Review by D-Boy
"Cactus Head! He's gonna **** his pants if you keep doing that!"
You know, the more I scour message boards and read reviews, the more I realize that people are irrational asses who do nothing but bitch about how disappointed they were in a sequel or a game which has been released just after a popular, renowned title, whether or not it's good. Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy VIII, Phantasy Star Online, and Breath Of Fire IV have all suffered this incredibly biased torture at one time or another, but this game has got to be the most horrendously molested piece of software in history.
People really need to lighten up and look at games for what they are, and not at what their competition is, or what their past installments were. You're not voting for a politician. I almost refrained from buying this game due to the hail storm of negativity in which is has received, but after thoroughly playing it, I realize now it is one of the greatest games for this 32 bit jalopy known as Playstation.
Little do the ignorant masses of common gamers (the same common gamers who think Capcom would beat SNK, probably not because they think Capcom is better, but probably because they don't know what the hell SNK is) realize, SaGa has been around almost as long as Final Fantasy itself. Tracking it's origin back to the early days of the GameBoy in the series which was simply known as ''SaGa'', it evolved into what is now an underrated work of art.
I've seen far too many anal egotists bash this game's visuals, saying such stupid things as ''the character strides look like something out of Seiken Densetsu 3''. If they say things like that, then they've been at the beach, staring directly into the sun for many hours, every day of their life, because they have some serious vision problems.
The graphics are not perfect, but they CAN BE spectacular at times. The character sprites do NOT look like anything from Seiken Densetsu 3. They barely even look two dimensional. It's as if they were rendered in 3D, much like those in Treasure Hunter G or Super Mario RPG - Legend Of The Seven Stars for the Super FamiCom. Yes, they have large heads and tiny bodies, but so do 99.9% of all great RPGs. They are highly detailed, and are very rarely reused, aside from the field enemy sprites.
As for the backgrounds, they're quite possibly flawless. Pre-Rendered like those of Final Fantasy VII, only much better. Certainly, they're less scientifically correct. The scale is smaller to fit the characters, but the detail that goes into every screen is simply mind boggling. The backgrounds seem to just come right out at you, and they're much more solid than Final Fantasy VII's. In some places, it'll just look like you can reach into your screen and touch something.
Sometimes, you may miss something, because the backgrounds are so incredibly detailed, you might walk right by a doorway or hole in the ground. This has never irritated me before, however. In fact, it made me even happier, since I realized I had found something new. ''What th-.. HEY! COOL! I NEVER KNEW ABOUT THIS!'' Anyone who gets pissed off about missing a hidden doorway or passing by an obscure treasure chest has absolutely no sense of exploration, and has no business playing RPGs.
In battle, things are different. The setting shifts to semi-polygonal. Yes.. semi-polygonal. You find yourself in a half-hexagon shaped playing field. Of course, you can't tell it's shaped like that, because the faces of the polygons are beautifully detailed with artwork that perfectly matches your former, field surroundings. Some of the backgrounds are even animated to boot. This allows you to use one of the greatest features added to the battle mechanics; 180 degree rotatable battle camera. Now you'll be able to see what the battle looks like on all sides.
As for the in battle sprites, well, the character sprites stay the same for the most part. The enemies.. are a different story. The enemies, like your characters, are rendered, 2D sprites. Most of them are TRULY massive (this game, by far, has the biggest enemies of any game I've ever played). They show a great deal of detail, but they lack movement. Since they're 2D in a 3D, polygonal realm, they can't be all that fluid. It's physically impossible for a 2D sprite to be fully animated in a polygonal field (Xenogears and Breath Of Fire IV are perfect examples). Enemies can only face four directions; forward right, forward left, backward right, backward left.
There is a great lack of frames in the enemy movements, and some of the enemy attacks just look plain goofy. But, would you prefer having a totally motionless enemy just flashing and then unleashing an attack without lifting a finger, like in Final Fantasy VI? Square EA did the best with what they had, considering the great memory limitations the game had due to it's massive size, and I congratulate them.
I've talked about graphics a long time, but there's one more point I want to make. Special effects. They're, if I may say so, very nifty. Polygonal for the most part, considering the small sizes of the characters, the attacks fill the screen sometimes. Some effects have massive, spiraling tornados descending upon enemy ranks, while others leave your jaw in your lap as your character multiplies himself half a dozen times and rains havoc upon an unfortunate foe.
