Initial release date: April 15, 2021 Series: SaGa Composer: Kenji Ito Designers: Akitoshi Kawazu, Kyoji Koizumi, Koichi Ishii, Akihiko Matsui Developers: Square Enix, Square Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, STEAM, Android, Nintendo Switch
"Review Copy Provided By Square-Enix"
Square, before the Enix merger leading to Square-Enix, was the company that became the standard bearer and undisputed king od RPGs back in the 90’s and early 00’s. Literally every company wanted a piece of the JRPG market both before and after Final Fantasy VII became the RPG that brought the genre to the mainstream and was a global hit. Following that release we saw cult classics like Final Fantasy Tactics, Brave Fencer Musashi, Parasite Eve, and more which were all smash hits, however, there was one title that was released that was a massive success in the East and a complete failure in the West and that title is none other than SaGa Frontier made by Akitoshia Kawazu.
The SaGa series has never exactly been successful in catching on in the west with nearly every title being released always being critically panned by games journalists of the era because it never played into the typical JRPG troupes that had become the norm as Frontier not only was an incredibly difficult game but was also an open-ended JRPG with seven characters to choose from with a complex system that’s never explained to the player.
Little known fact is that Final Fantasy II is technically the first SaGa game or rather the inspiration to create that franchise as Akitoshia would go on from directing FFII to being given free reign to make the SaGa franchise, SaGa Frontier went on to garner a full on sequel and several more entries in the franchise which all failed in the West. Here we are over 20 years after the initial release on the PSX and we’re given a remaster of that entry with cleaned up graphics and several quality of life enhancements. The question now is can this cult classic remastered be the entry that bring in a new generation to the SaGa series or does this continue onwards the trend of this franchise only being popular in the Japan? Lets find out!
The story of SaGa Frontier Remastered honestly comes down to which of the seven (eventually eight) main characters you choose from as each one has their own storyline to play through. Set within the universe called “The Region” which consists of different worlds, races, cultures, technology, and magic. Of note; There is no overarching plot tying every character together in this game.
The SaGa games have always been starkly different from what the norm is for JRPGs and instead of giving you a set plot and set of characters that flow from plot point to plot point, SaGa games give you essentially the opportunity to select one of seven characters and an open-ended story with its Free-Scenario System. Did you enjoy Octopath Traveler because if you did then that’s essentially the furthest evolution of what became of the SaGa formula with you having the main characters having their own individual stories that you can play through and will eventually cross over into each other’s story.
The game is old-school in every sense of the word as it has you needing to explore every area that you’re in and talk to nearly all NPCs you run into to figure out where you’re supposed to go and why since the game doesn’t really tell you where you’re supposed to go or even what you’re supposed to do as its incredibly vague. If you’re a newer generation gamer then this could pose a problem since you’d more likely be accustomed to there being waypoints and markers and easy to navigate maps of which this game does not at all have; in instances like that, I’d recommend a guide to accompany you on this journey.
The turn-based battle system in this game is incredible and is so well designed that it begs for you to experiment with its various intricacies (even though the game doesn’t at all explain the battle system to you). You can pick anything from (depending on the character) Punch, Kick, short range weapon, long range weapon, defend, flee, and special moves. As you use certain moves over time, you’ll end up learning new moves and abilities. The class of your character also dictate these moves as you can choose from your standard warriors of which using regular attacks ends up having you learn new specials whereas your mystic characters can utilize specific attacks that end up absorbing enemies in order to gain new skills. Monsters can absorb enemies after battles in order to learn new abilities and ultimately, they end up morphing into new forms within battle.
There’s the combo system that we should talk about which occur when you use certain moves and skills in conjunction with other characters which causes massive damage. There isn’t really any indicator to what will or won’t trigger a combo so you’ll need to experiment to figure out what does what as this system pushes you to try different combinations instead of using the same ones over and over again. Last part about combat to mention is how you have a set amount of specials available at one time. If you want to learn new specials, you’ll need to remove or seal away ones you’ve already unlocked which gives the game a very strong risk vs reward since you’ll need to either manage with the specials you have or take a gamble and get rid of one and learn something that may or may not be beneficial to you.
Given that this is a remaster of the original game, SaGa Frontier Remastered is the definitive way to experience this entry as it includes so much of what was left out of the original game along with adding in a slew of new content including the new protagonist Fuse (whom I mentioned earlier) that was cut from the original release and is unlocked once you complete one of the characters campaigns. A lot of quality of life changes have been added to make the game more accessible from giving the option to flee from battles to new game plus and more.
Graphically, this game has received a substantial upgrade with drawn over sprites and A.I. enhanced prerendered backgrounds to upscale them to modern day standards and not look so blurry. Each original pixelated character has a slightly new look to them given the draw over which is in a way similar to the mobile ports of the older Final Fantasy games like 4-6 which to me look great while purists may lament this change in aesthetics.
The game runs at 1080p 60fps on all platforms and at 720p 30fps on the Nintendo Switch when undocked and on the Nintendo Switch Lite. There is also widescreen support added to the game in many parts with the exception of some areas not having support for it given that they were rendered in a way that doesn’t lend itself to going beyond the old 4:3 aspect ratio.
The Ui or User Interface is clearly aimed at mobile gamers even on console and PC and admittedly looks rather out of place when you see prompts for fast forward and pause, you can actually toggle on and off along with many other things.
One last thing here: Tomomi Kobayashi’s artwork and character designs are still as outstanding now as they were back then and deserve all the highest praise.
So how’s the music? One word: MAGNIFICENT!
Moving right along.
After selecting one of the seven protagonists; you’ll be thrust into their story which sets up their motivations and then ……..that’s it for the most part. That’s not saying that the game is light on story as that’s very far from the truth, however, the way the story is unfolded is in dialogue strown across several NPCs and the event’s that occur so if you want the story told to you like many stories now are then you’ll be let down here.
Honestly, the above is the only real downside to this game if you can even call it that.
While a commercial success in Japan and even selling over 1 million copies globally, SaGa Frontier did so poorly on it’s original release in the US that it was deemed an oddity in ,what was considered at the time, Squaresofts library of blockbuster titles. This remaster is launched in a time where gaming is now more mainstream and is fully integrated into the culture of everyday life of people and also in how us here in the US have a better understanding and appreciation for Japanese culture and tastes. All that being said, I still find SaGa Frontier Remastered to be a very hard sell for modern JRPG fans even with all it’s quality of life enhancements. Do I still find this game worth your time? Most certainly! SaGa Frontier Remastered is to me an incredible game from an incredible franchise that deserves to be respected just as much as it’s sibling franchises in Final Fantasy and Mana. If you’re hankering for an old-school JRPG fix then you simply can’t go wrong with this game and what’s more is that this game lends itself well to a possible remaster of the cult classic known as Xenogears!