If I've made anything clear during my early tenure here at Prima Games, it's that I'm a big ol' dork when it comes to SaGa. Final Fantasy's weird brother hasn't made the same impact in the west as it has in Japan, but that doesn't mean these games aren't classics.
In fact, when the original three games were released for the Game Boy as the Final Fantasy Legend trilogy, plenty of kids got their first taste at a genre they'd fall in love with. The first series to sell a million copies for Square Enix, the very first JRPG series on the Game Boy and the directoral debut of Akitoshi Kawazu, who still runs the series at Square Enix today.
SaGa has been more present than ever in the west, thanks to the JRPG player base on PlayStation and Nintendo Switch being bigger than ever. From last year's Christmas present in Collection of SaGa Final Fantasy Legend to this year's upcoming SaGa Frontier Remastered, SaGa is here to stay and grow.
I get naturally curious about things like this, with more obscure series quickly gaining ground. So I reached out to Square Enix in the hopes of getting some insight. And boy did I get some insight. I got to send questions about all things currently happening with SaGa, from the Final Fantasy Legend set, to SaGa Frontier Remastered, the mobile game Romancing SaGa: Re;UniverSe and even just what's going on with the brand in general.
I wasn't exactly sure if or when I would hear back, or who I'd end up getting correspondance with. When this scattershot spread of questions found their way back to me from Japan, I was shocked to see the names. Not only did I get responses from Square Enix producers Hiroyuki Miura and Masanori Ichikawa, but director Kawazu himself participated.
This is a big one, but please enjoy our deep dive into SaGa as we head towards the next release this summer.
Collection of SaGa Final Fantasy Legend
Lucas White, Prima Games: Can we have some background on Collection of SaGa going into production? What sort of factors led to it being pitched and/or approved? And localized, for that matter?
Hiroyuki Miura, Producer on Collection of SaGa Final Fantasy Legend, SaGa Frontier Remastered:
More than ever before, we had been hearing the voices of players who want to play the games as they were originally released. We started the development of this title in the hope of meeting their requests, as well as realizing SaGa Series Director Akitoshi Kawazu’s hopes of bringing these games to the world just as they were originally, since the original games could only be played in limited environments.
Since English versions of these games were released alongside the original Japanese versions, I felt overseas players would also feel nostalgic for these games. As such, we proceeded with the development in the hope of bringing these classic games to modern, more accessible platforms.
Akitoshi Kawazu, SaGa Series Director:
Previously, there were plans to bring the Game Boy SaGa titles to modern platforms. As we moved towards the series’ 30th anniversary, we thought that now was the right time to bring that plan to fruition.
Are there any specific goals for this localization? Any data points or feedback Square Enix is looking for with respect to SaGa?
Our goal is to allow players to enjoy the origin of the SaGa series by delivering this game to those who played the originals back in the day as well as new players.
Our purpose is to give players, who have found interest in the series, a chance to play these three titles—which are where the SaGa series originated. Of course, we are also happy to have players from back in the day enjoy a nostalgic replay of these games.
Final Fantasy Legends is a super important piece of early Game Boy history, perhaps more than many players may realize. Is that difficult to convey in a release like this, or is emphasizing that history part of the project?
This title was the first RPG on Game Boy and went on to sell one million units in Japan. It’s also the origin of the SaGa series that would follow. We have tried to present the game as close to the original as possible in order to convey to players its important role as the origin of the series.
We did make slight adjustments to reflect how the world has evolved over time, though for the most part the games are as they were originally. We also used the same strategy to promote the game—taking elements that players from back in the day would find nostalgic and bringing them to the forefront.
As for additional elements, we created new illustrations and music for the main title screen when the game starts up. We left these in the hands of an illustrator and a composer who worked on the original releases, in order to create visuals and music that embody the original’s spirit.
If you’re asking which we cherish more—the historical value of the game or the value of the work itself (as in, how fun a game is)—then of course it’s the latter. More so than its historical significance, I would want people to be amazed with the fact that these games can still be enjoyed, as-is, even today.
Was the WonderSwan version of SaGa ever on the table for this collection? Or does it conflict with the intent of the SaGa collection?
Our concept for this collection was to allow players to experience the original games as they were. As the WonderSwan version was released after the original on Game Boy, we opted not to include it.
SaGa is a series that got its start on a Nintendo platform. The SaGa series would have never been born if the Game Boy platform did not exist; so naturally, we decided to go with the three original Game Boy titles for this collection.
Was anyone who worked on the original games involved with Collection of SaGa in any way [note: we didn’t know Kawazu himself would be responding here, so consider us shook]?
Not just series director Akitoshi Kawazu, but illustrator Katsutoshi Fujioka and composer Kenji Ito were also involved.
I personally supervised the content.
Any advice for players who may find these games intimidating, or too difficult?
This is a simple game, in which the actions you decide to take will impact the results you get. In battles, if the actions you attempt don’t garner good results, I believe you should be able to proceed if you try something else the next time around. This is a game that becomes more fun as you play it over and over. And, if there is an enemy that you just can’t beat, it may be a good idea to try using a “Saw”.
Many players completed the game 30 years ago, so I don’t think you should be so intimidated. I’d encourage anyone to give the games a try and experience them for themselves.
Can we have some insight as to the stronger presence of SaGa in North America as of late? Is it a new push to see if Square Enix can get the series to catch on more? Or has demand or interest in SaGa grown?
Masanori Ichikawa, SaGa Series Producer:
We’re releasing these games in the hopes of having more people overseas enjoy the SaGa series. In Japan, I believe SaGa is a very popular series, just following DRAGON QUEST and FINAL FANTASY, but it’s still not that well known on a wider scale. I invite people overseas to play the SaGa series.
Is there anything special about working on SaGa, compared to other series?