Definitely not perfect, but considering what they had to work with, stellar, to say the least;
The heartbeat of this game is almost like that of no other. If anyone can say this game's sound track is anything short of a masterpiece, they're either biased, or perpetually ungifted (I'm talking to you, miss TBrandford). Go back to your Seiken Densetsu II lullabies, I'll take the epic score of SaGa Frontier any day.
Littered are the halls of dungeons with themes, the variety of which has been unseen in video games to date. From melancholy, to upbeat. From classical, to hard rock. There is something for everyone in this almost Godlike arrangement of melodic expertise. The battle themes are absolutely spectacular. All seven of the main characters EACH has their own, fitting, climatic final battle theme.
The standard battle theme itself is brought along by awesome guitar rifts and drumrolling that will keep your toes a'tappin'. The battle theme played when facing major bosses, such as MBlack, ranks somewhere among the top ten greatest video game scores of all time. Even Chrono Trigger itself never saw a battle theme half this good. And yes, I said CHRONO TRIGGER.
The gameplay is a breath of fresh air from the standard fair of RPG mania. You initially create a joint data collection file on your memory card that monitors your characters' progress. You choose one of seven characters, whom each have their own, unique storylines that rarely cross paths, and each their own goals to attend to.
The world is separated, in a series of floating continents which can only be traversed by air. Each ''Region'' has at least four or five locations to explore. This game revolves around exploration, and if you don't have patience and the ambitious drive to challenge the call of the unknown, you will not enjoy this game very much at all, and in that case, I pity you.
This game also allows you to save wherever your heart desires, which gives you no excuse to have to start all over if you fall at the hands of a powerful adversary. There is also a wonderful currency system. You have standard credits, and ''Gold Ingots'', which have different worth in different regions, allowing you to eventually become a quasi-stock exchanger.
The individual games have very little gameplay substance, which varies from character to character. If you just progress for the storyline, you wont enjoy this game. The true fun lies in collecting characters (you can have up to 15 to a single party!!!), ancient relics, powerful weapons, and embarking on a ton of side quests which can easily lead you to spending 50+ hours on each character's quest.
There's too much to do in this game to ever get bored, but requires some skill, patience, and most of all, a sense of exploration. If your shallow, and look only for storyline, keep moving, idiot;
The battle system is not only unique, but effective in it's presentation and performance. Instead of the typical, mindless, boring tedium of Final Fantasy VI, where you're forced to fight for eons just to get one character up to speed with his/her levels and magic, you gain attributes at random accompanied by victory (if you've played Chrono Cross, you know what I'm talking about). You can greatly effect your chances for boosting if you use certain skills during combat.
Frequently attacking normally or using sword, martial, or gun arts will eventually turn your character into a beef cake, whereas using magic will bring up your intellect. It's as if you get to choose the class of your character many hours before he reaches his goal. It'll take a bit longer, but your best result will be to equally use skills and magic, and in just a few hours, your character will be a demigod.
And interesting concept (unless you've previously played Romancing SaGa) is the skill learning system. There is a wide array of skills that can be learned totally at random in battle. And there aren't just a few skills either, some technique types have 15 to 20 individual skills. Only certain species are adept to certain skills, however. Humans are well-rounded and can handle just about anything, Mechs have their own set of technologically advanced maneuvers, Monsters actually consume the power of other monsters to evolve (Digimon, anyone?), and Mystics are more or less the ''mages'' of the game.
Learning magic is a bit different. There are several types of magic which originate from different regions around the globe. In order to learn magic, you must first become an apprentice to that particular type. Unfortunately, you won't be able to learn magic from the opposite type (i.e. apprenticing under Shadow magic will defeat all hopes of becoming skilled in Light magic). This limits your character's magical growth, and that's a good thing. No more unbalanced character arrangements (Final Fantasy VI).
Fun, effective, and void of tedium.
Overhead perspective in pre-rendered world? Perfect! No more running into something you're not supposed to because you don't know where the hell you're going. Press cancel to run, circle to confirm, navigating menus is easy. What else is there to say?
The challenge of battles can be rather high. It requires strategic thinking, since it's round based rather than turn based. But the battles, although hard, aren't frustrating, since they aren't random. They're triggered via contact with enemy sprites on the field, like Chrono Trigger.
Like in Romancing SaGa, each character has a permanently set amount of Life Points (LP). LP are like ''Extra Men'' in an action game. You lose one each time a character is KOed. Even if they get taken out, they'll be fully restored after battle, however, LP cannot be restored by any means other than rest. If all of a character's LP are consumed, that character can no longer be used. Losing HP makes you lose LP, losing LP means the character is permanently out of commission. Thus, HP DO HOLD A MEANING IN THIS GAME (once again, I'm speaking to you, TBranford).
