Saga Frontier is a spin off from the Final Fantasy series and was created before the merger of Squaresoft and Enix. It was created by Square Enix developers Akitoshi Kawazu with assistance from Koichi Ishii, the creator of the Mana series which is another spin off from Final Fantasy. Franchise. This was originally known as The Final Fantasy Legend but eventually the name and style changed as time went by. The main difference between Saga Frontier and the Final Fantasy series is that Saga Frontier made for hardcore JRPG players whereas Final Fantasy can be picked up and played by newcomers.
Saga Frontier is the first game for the original Playstation I purchased. It is from 1998 and during the 90s, it was a big turning point for games as story narratives were being added in and characters were becoming more complex in contrast to the arcade style. Square Enix during this period created the best JRPGS for the PS1, especially Final Fantasy 7, 8 and 9 and also Parasite Eve.
The SaGa series is set in its own universe and it has its own lore. A notable thing about the series is its completely non linear gameplay design. You can freely travel to any region at anytime and the story relates to its non linear gameplay. It also allows you to play the game as you like and at your own pace. The setting is a perfect mixture of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Saga Frontier is set in a universe called The Regions and each location has its own culture, design, technology and magic. The Regions have many species that inhabit it from mystics, humans, mecs and monsters. Some locations are named after real world places. You can travel anywhere quite freely from place to place due to the ports having almost all of the areas accessible in the beginning. In addition, you can freely interact with anybody for information, recruitment and also to initiate side quests. You can recruit other main characters depending on you who choose to play. The storyline can change depending on who was chosen to accompany you, who have you played as and what kind of decisions you have made in your playthrough.
Before Each playthrough, you will be given a survey of questions like what is your name, bloodtype and your astrology sign. You can choose to play as any 7 different characters, each with their own story narrative and everyone all exists in the same world the series is set in. There were supposed to be 9 stories actually but it was dropped due to the fact its tone was too lighthearted. Each story is part of an overarching narrative that ties in all of the main cast. Combat in the game is 2d sprites being placed in a 3d background. If you have history of eye issues, be warned that some sections use large amounts of flashing bright lights with many colors.
You can have up to 5 party members in combat and you can choose which team you like to fight for you in battle. The gameplay is inspired by the creators love of board games especially D&D and Avalon Hill. The difficulty is fair and balanced and the learning curve is steep but when you get the hang of the mechanics of the game, it starts to become very enjoyable.
It uses turn based gameplay in comparison to the annoying random encounters seen in older JRPGS like in the earlier entries of Shin Megami Tensei. You and your party fight against one more group of enemies. You can select which command you would like to have your party member use and there are numerous commands from which to choose. Enemies and party members can pass status ailments to one another. You level up after each combat and certain stats like vitality, strength and willpower increase the more fights you have.
They are broken down into multiple parts instead of earning them all at once and the more you fight, the more powerful your characters will become. There is a mechanic in combat called “Sparkling”. This is when your characters start to learn more powerful techniques to use in combat. You can choose whether to go on the offensive or the defensive depending on which character you are using. Enemies drop items at times when they are killed. You can choose up to multiple teams to decide which party you like to use to fight against the enemy. You can choose which enemy to attack and what attack move you want to use.
Enemies can inflict status ailments and so can you just like in many JRPGs. Sometimes in combat when you and your allies choose certain moves, they form into a combo that delivers crippling damage to enemies. Enemies can also do the same in return.
You can be able to equip a large assortment of weapons, armor and accessories to your party members but some are exclusive to others. Mecs can equip various pieces of technology to give them status boosts and new abilities.
You can buy spells for characters too but keep in mind you have to sacrifice one element for another like shadow or light as both cannot mesh in well with one another. You can compromise by having one shadow spellbender and one light spellbender. You can learn hidden skills for characters in mid battle depending on the circumstances. You can also equip and unequip various abilities that you can use in combat at anytime while in free roam.
The combat system was very customizable and complex but when you get a hang of it the game becomes quite easy. Some sections require critical thinking and patience. One part where the Cygnus was being ambushed, you have to split up to attack both enemies at the same time instead of being caught as you can get yourself nearly killed if you are not careful. In addition, you have to avoid the line of sight from one enemy and find other party members so you can get the advantage fighting enemies that are going to ambush if you are caught and they are hiding in rooms just waiting to get the upper hand. You have to sneak up to them separately before you can face the next enemy.
