Making my way through SaGa Frontier Remastered was an ordeal. I lost count of how many times a monster one shot people in my team. At one point I started my route over because I literally couldn’t fight the enemies and foolishly saved in that area. At the end the boss must’ve had 100,000 HP, and I barely won. Then, a friend told me I got the bad ending. Turns out the bad ending on that route required more work than the good one!
Yep, this is a SaGa game. SaGa Frontier Remastered is kicking my ass in a way few videogames do, and I’m all the way here for it.
Square Enix, only a few months after releasing a compilation of the original SaGa trilogy, has dropped another classic revisit, this time one from the PSOne era that has received a significant facelift. I haven’t played the original SaGa Frontier, but it’s obvious what’s new here. And while this game is definitely rough around the edges (even for SaGa), it makes up for those pain points with its ambitious structure, strange world and unique progression.
SaGa Frontier Remastered Review
SaGa Frontier’s soul lies in its “Free Scenario System.” There are, I believe, three major pillars to that system. The first one is the most outwardly appealing: SaGa Frontier isn’t just one story, it’s several. Right at the start you get to choose a protagonist, and each story is distinct. Second, while the stories are distinct, all these characters inhabit the same world at the same time. You can run into other protagonists and even recruit them in your party, even if their story is totally different. It’s neat, and gives more life to the weird, sci-fi/fantasy hybrid world.
Third, there’s no linear path for anything. The side quests are wide open for anyone, you can visit all the major locations even if they aren’t relevant to you and you even have to find the flags for main story events on your own. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of returning to a specific character to initiate the next “mission,” but there’s no railroading whatsoever.
Sometimes the system doesn’t operate in a friendly way. For example, that earlier thing I mentioned about having to start over? Sometimes you’ll end up in an area you can’t leave after a flag. Quicksaving instead of hard-saving is sometimes necessary. You never know what you’re going to run into in a new area, especially since the enemies’ strength scales up (there’s a ceiling, and bosses are static) based on your total number of battles.
That scaling, which isn’t uncommon in SaGa, is a bigger problem here in SaGa Frontier than I expected. The damage balancing is so off the wall that it can take a lot of grinding before your characters stop getting one-shot, but then because of that grinding as soon as you find somewhere new you have to contend with beefed up baddies right away.
Related: Interview: Talkin’ SaGa Shop with Square Enix SaGa leaders Akitoshi Kawazu, Hiroyuki Miura and Masanori Ichikawa
I understand why SaGa games utilize the level scaling, due to how dynamic character progression can be. But the scales just seem really off here compared to games like the Romancing trilogy. There are also situations, like the final boss in one scenario I mentioned above, where the numbers just suddenly rocket up in a way you can’t anticipate. You always have to be ready to reload a safer save, or back out of an area when possible to go grind.
SaGa games are often about withholding information, but giving you the tools and enough of a push to be able to figure things out. Frontier hits you with brief tutorials fairly often though, so you get more than in earlier games. That said, there’s plenty of stuff that’s deliberately vague or just not explained at all, and that’s not gonna be for everyone.
Another problem I have is an unfortunate clash with one of my favorite things about SaGa overall. Usually, character roles are clearly defined, such as the differences between humans, monsters, espers, so on and so forth. Later games go a step further by giving certain characters little pushes towards specific combat roles, such as the different “classes” in Romancing SaGa 2. Because of how stats and skills work, it’s always a blast for me to build up my characters.
In SaGa Frontier, things are a bit more open, in ways that make the non-human characters feel less defined than usual. Some of that is due to the magic system, which basically treats different styles of magic like a regular weapon.
Monsters and robots are pretty distinct still, but in some scenarios they’re quite scarce. Having teams full of humans isn’t very SaGa, but sometimes it happens here. And stat growth is still what it usually is, so getting those bonuses loosely based on your actions still has that hype factor. Frontier is just a little muddled compared to other SaGas before and after.
That said, the skill system in SaGa Frontier rules. Like other games you’ll be “glimmering” moves, which means your characters will randomly learn new skills in battle based on their actions. There are tons of skills for each weapon, and quite a few different kinds of magic you can run into. And perhaps most exciting of all are the different combos you can activate, which see characters smashing their skills together for a buttload of extra damage.
Seeing your characters work together and use their skills with wrestling move-like timing (and also literal wrestling moves) is a hoot, and the big damage is always exciting. But because these combos are random it makes them super exciting to see, especially since the tradeoff for not controlling them is they’re free. Many of the skill animations are also super cool, especially considering Frontier’s age and art style.
For example, a melee character starting a combo with a suplex, while a sword character uses a big multi-hit combo with perfect timing based on the animations just looks awesome. Even though battles have multiple speed settings bolted on, the combos and skills often had me leaving that setting alone.
With respect to the new content, there’s quite a lot! If you’re new to SaGa Frontier, you won’t notice it but that’s a good thing. Director Kawazu and other team members came back to fill in some rough patches (this game was famously “unfinished”), and even added a whole scenario that was scrapped before the initial release.
The original story had to be elaborated in a book that came out later, and was never officially translated. So while what’s here isn’t everything and couldn’t be, it’s awesome to see the creators get to make a fuller version of such an ambitious game.
Other new features include a New Game+ option, which lets you dive back into completed scenarios with things you earned the first time intact. It isn’t as useful to newcomers as the feature in the Romancing SaGa ports that let you start over if you felt stuck. However, if you’re the type to hunt for endings, this is going to make that chase feel a lot better.
SaGa is one of those series that’s hard to get into, mostly because of its “difficulty” relative to other JRPGs. SaGa Frontier in particular is a game of its time, that era of PSOne releases from Square Enix when it was pumping out hit after hit. But like Xenogears, SaGa Frontier didn’t quite get to be the game it was meant to be.
But SaGa Frontier Remastered gives the game another chance in a totally different gaming climate, one that is much more receptive to games off the beaten path. And with its additional content and some light QoL features, this is easily the definitive way to play SaGa Frontier. It’s more of a “director’s cut” than a remaster, and that’s just cool.
- Free Scenario System offers multiple stories in one game
- Skills and combos are super exciting to see
- Additional content, especially story stuff
- Enemy scaling isn’t balanced well
- Roles are more ill-defined than usual
- It’s too easy to accidentally get stuck
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review