SaGa Frontier Remastered

Platform(s): Android, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, iOS
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: April 15, 2021


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Switch Review - 'SaGa Frontier Remastered'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 15, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

The 1998 PlayStation classic is back and better than ever, SaGa Frontier Remastered brings back a strategic role-playing game still loved to this day.

Buy Saga Frontier Remastered

Rather than having a set cast, Saga Frontier lets the player choose from eight different characters, each with a unique plot and gameplay mechanics. They all play in the same world, and you'll often talk to or recruit other protagonists into your party. While there are some overarching plots, most of the game is self-contained, and you can play the characters in any order without losing much.

The cast list is full of distinctive characters. Red is a Kamen Rider-style superhero who's out for revenge against an evil organization. Blue is racing against fellow magician Rogue to become the greatest spellcaster of all. Emilia is a supermodel framed for the murder of her fiancé. Riki is a monster looking for a way to save his homeland. T260G is a robot trying to find her purpose in life. Asellus is a human saved from the brink of death who finds herself trapped between the worlds of humans and mystics. Lute is a boring bard with a bare-bones story. Six out of seven isn't bad!

The eighth character, Fuse, was originally planned for the PS1 release and was cut for time. While the character appeared in the original game, his scenario is brand new for Saga Frontier Remastered. However, it isn't available until you finish at least one character scenario, and it's pretty clear why. Fuse's scenario is more like a fun "What if?" scenario full of Easter eggs and inside jokes, so it feels appropriate to play as Fuse after you've finished the rest of the cast. It's a neat addition to the game, and I was happy with it. It matches the style and tone of the game and feels like a natural fit.

Saga Frontier's storylines are a tremendously mixed bag. Depending on the character, the plot can be fun or an incoherent mess of random events. Some characters, like supermodel-turned-murder-suspect Emilia, feel like a good chunk of their story occurred off-screen or went unexplained. It isn't enough to taint the charming aspects of the game, but some characters are distinctly unequal. Some things are explained and detailed, and other things merely exist. I find the "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" storytelling method to be charming, but if you're looking for a tight, well-crafted narrative, Saga Frontier does not deliver.

Part of the storytelling is largely non-linear. Some characters have somewhat-linear storylines that let you explore between plot beats, while others are free-roaming adventures. It adds a sense of freedom that you don't often get in RPGs. Once you get access to free travel, you can go anywhere in the world unless there's a plot reason that you can't. This allows you to explore, find new recruitable characters to join your party, discover side-quests, and so on at your leisure. The original game was sometimes poorly sign-posted, but the remaster has a "story" option that not only refreshes the plot but also gives direct hints about where to go next if you're lost.

Most destinations have lots and lots of combat. While the game technically has on-screen enemies instead of random battles, the confined corridors in most environments mean you'll be fighting a lot of foes. Combat is both simple and oddly complex. Once you go into battle, you'll be able to pick from a list of attacks based on the equipment you have: guns, heavy weapons, magic, martial arts, swords, and special abilities. While most options have a basic attack, you can only get real power from them by using special skills, which are learned in different ways. WP is used for weapon attacks, JP for magic attacks, bullets for guns, and so on, so there are a lot of things to juggle, but most options (except for WP) refill after a fight.

One of the more interesting concepts is the SaGa franchise's LP system. The game has traditional HP mechanics, but losing all of your hit points puts you in a "downed" state. While in a downed state, your character can be revived by using a healing spell or item. When they go down — and any time they are attacked while they are down — they lose LP. If you lose all of your LP, the character slips into a coma and can't get back up until you get them treatment. LP is only refreshed with rare items or stays at inns, so you can't randomly use it, but at the same time, it lets you take more risks than you might otherwise. It is also risky to have a downed character, as many foes will attack them or use area-of-effect attacks on them and your party members.

Characters in Saga Frontier are divided into one of four races: human, mech, monster and mystic. Humans are the most well-rounded race and easy to understand. They gradually gain stats with each battle and spark new skills by using weapons in combat. Mechs can't be healed normally, but rather than gaining stats via leveling, their stats are entirely determined by their equipment, so it's easy for them to quickly become powerful. After every fight, monsters get a chance to absorb a defeated monster, which can teach it a skill and cause it to transform into a new shape. Mystics have innate magical gifts and the ability to absorb monsters into equipment to learn new skills.

