SaGa 2: Hihou Densetsu - Goddess of Destiny

Square-Enix’s SaGa series, the brainchild of Akitoshi Kawazu, is the company’s odd duck out of their more popular franchises such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. The games feature unique twists on traditional turn-based mechanisms that gamers outside Japan either loved or hated, the series ultimately losing popularity in North America and S-E making no effort to localize them for Anglophone players. It was something of a surprise when Square-Enix announced a remake of the second game of the first SaGa trilogy, Saga 2: Hihou Densetsu – Goddess of Destiny. A shame it was that the remake of the second game in the first SaGa trilogy, originally titled Final Fantasy Legend II on the original GameBoy due to FF’s greater popularity outside Japan, remained in the Land of the Rising Sun, as it was actually one of the much better, more playable games of the franchise.

When starting a new game, the player assembles a party of four characters consisting of various types, including male or female humans, male or female espers, mechas, and monsters, a feature that somewhat enhances replay value from the get-go, with plenty of potential challenges such as trying to complete the game with a party composed entirely of monsters. Humans tend to be jacks of all trades, having wholly vacant inventory slots in which to place things such as weapons with limited uses, defense-boosting armor, consumable items, and even magic spells. Espers have part of their inventory slots occupied by magical spells too with limited uses, though these the player can restore by resting at inns. Mechas tend to be feeble on the magical side, with weapons, armor, and shields increasing their stats and HP, while monsters can evolve into different forms by consuming meat occasionally dropped by enemies after battles.

Unlike the random battles of the original GameBoy version, enemies are visible in the game’s fields and dungeons, and always charge the player’s party when they draw near, in contrast to visible encounter systems in other titles such as EarthBound where foes run away in fear if the party’s levels are high enough. More than one set of enemies can take notice of the player’s visible character, and if there are multiple foes indicating individual encounters in the vicinity, the following encounter will consist of all enemies that each nearby visible enemy indicates. As such, battles can actually consist of dozens of enemy parties, making the ability to speed up each round of battle a total godsend.

Before each round, the player inputs commands for each character based on what occupies their inventory slots, do nothing, or attempt to escape, a feature that works most of the time, although doing so results in the loss of some money. Afterward, enemies and the player’s characters take turns depending upon agility (before each round, it is possible to select an order in which the player’s party executes their commands among the enemies’ many turns, which can actually be beneficial in fights such as the final battle, where turn order can be random, and having healing execute after the enemy then damages the player’s party can be essential to victory), battles either ending in the player or the enemies’ favor.

During the first part of the game, defeat for the player’s party results in the option of retrying the battle, although after defeating a certain boss in the game’s latter portion, the player’s defeat merely results in a game over. Several things can occur if the player’s party, however, does win the battle, such as random stat increases for humans and espers depending upon commands taken during the battle, skill acquisition, changes, and losses for espers, the acquisition of money, and the occasional drop of meat from one of the defeated foes that monster characters can consume to transform into other forms. Unless the player’s monsters have already been of a specific type, there is no way to determine the form to which a monster will transform, and in both cases, the player cannot see the new monster’s skill set, the game sometimes randomly selecting a skill from the monster’s previous form for their reincarnated form to bequeath.

New features present in the DS remake include the ability to acquire consumable links from goddesses through MP also acquired at the end of battles, and which allow characters to perform combination attacks, useful against tough bosses. It is also possible to give gifts to muses so that they can randomly act in battle when the player and the enemy exchange commands, doing things such as damaging the enemy, reducing their stats, or even restoring the party to full health, an event most certainly beneficial in the final boss battle.

The randomization of stat increases such as HP and the help of the muses is the main strike against the battle system, although unlike the SaGa Frontier duology, SaGa 2 is in most instances devoid of points of no return that can potentially screw players out of seeing the game through towards the end, and when such areas do come into being, the remake mercifully warns players of the fact, and the player is free to grind and recover their characters prior to the final boss battles. The multiple forms of the final boss can certainly be daunting compared to the prior portions of the game, this reviewer for instance spending roughly fifteen hours grinding and doing sidequests before actually winning the game, but the gameplay nonetheless helps the remake more than hurts.

The same goes for the remake’s control scheme, especially with regards to the warnings of points of no return, with general easy menus and shopping, a handy save-anywhere feature, maps for each area, and a linear structure that for the most part keeps players moving in the right direction, certainly different from the open-world disposition of future games in the franchise. The biggest problem is the limit on inventory space outside the item slots each character has, which can lead to decisions of which items to discard just to pick up new ones, but otherwise, interaction helps the remake more than hurts.

The story also has its strong suits, such as differences depending upon the classes of the player’s party, and little trouble on finding out how to advance the primary storyline, although it feels a little thin overall, some parts in need of more development.

Kenji Ito and Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack they remixed well, with plenty of enjoyable tracks, the only hangup being occasional silent portions.

The remake also sports cel-shaded visuals, which definitely look light-years ahead of the simplistic visuals of the GameBoy version, although there is plenty of pixilation alongside bland-textured environments.

Finally, reaching and beating the final boss, with a bit of luck, can take as little as fifteen hours, though this reviewer spent an equal amount of time grinding for said last boss, potentially boosting playtime to around thirty-five hours, a New Game+ potentially boosting playing time even more. In conclusion, Saga 2 is for the most part an enjoyable remake that hits most of the right notes with regards to things such as its oddball gameplay, enjoyable soundtrack, and nice visuals, although there are things that leave room for improvement such as the random aspects of battle, limited inventory space, and the slightly-underdeveloped plotline. Even so, it’s much better than the SaGa Frontier titles and the original GameBoy version, with Anglophone players interested in the title happy to know that a complete fan translation exists.

The Good:
+Nice variation of turn-based mechanisms.
+Save-anywhere feature.
+Good graphics.
+Great soundtrack.

The Bad:
-Randomization with regards to stat/skill increases/gains.
-Last boss can be punishing.
-Story could have used more development.
-Limited inventory.

The Bottom Line:
Better than the SaGa Frontier games, but not flawless.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Depends on Party
Playing Time: 15-35+ Hours

Overall: 8/10

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