Saga Frontier (PlayStation) review
"So, even though I only had to do all this “magic collecting” once, I wound up choosing to do it with the majority of the other characters. That got boring pretty quickly, as the hunts for mystical runes and tarot cards are the same regardless of who is doing them."
If something appears too good to be true, it probably is.
If I’d been keeping that timeworn proverb in mind one fine day many years ago, I never would have bought Saga Frontier. The back of that Square game’s case offers an orgasmic delight for RPG junkies. Seven completely different quests, each with its own main character! Over 100 hours of gameplay!! There was no doubt about it -- this would easily become one of my favorite games of all time. Even if the graphics looked simplistic by PlayStation standards, the thought of seven diverse adventures on one disc was an intoxicating concept I couldn’t resist.
Unfortunately, that diversity was a myth. Sure, the core elements of each quest vary, but I still found myself doing so many of the same things time after time until I finally couldn’t stand the game and traded it in for minimal store credit.
Take the adventure of Blue, for example. His goal is to simply wander the many lands contained in the game to master many forms of magic. Oh, and since the presence of his twin brother, Rouge, is preventing him from maximizing his abilities, he’ll have to dispose of him, as well. Regardless of piddly details such as that plot point, nearly all the time spent with Blue will involve completing one quest after another to obtain rare and powerful magic spells.
In virtually every other characters’ quest, completing those same quests is pretty useful, as not only will party members gain a lot of stat enhancements and useful equipment from all the fighting and exploring they’ll be doing, but they’ll also get a number of great spells not obtainable otherwise. So, even though I only had to do all this “magic collecting” once, I wound up choosing to do it with the majority of the other characters. That got boring pretty quickly, as the hunts for mystical runes and tarot cards are the same regardless of who is doing them.
While that’s the worst example of repetition, it’s not the only one. While certain locations actually are specific to individual quests, most are mandatory visits in at least two of them and the vast majority can optionally be visited to fight monsters and get items in every quest.
And with some characters, it’s pretty obvious that players are expected to go everywhere (regardless of how many times some places have already been visited) for no reason other than to gain power. While folks like superhero Red and robot T260G are given plenty to do in their stories, others aren’t. Like I mentioned earlier, Blue’s “quest” is little more than the collection of magic-gathering sidequests everyone else can do. Another chap, Lute, is required to do ONE thing -- infiltrate a ship and kill its evil captain -- which means that virtually all of his adventure revolves around doing one sidequest after another until he and his companions are tough enough to handle this final destination.
The annoying thing was that I quickly realized a good number of the seven quests required me to do as many sidequests as possible regardless of how often I’d completed them with other characters. Not only are many of the game’s best weapons and armor given out as rewards for exploring out-of-the-way dungeons, but thanks to the Saga way of character-building, it was a necessity if I wanted a party capable of topping the game’s toughest bosses.
Humans gain stats after most every battle against comparatively powerful foes, meaning I had to engage in countless fights in order to build them up. Robots are improved by donning high-quality equipment, so I found myself going to all ends of the world to make them as powerful as possible. Monsters and Mystics both are aided in their growth by killing monsters and absorbing their abilities, so I couldn’t shy away from any encounter, as I might be neutering a character’s growth by doing so. To make matters worse, using monsters is a risky proposition, as they often transform into a weaker creature upon stealing an opponent’s ability.
After a while, I found myself mainly using humans with the occasional robot thrown in and only playing with monsters and mystics when I had to. It’s funny. One major failing of the first American Saga game, Final Fantasy Legend, was how unreliable monsters were because a strong beast could inexplicably transform into a far weaker one with no warning. Many years later, this problem still was present, which I found inexcusable -- especially on those occasions where my powerhouse ogre suddenly became an impotent slime.
Despite all the faults I found with Saga Frontier, it still did keep me coming back far longer than one might expect. The few missions that actually give players plenty of things to do besides repetitive sidequest harvesting are enjoyable, even if they’re light on actual storytelling. Red’s quest was a personal favorite, as the superhero-in-training finds himself battling one bruising henchman of his nemesis after another. In this scenario, I was given enough to do that I never found it necessary to do a bunch of sidequests to be prepared for the final bosses.
Still, simply saying this game didn’t meet my expectations would be a gross understatement. There’s no point to having seven quests totaling roughly 100 hours when it’s only fun to play three or four of them before the game becomes unbearably tedious. Square would have been better served to eliminate the least enthralling adventures and spruce up the remainder. But they didn’t....and so I wound up being stuck with a game boasting a concept that was too good to really be true.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (September 06, 2007)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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