Review by Masterhoboninja
"Prepare to step into an unforgiving world of legends and the people forging them."
SaGa Frontier is a Playstation title of its own niche, standing out as a gem in the rough. Rather than bore you with glorifying its existence, let's get down to business.
THE PREMISE: You may chose from seven characters who all have something of their own to accomplish. Each is presented with a dilemma and a catalyst for adventure. The characters' stories may entwine at times, so playing all of their stories ends up being an experience relatable to reading a book told from several viewpoints or (for the sake of relating this to another game) playing Seiken Densetsu 3/Odin Sphere. The characters and their tales are diverse, ranging from a super hero's revenge against an evil organization to a mage's rivalry with his brother to be the most powerful. The quests normally take up to 10 hours to complete each, though your style of play may have that time cut down to six hours or less--or perhaps 20 hours if you are the type to level up and explore! Ultimately, this allows for a conceptually diverse experience totally out to about 70 hours of gameplay!!
THE ACTUALITY: This game is mean. It is unforgiving. In fact, if you don't save after every battle, you might find yourself losing hours of effort because of a little slip up. Most characters are just let off the hook and allowed to go anywhere. Yeah, that includes marching into the tomb of the skeleton king, who'll rip your unprepared characters to shreds (didn't save yet? Ohoh, go back to the character select screen and try again). While 'grinding' isn't really necessary, you might find yourself doing it for peace of mind. Another problem is the repetition. Another problem is the repetition. If you're a stickler for doing the same thing over and over, you'll find SaGa Frontier repeating itself. This can be cured by following different routes (I know Light magic is better, but get Shadow magic instead this time!) or just ignoring some sidequests altogether. The way the game is set up, besides the few missions (if that) pertaining to the main story for your character, the sidequests and dungeons are open game to everyone. As a first-time go at the game, choosing a character like Lute (who's story consists of NO missions whatsoever, allowing you to go to the last boss right away) is not a good idea. The non-linear plot of most characters can just leave you stranded and lost. Instead, take someone like Red or Riki for your first go, since their paths are more well-cut and illuminated (and help familiarize you with the game). SaGa Frontier's non-linearity may be incredibly repulsive at times, but it is also a break from the walled-in paths of other RPGs. Accept it, and make the most of it.
THE GAMEPLAY (7/10): SaGa Frontier works like most RPGs in that you have a team (in this case, of 5 characters--though you can have two other teams--allowing you to have 15 total characters at all times) and you fight encounters to make the team stronger. The enemies walk around on the screen and are usually scaled to be about as strong as you. In some places they are intentionally weaker, in others they are harder on purpose. Bosses seem to be the exception, though. You can dodge the enemies on the screen, but if you touch one it initiates a random encounter. Other than the battle system, SaGa Frontier doesn't boast minigames, only has a few puzzles, and so on. However, as an RPG, it does accomplish a good bit. You might have to look up guides sometimes due to the fact the game doesn't hold your hand, but that's not game-breaking. Another little nuisance is that the backgrounds are pre-rendered and in a good bit of a different graphical style than the anime-esque sprites. This can be confusing, since some doors facing you on the screen are completely unseen unless you happen to run that way. Also, since the game wasn't the finished product the developers were going for, certain pieces may seem unexplained or useless--even worse, there's a few glitches in it (though they mostly benefit you if you exploit them). One neat thing, however, is that as you beat each character, the next ones you play as start off with better stats. Another redeeming thing about the gameplay is the amount of customization. Your character may start off using a sword, but if you want her to cast spells and fistfight, you can make her amazing at that as well! Also, the ability to save at nearly any point in the game is a more unique feature for this RPG and is incredibly useful. Overall, the good makes up for the bad.
