RPG Review #61: Romancing SaGa

NuMetalManiak So what exactly is Romancing SaGa? It is the fourth game in the SaGa series, on my way to reaching SaGa Frontier. This is the first game in the SaGa series to be on the SNES, after three Final Fantasy Legend games have shown up on the Game Boy. The SaGa series are known for being open-ended games, but it is not until this game that they start really becoming open-ended, as the previous games were actually all linear. Unfortunately, I ran into some huge translation troubles with this one, and I heard that the second game in Romancing SaGa series has similar translation problems. I played the original SNES version of this game, or actually, a fan translation. I was lucky to actually find one, as it seems that the only game which was fully translated and somehow popular as far as Romancing SaGa goes was the third one. This game did have a remake on the PS2, which I actually might play some time. However, I might not play Romancing SaGa 2, probably due to lack of decent English translation just like with Growlanser I.

Gameplay: It's all standard turn-based role-playing game as far as this goes. You could say I do get bored with it after awhile. However, it actually is quite difficult, and due to bad translation issues, I had quite a bit of trouble getting started as far as combat goes. Up to six characters can be in a party, and equipping them requires picking the character on the menu (which I'll admit is kind of a bad idea, as I'm used to a standard equip button on a menu or something). When it comes to how battle goes, there's three rows for both players and enemies. Melee fighters will unfortunately have to get in range, so move them forward. Or you can give people bows or magic to attack from range, though many in-game enemies are melee fighters too so they will just spend turns defending. It can be pretty hard to start things off when first playing, as character stats are low and if you are unlucky enough to run into a strong monster (or even an early-game magic-using enemy), you'll likely die quick in this game.

This of course leads to a grinding aspect which is common in old-school RPGs. Although here, it is like the first two Final Fantasy Legend games, where you are actually grinding stats instead of gaining levels at all. Problem is, it's totally randomized at the end of each battle, sometimes no stat gains are given. And grinding for gold is also quite an issue, as a lot of the armor in this game is really expensive. What makes it even worse is that gold caps off at 9999, and you can't gain anymore unless you sell an item, which gives you a jewel, worth 10000 gold. I don't get the logic here, but either way, items, weapons, armor, and even magic are all expensive in this game. Yes, you buy magic, but it's specialized in a way. The shopowner reminds you that the chosen element will be learned at the expense of forgetting the opposite one (so learning Wind magic means you forget Earth magic). As far as combat skills go, leveling up weapons unlock limited-use skills, and magic itself is limited despite there not being MP or something.

Well despite all the bad things I've said about this game so far, I did notice how easy it is to remove unwanted party members is, just by going into pubs. And you can recruit others there too if you have space. Furthermore, inn resting is 100% free! This is absolutely wonderful. And not only that, Romancing SaGa doesn't actually have any random encounters at all. Enemies chase you in the field instead. As nice as it is though, make sure to position your characters properly for battle, and make sure your character is facing the right way (the L/R keys help in this as they allow you to strafe) before entering battle if you don't want formation rows to be screwed up. It's pretty neat. And of course, the many quests to do in this game allows for quite a lot of openness. I am pretty darn sure I didn't get to all of them, but oh well. Grade: C+

Characters: In this game, you choose from eight main characters to be your main. Each will have a father of a certain occupation and a mother of a certain occupation. Apparently these tie into your main's stats. Being right-handed or left-handed seems to be a personal preference. Each character starts with an axe and an iron sword plus a few healing balms.
Albert: Noble son of a king at 18 years of age. The son of king Rudolf of Rosalia.
Jamil: Thief at 20 years of age. Does his stealing at South Estamir, a very criminal-run town.
Gray: An adventurer at 24 who lusts for treasure and is an accomplished swordsman by trade.
Hawke: A crusty 30-year old pirate with a lust for booty (he even speaks with the stereotypical pirate talk!).
Aisha: A 16-year old nomad of a certain group of individuals known as Taralians, she is a tomboy.
Claudia: A ranger at 22 years of age, raised in a forest with an old witch named Eule and some animals.
Barbara: An almost-stereotypical dancer at 26 years of age, travels with a caravan.
Sif: A Nordic 28-year old barbarian from the snowy place known as Valhallaland.

