Review by kefka989
An epic saga that many overlooked
Now this is a game that will give you mixed emotions. This is a little number that, for the most part, went under the radar when it came out. I remember seeing it on the shelves and thinking "Saga Frontier? What the hell is that?" The reason that happened is because this game series is a whole lot bigger then it let's on in the states, but of the games are either changed (The Gameboy versions of the Saga series where released as Final Fantasy Adventure 1, 2, and 3 in the US) or where never released at all, so gamers where hit rather hard by this game's odd mode of play. The game play style really stems from Final Fantasy 2, which had the same type of leveling up system, but once more, it was never released in the states so this new style of character growth was totally different.
For one, you have to choose between several main characters. Each character has their own story that they follow through, completely separate from the others in terms of plot (though occasionally you can recruit other main characters to work in your party along the way). This is rather interesting because in a way its like playing many different games all at once since each story is rather different from the next. Not only that, there are plenty of places you can go to that are different and some characters spend more time in one area or one set of areas then another so you get to experience them all best if you play through with all the characters. Next, there is no Xp system in this game, instead you learn by use. For example, if you fight using hands or a sword, your strength, Hit points, and vitality will go up. If you fight with a Gun, youre Intelligence, wisdom, and quickness will go up. If you fight with magic, your magic points (jp), psychic, and charm will go up. The more powerful the monster, the more likely the stat will increase. This is interesting as you dont have to grind for experience points or fight needless battles, fighting usually always nets you a few stat boosts so you tend to get more from fighting then in most games. You can also truly customize your characters with how you want them to grow, focused in one thing or keep them balanced out to be well rounded. Also, you dont learn moves from gaining levels, instead you will randomly learn new attacks, depending on the weapon you are using and your attack you use as a base. Using a basic sword attack will lead to learning Thrust, while using thrust can lead to learning Triple thrust, or Thunder thrust, and so forth. Using guns can learn you skills like triple shot and true aim, and so forth. Magic is a little different in that you do have to learn magic the hard way by buying the spells and equipping them. After learning the skills and spells, you have a limited amount of space to equip them, only allowing you so much by way of attacks to use in a battle with the exceptions of new ones you invent on the spot.
The game uses these workings to make it more fun, and the different characters with different plots also makes the game vastly repayable. The game also introduces variety by allowing you to recruit many other characters, up to 15 (but only 5 can battle at any one time). The game also offers four different races; Monster, Human, and Robot, and Mystic. Monsters cannot gain skills or stat increases like humans can and can only wear accessories, but they can take the attacks of monsters you beat at the end of a fight, and if you are lucky, take the form of that monster to gain its stats. You have to be very careful though as sometimes you might absorb the same monster twice, at one point becoming a strong monster, or becoming a very weak one just by chance that happens to share a similar attack to the stronger one. Humans are basic, their skills and stats increase in battle normally and can equip anything. Mystics can only increase their weapon points, charm, hit points, and magic points, and can increase their other stats by absorbing monsters into their equipment (sword, gloves, boots, and mail) and also absorb a monster's attack. They cannot learn skills but they can learn magic too. They are interesting because like monsters, they rely on special monster attacks and absorbing their powers, only you have a combination of the two and more leeway to decide how you want them to turn out, rather then simply putting all your eggs in one basket like monsters do. Robots can only increase their stats by equipping armor, weapons, and special robot parts, and while they cannot learn skills in battle, they can learn battle programs from other robots that are destroyed in battle. They are interesting because they can make the most out of almost anything, even basic equipment and items effecting their stats greatly, making them very useful for putting rather useless or pointless items to great use for beefing themselves up.
Despite this new and deep style of game play, the game suffers some as well. The music is very basic and repetitive; the graphics are on par with the SNES (the backgrounds and characters run under the same graphics style that they used for games such as Super Mario RPG legend of the 7 stars). Most of the characters have a very basic design, such as a squat non-descript body with a large head. The enemies and monsters have a very vague appearance as well, sometimes making it impossible to tell what you are looking at or fighting unless its something obvious like a puddle of living metal or a giant Eye. The only thing the game can do that a SNES cannot is use 3-D polygon graphics for such things like attacks in battles and magic. The game can be very vague about what you need to do next, and that can leave you wondering or lost for hours. Sometimes the only clue you have where to go next is a rather bland statement from a character that you dont get repeated so if you miss it, you are totally at a loss of where to go or what to do. Also the level design is very hard to maneuver since the backgrounds all look the same and items you can interact with look exactly the same as ones you cannot. The backgrounds are simple still-frame 3-D rendered areas, much like in the original Resident Evils and also in such games like Silver, Final Fantasy 7-9, and Parasite Eve 1&2. Unlike such games, however, there are generally no shiny bits or visual clues to what you can interact with and what you cannot, leaving you sometimes wondering around just hitting the action button trying to find something to interact with.
Despite these things, the game has great replay value, and you can get lost in raising your character's stats and learning them new skills for hours on end without even caring about the main plot. I often find myself playing this game every once in a while now even though I have much 'better' games to play on the PS2, and that shows the great replay value of this game. The only other problem is that this game is very hard to find, so if you happen upon it, be sure to pick it up if you like different styled RPG's.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: SaGa Frontier (US, 03/31/98)
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