SaGa Frontier 2

Even today many consider Square-Enix’s SaGa franchise to be the black sheep of their role-playing game family, given their unusual mechanisms and steep challenge. Although North Americans received the first generation of the SaGa games for the GameBoy as the Final Fantasy Legend trilogy, they missed out on all three Romancing SaGa titles for the Super Famicom (although the first of those saw a remake for the PlayStation 2 that did see localization). In 1998, Sony’s American branch gave the series another chance outside Japan with SaGa Frontier, just as polarizing as its predecessors, with a sequel, Saga Frontier 2, seeing release two years later, like its precursors with good and bad points.

The sequel features three different modes of combat, the first of which is the standard encounter with enemies visibly wandering the game’s dungeons. Unfortunately, much akin to titles such as the Grandia and Lunar series, stats have no effect on whether or not they charge the player’s visible character, with foes always doing so. Upon going to the battle screen, the game offers players a choice between party combat between them and a number of enemies, or combat one-on-one between one of the player’s characters and one of the enemies.

In standard battles, the player’s party of up to four active characters squares off against the enemy, with a variety of moves available for each member. Outside battle, the player can equip characters with up to two weapons or a weapon and a shield, along with four pieces of equipment. Key to development of characters in Saga Frontier 2 is the system of six different weapon types and six different elemental types, with plus marks on a character’s status screen indicating a character’s proficiency, and thus it is a must to equip characters with weapons and armor that will develop their stats fully.

If a weapon or accessory doesn’t have infinite durability (which standard armor typically has), then they will have a finite number of uses, with each character able to attack with an equipped weapon at the cost of one durability point and one WP, which dictates the use of physical skills a character may occasionally trigger through repeatedly attacking or using other WP-consuming skills. Accessories may allow characters to use basic elemental attacks, although they don’t learn new SP-consuming skills until the end of battle, during which characters may gain HP, WP, SP, or increased affinity level with a weapon type or a magical element, alongside the rare money or item.

As in previous SaGa games, each character has Life Points that, when exhausted, mean death for the character and no bringing them back in the middle of battle, although if they run out of HP yet still have LP, the player can bring them back into action with a standard healing spell. One primary potential means of exhausting LP is the use, before the player inputs commands for their party, of these points to fully recover a character’s HP, usable only if they have health remaining. Resting at inns, fortunately, recovers Life Points, although in the area before the last boss, the player can’t recover LP, forcing dependence upon accessories that prevent LP loss from enemy attacks. However, some, but not all, HP for each player’s characters recovers after each battle.

In addition to standard party combat are one-on-one duels, where one of the player’s chosen characters battles a single enemy, with a variety of input commands (limited to four per round) for equipped weapons and accessories. Inputting certain combinations may trigger, though not always, specific abilities, with many arts learned more easily by this method, although only the participating character will gain additional stats if they indeed do. Mercifully, if one character learns a particular ability, anyone can use it so long as they have the right weapons and accessories.

The final, more rarely-encountered mode of combat is the strategy battle, where both the player and their enemy control various units on a single battle screen, and alternate turns of moving them around and attacking one another in party battles. Taking an enemy unit off the battlefield is a matter of killing all four active characters of the enemy party, and at the end of both the player and computer’s round, reserve units fill out each unit’s four character spaces if available. The tactical battles are generally enjoyable in spite of a near-impossible fight towards the end, which, however, is mercifully skippable and unnecessary towards seeing the ending.

In the end, the sequel’s game mechanics generally work decently, although there is the matter of schizophrenic difficulty at times where at some points, enemies are easy, and at other points, enemies, particularly bosses including the final one, can be downright hellish. However, triggering combination attacks can actually be the difference between victory and defeat against the toughest enemies, and luckily, the game interface keeps tracks of a certain number of these combos. There are other flaws as well such as the likely inability to use PocketStation features if the player isn’t playing on an old PSone, not to mention unpredictable turn order in battles and the lack of Life Point healing in the endgame, but otherwise, the combat engine is slightly above average at best.

Saga Frontier 2’s interface is superficially decent, with easy menu options, shortcuts, an agile quicksave feature, and the ability to make permanent saves anywhere, although there are some shortcomings such as limited inventory space, no in-game maps (which is inexcusable since some titles from past generations such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past had them, and plenty of points of no return that could potentially screw players out of finishing the game successfully, necessitating the need to keep multiple save files, perhaps a memory card’s worth (this reviewer certainly isn’t kidding in this regard), in case they approach these dreaded sections of the game. The sequel is also significantly more linear than its predecessor, a good thing since the first game had parts where it didn’t tell players where to go next, and ultimately, interaction is average at best.

One of the better aspects of the sequel, however, is its story, which spans several generations and focuses initially upon a prince named Gustave and an adventurer named Wil Knights, having a few branches as well that somewhat enhance replay value, although development for many party members is lacking in many respects.

Even better, however, is Saga Frontier 2’s soundtrack, the first in the franchise not done by staple composer Kenji Ito, although his replacement, Masashi Hamauzu, does an equally-excellent job, with several central themes and remixes. There are occasional silent parts, but otherwise, the sequel is a definite aural treat.

The sequel’s visuals are simply outstanding, having a lush watercolor style for scenery and sprites that never gets old, although there are some palette-swapped enemies, some pixilation in battle, and a general sloppiness of the one-on-one duel graphics.

Finally, completing the game can take as little as thirty hours, although this time could easily reach sixty depending upon the grinding and farming for specific items necessary to take on the final boss without encountering one of its many cheap tricks.

In conclusion, Saga Frontier 2 is certainly an odd duck. On one hand, it has deep gameplay and customization alongside an enjoyable narrative, beautiful soundtrack, and gorgeous visuals, but on the other hand, the difficulty can be punishing, especially with regards to the final boss that could possibly necessitate plenty of grinding. Even so, most aspects of the sequel are above average, making it worth a look by prospective players, though it would definitely be a wise decision to browse a few FAQs and walkthroughs, not to mention keep multiple save files during gameplay.

The Good:
+Game mechanics have some good ideas.
+Beautiful soundtrack and visuals.
+Decent story spanning several generations.

The Bad:
-Last boss is tough and requires plenty of grinding.
-Limited inventory.
-Points of no return galore.

The Bottom Line:
A challenging game, especially towards the end.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation
Game Mechanics: 6/10
Controls: 5/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Hard
Playing Time: 30-60 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

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