Seeing the recent remaster of SaGa Frontier anyone might think that it's obviously both a better game and a more regarded title. That can also seem the case if you consider the vast amount of love for the first game compared to a relative indifference to the second.
Having played both, I can see why the first game may have more of a cult following. It's an uneven and poorly designed game, but it had a lot of ambition (that I think it failed to even remotely meet).
In contrast, SaGa Frontier 2 is a significant departure that tones down the most ambitious and non-linear aspects of the first game but offers a tighter and better-designed experience. In my opinion, it is the far superior game and is unfortunately forgotten to some degree compared to other Square games.
#A61(S): SaGa Frontier 2:
Year: 1999, 2000.
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10 point system. Games that get above a 7 I fully recommend, and those that get below that are mostly a waste of time. That leaves the score of 7 to depend on your taste.
"I shall bestow upon you my name, and the name of my ancestors: Gustave. Become a great man. A man who will not disgrace our name"
The world of SaGa Frontier 2 is a fantasy realm that is loosely inspired by late-medieval Europe but with some clear magical elements called "Animas". In this world, every "natural" thing has its own Anima, humans included, which allows the casting of magic. Tools are created to better harness the Anima, but there are also ancient artifacts with infinite Anima's, called Quells.
Not having the multiple storylines of the first game does not mean that SaGa Frontier 2 abandons the experimental storytelling that is typical for the SaGa franchise. Indeed, while the game nominally has two intertwining stories, they unravel over several scenarios that you can play in a loose order.
The first scenario involves the rise of Gustave, a banished prince who has the rare distinction of not having any Anima in his body. This scenario covers not only the rise of Gustave but also the entire political movements in the game's world.
Gustave's tale is the game's strongest story element
The second scenario covers the more humble but traditional adventures of Wil Knights, a Digger who tries to find the magical Quells in ancient ruins. Wil eventually encounters a powerful sentient Quell called The Egg, which threatens the peace of the entire world.
Both scenarios are to through multiple chapters spanning nearly 100 years, and starring multiple protagonists. You can pick these chapters in any order as they are revealed in the chapter-selection map. However, I think the best way to experience the story is to try and do it chronologically, which means you end up jumping through the two main storylines often.
The map (which has many parts) eventually fills up with a lot of chapters
In theory, this approach allows the game to tell a deep and intriguing story through multiple perspectives. However, in practice, this means you spend less time with characters, and some are introduced suddenly and not allowed to have any depth. In fact, the entire middle of the game suffers from lacking the impetus of the beginning or the resolution of the end.
This is a darn shame because the story in SaGa Frontier 2 is otherwise would have been very good, but the way it is being told reduces the focus on the narrative and eventually brings the whole thing down a notch.
"Soon, many Animas will disappear from the face of the earth. They will desperately fight for themselves and their families. They believe that, if I gain the throne, those things that have been lost will not have been in vain"
Typically, the SaGa games are not known to depend on their narrative brilliance (which was significantly lacking in the first SaGa Frontier) and to depend more on their gameplay and weird leveling-up system.
It is then good to know that the Turn-Based battle system in SaGa Frontier 2 is really good. The many characters you control each have different weapons and magic specialties, which allows them to tap into a variety of special moves. These moves are either physical or magical in nature and use a different resource accordingly, which naturally recovers during the battle
The main twist in the battle system is the Life Points resource. At the beginning of each round, a character can consume one LP to fully recover their health. This means that a character with 10 LP points theoretically has 10 health bars to use in the course of a dungeon, and knowing when to use LP healing vs traditional healing is a key strategy.
Combination attacks are also very useful
A strategy that is required to win against the game's tougher enemies, which will task you to fully utilize the game's various systems. From LP healing to combining specials and using "roles" which give passive benefits.
For those apprehensive about the random nature of leveling up in SaGa games, rest assured that it is more uniform and much easier to do in this game, which has much fewer stats to worry about. In fact, I never felt under-leveled at any point in the game.
That is, I never felt under-leveled until the final dungeon which is GROSSLY unbalanced, introducing a nearly insurmountable difficulty spike that may require an extra five hours of grinding to overcome. Worse, you may lock yourself from an efficient grinding opportunity and risking extending that process for five more hours.
