It is a great time for fans of Square Enix’s SaGa series! Romancing SaGa 2 was ported to multiple platforms and released worldwide. SaGa: Scarlet Grace was the first new entry in the series in over 11 years when it was released on the PlayStation Vita in Japan in 2016. Basically, it feels like it is experiencing a renaissance. Which means it is a good time to review what makes it so special.
What is SaGa?
SaGa has some rather interesting origins. In the fourth console generation, a time when the Super Nintendo was the console for JRPGs, Square Enix decided to create an entirely new series for the Game Boy. The goal was to make something that was as engaging as something like Final Fantasy, difficult enough to challenge people and continue the legacy established by Final Fantasy II, an atypical installment in the long running series. SaGa was born!
Though, for a long time, it was known as Final Fantasy outside of Japan. But we will get to that later.
How is SaGa different from other JRPGs?
Well, like I mentioned earlier, SaGa has a progression system inspired by Final Fantasy II. Characters do not gain levels in a traditional way. Instead, your actions in battle determine their growth. If someone is using a lot of spells, their magical attack, magical defense and mana points will increase. Should a character be frequently attacking, they will grow into a physical attacker. It means you need to focus on certain behaviors to make your team meet your needs.
SaGa games were also open-world before it was cool to do so. Most installments let you go ahead and do your own thing. There will be some story elements and quests you will come across. But most of them allow you to take things at your own pace and enjoy an array of paths as you find your way through. On top of this, some games have stories that change based on decisions you make in situations or the way you respond to questions.
A final trait shared by most of the later SaGa games is a choice of protagonists. You will be able to choose who you control, with each one having their own storyline. These can overlap with other characters, where they will join in an ancillary role along the way.
Why were some SaGa games released under the Final Fantasy name?
Okay. The first three SaGa games were all released in North America. But, none of them were known as SaGa. What happened? Well, the series was designed by Square to also build off of Final Fantasy. In North America, Final Fantasy was a success. The company decided to piggyback on that by releasing the first game as Final Fantasy Legend. Final Fantasy IV (released in the west originally as Final Fantasy II) came out on November 23, 1991, shortly after Final Fantasy Legend II debuted on November 1, 1991. It probably just made sense to keep putting them out under that title, even though the actual Final Fantasy II that they resembled did not get released outside of Japan until Final Fantasy Origins made a worldwide debut on the PlayStation.
Which SaGa games can I play today?
Well, some of them are no longer available. Emperors SaGa was a mobile game and Imperial SaGa was a browser-based game. But, you can still find and play many of the entries released on consoles and handhelds!
Final Fantasy Legend (Game Boy, 1989)
The first Final Fantasy Legend game is set in a world with multiple levels that are all connected to a tower in the center. People who climb the tower and reach the top allegedly reach paradise. You create a character by choosing their race and gender, then create three custom allies in a guild to join you as you challenge the tower. Humans are physical fighters who gain permanent stat boosts as they fight, mutants are people who occasionally learn different skills and abilities that are constantly in flux and monsters eat meat dropped by other monsters beaten in battle to transform.
The good news is, this game was released outside of Japan. It found its way to North America in 1990 via Square. Then, Sunsoft released it again in the region in 1998. In Japan, an enhanced port came to the WonderSwan Color in 2001. (It was also available on mobile phones in Japan, for a time.)
Final Fantasy Legend II (Game Boy, 1990)
Final Fantasy Legend II improves on the predecessor with a more detailed story and extra character classes. After you create a character, who can be a human, mutant, monster or robot, you see a scene where your father takes off after giving you an artifact known as a MAGI. You gather your friends and take off to gather all 77 MAGI, which are supposedly shards of the goddess Isis’ statue. However, other people who have collected MAGI have the strength of gods.
Just like its predecessor, Final Fantasy Legend II was released in Japan and North America. It appeared in North America twice, actually, as Sunsoft rereleased it in 1998 too. Later, in 2009, Square Enix created an enhanced remake called SaGa 2 Hihou Densetsu: Goddess of Destiny for the Nintendo DS.
Final Fantasy Legend III (Game Boy, 1991)
Final Fantasy Legend III really kicked things up a notch, both in terms of story and character complexity. Everyone has a predetermined identity. The player character, a human male named Arthur, and his mutant friends Curtis and Gloria, were sent from the future into the present due to the Pureland Water Entity flooding everything. They are raised alongside a human girl, Sharon. When danger strikes, the group must take a time-traveling ship called the Talon into the past, present and future to save all three time periods. In this entry, you can have guest characters join the party. Also, by equipping different parts or eating certain meats, your standard human or mutant characters can transform into cyborgs, robots, beasts and monsters.
