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SaGa Frontier II - Review

New Game, New Buzzwords

By: Red Raven


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 7
   Originality 7
   Plot 5
   Localization 7
   Replay Value 2
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Impossible
   Time to Complete

20-30 hours

 
Overall
7
Criteria

SaGa Frontier II
 

   Hmm. Odd. That describes the spiritual sequel to the original flop, Saga Frontier. SF2 continues the tradition of trying new things and being different. Gone are the claims at having "Non-linear Gameplay" and a "Free Scenario System", which is weird because this game actually features them. I guess they don't want people being reminded about the first game. Good move. Anyway, this game was release by Square around February, 2000. It has many features similar to the first game, except that now they are now...well...good. Let the chaos begin.

    Combat is handled pretty much the same way as in the first game, turn-based. The new stuff includes: you can only have four characters per battle now, increase in Life points and their usefulness, increase in number of techs, a substantial increase in the number of possible combos, two additional battle modes, weapon durability, and a new magic system. In the first Saga, Life points were only a way to keep the player from never resting at an inn, as zero Life points translated into that character "dying". In this game however, they are much more useful. Each character has about 20 LP and in between each round of combat you may choose to have a character spend 1 LP to fully heal themselves, and better yet this action does not take a player's turn either. Zero LP still means that character will be "dead" until the next inn (game over if the main character has zero LP, btw), but at least now there is some strategy involved. The new techs refer to the increase in the number of weapons, you may now use stuff like bows, spears, and axes among other things. They can be learned during battles by just using some attack with the weapon you want a new tech with. Combos were a feature of the original game that just plain made life easier, as combos did much more damage than the 2 or more attacks would have done by themselves. The increase in the number of techs directly amplifies the numbers of combos, even more so by the fact that you can combo with an enemy's attack (it's weird to see). During each turn your characters will recover a bit of HP,MP, and WP. Characters will also gain a little bit of HP back at the end of battle.

   SF2 now sports a duel mode of battle, where one of the characters of your choice face off against one of the enemy's. These battles are handled a little differently than the normal battles. First, instead of a list of techs or magic you can choose from, you'll see a list of the individual motions of the various attacks, depending on your weapon. You input four actions per round, and then you watch what happens. For an example, let's say Gustave is using a sword. His options would include slash, backslash, feint, defend, charge, among others. These attacks by themselves are very weak, if you want a chance you'll try to form them into techs. For instance, slash-backslash are the motions for Cross Slash. Instead of learning them in battles, tech can also be learned by combining the appropriate moves, with a little luck. Besides inputting the four commands, you do nothing else during a duel. The characters will jump around and generally act silly while trying to kill each other. The last battle mode is Strategic, a combination of moving tokens around a grid board and a bunch of regular fights. In each fight, the characters have only 100 HP and 1LP, so attack wisely. That too is turn-based, battle and moving the tokens.


This probably will hurt.
This probably will hurt.  

   Outside of battle is where you'll encounter the "Free Scenario System" for the first time. After glancing around the world map (and avoiding the Chronicle like the plague), you'll notice an underlined sentence. That's your gate to the world of SF2. Each one is a little event or town that you must complete. Completing them could be as easy as just watching some dialogue take place, or as hard as a strategic battle or good old fashioned dungeon crawl. As you complete some, more will open up and feel free to do them in any order that you choose. The order has no bearing on the actual plot of the game, hence "Non-Linear Gameplay". Speaking of plots, there are two going on: Gustave and Wil Knights. They meet up briefly but after that they'll never see each other again.

