- SaGa Frontier -
-= Overview =-
Looking at my large stack of PSX RPGs, I see Final Fantasy 7, Xenogears, and a bunch of other standard game giants any RPG fan (or gamer) would want. Fittingly sitting on the bottom of the pile is SaGa Frontier, a perfect example of a game lost amongst the bigger, highly hyped games that were released in Winter 97/98. Don't get me wrong, SaGa Frontier is not better than Final Fantasy 7 or Final Fantasy Tactics; but on the same token it is not nearly as bad as it has been made out to be. The game is a departure from the norm, which alone makes some people cringe, with several innovations that can definitely keep anyone enthralled in the game, in spite of its complex nature. Yet because of this complexity and the occasional confusion, SaGa Frontier has been oft-dismissed as an experiment gone wrong. Yet if these people would play more of it than 5 minutes of a 5 day blockbuster rental, they may have ended up enjoying it
-= Story =-
: Rating :
The storyline(s) of SaGa Frontier is complex, while at the same time simplistic. It's complex in the sense that there are 7 different quests to partake in, in which you follow a certain character on his/her adventures. Each quest is intertwined with other quests. For example, in T260G's quest, you can recruit, say, Riki, who has his own quest to partake in as well. It's fairly complicated, and is really innovative. With this complexity in multiple storylines, however, comes the simplicity of the stories themselves. The adventures are pretty standard for the most part, the only departure being the occasional points of confusion where it seems the story grinds to a halt.
The storylines of SaGa Frontier are not without their redeeming qualities, though. Most of the quests have their unique quips about them. The inclusion of Lute's quest, though, is inexcusable. It has absolutely no storyline at all, and is pretty much a quest of side quests. A story which entails nothing outside of going on optional side quests (which has nothing to do with Lute individually) to level up and eventually infiltrate the first (and last) dungeon which "wraps up" a story seemingly written up by a team of monkeys at typewriters is an embarrassment.
SaGa Frontier isn't too big on character development either. Not many revelations, or changes in character here. Overall, everything averages out to SaGa Frontier having, well...an average story.
-= Gameplay =-
: Rating :
Rating the gameplay of SaGa Frontier is tough. On one hand you have the nature of the game, and how it progresses. One the other you have the battle system and whatnot. Both of these aspects of gameplay are key parts of the game, so let's look at them individually.
The flow of SaGa Frontier is generally free of constraints. With the exception of Lute's horrific "adventure", each quest begins with a pretty constraining atmosphere, and branches out into a free for all adventure, where the player can explore any nook and cranny of the SaGa Frontier universe, from a quaint Japanese village to a circus dungeon belonging to a magical unicorn. While the SaGa Frontier locales offer a large amount of variation that it would seem that the free flow system fits, it has several hitches, one being the confusion generated. The player is often left to figure out what to do next with the most general instructions. While some people will delve into a fit of confusion at that moment, others will revel in the opportunity to explore on your own, and find what you need on your own. If exploration is your thing, SaGa Frontier will really float your boat. A distinctly cool aspect of the game is the selection of playable characters. Everywhere you go there is a character willing to join your party, which can hold a maximum of 15 characters; definitely a strength of the game.
Then there is the battle system. You can carry up to 5 characters out of your 15 party members to participate in a battle. The characters are separated into four categories: human, mech, monster, and mystic. Each one has their own niche in a battle, and their own way of fighting. The human is basically the RPG cliché of fighting. They use and learn special abilities by using others, they build up their statistics from battle experience, and they can equip a weapon or two, some armor...pretty standard RPG stuff. Mechs are totally different. They do not gain experience, nor do their statistics rise from it. The strength of a mech is directly related to the equipment it is wearing. A mech can equip any amount of anything, the stronger the item equipped, the more drastic the stats increase is. Special circuit boards can also be gained. Mechs learn new abilities by absorbing them from other (killed) mechs. Very intuitive. Monsters are similar to mechs, only that their stats are directly related to the monsters the absorb after battle, not their equipment, which has very little weight for them. Mystics are a mix of monsters and humans. They generally use powerful magic, and absorb abilities (and statistics) from monsters into their mystic equipment. It is all very well thought out, and offers a ton of options.
The battle system is excellent, definitely the strongest point of the game. Building up is not a long tedious expedition, but is actually fun in most cases. You always have an option to avoid battles, seeing as the monsters are viewed on screen. The one flaw of the battle system is the fact that the enemy chasing you on the world map doesn't give the player a clue to what is actually there. For instance, in the Yorkland Swamp, little lizards jump out of bushes to confront you, and you end up fighting a huge squid or triceratops.
Overall, great gameplay. If you don't like exploration, deduct a few points
-= Music & Sound Effects =-
: Rating :
Generally, the music is excellent in SaGa Frontier. Kenji Ito it an excellent composer, and gives his all in SaGa Frontier's soundtrack. The music is all very RPG-ish, with spooky dungeon themes, bouncy town themes, and some of the best battle music ever. I listen to the MBlack battle music quite often. Top notch tunes.
The sound effects aren't as good. Not much going on aurally in the battles other than the kicking music. All of it is pretty average. The monster screams that are occasionally heard are pretty bad, though. Almost rivaling the obnoxious verbalizations of Xenogears' Chu Chu.
-= Graphics =-
: Rating :
Lovely, quite lovely...the backgrounds that is.
The graphics of SaGa Frontier are a mixed bag. The backgrounds are absolutely stunning. All the locales have a distinct aura about them that radiates throughout the game. I used to just wander around the towns and dungeons (most notably Koorong and the Bio Lab) to observe some of the marvelous animation. They are crisp, and highly detailed. Not up to par with Final Fantasy 7 or 8, but excellent nonetheless, in a different, more artistic, kind of way.
On the other side of the graphical fence are the character sprites and in battle animation. Personally, I did not like the sprites. They did not seem very inspired like those of Breath of Fire 3. None of the SaGa Frontier characters can come close to matching the splendor that was Garr. They are good for feeding the nostalgia, but other than that, the character graphics aren't very remarkable. Even worse are the terrible enemy sprites. They are downright ugly, and have seemingly two frames of animation a piece. Considering what else was being done at the time, the monster graphics (for the most part) are eyesores. The battle fireworks are all there, with all their spectacular exaggerations.
The backgrounds are excellent, but the sprites don't do it for me
-= Fun =-
: Rating :
Hmmm...this is very dependant on what you want. If you are expecting a spoon-fed RPG in the mold of the Final Fantasy series where every objective is laid out for you, you won't like SaGa Frontier. If you are like me, however, and enjoy a game that entails a ton of exploring, high difficulty, and a ton of depth, you will love SaGa Frontier. The game is a niche RPG, straying from the path of linearity and delving into the realm of challenge and exploration, what RPGs were supposed to be. Some people love it, some people hate it; I loved it
-= Last Word =-
SaGa Frontier, as I stated above, is a niche title in what was formerly a niche genre. It certainly will not (and has not) please everybody, but what RPG does? SaGa Frontier is a departure, a game that challenges what the modern RPG should be like. It has more of a Dragon Warrior feel under its PSX façade. If you want an RPG that you can't beat with your eyes closed, and is something different, go pick up SaGa Frontier. You may be pleasantly surprised, like I was.
Total Score: 82/100
(not an average)