Again, Final Fantasy Legend III appeared on the Game Boy in Japan and North America, with a Sunsoft rerelease happening in 1998. It ended up getting a Nintendo DS remake, known as SaGa 3 Jikuu no Hasha: Shadow or Light, in 2011.
Romancing SaGa (Super Famicom, 1992)
Romancing SaGa broke from the tradition of making your own characters and watching all of them go through one story together and moved to a gameplay style that remains to this day. There are eight playable characters: Aisha, Albert, Barbara, Claudia, Gray, Hawke, Jamil and Sif. Each one lives in different areas of Mardias, a world in which an evil god named Saruin is on the verge of coming back. It is up to these people to each fight in their own way to protect everything they hold dear.
While the original release remained trapped in Japan, it appeared on many other platforms. One remake showed up on the WonderSwan Color in Japan in 2001. Then, it appeared on the PlayStation 2 in Japan and North America on 2005. There were also eventual mobile releases in Japan.
Romancing SaGa 2 (Super Famicom, 1993)
Romancing SaGa 2 has us controlling multiple characters one after another. The kingdom of Avalon is in danger, with seven corrupted heroes attempting to wreck havoc across the country. People must improve the kingdom, choose proper heirs and defeat the seven demonic heroes over the generation as each one is defeated. What happens in one generation impacts the other and helps shape its story.
Romancing SaGa 2 is available on so many systems. It was initially a Japanese Super Famicom game. Then, it appeared on some mobile phones in Japan. People with Japanese 3DS, Wii or Wii U systems could grab it from the Virtual Console. In 2016, it showed up on Android and iOS devices worldwide, marking the English debut. As of 2017, it is also available on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One and PC worldwide.
Romancing SaGa 3 (Super Famicom, 1995)
Romancing SaGa 3 involves a world where a Death Eclipse happens every 300 years and wipes out all life on a world. The last two times this happened, one child survived and became a supernatural king. The first one was a demonic Devil King who dominated the world. The second was a Holy King and defeated the Devil King’s Devil Lords. As the cycle begins anew, players get to choose Elen, Harid, Julian, Katharina, Michael, Monica, Sarah or Thomas’ story and see what happens when the next “king” arises.
At the moment, Romancing SaGa 3 is only available on the Super Famicom and via the Japanese Wii and Wii U Virtual Console. But in 2017, it was announced the remaster will come to Android devices, iOS devices and the PlayStation Vita, with a worldwide release planned!
SaGa Frontier (PlayStation, 1997)
SaGa Frontier brings back the sci-fi elements of the series that disappeared for a time after Final Fantasy Legend III. Players can follow the stories of Asellus, Blue, Emelia, Lute, Red, Riki and T260G as each one experiences his, her or its own story on one of the planets in The Regions solar system. Some stories can overlap, with events altering depending on which ones you have seen and what you have done.
SaGa Frontier is only available on the PlayStation, but you can find it in Japan and North America.
SaGa Frontier 2 (PlayStation, 1997)
SaGa Frontier 2 pares back a bit, compared to previous games. People have two protagonists to choose between: Gustave XIII and Wil Knights. However, it makes up for this by following both characters’ stories for a number of years. Gustave XIII is a prince banished and disinherited after he does not show magical abilities, with his story following his rise to power. Wil is a digger who goes on treasure-hunting adventures and is searching for a legendary Egg.
SaGa Frontier 2 is only available on the PlayStation. However, it is notable for being the first entry to be released in North America, Japan and Europe.
Unlimited Saga (PlayStation 2, 2002)
Unlimited Saga brings back the idea of multiple protagonists. After a god promises to bring about a golden age if people of the world collect seven wonders, seven people set out to find them. People can follow Armic, Judy, Kurt, Laura, Mythe, Ruby and Ventus’ campaigns as they attempt to meet the god’s request.
Unlimited Saga is only available on the PlayStation 2 and was released in North America, Japan and Europe.
SaGa: Scarlet Grace (PlayStation Vita, 2016)
SaGa: Scarlet Grace is more similar to the recent entries. There are four playable characters, each with their own stories, allowing people to see the exploits of Balmaint, Leonard, Taria and Urpina. A devastated country split into four nations has to deal with the fallout of the Star God called the Fire Bringer, who brought demons and destruction 70 years before. You travel around a map at your leisure, triggering events to advance the story.
Now, you may want to wait before you go importing SaGa: Scarlet Grace. It turns out the game is heading to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PC in 2018. (Not to mention Android and iOS devices, if you have appropriate accounts in other regions!) There still could be a chance of it being released worldwide!