Review by Jarek
"Lost in the sea of bigger names."
Saga Frontier was one of the Squaresoft games that never caught the popularity train. Released around the same time as FF7, FFT and Xenogears in the United States, it was lost amid the sea of other well received and well promoted titles. It's a shame really that this game of the Playstation era hasn't been played by many and thrown aside by others due to a mixed reception upon release.
The story isn't the strong point of the game. You are given 7 different characters to select from at the beginning. Each character is radically different from the next and follows a different storyline. There's the Mec T260G who strive to find his origin, the monster Riki who wants to save his world from destruction, the magician Blue who searches for the gifts of magic and the super hero Red who gains the powers of Alkaiser and seeks to defeat evil. Each story is pretty short, the majority of the quest is spent in battles and the story sequences flow by pretty quickly. There isn't a lot of depth to these stories but they get the job done with minimal dialogue and still manage to be rather enjoyable and interesting. Most of the characters aren't really well developed but almost none of them are useless, combat or storyline wise as the majority of the characters appear in the stories of at least one of the main heroes/heroines.
Kenji Ito composed the music and he does an excellent job here. The different battle themes are all very enjoyable and the various dungeon themes are very distinct and unique. Although, you'll be playing through many of the same areas with the 7 different characters, the music for these areas never gets boring. This is still one of my favorite soundtracks to listen to even though I've played through the game dozens of times. The quality of the music is excellent and it is one of the most varied soundtracks in recent memory.
The majority of the game time is spent in dungeons and thankfully the game delivers with a fast paced and excellent battle system. The dungeon designs are very nice and varied and represent the usual RPG fare like caves, buildings and science laboratories. The enemy and character designs are fantastic as well. The sprites are colorful and very well designed and despite the games rather poor graphics, the sprites manage to look fantastic. There is a lot of variety in the enemies and the characters you get which serves to keep the game interesting from beginning to end.
There are no random battles here. Instead, the enemies appear on screen at all times so you can avoid random battles easily. Enemy strength increases as you fight more battles as well. Dungeons you visited early in the game may have much stronger foes if you choose to return after you've fought more battles in other areas. This keeps the game fresh as you are always running into new enemies.
The battle system is one of the biggest highlights here. Your party maxes out at 15 characters and most of the main characters will have an easy time filling up their roster. Five characters participate in battle but switching characters in and out of your main party is easy. The battles play out in a series of turns. At the beginning of the turn, you'll select the five moves for your character and then start the turn which will play out with your characters and the enemies exchanging blows. Characters have hp, wp, jp and lp. HP(Hit Points) is the standard and when HP reaches 0, your character will fall. WP and JP are Weapon/Jutsu points which allow use of techniques. LP(Life Points) is an interesting addition. If your character falls in battle(HP=0) and is not healed, then he is still a viable target and any additional attack on his body will cost LP. When your LP reaches 0, only then is your character truly dead and can only be resuscitated by visiting an Inn or using a sanctuary stone.
Skills also play an important role in the battle system. At any time during the battle, your character may spark(light bulb appears over head) a new skill and use it on an enemy. From that moment on, the new skill will be available for use if equipped in one of the 8 skill slots. Fighting harder enemies, having higher stats and picking specific skills that lead to other skills all affect the chance of a skill being sparked. This only applies for fist or sword skills as gun and magic skills are learned after the battle. This sparking system is an excellent feature as it keeps the battles interesting as new skills are learned all the time. The skills are beautiful and very varied ranging from colorful sword skills to graphically impressive spells.
There are four different character types in the world of Saga Frontier. Mecs are the robotic creatures that gain more skills from absorbing other mecs they find and gain power from the equipment they wear. The main character T260G is a mec and other mecs will join almost every main character. Mystics are characters that can only use magic and gain skills and statistics by absorbing enemies in their sword, glove and boots. The main character Asellus is a mystic and other mystics will also join each quest. Monsters are characters that absorb the powers and statistics of other monsters they face. These are probably the most interesting characters but also hard to master as they take on many forms depending on what skills you have them absorb. The main character Riki is a monster and he, along with other monsters join almost any quest. Humans are the biggest race in Saga Frontier and they gain statistics by participating in fights. Upon battle's end, they gain stats based on what they did in battle. These are the characters that spark skills and excel in the use of swords, fists and guns. The rest of the main characters are human and humans make up the meat of the parties in almost any quest.
Saga Frontier shines with great music, excellent character, world and enemy designs The fantastic characters and the amazing battle system is what makes this game one of the best releases on the Playstation. The four different races and 7 different stories make each run through the game feel fresh. The battle system is very well designed and keeps the player interested even after thousands of battles. I must have played through this game at least 15 times already and am still amazed by how great this game is each time I put the disc in and run through it again. None of the stories are especially long or strong but every one of them manages to be fun. The characters are some of my favorites in any game and the world is very well designed. The graphics aren't too great when compared to other games at that time but they have a very unique feel to them and the spells/skills graphics and character/enemy sprites are very well done.
In addition, upon completing all 7 quests, you are given access to a secret area where you can do various things like listen to the game's music or fight various bosses. This game is a definite unique gem that's far different from your regular cookie cutter RPG but was unfortunately shoved aside when it first came out. It's difficult to find these days but if you can obtain a copy, you'll be introduced to a fantastic game that should really get more exposure.
Recommendation: Definite purchase, a fantastic game for a fan of the genre.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/07/05, Updated 07/19/05
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