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Michael Baker
JAPANDEMONIUM COLUMNIST



A long, long time ago, a young boy got a GameBoy for Christmas. With it came a coupon book, courtesy of his grandmother, which held vouchers for fifty half-price rentals from the local Phar-Mor. The boy hadn't had a lot of experience with non-computer video games, except for a short rental of a Super Nintendo once or twice on the holidays, but he knew what he liked -- Final Fantasy. So he went over to Phar-Mor, and lo and behold, there were two titles with Final Fantasy in them available in the GameBoy section.

And that's how I first found The Final Fantasy Adventure and Final Fantasy Legend II, aka SaGa 2: Hihou Densetsu. It's the second one we're talking about today. As there wasn't a lot of variety at the Phar-Mor, I played those two games quite a bit. FFA, I beat and enjoyed. FFL2, well.. that took me a lot longer to appreciate. It was hard, it was confusing, and I didn't like how my monster characters kept turning into Fly things when I fed them the wrong kind of meat. I didn't have too much patience with that when I was twelve, especially since I had already played Final Fantasy II on the SNES.

The next year, Final Fantasy Legend III appeared on the shelves, and I got hooked on that one for a while. I liked how it was so much more like the "real" Final Fantasy games, with official characters with official names, an actual plot, and a level system that actually had experience points involved. I played all the way through that game, then played it through again. But then, while I was preparing for my third time at the final boss, it hit me.

This time around was exactly like the last time. And the time before that. I was using the same characters in exactly the same roles -- because forget about the monster/beast/robot forms in FFL3, they were more limited than useful. I had played through the entire game the same way as before, and was now doing the exact same thing to prepare for the end, namely trawling for the one specific enemy encounter that got me the most XP in one go.

And it was boring.

Seriously, I had four characters, two human and two mutant/magic user types. I could change them into monsters, beasts, androids, and robots -- but only a handful for any given level range, and they changed on me if they gained a level. There was the potential for a lot of variety here, but in the end? I kept them as humans and mutants, because those were the types that got the best use out of the spells and weapons specifically designed to take down the final boss. I could gave them any spell that I liked, and found no real difference in ability. They each had their own names, but otherwise had no real character to them. The major events that did happen in the storyline often occurred with key bits of information lacking, so that I had trouble understanding why Character X had just tried to attack his sometime comrades, and then blamed it all on the power of the mystic swords, or how in the span of 10 years the world went from medieval to sci- fi. That sort of thing I let by the first time 'round, but by the third, it was kind of getting to me.

Then I went back to FFL2, and fell in love again. Variety, wonderful variety to be had! And the variety actually mattered! You could choose to make all your characters into monsters, and it could work! It would be hard as hell, but it could work! The game's system of increasing stats as your character exercised it made much more sense than just racking up experience points. The story was ridiculously minimal, but at least it did the job of showing me the varied worlds of the game, and could do so without the need for established party members.

It had taken me a while, but I finally realized. FFL3 was a generic little game with a cool airship and a shell of a story. FFL2 was an adventure that I had to play through, almost like a D&D campaign, and the NPCs had little stories of their own that I just happened to catch glimpses of in passing. The second and third FFL games may have had about the same amount of story to them, but FFL2's "passing through" approach worked far better than FFL3's attempt to center the story on the main characters.

Of the two, can you all guess which one I currently own in two languages, and am planning to buy again once the remake comes out? It sure isn't number 3 in the series. That one, I can leave behind me. It's just not interesting anymore.

~*~

-- Gaijin has since played through the remakes for both SaGa 2 and SaGa 3. Let's see what he has to say now.

It's been a while since the first part of this editorial was written, and a lot of things have become apparent. The biggest thing is that Square Enix made a very good choice in outsourcing the remakes of SaGa 2 and SaGa 3 to RacJin. That's a crew that obviously love the series. SaGa 2 was everything that I had hoped it would be. More surprisingly, SaGa 3 was far more than I could ever have expected. It wasn't just that the main characters actually possessed characterization. It wasn't just that the entire suite of combat and advancement systems had been torn down and replaced with something more akin to the rest of the series. It wasn't just that the story had been fleshed out to the point where I could pretend that it could make sense. It was all of these things coming together to make a game that I barely recognized, so different it had become. The word "generic" cannot be applied to SaGa 3 anymore, and that made for one of the best gaming surprises I've gotten in a long while.

In the end, I gave both SaGa remakes the same score -- a 4 out of 5. SaGa 2 got the score based on a solid core of game design made better by tweaks and upgrades, and in spite of its minimalistic storyline. SaGa 3 got the score based on everything that was not a part of the original. I can't quite say which I enjoyed more, but they were both better than the average remake, for certain.

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