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Romancing SaGa
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Release: US 10/11/05
Japan 04/21/05



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Uh, yeah, I'll just be going this way, now...
 
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The world of Mardias.
 
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You'd be stunned, too.
 
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Some of Romancing SaGa's interesting art style.
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Patrick Gann
Hands-On Preview
09/22/05
Patrick Gann

Coming right off the heels of tri-Ace's Radiata Stories, Square Enix is at it again with Romancing SaGa. The SaGa series has long been recognized as the "alternative" RPG series to Final Fantasy, what with its focus on open-ended gameplay and substantially less eye-popping visuals (in the form of FMV sequences especially.) In the US, the word "alternative" might be replaced with "black sheep," as can be confirmed by the sales records on the last three SaGa games released in the US. And, with UNLIMITED SaGa being the last taste in everyone's mouths, much rancor has been built up against the series.

If there's one thing we all need to recognize before further considering the pros and cons of Romancing SaGa, it is this: Romancing SaGa isn't UNLIMITED SaGa by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, this game is actually a fully remade version of the Super Famicom game of the same name (note that in Japan, this PS2 remake is entitled "Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song.") Why Square Enix chose to remake this game is not entirely clear, but one factor may be that Japanese gamers consider it to be one of the best games in the nine game series. With that said, should American gamers be willing to give this SaGa title a chance? Definitely.

Romancing SaGa takes place in the world of Mardias: a world that was once ruled by giants, gods, and demons. In particular, a trio of demonic gods controlling death, darkness, and other evil things fought against the god Elore. The head of this trio, Saruin, was the only one who survived, but even he was sealed away so that he would do no more harm. But, at the beginning of Romancing SaGa, it seems the tides are turning, and rumors of Saruin's return are circulating. That's where you come in.

But who are you? In typical SaGa fashion, the game truly begins with you, the player, choosing who you wish to use as your protagonist. Among your eight choices are four males and four females: some are strong, some are weak. All manner of classes and skills are recognized: those skilled with various weapons, magic, and abilities such as thievery are represented in these eight characters.

After making that choice, the game begins. Depending on who you choose, the game's opening hours of play may vary drastically, especially in terms of difficulty. The first three hours may be packed with battles, or they may be very heavy on story and character development. That's all part of the fun in the world of Romancing SaGa!

Battles in the world of Romancing SaGa start simple, but become increasingly complex as characters develop. Fortunately, the tutorial system in this game is top-notch. Along with having access to a full tutorial of gameplay mechanics in every town, narrated explanations as to new battle features are given the first time you successfully pull off a new combo, "reverse," "surge," "fulcrum," or any number of technical action terms that I need not explain. The point is, this open-ended gaming experience comes complete with buckets of instruction, suggestion, and advice to keep your head above water. This is a vast improvement over, say, SaGa Frontier, which left most players in the dark as far as gameplay mechanics went.

The audio department looks to be pretty good as well. Nearly all dialogue has been voiced, as is the industry standard today. Kenji Ito returned to both remaster and complement the Super Famicom soundtrack. In terms of soundtracks, one can do some quick research to discover that the number of songs in the PS2 remake has doubled from the Super Famicom version, and all of the old songs have received drastic improvements in terms of sound quality. In fact, many songs have been recorded with live instruments and they sound remarkable.

The high-quality audio does much to immerse you in Mardias: this fantastic realm where mortals, gods, and beasts of old duke it out for power and the right to exist. Of course, the audio would be nothing without the aesthetic value of the graphics. And, as is evidenced by the screenshots, the graphical style is nothing short of unique. FMVs are done in the same "sketch motion" style found in UNLIMITED SaGa, and the unique character designs veer away from RPG norms. Many of the environments are also breathtaking. Many will be quite fond of this unique graphical style, but others may not be too fond of it.

Square Enix has informed us that one run through this game could be as short as twenty hours or as long as sixty, depending on how much the player wishes to explore the world with one character. Whether or not this statement will turn out to be true, we do not know for sure; however, it is safe to say that playing through the game with different characters need not be a repeat experience of the first time around, as there are many different quests to attempt, and different paths within each quest.

The quest for a truly enjoyable open-ended RPG is one that is wrought with pitfalls on all sides. Many have tried and failed. On October 11th, American gamers will find out whether or not Square Enix has gotten any closer to the goal with Romancing SaGa. In the meantime, do what you can to clear your mind of those nasty SaGa stereotypes.



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© 2005 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All Rights Reserved
IMAGE ILLUSTRATION/ Tomomi Kobayashi
ROMANCING SAGA is a trademark of Square Enix Co., Ltd.



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