For me, it’s the fact that the series is Kawazu’s creation.
This series was the first RPG to release on the Game Boy system, which was seen as impossible back in the day. Though I’m sure not many people know about game development from back then anymore, I believe they were able to realize this impossible feat.
As someone who owned a Game Boy, I was truly delighted since I had pretty much given up hope on playing a full-fledged RPG on that handheld device. The current staff have that same spirit of taking on challenges. As a one-of-a-kind series, all of the development members value that trailblazing attitude.
Is there anything that SaGa fans can look forward to in 2021 or beyond? Any spaces they should keep their attention on?
Over in North America, we have regular livestreams on Twitch for Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe, so I hope you check them out.
Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe
How has the global release been going? Has it impacted engagement with other SaGa games available in global regions?
We released Romancing SaGa 2 and Romancing SaGa 3 overseas over the past few years, but if you consider that fact that this is a mobile game from a series that hadn’t had any overseas releases for some time, we are pretty pleased with the reaction.
Additionally, through new lines of communication with our overseas players, such as livestreams, it’s now easier to hear the voices of the SaGa series fans. This has had a positive impact in starting to build a better relationship with our fans. We’ve also been able to link our promotions for titles like COLLECTION OF SaGa with Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe, which has begun showing good effects and results.
Have there been any new adjustments or surprising feedback from the new audience? Or is the game progressing more or less as planned so far?
In the beginning, the global version was following the Japanese version as-is, but we’re currently making major tweaks to cater to overseas players in how we operate. In that sense, the game hasn’t been operating as was planned.
I believe we can say that the game is now operating under a schedule that’s catered to the overseas audience, and we will likely continue to take our fans’ feedback and make changes. Though it seems the requests of overseas players and those of Japanese players don’t differ greatly, there was one surprising request: When I mentioned that I own a cat in one of the livestreams, overseas players asked me to implement an SS Style of my cat!
Of all the mobile games I’ve played based on existing series, Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe feels like one of the most faithful translations of the source material in terms of gameplay. Was it easy due to SaGa’s distinct mechanics, or did it take a lot of time and effort to get to where the team was satisfied?
We actually completely revamped the game during development to bring it to a satisfactory level. Though I don’t think we were able to implement all the mechanics unique to SaGa, I believe we were able to capture the essence of SaGa with this game, more so than other regular mobile games have done with their IPs.
There are also three main design pillars we kept in mind while developing the title: 1) this is not a pay-to-win game, 2) you can enhance your favorite characters to your heart’s content, and 3) characters you’ve obtained previously don’t go to waste.
With these points and more, what’s most important is seeing how much we can make people love the SaGa series—seeing how much revenue we can create using SaGa’s assets is not an objective for us. If you haven’t played the game yet, please give it a try!
Is there anything particularly exciting about the game coming up that fans should know about?
The voices of the overseas fans who love SaGa have created this pathway for the series up till now. I would love to deliver more of the SaGa series to the people overseas, so your continued support is appreciated.
SaGa Frontier Remastered
SaGa Frontier, unlike the Romancing games, was localized. How does that presumed familiarity from some portion of the audience impact the strategy? Was it easier or faster to get the project off the ground or approved to localize?
Since this title was localized into English back in the day, we already had a foundation for the Remaster’s localization, which made the development process more efficient. Of course, we did have to review everything about the game and made adjustments for this version, so I won’t say there wasn’t any hardship.
A simultaneous release of the Japanese version and the English version was planned from the very beginning. Because of this, we were expecting there to be good responses from Western players.
Regarding the new story content, was this material cut from the original game, totally new work, or a combination of both? Is it challenging to approach adding new content to a game that has already been in a “finished” state for so long?
There was one protagonist that we had to give up on implementing back when we created the original. We redesigned his story to include as an additional element for this version. And on top of that, we added in some scenarios that we weren’t able to implement in the original. We aimed to further perfect this game as a remastered version, while also avoiding destroying the good qualities of the original due to adding completely new elements.
For this title, I received a blueprint from Mr. Kawazu on what he had planned to include in the original back then and with that, took on the development under his directions. Trying to add this many elements was a series first, so it was a lot of work for the director and the development team, but it was worth the effort—I believe the content turned out to be at a level that would satisfy the players.
When it comes to the different subseries throughout SaGa, what sets Frontier apart from the original trilogy or the Romancing series?
In creating an RPG for the PlayStation system, I tried to do what wasn’t possible on SNES. I believe we were able to present a great difference in game volume, as well as the variety in the world lore.
What decides whether or not a project has “Remastered” in the title or not in your eyes? New content? Altered assets? Anything else?
I believe to remaster a game is to make adjustments and bring the game to a different platform from that of the original. Personally, I believe it’s possible to call a game “Remastered” even if new content is not included.
For SaGa Frontier Remastered, not only did we optimize the graphics and revamp the UI, we also added a new protagonist and new scenes that were not in the original. With this, I perceive this game as a remastered version filled with new content. I believe the large volume of the new protagonist’s scenario will especially satisfy players.
If we were to drastically modify parts aside from the world lore or story, that is, the program and data, then the development cost would skyrocket and production would require a much longer period. It would essentially require the same amount of work as creating a new game. This time around, instead of taking that option, we decided to remaster the game by leveraging the program and data from the original to recreate the PlayStation original as a remastered version.
That was a lot of SaGa talk! I'd like to personally thank, as the author, Mr. Kawazu, Miura and Ichikawa for the time they took to answer these questions. The same goes to the PR representative who helped me put this thing together, which I was was an ordeal for them to say the least!
And anyone who reads this whole thing is pretty alright in my book, too. If you like this and want to see more interviews in this vein, let me know! Shoot me a line over email, or hit me or Prima up on Twitter. Looking forward to SaGa Frontier? Me too.