Arguably one of the biggest titles this holiday season in Japan, UNLIMITED:SaGa is Square's first big (offline) RPG release this fiscal year with Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Final Fantasy X-2 following in February and March respectively.
UNLIMITED:SaGa's graphics are an impressive mix of 2D and 3D using a special technique Square developed with Adobe Systems called Sketch Motion. The results look very sharp while not being static. The game’s official Japanese website describes the visuals as "Ultra-Sharp 2D", which is definitely no exaggeration. The development team also focused on making character animation as smooth as possible.
While the SaGa games were always known for their unique battle systems, the series' recent incarnation for the PlayStation 2 also boasts an unusual presentation. Dubbed the “Moving Phase? the game's field map and dungeons have deliberately been created to allow players to move quickly from one point to the other. Only a small illustration on the upper left hand side of the screen (which looks like straight out of a picture book) gives the player an impression of how the area he or she is currently moving through looks like in detail. Apart from treasure chests, the Moving Phase also offers two less welcome features: enemy encounters and traps. Upon stumbling into the latter, the damage your characters take is determined by the reel. Between the various Moving Phase portions of the game, towns offer peace, rest and the chance to spend your hard-earned money on supplies.
During battle you can execute five commands regardless of the number of active members in your party. After you have inputted your commands the reel pops up. The function of the reel is to add a certain element or status to selected actions like adding poison to a standard attack. In an interesting twist, players can choose to hold on the reel and thereby charge up for a special combo attack. If held long enough, your characters will unleash highly damaging Unlimited combos against their foes.
Similar to SaGa Frontier, UNLIMITED:SaGa features a total of seven main characters. This time however, the cast was designed by Final Fantasy X's art director, Yusuke Naora, while the series' long time character designer, Tomomo Kobayashi, serves as image illustrator. In addition to the pirate Laura, the player has the choice between following the adventurers: the young fortune teller Ruby, the delivery boy Vent, the beaver boy Armic, the womanizer Myth, the free spirited Cash and the rookie magician Judy. Each of the seven heroes will come with their own cast of supporting characters.
UNLIMITED:SaGa was released in Japan on December 19th 2002 and while Square EA LLC has yet to comment on a possible state-side release, there is little doubt the game will eventually make its way across the Pacific sometime in 2003.
Last month Square's latest PlayStation 2 RPG was unveiled in Japan. UNLIMITED:SaGa will become the next of Square's high-profile RPG series' to follow the company's flagship Final Fantasy legacy on Sony's PlayStation 2.
The development team of UNLIMITED:SaGa is promisingly comprised of veterans who worked on the series' previous incarnations, particularly SaGa Frontier and SaGa Frontier II. Akitoshi Kawazu returns as director and producer, Tomomo Kobatashi, the series' long-serving character designer, will serve as image illustrator, and Masashi Hamauzu will reprise his role as composer. Final Fantasy veteran Yusuke Naora, whose recent work includes the art direction for Final Fantasy VII, VIII and X, will join the development team as character designer.
For the sake of variety, one can only congratulate Kawazu-san and his team for refraining from turning UNLIMITED:SaGa into just another cel-shaded RPG. According to Naora-san, the game's visuals will be neither "dot-pixilated 2D graphics?nor “cel-shaded 3D polygon graphics," but will feature a special animation technique that Square has jointly developed with Adobe. As a first for the series, UNLIMITED:SaGa will feature Square's trademark high-quality CG sequences.
Following the example of Final Fantasy X, the development team will implement voice acting, but will also include Dolby Pro Logic II support.
The key theme behind the visual presentation of characters is "flowers," with each of the eight playable characters being a combination of a flower and a color. UNLIMITED:SaGa features two playable main characters: Laura, an ex-pirate and widow, and a yet to be revealed male character. What is known about UNLIMITED:SaGa's setting is that the story will focus on the search for the Seven Wonders, which, when activated, will initiate the return of the gods and thus the beginning of a golden age for mankind.
As with previous installments of the series, the battle system will be quite different from contemporary RPGs. Players can input up to five commands per turn for your entire party, regardless of whether there are one or three characters. Upon entering a command, you will be treated to a “reel,?Depending on your timing using the "reel system," you can add special properties to your attacks, such as double slash. The use of special attacks and magic spells will consume health points instead of standard individual magic points. In keeping with series tradition, characters have an opportunity to learn new spells when a light bulb appears above their head during battle.
UNLIMITED:SaGa is currently set for a December 2002 release in Japan. Square EA LLC has yet to comment on a possible US release.
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