Romancing SaGa: Minstrel's Song was first released in 1992 for the SNES and was made exclusive to onry Japan. Ten years after, Square Enix decided to create a remake for the PlayStation2 with complete upgrades to every aspect of the game.
Many are reluctant to try Romancing SaGa after the game maker's previous SaGa title, Unlimited SaGa which sold fairly well in Japan, but did poorly in North America and Europe. This new SaGa title holds very few similarties to Unlimited SaGa except for a few features (like character designs, sketch motion, etc ... ) which help identify the series and make it stand out. Square Enix has advertised this game with the slogan "The Gods created Man ... but Man creates his own SaGa". This in other words means that the game is very non-linear and leaves the player with lots of freedom on how he wants to enjoy the game.
Over a thousand years ago, there was a war between three evil gods and the rest of the gods. Two of the evil gods were defeated, but the third, Saruin, could only be taken down by Elore, the strongest god of them all. Elore used several destiny stones to lock away Saruin forever. However, Saruin has found a way to break free and it is up to us (the player) to take him down yet again and be the hero. The story seems similar to the Lord of the Rings, but because the game's plot was written over 10 years ago, its best to overlook this part of the game. In addition, Romancing SaGa is a very non-linear RPG, where most of the story is obtained from completing the numerous side quests in the game. Ninety percent of which have almost no connection to the main storyline, therefore the only similarity this game has with LOTR is the one thousand years time frame.
The game takes place in a world called Mardias, where we are given the option to choose from one of eight different characters. They include: Albert (a nobleman), Aisha (a nomad girl), Claudia (a ranger from the forest), Sif (a female barbarian), Gray (an experienced adventerurer/guide), Barbara (a travelling dancer), Jamil (a thief), and Hawke (a pirate with his own ship). In general the plot in Romancing SaGa isn't very engrossing and not much of each character's background is revealed. This is partially because of the whole non-linear look of the game, but it would've still been nice if there was a deeper plot that kept you coming back for more as you progressed.
As mentioned above, Romancing SaGa has players visit different cities and talk to all the kinds of npcs to get quests which help you progress further in the story and obtain rewards which include equipment, gold and much more. There is a unique feature in this title that allows you to jump, climb, and do all sorts of other actions with the use of items called proficiencies. These can be obtained from various shops in towns and are then turned into a skill that can and must be upgraded to meet the requirements to finish certain quests. This new system can be fun at times, and be very frustrating at others. You will find yourself doing many quests at the same time in Romancing SaGa and the game gives you a notes section in the menu to help you keep track of it all. There is also a group called the Volunteer Brigade in each city that offers you a wealth of information on every area of the gameplay. This library of information increases as you go deeper into the thin storyline.
The Battle system is quite different and takes some time to get used to, but once you've understood the concepts, it can be quite enjoyable. Just like other RPGs, the battles in Romancing SaGa are turn based, where the player chooses what they want each of their characters to do and then watches them play it out until the next round of commands are needed. At the end of battle, your HP is fully recovered and you obtain boosts in certain skill categories for your characters like HP, charisma, etc ... There are four types of points in the game that are important to the battle system. The first is HP (Hit Points) which is basically how much life your character has before he is defeated. When any of your characters dies, he looses 1 LP (Life Points) and can loose even more if he is hit while dead. You have a limited number of life points and so you have to keep an eye on them and make sure you don't run out while doing a quest. If your life points finish, your character leaves the party and most probably will not return making your efforts to level him up a waste. The next set of points are BP (Blood Points) which basically limit how many special abilities you can use in battle, to keep the game more challenging. The last set of points are called DP (Durability Points). These points are reduced by using a weapon too much, or by using special abilities that require DPs too many times. DPs and LPs can both be replenished at the nearest Inn or Weapon Shop.
The camera system is unfortunately fixed and at times can be problematic when your trying to look around the corner to avoid aggro from a monster. Yes, Romancing SaGa allows you to see the monsters you fight before you go into combat with them. However, the monsters are almost always unavoidable making this system not that beneficial. There is a chain system in the battle where if say three monsters on the field attack you, then you must go through three consecutive battles in order to get out and start roaming a dungeon again. Therefore using the quick-save feature in the main menu is a good idea to save you time incase you die and have to repeat the fight again. In addition to the volunteer brigade in cities, the minstrel will pause the game whenever you experience something new in the battle system and give a brief explanation about it. The gameplay can be quite frustrating at times but it adds to the difficulty of getting through the game which should appeal to those looking for a challenging RPG.
The soundtrack is by far the best part of Romancing SaGa. Every piece of music that I've come across in the game so far has just been a treat. There are many points in the game that will leave you frustrated, but the music really helps you through those tough times. The opening movie/theme song has been very well made and makes an amazing impact on anyone playing the game for the first time. The CG movie shows all of the main characters interacting with one another as a Minstrel sings of their tales of adventure. I think Square Enix's decision to leave the opening theme in Japanese was smart as I doubt it would've had the same impact if translated. The Instruction Manual however, does provide an English translation to the main theme song if your interested in knowing what is being said. The Battle themes are plenty and have had input from members of Nobuo Uematstu's the Black Mages. They really help make the countless encounters with the various mobs in the game feel less tedious and more fun.
The voice acting in Romancing SaGa is fairly well done and is full in that most npcs have their own voices aswell. You are given the option to skip the voice acting by hitting the Circle button if you find waiting for npcs to finish their talking time consuming.
The graphics in Romancing SaGa meet the standards of most other RPGs on the PlayStation 2. The cities that you can visit, especially Crystal City, are very pretty to look at and run around in. But the best graphics in the game can be seen on the battlefield. The monster designs have been very well done and though there might not be much variety, the quality of the designs, like those of the dragons, make up for it. In addition, the battle effects keep getting better as you move further in the game and learn new abilities. The explosive and colourful special effects during battle help make the system much more enjoyable.
The story telling in the game is done in three ways: CG Movies, in-game conversations with voice boxes, and a slideshow of images. The last of the three is a unique way chosen by the developers and helps create a story book feeling to the RPG. The images in the slideshow will turn into slow motion videos at times but are mostly just images shown one after another with voice acting. This aspect of the game may not be appreciated by all gamers out there.
Gamers will definitely not be getting this RPG for its storyline but for its awesome soundtrack and eye catching battle effects. That is if you can get past the larger than normal head sizes that the designers decided to give all the characters in the game. I for one felt that that it helped the game stand out and seperate itself from other RPGs who follow the traditional as close to reality character designs. The game is definitely for Veteran RPG fans who want a challenging RPG. The best route to go would be to rent the title and try it for a few hours and see if you find yourself willing to play the game for over 30 hours in order to beat it.
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