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Romancing SaGa 3 (SNES) artwork

Romancing SaGa 3 (SNES) review


"Magic is generally bought in stores. At least I think it is… I never found much use for casting spells when I could use high-tier skills to erase thousands of hit points from enemies in a single attack. Since you regain all health after each battle, it's not like healing spells are all that useful, and characters tend to have 10 or more life points, which means they can fall that many times in battles before actually perishing. Thus, fights tend to be onslaughts of all-out offense until all the monsters are dead."



When I started playing Romancing SaGa 3, I had a single expectation: that because I had already endured SaGa Frontier and Final Fantasy Legend, this would be strike three for this long-running Square series and I'd never want to try another one as long as I lived. Instead, I found that while I didn't exactly love this ancient Super Famicom title, it did offer enough redeeming factors to leave me with at least some interest in potentially trying another SaGa game sometime in the future. It's a bit too unfocused to ever really become great, but I had fun more often than not while I was playing it.

I can imagine Romancing SaGa 3 being described by someone as a Japanese RPG that masquerades as a Western one. While there is a main quest that involves closing a quartet of gates and preventing the ruler of some hell or another from taking over the world, you'll likely stumble upon it by almost accident. After picking your main character--one of eight choices--and completing the prologue, you'll be dumped into the world with little idea where to go or even what you're supposed to be doing.

From there, you'll talk to people in the tiny handful of accessible places and eventually learn of other towns and dungeons. By venturing into a city's harbor, you'll be able to catch a boat to even more places. While most harbors only will transport you to one or two destinations, a couple of them will (for a price) dump you off in virtually any town within the game's world. Initially, you'll be able to do a handful of quests, such as ridding a popular trade route of the thieves plaguing it, or helping an eccentric scientist handle a quintet of magical beasts that are running loose in a nearby forest. A coastal city is located near a bunch of caves that supposedly contain a legendary pirate's treasure and in the slums of a large city, a small boy has become lost in some ominous ruins. The key to completing these quests (and others) is to simply gain access to a bunch of towns and talk to their residents, some of whom function as the triggers that start them. Oh, and you'll also need to have a certain understanding of the game's mechanics.

Romancing SaGa 3 contains both a health and greed meter, and those determine which quests you're eligible to receive. For the most part, the former meter simply determines if you're powerful enough to handle a quest. A party composed of weak characters will not be granted access to certain quests and regions within the game until everyone has built up some power. However, this can work in reverse, as some characters who must navigate longer prologues will find it difficult to gain access to the aforementioned trade route thieves and their hideout in the event that their health level climbs too high too soon. That can leave you unable to complete that particular quest.

The greed meter is even more straightforward: when some people ask you to do something, you can pressure them for a reward. Doing so runs the risk of locking yourself out of certain quests otherwise offered down the road, however. Early in the game, when money is short and there are all these cool (and expensive) weapons for sale in certain stores, such a restriction seems harsh. As the game progresses, though, you'll realize you can only hold about 10,000 gold and you'll likely have found superior equipment during the course of adventuring. Moral of the story: greed is bad, mm-kay?

While wandering around and adventuring, you'll be playing by the usual SaGa rules. You don't gain experience points for victories in battle. Instead, after completing a fight, characters may gain health, magic, weapon skill points and proficiency points for whatever sort of weapon they have equipped. Whenever performing a basic melee attack, there's a chance a character will learn a new skill. If that skill is used repeatedly, mastery will eventually follow and any character using that type of weapon will be able to access it. Magic is generally bought in stores. At least I think it is… I never found much use for casting spells when I could use high-tier skills to erase thousands of hit points from enemies in a single attack. Since you regain all health after each battle, it's not like healing spells are all that useful, and characters tend to have 10 or more life points, which means they can fall that many times in battles before actually perishing. Thus, fights tend to be onslaughts of all-out offense until all the monsters are dead.

As you can perhaps imagine, using skills will cost technique points, while magic costs spell points. Many of the best skills and spells are quite costly. If you have your characters completely focus on one discipline or the other, you'll eventually see a crown appear on their status screens. That indicates mastery and it reduces the number of points required to use the relevant attacks. You don't really want diverse characters -- you want guys (and gals) who are great at one thing. Continuing with this theme, if you have a character work with multiple kinds of weapons, they won't be particularly good with any of them, which will hurt their damage-dealing potential as the monsters grow more powerful. As your characters grow heartier, weak monsters will be replaced by tougher ones. If you're not prepared for those weak wolves and frogs to be eventually replaced by dragons and giants, you will be overwhelmed and life points will dwindle at a depressing rate unless you're proficient at dodging monsters in dungeons (there are no random encounters). Of course, if you are good at avoidance, you'll be super under-powered when it comes time for boss fights, which isn't a good idea since those battles basically come down to you trying to cause as much damage as humanly possible in order to finish your adversaries off before your guys start dropping dead.

On paper, virtually everything about Romancing SaGa 3 works. The problem is that those play mechanics may have been ahead of their time. Look at the Western RPGs of today. In many cases, you have a codex giving you tons of documentation on the game's world. You also have entire menus devoted to explanations about any quests you may have received, with cues reminding you where to go and who to talk to if you need that information. In the case of a game like this one, which requires a lot of work if you want to discover all the cities and the people who will hand out quests, you’d better hope you have a working computer and easy Internet access or it could take a long while to feel your way around the game’s world. I’ve found that to be the case with many older games, though. Without my subscription to Nintendo Power, I likely would have had a great deal less success during my youthful gaming exploits. With a non-linear and unfocused adventure such as this, that problem is even more noticeable than usual.

Romancing SaGa 3 is the ultimate in mixed bags. It's an ambitious game that offers a ton of places to discover and a good number of quests that take you to each one. There's also a nice sense of unpredictability. In one quest, you're trying to recover the Holy Grail from a vampire's castle. Another places you at the center of a bizarre battle with a sentient (and demonic) automobile. The game's mechanics also were nicely done, and my characters rarely seemed too strong or underpowered for the monsters being thrown at them (no matter how much time I spent battling with the plentiful enemy groups strewn throughout dungeons).

Unfortunately, the game’s strengths are diminished by a certain lack of focus, which makes it difficult to remain consistently engaged. Few (if any) plot elements are really given their due significance, especially since what should be pivotal battles with four gate guardians barely seem any more noteworthy than throwaway missions involving intelligent rats and random ruins. Even so, the fun but not entirely memorable nature of this game is at least enough to place it ahead of the other SaGa titles I’ve played, and that’s a nice start…

Rating: 7/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (March 07, 2013)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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