SaGa Frontier Remastered Review: Again and Again
The past few years have been for SaGa fans. The remakes of Romancing SaGa 2 and 3 do the original titles justice; SaGa Scarlet Grace Ambitions turned out to be a fun, totally original title; and the Romancing SaGa: Re;Universe mobile game has seen huge success in Japan and received a global release.
SaGa Frontier is the first 2021 release for fans of either PlayStation-era RPGs or series Director and Producer Akitoshi Kawazu, with the second being the upcoming remaster of Legend of Mana. Both games are a far cry from the typical RPG fare of even their contemporaries, but SaGa Frontier in particular is an obtuse, unforgiving, and visually jarring title.
SaGa Frontier Remastered Review: Again and Again
When starting a new game in SaGa Frontier, you're confronted with seven characters to choose from. Each has their own story, but those stories are not necessarily interconnected. It comes down to how you play.
The SaGa series is best known for allowing players a great deal of choice, and some may argue that the first Frontier game has a little too much choice. Once you finish the start of your chosen main character's scenario, you'll be in control of their own destiny — you can go where you like, initiate quests as you like, and, of course, get your party wiped as you certainly wouldn't like.
SaGa Frontier does not cut you off from content your party isn't ready for. You can learn about something that's going on, but that doesn't mean you need to go deal with it right away. Because of this, regular saving is a must in case you delve into areas with bosses you're not powerful enough to handle.
Not only that, but you can cut yourself off from some quests just by completing others. These facets are why so many people recommend a fresh player approaches the game with a guide, but they're also why this series has never gotten a large playerbase outside of Japan.
Above all things, SaGa Frontier is a game about options, personal responsibility, and simple fate. This isn't just reflected in the seven main characters' storylines— it's reflected in the very mechanics of the game, and in this, it refuses to budge.
You'll find these things emphasized in its very character progression and battle systems, too. There are no random battles, and you can choose to avoid unimportant fights, but doing so too much limits your party's ability to gain stats and new skills. Unimportant enemies scale with your overall team strength, but boss encounters remain static and can easily lead to a dooming overconfidence.
Characters gain new weapon skills by using already known ones in battle, often numerous times until you get lucky enough to learn a new one. This is made less tedious by the fact that mindlessly attacking your way through most of the game's battles will lead to a wipe and game over.
Additionally, your characters will begin to chain attacks for additional damage and to get hits in before enemies can. This is another thing you do not have control over outside of setting your party members to attack the same target — but it is a big part of the fun.
You've got to stay on your toes even in battles that don't matter at all, with the reward being random stat points. This can sound like a bad thing, but stat points can come in fast, and getting stats in areas you know a character needs is satisfying in its own way.
Visually, SaGa Frontier is now and has always been a little ugly. The game's pre-rendered backdrops are a little unattractive but interesting, and the sprites are just as out of place as ever. They've been smoothed out in the remaster, but they are still mostly akin to early-era PlayStation titles.
For me, this ugliness is a source of nostalgia. A lot of early PlayStation games had similarly jarring sprites, as another that comes to mind is Azure Dreams; in this case, the odd-looking character sprites mesh well with just how strange the game is overall. In a way, it refuses to let you think it's anything other than some sort of weird dreamscape, which has always done the overall experience a great service.
Those who have played SaGa Frontier before will be happy to know that this remaster is one that actually adds content, rather than just (sort of) brings the game up to modern graphical standards.
Once you complete one storyline, you can begin New Game+, which allows you to choose which things you'd like to carry into the next playthrough to make things easier. Some story content that was cut from the original release has also been added.
Additionally, Fuse has been added as a new main character, though he is only available after completing a playthrough, and his scenarios are specifically tied to having completed other characters' storylines. Between Fuse and the added story content, SaGa Frontier is finally a complete work.
SaGa Frontier Remastered Review — The Bottom Line
- The battle system is ever-engaging
- The visual and UI improvements make handling the game at large much easier
- Eight unique player choice-propelled storylines (Fuse counts)
- Thematically interesting no matter how you look at it
- You will get lost, and you will do it all the time
- Incredibly difficult to wrap your head around initially, to the point you may just give up
SaGa Frontier is as perplexing today as it was when it was released in 1998. No part of this game is welcoming. In no way does it try to help you figure it out. In fact, more often than not, it seems to actively try to get you killed by offering you opportunities you really just should not take on.
Nonetheless, you'll be hard-pressed to find many RPGs that are so enthralling from a combat and mechanical perspective, that suck you in with a myriad of questions about more than just story, and ultimately compel you to do it again and again. Experiencing the game in full with increasingly meaningful knowledge of its events and mechanics, or seeing parts you had to skip due to difficulty or obtuseness before, is all part of the fun.
These are the things that have made SaGa Frontier stand out these 23 years, and they are what make it worth playing today.
[Note: Square Enix provided the copy of SaGa Frontier Remastered used for this review.]