The SaGa series may not be the most well-known JRPG franchise on Western shores, and that is mainly due to it being called something different over here. To cash in on the growing success of Final Fantasy, the team at Square – before the days of Square Enix – called the first three SaGa games, The Final Fantasy Legend, releasing them on the Game Boy in the early 1990s.
Like the Final Fantasy games though, each entry into the series is separate from the previous ones, meaning that Romancing SaGa 2 is as good as any other entry to start with in the SaGa series, for these JRPGs are unlike many of their peers.
In Romancing SaGa 2 you play as the many Emperors and Empresses of Avalon, in a story that takes place over hundreds of years. Ultimately, you have the defeat the Seven Heroes, who were once the saviours of Avalon, before returning years later as a team of demons.
During these generations, you are given various objectives by the team of retainers to the Royal family, and it is these that make this game interesting and different from other JRPGs. Rather than taking them on sequentially, you are given more objectives than you necessarily have time for, and it is up to you to pick and choose which you feel will give the most benefit. Be warned though, any that aren’t completed during that generation will not only have a knock-on effect for future generations, but also limit future generations as to who they can recruit into their party.
Even within these objectives, there are multiple ways to complete them, and these offer different rewards themselves. For example, one early mission has you help a town and their neighbours – who are a guild of fighters – rid a dungeon of monsters. The town has asked for your help because the fighters guild is unable to do it themselves. You can either run through the dungeon solo, or agree to assist the fighter’s guild through the dungeon. Depending on this decision, this quest will either end with you having to defeat the leader of the fighters, or they will join you (and future generations) as a playable character. More modern games would have made these outcomes explicitly clear from the outset, but this is a game from nearly 25 years ago; there is no hand holding here and the results of your actions are not made abundantly clear.
For all its years, the game has had some graphical improvements to bring it up to a better standard. It keeps its pixelated graphics, but everything has been brushed up and smartened for HD displays. This brings it in line with the indie titles that go for a more pixel art-inspired design. Most backgrounds and towns though have been completely updated and with the pixel sprites walking around them, look very attractive.
Certain bosses have also had movement added rather than just being a static object. Most attack ‘actions’ though remain; the character sprite shifting forward with an accompanying sound effect.
New content has also been added in the form of a new dungeon, additional classes and a new feature accessible from the castle of Avalon. Early in the game you can speak to the Treasurer about building a garden to increase the overall income for the Royal Family. This will help increase your fund to be able to upgrade such things as The University and Magic Research Centre. Building this garden is highly recommended as one of the first things to do with your funds.
But what is a JRPG without a battle system? Romancing SaGa 2 does indeed have a battle system, but it may be one of the worst I have ever encountered. So bad in fact that I would go as far as to say it ruined the entire game for me.
That’s because most enemy attacks will cause status ailments to characters. This is nothing new for a turn-based RPG, but where my issue lies is that there is no way to combat them. Certain enemies can hit your entire squad of five characters with a stun/confusion/sleep/poison attack, at which point all are affected. But with no item stores to buy remedies and potions to remove them – save for a few health potions that need to be equipped before use – there is little to no way to defend against them. It is simply a case of taking these attacks and hoping they don’t affect your party too much. This approach to a JRPG is completely wrong – it shouldn’t be a case of hoping certain attacks don’t happen. It should be about providing the player with the means to prevent them and preparing beforehand.
One interesting idea the game has with the battles is the use of LP, or life points. It’s essentially a permadeath feature where each character in your party has a finite number of lives, displayed under their HP number. If this drops to zero then that character is gone for good; nothing will bring them back. You will need to quit whatever mission you are doing and head off to recruit another from an area under Avalon’s control. I really like this feature, and on its own would be an excellent addition to any RPG. Coupled with the battle system though, and I don’t know if it makes the game better or worse.
This all came to a head for me during a mission where I had to help King Harold decide the next heir to the throne. Without spoiling the story too much, many dungeons and battles occurred before I reached the final boss. By this stage my party is battered; already a member down with two others on their last Life Point, meaning if they die in the boss battle there is no way to resurrect them. This is a mission that you need to complete in one go without venturing out of the area otherwise you risk not getting the best rewards for whatever reason.
I am now in a position where this boss and his minions can one-hit my party and I have no way to resuscitate them. As such, I cannot complete this quest as I currently am, and I am in a position where I can either have the entire party wipe and skip forward in the timeline to the next generation shift, or recruit new party members and sacrifice the best rewards.
You may say I am bad at the game. But I have not put a foot wrong with this generation of warriors and still cannot finish this mission. This isn’t the game being too hard for me, this is the game being outright unfair. A cacophony of frustrating mechanics have put me in this position rather than me simply being inept at the game.
This is all without even mentioning the far-too-frequent times my attacks have missed altogether. It feels like the shoddy battle mechanics are in place to elongate what is a very basic battle system. Approximately one in every three attacks miss and I can only think this is done because the battles would otherwise be heavily one-sided in my favour, but this way, the pendulum swings in the enemies’ favour.
I was having a brilliant time with Romancing SaGa 2 before the glaring issues of the battle system came to light. Its non-linearity was ground breaking at the time and as a result, it certainly stands up even today. The updated visuals are striking with backgrounds now resembling watercolour paintings with pixel sprites wandering around them. Even the soundtrack was hugely enjoyable. But those battle mechanics have ruined this game for me.
Looking at what others have said, and they’re of the same ilk stating, “Don’t expect to be able to complete everything in this game”. Whilst that is a very fair and just statement, not just for this game but for many, I was not expecting the reason for this being me hamstrung by lacklustre and dodgy battle mechanics.