A Little Background Before You Begin…
Sadly, to those of us who have enjoyed the series, SaGa Frontier 2 is officially the LAST SaGa game that Square will ever release. To those of you who are reading this now and wondering what the heck I'm talking about, read on, and I'll explain the series' history in the best way I can.
The SaGa series was as popular as Final Fantasy in Japan, and although we DID get a few of them on various platforms under different names, they never caught on in the states.
The first Saga Games were released on the gameboy, and ported to America under the name "Final Fantasy Legend". These games were some of the very best RPGs I ever played, and to top it off, they were on the Gameboy, of all systems. Still, they were better then most of the NES games at the time, so many hard-core RPG'ers like myself fondly remember the Legend series, and credit them for us actually hanging on to our gameboys.
There were three more SaGa games for the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo here in the states) that strangely enough, had the prefix "Romancing" added to their name (although there was nothing *Romantic* about them.) and unfortunately, you can only play these games using an Emulator and finding one of the quasi-illegal ROMs dumped from the cartridges, since an American release, although once speculated about in Nintendo Power, never happened.
Thankfully, the First SaGa Frontier game for the Playstation DID make it to the U.S., thanks to Square's new attitude and their apparent lack of fear when it comes to releasing what the gaming media might consider to be "sub-standard" games.
Although the first PSX SaGa game was verbally DESTROYED in most gaming magazines and Internet sites, it was a great game that unfortunately, only the truly hard-core fans could appreciate. SaGa's extremely grainy and blurry 2D sprites, and the simply disgusting Rendered backgrounds made a lot of the Playstation's "casual gamers" (99% of their audience) either return the game or pass it up entirely. Add to this the very non-linear gameplay which confused newbie RPG'ers, and the lack of anything remotely resembling a coherent plot (a Squaresoft trademark) and you had a game so ugly, only the truly devoted could love it.
SaGa Frontier 2 fixes these mistakes. The Graphics are all now hand-painted, hand-drawn, and look gorgeous, not to mention the plot, which has been vastly improved. And, while the non-linearity is still there, it has been toned down a bit, and "holds the player's hand" so even the most inexperienced RPG'er shouldn't have a hard time knowing where to go next. All in all, SaGa Frontier 2 is a great game, and a great improvement over the first installment.
Now, onto the Game…
The Magic System:
One thing that can get confusing about SaGa Frontier 2 is it's incredibly deep combat system, or, more specifically, the spell-casting side of things. Most gamers skip over the instruction booklet, and even with the Official guide from Brady Games, you still don't really know what you're doing, or why you're doing it when it comes to spell-slinging.
Unlike other RPGs, SaGa Frontier 2's magic spells aren't just manifested out of thin air….no, in THIS world, you must have some sort of physical form of that spell's main element to be able to cast it. Anyone who has played pen and paper Shadowrun can compare this to the need to have "Foci" and "Totems" in Fasa's cyberpunk RPG.
Simply put, if you want to cast flame, you need to wear either a ring or item that is full of flame magic (Flame sword, fire ring, ect.) and if you want to cast Earth magic, you'll need to wear something on the order of a Wood Spear, Wood sword, or other similar items. Get the drift?
So what it boils down to is make sure you have some sort of physical manifestation of that element before you CAST the spell that belongs to that element.
Now, here is where it gets tricky.
Rings, which can be bought nearly anywhere, will allow you to cast any elemental school of magic, but unfortunately, they only have 10 charges, and once you call upon that element 10 times, the ring is broken and you either have to get another, or repair the one you already have. This is VERY costly.
However, there is an easier, and FAR less costly way to cast your spells. Instead of wasting money on limited use rings, find yourself a weapon that contains that element. In other words, a Flame RING may only let you cast fire spells 10 times, but if you find yourself a flame SWORD, you can cast those same fire spells until your thumb falls off from all the button-pressing. My advice? Equip weapons for their elemental attributes, not for their strength.
Of course, if you break the weapon in battle, you won't be casting any spells with it, but that goes without saying.
Anyone who has played the First SaGa game for the gameboy, or the first SaGa game on the PSX will remember how the combat system works. Oddly enough, Squaresoft has added some of the more annoying aspects of the Gameboy SaGa games (Like Weapon degradation) and combined them with the PSX version.
Yes, that's right, your weapons are limited in use, and once that number to the right of them falls to zero, the weapon will break. Hopefully, if you value the weapon and it's power, you'll get it repaired at a blacksmith's shop before it falls to the single digits.
NOTE: To repair weapons, walk around the counter in front of the blacksmith and talk to him face to face, rather then over his counter. Normally, approaching the counter would cause him to offer you what he has for sale, but if you instead walk around it and "talk" to him, you will be asked if you have anything you want repaired. I myself overlooked this for the first 2 hours of the game until I found it out by accident.
Combat, in most other ways, is exactly like the first Frontier game. Using a weapon enough times will cause you to unlock new techniques with that weapon, and using some weapons may increase certain stats. It's nothing new to long time fans, and not really that complicated to confuse newbies. All you need to know is that you pick up a weapon, and keep using it until new moves are uncovered.
