Review: Romancing SaGa 2 (Nintendo Switch)
- Release Date (NA): December 15, 2017
- Release Date (EU): December 15, 2017
- Release Date (JP): December 15, 2017
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: Arte Piazza
- Genres: Role Playing Game
- ESRB Rating: Teen
- PEGI Rating: Seven years and older
- Also For: Android, Computer, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Guess what guys, I'm doing a review of a dating sim game, Romancing SaGa 2! Turns out after a quick search on google, it's... a Japanese exclusive JRPG for the Super Famicom (SNES) published in 1993. This is nothing like what I thought, it sounded like a dating sim game... a dating sim by Square Enix, what was I thinking!?
Romancing SaGa 2 (RS2) is an RPG based on a Japan-exclusive Super Famicom game from 1993. Seeing its English debut in the enhanced smartphone release last year, the Switch version builds upon solid foundations for the final experience I came to play. Yes, this is a 20 year old SNES game remastered for Android, and now for the Nintendo Switch; I don't think I've ever heard of a similar process, but this is the first I've heard of the game in general.
Before so much as starting, you're hit with an introduction; essentially a demo lasting five minutes showing the events preceding the game. I question why the second game was localised without the first, but this introduction was an enjoyable way to be brought into the world. Also worth mentioning is the option to play the game as it was imagined in 1993, excluding the modern additions. For those familiar with the original release, this could be a chance to relive their youth without having to dig out their Super Famicom. Another interesting inclusion is a New Game+, most notable for its accessibility from the get-go; unlike many a modern and classic RPG often requiring playing the game to completion beforehand. If you're interested in early stat building, this might be useful to you. What exactly the NG+ offers I'm not certain; I haven't played this before, and I don't plan on a second play through any time soon. It does however offer a reason for those who experienced the original game to jump back into the world seamlessly.
The story is a simple but interesting concept. Heroes once revered for saving the world from peril have returned, now demonic presences terrorising the citizens of Avalon. As the ruler of this kingdom, it is your duty to find an unlikely cohort of warriors and eliminate this new threat one has-been hero at a time. As events unfold, the kingdom's ruler must pass the torch to the next generation, each successor to the throne tackling a new hero until all seven have fallen.
The game's main selling point comes from its freeform scenario system—essentially a system in place to give your actions consequences. It gives meaning to your choices, showing a direct influence on how the story progresses. Mix into this equation the standard RPG aspect of luck, and you have a world that feels reactive and alive. With a reasonable selection of classes to pick from, the game features a degree of innovation quite interesting for the time it was originally released in, but should I have expected any less? With Sega's 1990 release Phantasy Star III playing similarly, it isn't difficult to see where the game draws inspiration; and with Chrono Trigger's multiple endings, it isn't difficult to see the games it has inspired. It isn't often we get a game featuring a diverse cast of protagonists telling a single story over several generations; RS2 has clearly tried it, but is it any good?
At a glance, I would call this game an interesting specimen. This version of RS2 has clearly had considerable work put into it, showing off completely redesigned backgrounds, visuals, and special effects. To my dismay, the only part unchanged is the characters—and being 24 years behind the rest of the game definitely sticks out. Even the bosses look the same, the only difference being their shiny new animations in battle. Though dated, the characters are animated well. The motion of walking, to selecting an attack, to actually attacking; it feels fluid and pleasant to see. Small touches like the animation of preparing an attack, or emotions shown by characters, also stood out to me. They remind me of similar effort put into the storytelling of Final Fantasy IV.
It definitely looks odd to see pixel sprites overlaid on a far more detailed setting; not to mention how sharp they appear. Few games use this style, Square Enix's upcoming Project Octopath Traveler being a prominent example, as well as Pier Solar and the Great Architects—another Genesis game remade for modern consoles. It's an interesting means of preserving the original content, whilst updating it for modern players. It's a style some will, and some won't get on with.
This might sound strange, but the music and sounds... are exactly as they were in the 1993 original. Absolutely nothing feels different. For better or worse, it sounds exactly like the old SPC sound system; the same songs, sound effects, all of it. Even with no remixes or new arrangements, it sounds good, and relatively well made. While it does sound good, you may not care much for it without an appreciation for SPC audio due to the simplistic nature of it. There isn't much more to say aside from whether I do or don't like it myself. The option for an updated soundtrack would have been nice to coincide with the remade graphics, but ultimately all I can say is I find it okay. The atmosphere is set properly to the music, and the sound effects are used well.