   Outside of battle is also where you'll be staring at SF2's helpful menus. It's important you check them out because they directly effect how your battles go. First, you'll notice that all items have a durability rating now. They go down a point every time you use them, at zero they break. While dueling, the rounds counts as one "usage". Broke items give you chips which you can trade for money in certain towns. Items can be repaired at ridiculous prices, but you'll find out that the best items never break anyway. Items also now have (or not) an elemental rating. This is how you cast magic in the world of Saga 2, you must know the spell and have the right elemental mix equipped. An example would be the Tree-Stone spell, Petra Force. To cast it you'd need something with a tree element and something with a stone element. You can use the environment if needed as fighting in a cave will naturally give a stone element. Through the menus you can manage you skills selections. You can only equip eight techs or magic spells at a time. An important note is the fact that once you have learned a new tech or magic skill, everyone can equip it. That feature is needed because you'll have a large cast of characters that only stick around for a few events. Besides skills, you may also mess around with roles for your four-man army. Roles like Scout make it possible for more duels, while an Ace role tends to make combos work better. Others roles include actual benefits such as the War God, which makes that person attack at nearly twice the strength by sacrificing their recovery rate, or Commander which just makes everyone better. Only one role per character per team. Oh, as a side note for all you Pocket Station owners out there, SF2 uses it. Talking to people can net you some relics and other things to use in a mini-game called Go Digger!. Using this mini-game presumably nets you some nifty items. The Pocket Station can also store some of the combos you have used so you can memorize them later. Music in the game was very light hearted, which went along with the whole storybook motif. With a piano in most of the songs it reminded me of the tunes you hear while watching Charlie Brown. While excellent overall, it features nothing that'd make me want the OST. Sound effects are good as well, explosive noises are there when you need them.

   Yes, a big storybook motif. The graphics are gorgeously drawn sprites with actual watercolor paintings as the backgrounds. After all the dark post-apocalyptic RPGs out there, this was a very nice change of pace. Battle effects feature some polygons, but other than that there are none. And I can tell you that I don't miss them one bit. I wouldn't be surprised if the artists that drew SF2 had their other works hanging in a museum.


I love the smell of watercolors in the morning.
I love the smell of watercolors in the morning.  

   As stated before, plot in this game is very relaxed. While everyone will eventually get the same exact ending, it doesn't matter which order you did the story events in. Most of the events are bite-sized, just about 5-15 minutes in length. While they are more coherent when you do them in the right order, most are just as fine by themselves. As for the real story, it revolves around Gustave the main character. Gustave is a prince without anima. Anima is the magical essence that is supposed to exist in all things (even in grass and rocks), so naturally anyone who does not have anima is considered less than dirt. Gustave is exiled along with his Queen mother and his story goes on about what he did after that. Wil Knights holds the second plot line, he is just a Digger who wants some Quells (ancient tools). This is a generation game (it spans close to 100 years), so expect a lot of people to die and their children take their place. For the most part that is very bad, as all the people you bonded with when you first started will eventually be replaced by their whiny, clueless children later on.

   The Saga Frontier line of games have all been about innovation and breaking new ground. In fact, that is the primary reason this series gets so much flak, for being weird. As far as Saga Frontier 2 is concerned, it has taken all the good ideas from the first game and added some more to the mix. While I must admit the item durability system is not fun, I must also say it is more realistic than what we have been using before. In the end the innovations make for a breath of fresh air in a more or less stagnent genre.


I know what you're thinking. The answer is no.
I know what you're thinking. The answer is no.  

   Amount of text hasn't changed much since the first game, it's still small. A Xenogears this game isn't. Anyway, the localization was excellent seeing as that I didn't notice anything wrong with it.

   Replay value is very bad in this game. Despite having all those events you can go through in any order, it still doesn't matter because you'll get the same ending. Another shortfall in replay value is the fact that you're really just watching an interactive movie most of the time. I must say it was a delightful experience, but nothing compels me to see it again. For all your troubles of beating this game your only reward is the ability to play any of the events over again in any order. Yay.

   Why is this game impossible? At first it is not. The game tricks you into thinking that you are on a high enough level right up till the very end of the game. At that point you are hopelessly outclassed by the final bosses. I was forced to restart to try to be a little bit more prudent the next time. Gustave's last battle however, is impossible. Nearly. As I said most everything else was okay about the difficulty. Just the end is impossible. It doesn't help that there are no easy ways to level-up near the end. Good luck.

   So what's the final verdict? Will this game reek of failure as SG1 and just further the gap between Square and absolute gaming perfection? Or will this game redeem the playful Saga Frontier franchise and further the chances that later non-linear games will be just as fun as their linear counterparts? Only you can decide. As I see it, this game was a definite Good Move and people should get it just because it's so different than your average RPG. If nothing else it should keep you occupied for 30 some hours, and who knows, maybe you'll like it. A nice cure for that $20 that's been burning a hole in your pocket. Happy gaming.


That's a lot of animation for just a heal spell.
That's a lot of animation for just a heal spell.  




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