There are a few other recruits that are not main characters, some involved in story segments and all. I like how you can customize them from the start of course. Grade: B

Plot: As far as plot goes, I only really got to character introductions for this game, because as I said, the game is entirely open-ended once you finish character introductions. War has raged between the gods on the land known as Mardias, the gods involved were Death, Saruin, and Schirach, all three wicked gods, as well as Elore, a lord of gods. Saruin was the only one who remained after the war, as the other wicked ones got stripped of god-like powers, while a hero, Mirsa, apparently died or something. Fatestones are objects that would be gathered, but they've been scattered, meanwhile evil is looking for a way to get Saruin out of his prison. If I recall, Saruin is the final boss, but for this SNES game, they made him next to impossible to beat without emulator codes for some reason.

As far as character introductions go, Albert is the longest. He and his sister Diana, plus two random soldiers, help destroy monsters, then, stereotypically, Diana is kidnapped and the kingdom is in ruins. Albert ends up shipwrecked near Valhallaland where Sif takes him in and then we do quests. One quest involves two of his friends, a knight Rafael and a lord of a town, Theodore, and it's sort of the same thing as with other quests. But by then, Albert's intro is basically done. In Jamil's intro, he is with his friend Dowd, stealing things in the general stealing town of South Estamir. His semi-girlfriend Farah is apparently kidnapped and taken to a brothel, and Jamil dresses like a girl to get her back. That's Jamil's intro. Gray's intro has him travelling with a badass knight known as Galahad and a renown mage known as Myriam. Not much they can do as far as intros goes before the quests start, as when Gray heads off to the next town, he can choose to say goodbye to his mates, and then be a bodyguard for Claudia. Hawke on the other hand is a funny pirate, who captains his ship, Lady Luck, along with his first mate, a lizard man known as Guella Ha. They raid ships, help out with the pirate crew, next thing you know he is betrayed and on the run from his former pirate friends. Then shipwrecked somewhere and the quests begin from there.

For the females, Aisha's intro is quite bleak. She is incredibly weak in dealing with enemies outside her small village, and a dashing knight, Neidhart (apparently supposed to be Knight Heart), saves her. Despite being called a devilish name by the villagers, his save of Aisha was accepted. Then Aisha is kidnapped and taken to a brothel, the same one where Jamil is to save Farah (so this game has intertwining intros). For Claudia, she travels with Brau and Sylvan, a bear and a wolf, respectively, to save a knight known as Jian, who tells of another Claudia of legend, and then introduces her to Gray. End of that intro. Barbara barely even has an intro, just has this weird manager guy named Herman traveling with her and dancing for a minstrel (who actually plays a bigger role in the remake if I am not mistaken). Sif hunts monsters in the fields of Valhallaland where she meets Albert, and their intros intertwine.

From then on, most are quests that can be done at anytime. There are also multiple endings as well, depending on how many good deeds (quests) were done and how well the characters perform (which I think is a hidden stat). Beating the endgame quests would be quite taxing, especially with overpowered bosses. But I enjoy the intros and the small quests more. Grade: B-

Music: A lot of character fanfares play most of the time. But not all of the music in this game was bad to listen to. Fantasy-style music works well with a game like this. Not terrible, not exciting, just right. Grade: B

Overall Grade: B-

Gameplay is one thing, story is another. On the other hand, translation got me rather confused. This game was traditional, but really could have benefited more. It seems that some negatives really showed their ugly head for this game, although the positives do their best to outweigh it. I couldn't be bothered with being a completionist for this particular RPG. And with that, I can say that I might not play Romancing SaGa 2, unless a really good English translation exists. I may end up playing the PS2 remake of this game though.