Before continuing, I feel it necessary to mention the difficulties I had understanding certain aspects of the game. Despite the game being localised for English audiences, it explains very little of its core content, and fails to provide a manual as you might have seen in its 1993 release. I apologise if I am unable to adequately explain these, but I wasn't able to fully understand every aspect of the game. For an RPG, I feel it really quite bad to not teach the player its core mechanics. I don't feel this was the best way for me to experience the game, however with this release, I was left with little option.
For the most part, RS2 plays like any standard RPG. You traverse a world filled with towns and people to interact with; stores and various locations to find resources; and dungeons with legions of monsters. The game employs a fairly ordinary top-down perspective, and an unexpectedly simplified world map. Traveling from location to location is no longer an affair sullied with random encounters, instead it becomes as easy as saying where you want to go, and suddenly you're there! Great, right? Honestly, the game is relatively short, and removing a focus on traveling and adventure doesn't help it. Before long, you find yourself in the loop of find where you want to go, defeat the evil lurking there, and go somewhere else until all evil is vanquished.
Battles play out similarly to Final Fantasy IV; you control up to five characters in turn-based combat, a mixture of the speed stat and a bit of luck deciding who hits first. It's also possible to change the formation of the party to give bonus effects as desired, such as higher defense, or certain units being more frequently targeted. Aside from this, it feels relatively straightforward. Each character can equip up to four items, with some items exclusive to certain classes in standard RPG form. These exclusive items are mostly weapons, such as swords, lances, hammers, and bows; as well as expendable healing items. Each character can also equip a selection of armors, including body mail, shields, and accessories. Having up to four items on hand gives you a reasonable degree of choice and variation going into battle, and allows you to adapt as you see fit. Mix into this class-specific skills, magic, and unarmed martial arts, and you have the makings of what could be a fun, albeit largely standard, RPG combat system.
Usually in an RPG, progression is gauged through gaining EXP and leveling up. This is often done through winning battles but as far as I know, this isn't the case with RS2. To be honest, I failed to find a way to measure your strength. The process of leveling up skills comes down to using them often; and new skills are acquired by using specific weapons, or by being taught as you pass through a kingdom. An interesting aspect of battling is how HP is recovered after each battle, removing the need for excessive trips or burning through items to heal. The same can't be said for SP and MP however, forcing you to think before you lead with your strongest and most draining skills. Tech points were another aspect of the game I struggled to fully grasp, with little explanation of them provided. I came to assume they had some significance to my stats, but again with the game's limited explanation, I'm left with assumptions.
The Kingdom of Avalon serves as a central point in the game, allowing you to develop new weapons and formation tactics, as well as learn new skills and spells. Aside from that, there's surprisingly little to do. Each time a new monarch comes to power, you'll find yourself in the standard routine of developing weapons, learning new skills, and going on your merry way. With the skills and weapons acquired passed from one generation to the next, this cycle remains meaningful; it allows for a feeling of real progression as you truly continue your predecessors' legacy. While the generational system may not sound particularly impressive by modern standards, this new style of storytelling through decision making was quite interesting at the time—a choose your own adventure game of 1993. It comes as no surprise to me the game was marked as "a hallmark of the million-selling SaGa RPG series" on the store page. That being said, this was a Japan-exclusive Super Famicom game, and those came with instruction booklets to assist with the basic needs of the player.
An element that struck me as interesting was the LP counter. When a character dies in an RPG, you expect to use a revival item or spell to recover; or perhaps take them to a church or an inn. RS2 is different—it uses the LP counter in a similar way to the lives in Super Mario Bros and once it hits zero, it's game over for that character. They remain dead for the remainder of the game. I've never seen this kind of implementation in an RPG before. Games like Fire Emblem prominently use permanent death to add weight to the player's actions, but this is after one death. Having Mario-like lives ends up feeling awkward. The surviving characters have an impact on the remainder of the story, each offering additional options as a new successor rises to the throne. Ultimately, even if it is story related, it feels awkward and unappealing. Some people might like this, particularly fans of Fire Emblem, but not me.
