Posted on January 13, 2018
Romancing SaGa/ロマンシング サ・ガ
The SaGa series is a series from Square that never truly made its way outside of Japan. The early releases came to the West under the name Final Fantasy Legend for the Game Boy, but as far as official “SaGa” releases go we never got any until SaGa Frontier for the PlayStation. Romancing SaGa is the first game in a trilogy that took standard JRPG gameplay and ran in a whole different direction than the other games in the genre at the time. Let’s find out exactly what we missed out on!
Score(including story)- 26/40
Story – 5/10
Gameplay – 7/10
Graphics – 7/10
Music – 7/10
Score(without story)- 21/30
Gameplay – 7/10
Graphics – 7/10
Music – 7/10
Style: Japanese Role-playing Game (Turn-based)
Platform: Super Famicom
Release Date: JP: January 28th, 1992
Length: 25～35 Hours
Table of Contents
Romancing SaGa SFC/SNES Review
Romancing SaGa is an interesting game, especially for its time. Romancing SaGa is an open-world JRPG, from a time when open-world games were mostly unheard of (especially open-world JRPGs)! This game decided to change things up by not taking the usual linear pacing of other JRPGs of the time and instead allowing players to progress at their own pace. Kind of.
At its heart, Romancing SaGa is a turn-based JRPG with a battle system similar enough to other games in the genre of that time, but there are enough differences and peculiarities to make it stand out on its own and have that distinct feeling for the series. From the outside, the game can look a bit rough, but after getting used to how it plays, it is actually a good game and definitely a good start for the SFC trilogy.
One thing I feel that I need to point out right away is the fact that Romancing SaGa doesn’t really pride itself on its story. It doesn’t really even try to focus on the story. So much that you’ll probably go through long periods of the game not even thinking about the story. It basically goes over some lore at the beginning of the game and then doesn’t really present anything story-related until you fight the last boss at the end of the game. While the main story lacks quite a bit, I personally think the amount of story-filled side-quests makes up for it!
As far as the main story goes, there was a war between 3 evil gods named デス (Desu, Death), シェラハ (Sheraha), サルーイン (Saruuin, Saruin) and the god of gods, named エロール (Erooru, Elore). Death and Sheraha had their powers taken away from them, while Saruin was a real bad-ass so they had to actually banish him from the world. 1000 years pass, and for some reason, evil forces are trying to bring Saruin back to the world again.
You can choose from 8 characters at the start of the game to be your main character. This doesn’t really influence the main story, mostly just your characters personal story. It gives you a backstory as to why the character is adventuring and what their purpose in the world is. As far as i’m aware, the main story ends up being the same regardless of your main character, so picking a character is essentially based off of class/starting area/music/appearance preference.
Romancing SaGa is a Turn-based RPG. Battles play out in a standard Turn-based manner, with party members and enemies taking turns attacking. Attack order is based off of the speed stat, so characters with high speed will always go first (with the exception of certain abilities that guarantee first strike). Party members and enemies can be separated into three rows.
Characters and enemies in the front are usually the melee/short ranged fighters. Characters in the middle row will use mid-range weapons like spears. The back row characters get hit the least, so they will be your more squishier archers and mages. The row mechanics add a bit of strategy to fights, with some abilities only attacking certain enemy rows, and some rows having to be defeated before you can hit the back rows. Players can also choose to use a character’s turn to move forward or backwards to adjust their formation.
Actions are selected using a standard command list that you will find in other JRPGs. Each weapon or magic-type has it’s own command list. For example, an untrained Broad Sword might only have the default “Attack” command, while a slightly more trained Long Sword might have “Attack” and “ハヤブサ斬り、Hayabusa Giri, Falcon Slash”. New abilities are gained by using a weapon repeatedly.
If you equip two of the same weapons, for example Long Swords, and you use one Long Sword all game, then one of your Long Sword menus will have a lot of abilities, while the unused Long Sword only retains the basic “Attack”. Romancing SaGa ties abilities to single weapons instead of weapon-class, so it can be difficult to balance out your attacks with multiple weapons to learn abilities. Thankfully, magic abilities are based off of magic-type, so you won’t be equipping two fire elements or anything like that.