It's a neat concept and gives characters their own flair, especially because individual characters also have their own gimmicks. For example, Red can transform into his superhero form Alkaiser during battle as long as he is alone (or only with mechs). Emilia wears different outfits that change her combat specializations. Blue is the only one capable of mastering all magic types. T260G can change her form into different mecha. It gives the combat system a sense of being more in-depth than it probably is.

The only problem is that the game is terrible about explaining most of its mechanics. I have the advantage of playing the heck out of the original PS1 version, but despite Remastered having more tutorials than the original version, it's still largely left up to experimentation and guesswork. The result is that using monsters and mystics feels way more frustrating than filling out your party with humans and mechs. I still swap my party around to keep things fresh, but monsters felt like a lot more work than strapping a bunch of swords to a robot.

Saga Frontier Remastered goes out of its way to smooth over some of the game's rough edges. There is a built-in speedup that lets you make the game run two or three times faster in the overworld, cut scenes and battle. This is a huge boon, as even doubling the speed makes the title feel a lot smoother and cuts down on some of the tedium of replaying the same areas. A more significant and far more welcome change is the introduction of a customizable New Game+ feature. Once you finish one character's scenario, you can carry over pretty much everything into another scenario: the character's stats, learned skills, equipment, and more. Even if you don't want to trivialize the difficulty, just retaining learned skills and money significantly reduces the more tedious aspects of the game.

Curiously, the development team also intentionally retained some bugs that were fairly popular in the original game, even if they may vary slightly in execution. The Junk Shop glitch still works in the same way, and Takonomics is still a source of near-infinite wealth, but at this point, it seems to work by just going back and forth. While it's odd to retain glitches, it shows that there was some interest in retaining parts of the game that people enjoyed and remembered. Some other bugs have been fixed, so it's clear that these specific examples are working as intended.

With that said, Saga Frontier is still a game of high highs and low lows. I genuinely love the game, but without the benefit of nostalgia, it has a lot of issues. In addition to the repetitiveness of the concept and the massive gulf in quality between the various storylines, the difficulty curve is all over the place. Sometimes you can sleepwalk through fights and suddenly get one-shot by a random encounter. Sometimes you'll have no difficulty with a scenario until you reach the final boss, who can obliterate you. The non-linear design of the game is fun, but it also makes it tough to have any real difficulty curve.

Enemies technically level up along with you, but that barely matters after you get some good equipment, which involves dealing with the game's bizarre economy. There are only a handful of shops, and the majority only sell items. The few that buy items will only purchase a few weapons. Enemies drop tiny amounts of money, so it's needlessly difficult to fill your coffers. The aforementioned Takonomics "glitch" is pretty much the only reliable way to make money, but in doing so, it gives you more money than you need for the entire game (and if you carry money in NG+ for all of the sub-scenarios too). It's a weird, frustrating design element in a game that's already full of them.

Saga Frontier Remastered has redone the game's visuals, similar to the style of the mobile Final Fantasy remakes. The characters are given smoothed-out visuals that are slightly odd at first glance. I felt they worked here more than they did in Final Fantasy, perhaps because the character models are simpler. The backgrounds are similarly given a touch-up but are still recognizably PS1-era, pre-rendered backgrounds. They mesh together much better than Final Fantasy VIII Remastered, and are generally crisp and clean. The music is excellent, with a lot of distinctive and memorable songs, as could be expected from Squaresoft of the era. There are even new songs for Fuse's scenario, which also sound quite nice.

I enjoyed Saga Frontier Remastered, and it's unarguably the best version of the game, but you need to have some patience and a genuine fondness for PS1-era experimentation that fails as often as it succeeds. Saga Frontier is fun and interesting when it isn't being tedious or bewildering. Fans will probably be quite happy with the new version of the game, and it's the most accessible version of the game for newcomers. Don't be surprised if you pick it up and end up lost, confused, and wondering why the heck Lute got his own scenario.

Score: 8.0/10

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