Of all the issues I had with RS2, the one I feel must be discussed is difficulty and in particular, the enemies of the game. When visiting locations infested with enemies, you're greeted with visible sprites on the map, in oppose to the more common random encounter system of the time. These monsters stand to pose huge problems to the player, definitely not helped by the poorly thought through number of them. They chase and corner you with little effort, and no way out. You can attempt to flee from the battle, and you might succeed; however this does nothing in helping you truly avoid them, as the sprites remain on the map, still hunting you. It's quite frankly frustrating, and leads to you fighting through swarms of enemies whether you want to or not. To add to this frustration, each generation spawns only one unit capable of escaping from a battle, to give you what little chance you have of a peaceful stroll—the current ruler of the generation. If he falls, it's either victory or game over for your party. This again may not be a huge concern for some, but the poorly thought out flee option really took away from the overall experience for me. Were it to simply remove the enemy from the area upon fleeing, my experience with this aspect of the game could have been very different. To give an idea of how bad it can get, take a look at the screenshot above. I had to pause the game to get a chance to take that.
Towards the beginning of the game, I found it incredibly easy to lose party members; enemies killing multiple with a single hit. It could have been I didn't know what I was doing, but it felt more difficult than it should have. How could I have known what to do when most of the statuses hadn't been explained? The best, or only, thing to do in this case was to fight until my party was stronger, and buy items to support this growth. Buy items? I suppose now would be a good time to mention you don't actually get money from winning fights, or if you do, I sure don't know how. Remember the New Game+ mentioned earlier? Restarting the game to give your characters a head start soon becomes more appealing as you stumble through the early game. Of course, that is just one option, but I'm sure more would open if you're willing to take the time to figure the game out. Think you're doing alright at the start? Things are only going to get harder with the difficulty increasing after every battle, whether you win or run away. I found this a particularly odd choice having not seen it in most RPG games. Much of the game's difficulty ultimately boils down to a lack of understanding; and with the game telling you so little, it's easy for it to appear difficult. Depending on how much time you're willing to put into learning mechanics, it can either be incredibly simple, or really quite frustrating.
I question whether those expecting a traditional RPG would be satisfied with what RS2 has to offer. Without a manual or proper tutorial, the game feels more like a stress test at times. That's not to say there aren't people who enjoy figuring a game out for themselves, but it isn't for me. As a modern release, I feel this game to be something only a hardcore RPG fan would truly appreciate. While presenting some interesting ideas and storytelling techniques, RS2 is also surprisingly short, with a six hour session being enough to clear the game. Of course, this could be lengthened had you a desire to experience alternate endings, but that wasn't something I really wanted to do.
Of course, the reason you're reading this is to decide whether the game is worth $20. For this blast from the past? I honestly can't recommend it. Were the game to provide a manual or tutorial to give those who didn't play the original release a chance my opinion may be different, however the inability to understand many of the game's features really is inexcusable to me. If you feel you can work around that, or even prefer games that way, I would say it is worth your time. It definitely shows promise, but only for those truly dedicated and determined.
Romancing SaGa 2 Trailer
+ Nice sharp graphics
+ Good music
+ Innovative gameplay
+ Great replay value
- Lacking a guide/manual/tutorial of any type
- Not very helpful information for the player
- Very odd decisions
- Annoying and frustrating problems (enemy specifics already mentioned)
Were I to compare this to the original, I could say there are plenty of improvements, but to be honest, these improvements are incredibly minor in nature. The graphics weren't completely reworked, the sound is exactly as it was in the original, and it uses the same storytelling techniques as Final Fantasy IV. It's not all bad, but it didn't do much to reintroduce the game to modern, nor international audiences for potentially the first time.
Again, I haven't much to say about this. You have the option to play with the original contents, or with some interesting balance changes, but for better or worse, you basically have the 1993 game. It has some fairly straightforward elements you can learn through playing, but some of the more obscure parts of the game will simply go unnoticed with the game's lack of proper introduction or explanation.
If you enjoy a challenge, you might end up playing this game a lot. With replayability coming from its freeform story progression, it gives you a reason to play again after beating it. If you rise to the challenge, you might just come out with a rich and fulfilling story behind you. Most of my praise towards the game goes to the story; the gameplay is a different beast. Given its lack of modern counterparts, some may be put off. It's not to say it's entirely without merit, but I can see this being the reason some will either love or hate the game.
out of 10
(not an average)
RS2 has some interesting ideas, but ultimately I feel they are poorly explained. For a game newly introduced to international players such as myself, I believe many of the game's problems stem from a lack of understanding. If it had some sort of manual or tutorial, I might not have felt so lost in the game's plethora of interesting and unconventional features. While there is plenty to appreciate, I found it difficult with the lack of consideration put into appealing to first-time players of the franchise. Without taking the time to explain the fundamentals, it ends up falling short.