Monday, May 9, 2011

Why SaGa Rocks My Heart (and Boxers)

Sa...Ga?  The hell is that?

Few Americans are familiar with the SaGa series of games.  I love SaGa, but in an age where FPSes and western RPGs rule the popularity charts, it is rare to see somebody in the US who knows what I am talking about when I mention this underrated series.  However, if I mention Final Fantasy Legend, that may ring a bell in some individuals.  For those who don't know, we saw the first three games of the SaGa series over here under the Final Fantasy Legend name.  I assume the renaming was to tie the games to an already-popular series in attempt to boost its exposure and success. 

Makai Toushi SaGa (Final Fantasy Legend) was a spectacular Game Boy RPG in its time.  I can't readily recall too many other RPGs for the old, blocky handheld to be honest (Seiken Densetsu comes to mind).  SaGa featured a generalized template of characters with which the player could form a party.  Players could choose from Humans, Mutants, and Monsters, each of which have their own unique attributes and strengths.

The story is simple.  There's a tower to Paradise, and you are going to go on a journey to climb it, facing lots of obstacles and enemies along the way.  The characters don't develop on their own, but since they are the player's to customize, you may find yourself coming up with their backgrounds and backstories anyway.  (That's what I did)  The graphics are also simple, almost -too- simple, but they get the job done.  It's also hard to go wrong with music by Uematsu, though there aren't too many tracks.  Presentation-wise, it's a simple affair, but don't let that fool you.

Even with its first entry, SaGa manages to set itself apart from its sister series, Final Fantasy. Fans of other RPGs probably scratched their heads a bit at their Humans' lack of natural growth, their weapons losing durability and breaking, Mutant abilities coming and going, and Monsters eating meat to change forms.  It's so different from the other RPGs of its time.  It also pretty much has the party climbing up a tower and punching God in the face.  SaGa has you confronting "God" nearly a decade before games like Xenogears were making this idea popular.  Seriously, when you stop and think about it, this game really ROCKS.

SaGa gives you wings.

SaGa 2: Hihou Densetsu (Final Fantasy Legend II) takes its predecessor's basic mechanics and improves on them in every way.  The story is more solid, the music is great (with Kenji Ito combining his talents with Uematsu's), and the experience is more rewarding, epic, and memorable.  We even get the really cool option of Robot characters!  Maybe I'm biased, since SaGa 2 was actually my first exposure to the series.  (Some guy gave my brother his FFLII cartridge and I got hooked.)  From what I've read, however, most that have played the first three SaGa games would agree with me that 2 is the best of the GB SaGas.  It even ups the ante on god-killing, with the party trashing several mythological figures such as Venus and Apollo.  A shiny remake came out not too long ago for DS, but I bet we won't see it stateside. 

More badassery

Jiku no Hasha: SaGa 3 (Final Fantasy Legend III) was almost a step backward.  It's a pretty good game in its own right, but the game mechanics are simplified and resemble something closer to Final Fantasy.  The characters are all fixed, so party customization is largely limited this time around.  However, one of its major innovations was...TIME TRAVEL.  Yup, SaGa did it before Chrono Trigger, though the time travel in SaGa 3 is admittedly simple and limited in comparison.  I must say that flying around in the Talon is a pretty cool experience, though.  People turned off by some of the mechanics and feel of the other SaGa games may like this one a bit better.  This one was also remade for DS in Japan.

Then, things really start to get interesting.  SaGa came to the Super Famicom in full force with Romancing SaGa.  Romancing SaGa returns to many aspects and mechanics of previous SaGa titles, while adding more depth.  In a way, the series begins to parallel Final Fantasy a bit as far as production goes, using the same basic sprite sets, synth music and whatnot.  This time around, players get to choose from several main characters and experience their version of the story.

RS is also extremely non-linear.  Players get to pretty much roam the world as they please, finding quests and adventures along the way in whatever order.  This greatly adds to its replay value, as different playthroughs can provide very different experiences.  You also get to trash an evil god in epic fashion.  Kenji Ito tackles the score by himself this time, with amazing results.  That man is a genius when it comes to battle music in particular, even better than Uematsu in my opinion. 

Most of my experience with Romancing SaGa has come through the PS2 remake, which adds some more mechanics that SaGa had developed since then.  The character designs were revamped, with mixed reaction.  I don't mind them so much, though I have to say the original artwork is amazing.  The music also saw a bit of a facelift, and it rocks. 

Romancing SaGa 2 and 3 keep the ball rolling.  I haven't really experienced them myself, so I feel I can't say too much.  It's kind of tough since we didn't see them stateside, though emulation makes that a bit easier to get around, provided there's a translation patch (pretty sure a translation of 3 is out there).  I do know that RS2 spans a number of generations, which is kinda interesting.  RS3 is reputed to be a very good game, and it's graphics look much like FF6's.  I'd certainly like to experience them if I can find the resources and time.

SaGa moved to the next generation of consoles with SaGa Frontier for the Playstation.  It continued the trend of providing the player with a number of characters to choose and following their version of the story in a rather non-linear manner.  The graphics are quite colorful, with chibi characters parading around on pre-rendered backgrounds.

Some of the characters' stories are pretty interesting.  When I started a game as Blue, within a minute or two, I was being told about my brother Rouge and that I need to go out and "KILL HIM".  I have also played a bit as Red, whose story is reminiscent of tokusatsu heroes like Kamen Rider.  His story is infused with JUSTICE, and you can transform into his more powerful alter ego Alkaiser (provided a few conditions are right).  I'm actually playing through it right now, and despite the reputation SaGa Frontier has for being a mediocre game, I'm having quite a bit of fun with it.  Haters gonna hate.  Going to pick up SaGa Frontier 2 when I'm done with this one.

Unlimited SaGa was the latest in the series to be released.  I haven't played it yet, but my understanding is that it is regarded as a terrible game that tries way too hard to be different and complex.  If I ever find a copy, I'll probably pick it up so that I can develop my own opinion.

Anyway, maybe by taking a look at the SaGa series as a whole, I haven't directly addressed the topic of my blog.  Now that everybody has some background, let me summarize why SaGa rocks my heart and my boxers:

  • Climbing a tower and punching the creator in the face
  • Time travel
  • Beautiful artwork
  • Epic music from Uematsu and Ito
  • Unique and interesting mechanics
  • Options, non-linearity, replayability
  • General awesomeness/kickassery

Claudia from RS.  Hnnnng!

I always end up being fond of stuff that nobody else likes or knows about.  My love for SaGa is no exception.  I suggest that any RPG fan tries it out, and I hope that my experiences with SaGa continue to be wondrous and epic.  *Crosses fingers for a new SaGa game*

No comments:

Post a Comment