However, there are a couple nice gameplay tweeks Square has added to the sequel. Namely, the fact that when one character learns a spell or technique, EVERYONE can use it. Since this is now a reality, it's a good idea to give each member of your party a different weapon, so they will all learn different techniques. This greatly decreases the time you would have to spend to learn ALL the game's techs and spells, thankfully. I wish the first SaGa had this feature.
The other big change is that when you encounter a VERY powerful monster, you can challenge the beast to a one-on-one duel. The only benefit of this is that during the duel, you can create your own "Combos" and if you know what combos to do, you can unlock techniques that would normally take hours to learn at random.
For instance, when wielding a sword, it might take around 5-20 random battles before you FINALLY learn Cross Slash. However, if you have a high enough skill in swords, you can enter a one-on-one duel and perform the combo "SLASH---BACKSLASH". Once you do that combo, in that order, you will have "unlocked" the Cross slash technique, doing it in one duel rather then sweating it out and hoping you learn it in 10 or 20 random, boring battles.
The First Saga Frontier game allowed you to carry up to five people in your active party, and an extra 10 in your backup roster, for a grand total of FIFTEEN characters. Talk about a headache! Equipping them all with the best weapons and armor and then devoting time to teaching them techniques and spells while leveling them up was a VERY long, drawn out process.
Now though, in the sequel, you are allowed only four in your active party, and four in your backup roster. This makes equipping and leveling your guys a much easier, and less painful task.
One thing Squaresoft has added to the game is the ability to assign "roles" to your party members. Now you can tell one to focus on spells, while another focuses on avoiding combat altogether. You may even put them on automatic control, if you so desire. Although I could write them all down here and explain each one, I have never changed the roles of my characters, and prefer to leave each NPC's "role" on it's default setting, rather then constantly change them to suit some imagined need.
Healing spells take awhile to learn. Sure, you can buy a Water ring in the first town (Will Knight's Scenario) but you'll only be allowed to cast a heal spell 10 times before the ring breaks. Better to keep casting Earth spells (thanks to the sapling staff you start off with) until you learn "Life Water" and then use that to heal. It's stronger, and if you are going to waste one point of your water ring, you might as well get the most out of it.
Of course, there is another way to "heal", and that's by sacrificing one of your "life points" to completely heal your hit points. Although those of you who played the first SaGa Frontier remember Life points as being something you REALLY didn't want to lose, in the sequel, they are no different from magic points in the way that they can be easily replenished, and you get a LOT of them. Simply select "Heal Character" from the main battle window during combat, select the character you want to fix up, and presto: HP completely restored. Run out of Life points? Sleep at an inn, and they all come back. Painless and easy.
Although a bit on the repetitive side, the music in SaGa Frontier is top notch, to say the least. From the moment you enter Westia (Will Knight's First quest) you'll hear a light, upbeat flute trail off into a beautiful little song that truly fits the blue sky and shining lights that seem to engulf the town at all times.
Oh, and that's another thing. The graphics don't just look good, they act great as well. Stand by a window and marvel at the rays of light slowly breaching the glass, staining everything underneath them (including you) a bright yellow color. Then, wipe the drool off your chin as you see the sunlight slowly recede. It must be seen to be appreciated.
SaGa Frontier 2 is the type of game we probably would have seen on the Sega Saturn had Sega marketed their system as a "Hardcore, 2D Game" machine, rather then try to beat Sony at capturing the Casual gamer who only cares about 3D Eye-candy.
This "Review" Is pretty much a labor of love. What I mean is, even though RPG's are now a part of the mainstream, so to speak, they have been getting less and less like RPGs and more like Glorified Interactive Movies.
SaGa frontier 2, in all honesty, is a game we U.S. Gamers shouldn't have. Its beautiful, awe-inspiring (Is this enough hyperbole for you?) landscape combines with a truly original world, complete with its own history and legends, to form one of the most memorable RPGs Square has ever made. If you are a true Role Player, someone who values the time and energy people put into making something as gorgeous as this, then you owe it to yourself to buy SaGa Frontier 2 and enjoy what could very well be the last 2-D RPG.
Graphics: 100% We will never, NEVER see beautiful 2D like this again. How Square got the guts to release something that looks this wonderfully old-school is beyond me, but thank goodness for it.
Sound/Music: 90% - One of Square's best soundtracks. Background music truly "fits" each area. Sounds like an Orchestra is living within my PSX.
Storyline: 85% - Not as Non-linear as the first, which is a good thing, but still enough to entertain you. The way the stories are broken up, however, tend to kill a lot of the drama, especially when you are dying to find out what happens next, but can't progress in the story until you go back and finish the other character's plot.
Gameplay: 85% - VERY steep learning curve. Although the system is one of the deepest I've ever seen, it is awfully hard to grasp (Hence the reason it didn't get a 100%) but once you DO "get it" You'll find yourself dueling skeletons and "sparking" new moves in no time.
OVERALL: 90% - Much like the first one, it'll probably be looked over due to it's complexity and it's old-school appearance. For those "Golden Agers" Like me who enjoy this kind of game, I can't begin to tell you how badly you need to get this game.