One huge inconvenience is that weapon and magic abilities are LOST when you un-equip a weapon or magic element. All progress on a weapon is reset, so if you find a new weapon and equip it but then decide that you don’t want to re-grind weapon skills and would rather just re-equip your previous weapon, well that’s not gonna work out too well. I’m not sure if this was an oversight, artificial difficulty, or just a mechanic aimed at making you grind every time you found a new piece of good gear. After a while, I assume most players just keep the same weapons for most of the game since most of your damage will come from your high level abilities and character stats later on in the game.
Romancing SaGa does not use a traditional EXP -> Level-Up system like most other JRPGs do. Instead, characters are rewarded with stat increases at the end of battles. Chosen stats mostly seem random, but some people believe there is a correlation between what types of commands you use in battle and what types of stats increase after the fight, though I haven’t really seen any relation.
These stats (such as Speed, Vitality, Knowledge) have caps of 99, while HP has a cap of 999. The Speed stat is very important as it determines turn order, so once this stat hits about 50-60, you’ll start to see a huge difference in encounter difficulty. The difference in difficulty between the monsters in the last dungeon and the final boss is just ridiculous, so you’ll definitely have to grind out stats if you plan to actually be able to finish the game. I was able to hit the final dungeon after about 20 hours of gameplay and clear my way to the final boss without really any problems, but the boss killed me in two attacks (all AoE, thanks Square!). So, expect to have to grind for a good 5-10 hours near the end.
The last thing I want to talk about regarding gameplay is the pacing of the game. I think Romancing SaGa was actually created to sell strategy guides, not the other way around. The progression in this game is based off of the amount of encounters you have fought! The game has an internal flagging system that keeps track of the number of encounters you’ve been in, and after that number hits a certain point, the game shoots into mid-game. After another certain amount of fights the game shifts into end-game and you pretty much gotta go fight all the big bosses and end-game monsters. There’s no explanation of this in the game, and I believe it’s not described clearly even in the manual. Side-quests are also tied to the flagging system, so if you accidentally trigger the mid-game shift, you won’t be able to go back and do any of the early-game quests, same with the late-game shift.
Encounters in Romancing SaGa aren’t random like they are in Final Fantasy or games like that. You can actually see the monsters roaming around on the map while you’re walking around.
Monsters on the map have different types of sprites which usually indicate what type of monster/monsters you’ll fight. Each monster sprite type has different movement patterns. For example, a big dinosaur might have a bigger collision box but move slowly so they’re easier to dodge. Spiders or birds have a small collision box, but move super fast and will outrun you, making them very hard to dodge. If you’re skilled (lucky?) you can dodge encounters and try to manage your encounter rate, but the amount of encounters you’ll face in this game is just crazy. Monsters automatically try to charge straight into you, and the sheer amount of monsters on the map at any time is insane.
Most outdoor maps will have at least 10 monsters running after you, with some running twice as fast as you can. Thanks to this, trying to manage your encounter rate is next to impossible. Some of the quests in the game are almost essential to being able to beat some bosses without basically grinding to level cap, so the constant encounters can actually screw you over in the long run, especially if you aren’t playing with a guide and knowing the earliest possible time to start the important quests.
Romancing SaGa was released in January for 1992, so the graphical quality is that of early SFC JRPGs. The closest game I can compare the graphics to would be Final Fantasy IV (read my review here!). Character sprites look almost exactly the same, style-wise. The leg movements, the character width, the mantles/capes, most things in the world slightly resemble Final Fantasy IV, if not in appearance, at least in feeling. Battles look completely different, though. There is also a lack of an overworld map like there is in Final Fantasy IV, so overworld assets can’t be compared.
The character menu is a bit basic, with the characters displayed on top of a scroll with their character sprites shown.
The colors in Romancing SaGa are fairly standard, not too dull and not too bright. Pretty much all towns recycle assets for buildings and environments. Dungeons, on the other hand, are quite varied and I can’t think of any dungeons that reused the same color scheme or tilesets. The end-game dungeon has some animated floor tiles, animated backgrounds, and quite an interesting appearance to it.