I'm the number one Digger in the world. I'm Tycoon William!!"
Besides the regular party battle mode, there are also a number of big strategic battles in key moments in the game as well as a duel battle mode.
The big battles are limited in number and only offer an occasional twist, but duel battles are much more frequent.
In duels, one party member faces against one enemy and they can choose a combination of four moves based on their equipment (it is worth noting that the elements of the equipment you wear unlock spell casting capabilities). Picking the correct sequence of equipment causes you to either use a special move you learned or learn a new special move provided you meet the rough level requirements. This makes dueling the best way to learn special moves (which are shared across all characters).
Dueling also shows off more character animations
The relative ease of unlocking moves is a massive improvement over the other SaGa games and fixes some of the problems of the series.
Outside of battle, it is worth noting that many of the chapters are simple narrative "cut-scenes". However, some chapters (which can be created) simply give you access to cities in order to shop, which is a little bit more complicated than it seems.
You see, money is really scarce and it disappears when a protagonist is no longer use, but you can convert most of the tools you get to chips, which can then be converted to money. This is an overly convoluted system that also has some positive side effects (that I didn't discover), but it adds a layer of activity outside of battles.
"Be careful. Or then, you might be consumed by the power of the Quell..."
If there is one thing you have heard about SaGa Frontier 2 then it must be its amazing 2D graphics, because they are truly some of the best graphical work on the PS1.
While character design and sprite work is great and works well in establishing the game's style, it is without a doubt the hand-painted watercolor backgrounds that take the cake. These are some sublime backgrounds, and the way the characters seamlessly navigate through them makes for a truly beautiful game.
It gives the game a storybook style that is fresh and still looks great despite the time. Sure, there are some minor complaints. Enemy models are very few, and I wish the characters had portraits. Yet, that is not nearly enough to detract from the absolute majesty of the game's graphics.
A majesty that may not be fully matched by the music, but is actually perfectly complemented by it. This is one of Masashi Hamauzu's first soundtracks for Square, and in it, you can see the classical compositions and styles he is now famous for.
This can be seen in the German titles of the game's music, which is instrumentally very classical but also has some mysterious and fantastical elements in it as well. At times, you may feel that some tracks repeat a tad too often. However, I would say that those tracks repeat at points that generate the same feeling and that the music in the game is used as a narrative element very clearly.
Despite being a huge step-up from the disappointing SaGa Frontier, this game never fully escapes the trappings of the SaGa series. It has some clear narrative weaknesses due to its non-linear and experimental storytelling and it suffers from a particularly egregious end-game difficulty spike.
Yet, despite those flaws, SaGa Frontier 2 still emerges as a game I am mostly glad I played. The battle system is really fun when it clicks, and the narrative has some strong bones even if it is not fully fleshed out.
Mostly, I won't ever forget how the game looks, and I will be reminded of its every time I listen to the game's beautiful soundtrack. It's a fun storybook even if the final chapter nearly got me to chuck into the nearest blaze.
1-Try and play the chapters chronologically.
2-At the end, make sure to have a safe save slot in case you want to grind at a safer location.
3-Convert your unwanted tools to Chips frequently.
4-After every chapter, check if the cities of Gruguel and Westsomething are available.
5-You can convert tools to chips in Gruguel.
6-You can fight the Megalith beast in Westsomething which helps unlock AOE specials.
7-There are some unbeatable enemies that you must flee from after surviving a couple of rounds.
8-Specialize your characters depending on their natural WP and SP points as well as their strongest weapons and elements.
The game is a triumph
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now to review Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary along with other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not on the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest it.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
But it did nearly crash and burn at the end
I am so glad I decided to play SaGa Frontier 2 despite my bad experience with the first game. It turned out to be a really fun game with some unique elements that I may not see in any other game now or in the future.
Going back to reviewing the regular Retro Sanctuary list, I don't expect Klonoa at #68 to be as unique of a game, but I hope I have a lot of fun playing it. Before that, I will first write a report about the 10 or so games I played in the Addendum list.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: