Romancing SaGa 2 Review
The SaGa series has always been an enigma here in the west. While it may be beloved in Japan, it has a spotty record across the sea. The only exposure we have had with the series has mostly been through either the three Final Fantasy Legend titles - all for the Game Boy - or the SaGa Frontier entries for the original PlayStation. Okay, we got Unlimited SaGa, but the less said about that game, the better (outside of its brilliant soundtrack).
The situation is bleaker for Romancing SaGa. We only ever received the enhanced remake of the original for the PlayStation 2. Outside of that, we have not had the pleasure of experiencing Romancing SaGa 2 or 3, two of the best RPGs for the Super Nintendo. Sure, they can’t compete with the likes of Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI (the soundtrack in RS2 is nowhere near as good as those), but we still missed out on what are considered to be remarkable games.
Due to the commercial failure of Romancing SaGa and Unlimited SaGa in the west, the publisher stopped localizing any further entries in the series. We missed out on the Final Fantasy Legend 2 and Final Fantasy Legend 3 remakes for the Nintendo DS. It would be 10 years before we would see any sign of the series.
That all changed back in 2016 when Square Enix localized Romancing SaGa 2 for the first time on mobile devices as a premium title. That means no in-app purchases - you got the entire game after buying the game. While some moaned and groaned they chose such a polarizing platform to debut one of their classics in English, it was, in fact, one of the best ways to experience the game.
You see, Romancing SaGa 2 was sort of an enigma at the time. Although it was originally released on a console, it was broken up in such a way that it was designed to be played in small chunks. That means even if you’re playing on a portable device (your phone), you still got your fill just like you would on a PlayStation Vita, of which RS2 was ported to back during its original launch in Japan.
Fans were quite vocal about how much they wanted to see this game on that particular system. Series creator Akitoshi Kawazu continued to reassure fans he would make certain this would happen, and earlier this month, our dreams came true - and then some. Not only did we get the PlayStation Vita version, but we also received it on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. How generous! But how well-made is this game compared to its mobile counterpart?
The premise of Romancing SaGa 2 is interesting enough. The story begins with you as an emperor or empress, taking on the fundamental duties of protecting empire of Varennes from the evil that dares threaten it. The game begins by following a journey of Leon and his sons, Victor and Gerard. Victor may be the rightful heir to the throne, but Leon wants to make sure Gerard understands the basics of combat just in case. Meanwhile, the capital of the empire, Avalon, is suddenly attacked by one of the legendary Seven Heroes. This causes Leon to go on a quest for vengeance.
Right off the bat, we’re treated with of the cliche-shattering aspects of Romancing SaGa 2. The Seven Heroes are actually the antagonists in this game. Despite how they were once hailed as great heroes who saved the world, they quietly disappeared only to reappear as monsters. Over the course of the adventure, you must defeat all of them.
Once you have completed the prologue, you will split time between completing this plot objective and working to rebuild your empire. This includes using funds to invest in research for new items and equipment, set up different projects, and completing quests to increase the overall scale of the empire.
You may be surprised to hear you won’t be able to complete your goal of revenge in your lifetime. Rather, this is something your descendants will need to handle. Once you have completed certain story scenarios, you will move ahead a generation and be tasked with choosing a successor to the throne. Don’t worry - your progress will carry forward as well, even if your character looks a little different.
This will ideally culminate in a final battle between your almighty emperor/empress and the Seven Heroes themselves. How you get there is presented in a somewhat nonlinear fashion as it gives you plenty of freedom to proceed as you see fit. Along the way, you will be able to recruit party members from the various towns and villages under your rule.
They too will grow as your character does over generations. This is where we get into the battle system, which is mostly your standard turn-based affair but with a heavy dose of strategy. While you only have to choose from a list of commands, you also have to take into consideration what weapons you’re using against certain monster types. You have to pay attention to these factors.
You can change your party formation to create certain advantages and disadvantages against enemies. If you’re caught off guard, like being attacked from behind, your formation will break and you’ll have a tougher time, so your movement on the field is crucial.
Anyone who has played a SaGa game is familiar with how you randomly learn skills in combat. It’s a unique feature for the franchise that takes some getting used to, but once you learn a skill, you will always be able to teach it to a new generation.
Leveling also doesn’t work the way you’d expect it to. Rather than earning levels, you earn tech points at the end of a battle. After accruing a certain amount, that party member will unlock weapon and stat upgrades. Sadly, very little of this is explained to the player - you’re mostly left to figure things out on your own or be forced to look up a guide to understand these components.
Of course, the game isn’t meant to be easy. For every encounter you participate in, it gets a tad more difficult. Not only that, but the power of the Seven Heroes will continue to grow as well. In a shocking turn of events, it’s bad if you attempt to grind. This puts things in direct conflict with the method in how you learn new skills, ultimately establishing the awful difficulty balance found within.
At least you can see the monsters as they roam about, but once you’re spotted, they tend to make a beeline towards you. It’s important to keep in mind you will have plenty of time to make your characters grow, so patience is a virtue. Focus on advancing the story rather than trying to clear rooms of monsters, and you’ll be perfectly fine.
That isn’t to say that those party members will be around forever. Every person you recruit has their own individual health points and life points. Health points work like in any other RPG. However, if that person gets knocked out in battle, they lose a life point. Once they lose all their life points, they are permanently dead.
If that person happens to be your main character, this will instantly trigger a new generation. And if they’re the last emperor meant to face the final boss? Then it’s Game Over. I wouldn’t get too attached to your party members as there are plenty of people to recruit in the world. Even then, for those like me who really care about their plight, you can’t help but feel a little depressed seeing them pass away for good right in front of you.
On the technical side, this is purely a straight port of the mobile version. Even the user interface is exactly the same, only instead of tapping a screen, you are using analog sticks or the D-Pad to move around. While I wasn’t expecting much, it would have been nice if the developers had at least given the interface a nice touch-up.
When you blow the visuals up on a big screen, it just looks bad with its huge font and giant boxed windows. At least the game looks remarkably better than it did originally. I really wish they gave the same level of treatment to the Final Fantasy mobile releases. They certainly would have been far better received.
The sprites look very colorful and sharp. You won’t see any ugly smoothing or blur filters or poor tiling. Instead, it’s a wonderful benchmark for how mobile remasters should be treated… only this is on the PlayStation 4. Well, you know what I mean.
While this will mostly intrigue the old-school JRPG fans out there, there are plenty of odd quirks that create an experience no one has ever really seen before. It helps the game feel fresh today despite being over 24 years old. Rather than following the traditional JRPG template beaten to death at the time, it instead created its own path that set the SaGa series apart from the rest.
If you can manage the noticeable gameplay design flaws and the eyesore that is the user interface, Romancing SaGa 2 is still an excellent experience culminating in a highly eccentric entry for the series. Thanks to its sheer density of content, I would still recommend giving this one a try, regardless of the platform you go with.