Battles look decent. Party member sprites look nice, and most enemy sprites look nice as well. Enemies are a bit big, so they have a decent level of detail to them, but the over all quality of the graphics used in battle is a bit low. One very big issue that I had with Romancing SaGa is that the battles are…slow. I don’t mean slow as in battles take a long time, or assigning commands. Battle animations are slow, and I mean really slow. I’m not sure if it was bad programming or a design decision, but the game almost becomes a slide show during combat.
Characters do a little spin-kick animation when it’s their turn to choose commands, and this animation is played at a normal speed. Attacking is what really slows things down. Sword slashing animations look like they’re played at about 10 fps, it looks like a really slow flipbook animation. Damage numbers are the same way, they suddenly jump upwards really slowly and then immediately jump back down and disappear.
In another comparison to Final Fantasy IV, which came out a year earlier, the combat in that game was much smoother. Even fullscreen magic attacks played out much smoother than in Romancing SaGa. This gives the illusion that combat is slow and clunky, and was almost enough of a reason to make me quit playing early on in the game.
After a while you get used to it and it doesn’t feel so slow, but those first few hours are really going to feel like a slog. After playing Romancing SaGa, going into Romancing SaGa 2 and seeing how smooth that first attack is will blow your mind and make you question if things could REALLY change that much in just a year!
The music in Romancing SaGa is something that is a bit hard to score. The music tracks themselves are actually really good. The towns and overworld areas have that grand adventure-y feel to them, while dungeons have that sort of mysterious feel to them. The songs will most likely get stuck in your head, whether you want them to or not. I mean this in a good and bad way. The songs are catchy, but they will be played HUNDREDS of times, especially in outdoor zones. The game loops your character’s theme while on the world map and in outside zones, continuously! It doesn’t help that most themes are only about a minute long, so you’ll be hearing the same theme at least 10-15 times per zone.
The only time you won’t hear your character theme is basically only in towns and dungeons, and even then sometimes you might still hear it. Dungeons also have only maybe two or three different songs, so those will also mostly be looped throughout the game. The quality of the songs are nice, especially for its time, but the lack of variety makes some of the songs get old extremely quickly. I’ll recommend some songs below, but please understand that you’ll be hearing these songs for most of the game.
You will be hearing this song for 80% of the game if you choose Albert as your main character like I did. Likewise, you’ll hear this song for 80% of the game if you choose to play as Gray (which is damn hard in the beginning).
The battle theme is pretty cool though, and crazily enough, I feel that this song is the one that you’ll be least tired of by the end of the game.
Finally, my vote for the best dungeon theme. Doesn’t have a dungeon-like feel to it at all, but I find it interesting when compared to the general feel of the whole OST.
Overall, I really like the individual tracks in the game, but I just wish they could have spread everything out a bit more and gave more variety within the game. Music is important to the identity of individual areas, and some areas/scenes in games are remembered only because of the music!
East vs. West
As Romancing SaGa never had an official release in the West, I can’t really comment about the differences. There was a remake on the PlayStation 2 that did come to the West, but I never played that version. I’m also sure that since it’s a remake, there are probably many changes to the core game itself.
Should you play it?
If you can understand Japanese (don’t play the hacky translated ROM) and have a thing for very difficult old-school JRPGs, I would recommend playing Romancing SaGa. Even if you just want to see what an early prototype open-world JRPG was like, I still think there’s enough fun here to keep you interested. While Romancing SaGa wasn’t a groundbreaking game in any specific areas, it was definitely fresh enough to stand out and make a name for itself in Japan during the Super Famicom era. Very confusing progression mechanics, constant repeated music, and super choppy battles aside, there’s something about Romancing SaGa that will probably keep you playing until the very end, even if the beginning is quite rocky.
Since Romancing SaGa doesn’t focus on story at all, giving it a low story rating will kill the over-all rating based off of a factor that the creators didn’t seem to deem important. Since I don’t think that’s right, i’ll give it two different scores, one including a story score and one that doesn’t.
Final Score(including story)- 26/40
Story – 5/10
Gameplay – 7/10
Graphics – 7/10
Music – 7/10
Final Score(without story)- 21/30
Gameplay – 7/10
Graphics – 7/10
Music – 7/10