Saga Frontier contains many of the familiar story themes in Final Fantasy but it also adds in story motifs of its own and each plot has its own tone to it. Emelia’s story is espionage and thriller oriented. Revenge and tragedy are explored and it is all part of a multilayered narrative. Red’s story is about how he turns into a vigilante to avenge the death of his father who was murdered. Blue’s story tells how he kills his brother due to destiny and he goes through a journey of learning powerful magic some of which is really rare in order to kill him.
Everything gets unfolded at its own pace and you have to play as every character to fully understand the story. You can’t escape from combat all the time so always be prepared in case you encounter and enemy. The elegant art style is superbly rendered. The character designs were unique and appropriate for the story. Even by today’s standards, the graphics and background created by SquareSoft remains one of the best for the Playstation console. The overall visual experience of the game was outstanding and remains appealing even now. The pixelated sprites were for its time nicely animated. The cover art in particular was what drew me to this series and its one of the best I have seen for a JRPG.
Each time you complete a story, you unlock new content and the stats and abilities will be carried over to the next playthrough. Completion of all will allow you to get special bonuses for characters. You can also get new and more powerful equipment in your next playthrough. The musical score and audio quality for its time was nicely made. The game has excellent replay value.
You can even speak to the programmers as in game characters to discuss all about your journey. The 2nd division room is a chance where you can also fight the final bosses in your previous playthroughs. In certain parts of the story, you can have the other main protagonists join up with your party and their status effects carries over to your playthrough as well.
The story’s duration is as long or as short as you want it to be because of the non linear narrative. Open world was still being perfected especially with the technology at its time. When you playthrough as each of the characters in the story, you start to get familiar with the surroundings of the game and it becomes easier to navigate when you remember them. You can interact with almost all of the characters and get hints when you are exploring the world. The loading screens were really quick for a PS1 game since the screens were all interconnected parts of a much bigger map.
The main problem with the game is its inconsistent design. The non linear gameplay was really new and expect yourself to get lost. You really need pay close attention to the dialogue of the story. Sometimes the story doesn’t tell you what to do next. It tends to be grindy and you spend quite a lot of time grinding. The difficulty of boss fights can be either really easy when you are overleveled or ultra-hard if you are underleveled and its pretty unbalanced at times due to the randomness of the game. The same thing can be said for fights with enemies. You can’t recruit certain classes either depending on what character you play as. Other characters can recruit a variety of classes. Some mechanics haven't aged well, the draw distance is difficult to see for characters and also the controls take time to getting used to. You better have a good memory as the game does not have a map so you need to figure things out for yourself on where to go and how to proceed to certain objectives. The map designs while innovative, can be confusing to navigate due to the complete non linear nature of the game. Some areas were really dense and hard to see, a symptom of the pre rendered background design in the 90s .
The characters tend to be flat and one sided and the dialogue hadn’t aged that well. They don’t really develop any formal relationships besides a mutual goal. The plots were not as fully fleshed out felt incomplete. Red for example, despite being a superhero, has to deal with being assaulted randomly and pushed around by his annoying sidekick Fuse, who has the tendency to shoot first ask questions later. Fuse also belittles Red.
There were also other story issues and this was due to time constraints in the production. In Asellus’s storyline, she was supposed to find out her true identity and whether she wanted to live her life as a human or mystic. She was also meant to visit certain areas in the game to discover more clues about her past. Another plot point is that if Emelia’s fiancé was supposed to be dead, why was he wearing the mask all along and nobody recognized him. Blue at one point, just outrights refuses to go with Red just because he has the similar name his brother has and just treats him really badly and this was during a part where the ship Red is on is being hijacked by pirates. Blue himself is also very unlikable as he treats everyone else like dirt and he is incredibly selfish and petty.
There was padding and filler at certain points where the characters get sidetracked on what they were supposed to be doing and the comedy of this game fell on the cheesy side. You should save everytime you get the chance because the game can be challenging when you are under leveled and there is no point of going back to whatever it is you were doing previously. Thankfully, the game has plenty of save files.
Shopping in the game while being mostly straightforward, is pretty restrictive in comparison to the majority of other JRPGs. You can’t sell many items to vendors once you don’t need it anymore and some of the items in value are barely worth anything.
Overall, Saga Frontier was an excellent game and ahead of its time in some ways.
I had a very enjoyable time with my first ever PS1 game being played on the PS2.
It gets 4 stars out of 5.
I plan on purchasing whatever SaGa games I could find when I get the chance.
This is a good starting point to those who are new to the series and there is also a game being localized, SaGa Scarlet Grace which is going to be available for the PS4 this year. I really look forward to buying more PS1 games to play on my PS2. I recommend this to hardcore JRPG fans and for Square Enix fans as well too.