGa Frontier’s mechanics, then come back and visit Riki and his quest to save a dying land.
Mike Apps played T260G!
SaGa has a long and interesting history. Despite the heavy sci-fi mix of the first two games in the series, all in all it is a series that mostly stays in the realm of fantasy. SaGa Frontier stands at a perfect crossroads of the various SaGa iterations over the years, as its combat is heavily based on the Romancing SaGa games while having many of the sci-fi elements and even some of the race mechanics of the first two SaGa games. T260G’s campaign is the perfect illustration of this. For starters, the main character himself functions like the robots in SaGa 2, gaining strength from his equipment instead of stat boosts at the end of combat like other characters. You can quickly get a monster character as well and partake in the meat-eating monster mutation that comes straight out of those old titles.
His whole journey, venturing through vastly different locales on a quest to restore his lost memory, really captures the great variety of those old games while still somehow feeling cohesive. For many of us in the west, this game was probably what made us realize we had played a whole different series back in the Game Boy days without even realizing it. I had not played much of T260G’s journey myself back in the day, so I’d missed out on experiencing much of this character, to my shame. His journey is as obtuse as ever, but in a good way. Exploring this adventure and seeing where you can end up is a blast, and wandering around figuring out what to do can be part of the fun.
All that said, the downside of the nostalgia for those classic games is that it’s a reminder that we haven’t gotten a classic “make your own party” game in the series since those olden days. There’s no shortage of variety in T260G’s ragtag band of adventurers, but there is also something special about building your own ragtag band to wander through all manner of strange sci-fi landscapes. Of course this isn’t the fault of SaGa Frontier, which in its remastered edition makes it hard to be anything but charmed by its colorful sprites and glorious soundtrack. Fans of the original and newcomers alike will find a taste of all things SaGa in T260G’s story, so long as they aren’t looking for a lot of personality from the main character.
Sam Wachter also played Fuse!
With SaGa Frontier Remastered, the game restored a missing perspective — Fuse. The intrepid detective appears in every single character’s storyline in the original game, and yet it’s not 100% clear why. With Remastered, Fuse’s story plays as a “what if” scenario, where Fuse meets each of the cast and “assists” them with their problems. Fuse is only accessible after one storyline has been fully completed, but once you begin his story, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
There are two ways players can approach Fuse’s content. You can do it after you finish a storyline, or you can complete everyone’s stories and then access his content last. Fuse is such a fun character, and he gets a surprising amount of development while participating in the stories of each of the other protagonists. His storylines are also streamlined, meaning in most cases Fuse will do a small investigation and then head straight to the final boss of whichever character’s plotline he is involved in. Given how New Game+ works in Remastered, it is also easy once players get to Fuse, as they will likely have characters with high HP/WP/JP who can just blitz through the boss fights. During my Fuse playthrough I always had at least three or four characters who knew the Dream Super Combo, making some fights nearly trivial. Fuse’s storylines are often full of humour, and his endings suggest that he dreamed up some nonsense and may be full of crap.
Fuse is recommended to players as the last character to complete. While you can jump to his story right after completing a plotline, the final bosses have been tweaked to a much higher difficulty. It’s worth it to postpone his story to the very end so that you’ve built all your characters throughout the previous seven stories to give yourself a fighting chance.
Thank you for reading our random and rambling thoughts. As always, the Circle of SaGes is happy to help, and if we aided you in any way in regards to your character selections, then that’s just awesome. If you’d like to hear us go on for longer periods of time vis-à-vis what makes this game equal parts awesome, aggravating, and absurd, be sure to check us out on the Q&A Quest podcast, or take a ten-year leap back in time to when we covered SaGa Frontier on RPG Backtrack.
You are all invited to share your own SaGa sagas in the comments.