They just don’t make JRPGs like they used to. Either that or maybe I’m just getting old and screaming these words at the kids who are out on my lawn. Whichever it is, the entertainment value that I get out of some of the classics is a high that I can’t seem to get out of any of the modern releases in the genre. Give me a Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI and I’ll blow an entire weekend on it.
SaGa Frontier has a throne reserved for it at this table. I remember playing it as a little guy and feeling overwhelmed by the experience and its overwhelmingly open gameplay for the time. Getting my hands on the remaster when I saw announced became a priority to sip on that sweet, sweet nostalgia, and I must say that it’s lived up to the hype even in the Year of Our Lord 2021.
A Hero For Everyone
SaGa Frontier opens by giving you a choice between eight main characters to choose from. Each has their own story to experience and the variety between them is astonishing. One may be quite linear with clear goals and an in-depth super hero story arc while the next has only one goal, kill the big bad, and it’s up to you to get a lone jobless bum into fighting shape alongside the allies that you find in your completely open-ended travels. The best part is that you’ll be able to play as all of them and you can carry over your progress from one to the next in a persistent legacy save.
Characters overall are varied in their goals and personalities while their attributes and skills can be customized as you see fit. Whether you’re that superhero or the jobless bum, there’s plenty of options available for how to specialize them and each of the four species that might end up in your party offer different experiences. Humans gain attributes in nearly every battle based on what they’re doing; punch your enemies and you’ll gain strength, cast spells and you’ll gain intelligence. Skills are learned by change when you’re using related abilities and weapons; punch and kick enough and you’ll learn to start body slamming your foes.
Magic works only slightly differently. Basic spells can be purchased from magic vendors, though to get the truly powerful ones you’ll need to learn them by chance once you’ve earned “the gift.” “The gift” is a questline that you have to undertake to master a category of magic so that you can learn spells that are unavailable to gain anywhere other than inside yourself.
Monsters absorb their defeated foes and gain their abilities from them. They can only have up to eight of them at a time and newly gained skills will replace one that they already have. Different combinations of skills result in varying forms for your monsters as well and it’s important that you pay attention to these as the lion’s share of their attributes come from whatever form they happen to be in at the time as they don’t organically level like a human. A monster who’s taken the shape of a dragon is a far more useful ally than one that’s taken the shape of a flower. This system lends a “gotta catch ’em all” feel to improving your monster characters, especially since each new enemy that absorb adds a permanent health bonus to all of their forms going forward.
Mechs are a combination of their parts. Absorbing programs from defeated enemy mechs is the only way that they improve in battle. These provide useful abilities to them but their attributes are built entirely from the items that they have equipped. The type of item that you’re putting on them alters their statistics in varying ways, a sword will boost their strength while a gun will boost their concentration. This means that decking them out with endgame tier gear will make them beastly at any point, though they’re also nearly useless if you don’t have an inventory to devote to their development.
Mystics feel like something of a hybrid between humans and monsters. Though they can increase a few of their attributes, such as hit points and charisma simply by winning battles, they gain most of their abilities and stats from using their mystic weapons to absorb weakened enemies. They don’t transform like monsters do, but they rely heavily on absorption as opposed to the more simplified experience gain of humans.
Make Your Own Adventure
Though stories vary from the linear and objective-based to progressing as you see fit, SaGa Frontier offers a world waiting to be explored at your leisure. Even the most railroaded characters are capable of exploring much of it and encountering many of the same characters that were seen in other stories. Magic academies, Far East-inspired villages, pleasant suburbs, and neon cities are only a few of the memorable places that you can visit, and each offers its own places of interest that are likely to pique your curiosity.
It’s a testament to the thoughtful and open-ended gameplay design that your party composition is almost entirely up to you as well. Starting with your choice of a variety of main characters, there are dozens of others to find throughout the world to join you, even the other main characters are out there waiting to be recruited at one time or another. This ends up with having a highly customized and persistent world as the remaster’s new game plus mode allows you to carry over the progress that you’ve made with each of the characters (major or minor) that you’ve used in the past. In the old days, each story required you to build them up again, now they are recruited at the same strength as last you saw them if you so choose.