Considering enemy attacks can do upwards of 1000 damage, and all characters can only have a maximum of 999 HP, the game can be VERY hard. However, your enemies will never be excessively more powerful than you, because they are directly linked to your stats (a la Final Fantasy VIII).
Great challenge without aggravation;
The conversion is standard for Square. Some weapon and character names have been changed, but nothing major has been left out of the game.
Are you kidding? Seven journeys in one, ingenious character growth, a lineup of 40+ potential team members, insurmountable tech system. Does anything even come close to this?
This is where the game falters slightly. While the plots aren't absolutely spectacular like Final Fantasy VII, they aren't bad. Some are better than others, like Asellus and T260G's. Some have very original concepts (to video games, anyway), such as Red, who becomes a comic book-type super hero. Some are downright bland, like Blue's and Lute's (and I wont get into them, because everyone's storyline is completely different). I can't damn or praise all seven storylines for the mediocrity or intrigue of a few, so I'll say it's balanced, and average.
Although the plot is hum-ho, all of them are intriguing at one point or another. One instance is Red's quest, where you'll be wondering for hours exactly who Alkarl is (is it Fuse?! Yuria?! Campbell?! Klein?! Red's Father?! Find out who shot Aaron and got Jennifer pregnant, tonight on Days Of Our Lives!). Others are intriguing because they're downright weird (Asellus), and some seem to drag you in and make you want to see what lies behind someone's past (T260G).
All in all, the game his above average when it comes to intrigue, especially for such an average plot.
The only emotion this game gave me was sheer happiness, but it had nothing to do with the storyline. There aren't any really tragic moments (other than the 'incident' at the end of Riki's story), so I can't give much acclaim here.
The dialogue is witty, fitting and realistic for the setting, which isn't really ''fantasy''. Each character, despite there's 40 of them, who has the ability to talk, has their own style. Fuse for instance talks like a ''cool cat'' from some kind of poetry club, and he flirts with the ladies. Red can be pretty anal at times, and talks to himself a lot. These are just a few examples, and the dialogue leaves me with nothing to be desired.
... ugh. This has got to be the worst translation in gaming history. Yes, even worse than Breath Of Fire II. They couldn't have butchered this poor game less if they used plastic G.I. Joe knife. Nice going, Square.
The design is simply marvelous. Yoshitaka Amano couldn't have done better. Among the 40+ characters, there isn't a single one who isn't leagues more stylishly designed than any one of Final Fantasy VII's. You have femme boys that seem to drive girls nuts, butch girls who seem.. to drive ''other'' girls nuts, and a wide array of robots, vampires, monsters, and even a lunatic doctor. If you thought Chrono Cross had character variety, think again.
As for development, there isn't much for the NPC's, since they don't play a major role. However, the main characters develop and grow, A LOT. Red and Asellus have the most significant changes, as they mature and become hardened by tragedies.
A comic book super hero, a widowed super model out for revenge, a robot who lost his mission data, a monster trying to save his home world from economic disaster, a young girl who becomes a vampire half-breed and hunted down by the ones she's come to trust, a young mage destined to kill and become one with his brother, and a shiftless bard who becomes a spy for a rebel organization. SERIOUSLY, think about.
Square has outdone themselves. It's not always the complexity of the story that matters, sometimes something as simple as interesting concepts and unique features can make a game's plot ingenious, whether or not it trips up in some areas.
Albeit this IS a Square game, it doesn't quite feel like it. Perhaps that's a good thing, perhaps it isn't. It definitely is nowhere near as professional as Final Fantasy VII, but as if that really mattered.
I really couldn't have asked more from this game. Even after you beat all seven endings, you get to explore the programmers room, which is filled to the brim with secrets and extra features. You can even fight some of the programmers. Good luck getting to it.
SaGa Frontier, an unacknowledged masterpiece in every way a game can be so. I really feel most people just dropped this game after five minutes of unsavory play. But it's their loss. Anyone who doesn't give this game a try is missing out on an almost unmatched experience.
Release Year: 1997
Difficulty: Very Hard
Time To Complete: 80 - 120 Hours (yes, seriously)
Price I Paid: $7.99 (worth about $10 - $20)
Other Ports: None
Overall For Fun: 9.6
Overall For Plot: 7.4
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/12/01, Updated 11/12/01
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