BATTLE SYSTEM (8/10): Okay, so you ran into a random enemy on the screen! All of your fighters jump into combat and you chose what they will do right away. Spells cost JP and fighting skills cost WP. The more powerful the ability, the more it costs. When you run out of JP or WP, you'll be stuck using your most basic attacks. After choosing what everyone will do that turn, battle is initiated! Depending on each person's speed, that's what order they attack in. Certain techniques will link together, causing a bigger, better move to be pulled off (So instead of your fighter just punching the enemy and then your mage shooting a ray of energy at it, both act at the same time, combining their techniques into one!) resulting in more damage. Sometimes, your character will come up with a new ability to use on the spot, learning it right there in combat. By mixing techniques and leveling up, your characters become stronger, deal more damage, and learn more moves to use against your foes! If someone is knocked out, they start losing life points. Once a character hits 0 lifepoints, they're dead and can't participate in battle at all, even if healed. Of course, a trip to the inn cures death (fancy that). After each fight, your HP is restored--though you'll have to rest for your LP, WP, and JP to come back. Also, your characters' stats themselves level up depending on what they did in the battle. This ends up being a great alternative to conventional levelling up, since you are constantly getting better at what you want them to better at! Overall, the fighting system only takes a little bit of time to get used to--and it can be quite rewarding when your entire team synchs up a huge combo to decimate your foes.
GRAPHICS (6/10): A major gripe about this game is its graphics. As much as I enjoy SagaFrontier, the graphics aren't mind-blowing. For a Playstation title, they are good. You can tell what is what, who is who, and so on. The characters are, for the most part, well designed. The hero looks like a hero, the mage looks like a mage, and the normal girl looks like a normal girl. The sprites have unique designs and the places you go to are distinct, but things can be a bit bland at times. The worst is the accursed pre-rendered backgrounds that just don't go well with the 2-D sprites. Some doors are invisible due to odd angling and some treasure is even neatly hidden behind a 'wall'. Griping aside, there are several cool looking spells and techniques to use in battle. Not bad, but not amazing. For its time, it is solid.
MUSIC/SOUND (9/10): The musical score in SaGaFrontier is nothing short of amazing. There are several songs, every character has a theme, final boss music, and so on--each town has its own music, too! In fact, I just couldn't wait to get my hands on the original soundtrack and listen to some of the great beats this title has to offer. The mood of areas is caught very well with the music. When you're going through the mystic's chateau, the music just seems royal and made for kings. When facing off against the evil Black X Emporer as the hero Alkaiser, the supporting theme is enough to make even you feel heroic. As far as the sound clips go, they are well done--not amazing, but well done. Overall, this game's got the sound down, and that's a good thing.
PLOT: (6/10): The sad thing about a rushed and unfinished game is that you can see the rusty, unpolished pieces pretty easily. While characters like Red, Asellus, and Emelia have involving plotlines, Lute and Blue's can be absolute dissapointments. There was intended to be eight stories and an over-arching plot that linked everyone together, but that got scrapped. Instead, you are left discovering things from different angles, sometimes even stumbling about in the dark. However, the game does present itself well at points. Red's dialogue is cool, Riki's mirrors his innocence, Blue's shows thirst for power--you get the idea. So, yes, the game accomplishes a good bit of depth--but if you're looking for a culmination of events building up to a massive crescendo and a beautiful bow wrapping it together... well, sorry, but this isn't that game. SaGa Frontier's plot is reminiscent of life itself. We each go through our individual struggles, not lead by some great force, sometimes guessing at the paths we must take, and though we may emerge victorious in our own affairs, it isn't as if we're all working toward the same thing. In this right, I enjoy what SaGa Frontier accomplishes.
OVERALL (8/10): Despite the shortcomings of an occasional graphical mishap or a few minutes spent wondering what to do and wandering about aimlessly, SaGa Frontier is an engrossing and fun game. It certainly isn't something for the typical RPG fan, though for those looking for a new adventure, and open to new ideas, this game provides. Several good ideas went into the creation of this title, and though they may not shine brightly anymore, they are still fun. The unique leveling and battling system, coupled with the casual beat-a-story-in-one-sitting layout makes for a new RPG experience that oldschool gamers and people getting into RPG gaming altogther can enjoy. You may have to get some help from time to time, and it may be a bit hard to get the things you want, but, hey, that's life, right? At its worst, one could still enjoy at least a single character's story. At the most, the game provides a wonderful slew of adventures. Give it a shot, go out there, make your own legend--and you might just find a new favorite game in SaGa Frontier.
R3X, Adios, Thanks for reading, and enjoy the game!
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/11/10
Game Release: SaGa Frontier (US, 03/31/98)
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