HIGH Finally figuring out how to find new members for the team.
LOW Being wiped out in random encounters.
WTF Having to read a short story in the ‘story’ tab instead of seeing it play out.
The current trend of remastered titles on modern systems is both good and bad. On one hand, it’s easy to argue that some of these seem to be — at best — quick cash grabs. On the other, they can sometimes shine light on forgotten titles that deserve a second chance. Luckily, SaGa Frontier definitely falls in the latter category for me.
Released in 1997 by Square-Enix for the original PlayStation in the US and Japan, Square was riding high on the success of Final Fantasy VII, so it’s easy to imagine how the radically different Frontier might have been overlooked by most players. It is indeed a unique experience, even in Square’s varied portfolio — instead of a main quest, the title presents various characters, each with their own distinct storyline. Some of these stories are fleshed out, like the engineer who has powers that transform him into a superhero, while others are little more than collections of funny vignettes.
The way these stories unfold is also peculiar. Instead of cutscenes or dialogue sequences, the player wanders into a series of locations while short conversations play out between characters. The overall narrative spread between different locations is, then, more clearly explained in the “Story” tab of the menu. This system also works as a source of hints, since it details what the player is tasked to do in each particular situation.
Gameplay is pretty straightforward as far as 2D JRPGs go — explore several locations, battle enemies via turn-based combat, find new members for the team and progress the story. Granted, this might not be as easy as it sounds since the necessary actions to progress can be obtuse. It’s sometimes unassuming actions like walking into a room enough times or speaking to a character after having visited enough locations. Indeed, this is a case where locating a walkthrough might be necessary.
This remaster of SaGa is reminiscent of classic JRPGs in another way, in that Square-Enix didn’t think to add a tutorial of any kind. This is not a welcoming title for newcomers to oldschool design, especially with the sudden difficulty spikes in the combat. It’s pretty common to encounter random enemies which will wipe the party in just a couple of moves, so grinding up experience points ends up being mandatory.
However, despite those relics of design, this remaster does offer several improvements over the original.
The high definition graphics are fine — they’re not as nice as I would have hoped for, but the material they’re working with is 25 years old, so some allowances have to be made. It’s now possible to adjust the speed of character movement, battles and dialogue. Also, interactive objects and areas of travel are now clearly highlighted.
As far as remasters go, SaGa Frontier is an automatic recommendation for anyone who appreciated the original, as Square’s work on this new edition adds some quality-of-life improvements and upgraded graphics. Unfortunately, it’s a different story for newcomers expecting a more traditional sort of JRPG. Even so, Square’s original vision still stands apart from other RPGs of the time and this quality remains true in this remaster — for better or worse, the player will be experiencing a unique experience.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Square-Enix. It is currently available on Switch, PC, Android, iOS and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and one of the stories was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is rated T by the ESRB for Mild Language, Blood, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Suggestive Themes, Drug References and Fantasy Violence. Even though I wouldn’t consider it more violent or saltier than an average modern RPG, for the overall content and violence I would still recommend it to a teen audience.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not feature spoken dialogue, nor are audio cues used to communicate enemies’ attacks. Text cannot be altered or resized. (See examples above.) In my view, the game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: There is no control diagram. The controls are not remappable. The game is controlled with the analogue stick for moving and the A button to interact with the environment, while the Y button brings up the menu. Other combinations of button are used for quick saving or speeding up the gameplay.
Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple.
He's a sucker for great stories in gaming, he loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs.
Damiano's been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on Twitter at @damgentemp, or on his blog https://genesistemple.com (now dedicated to the history of video game design).
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