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The 7th Saga (SNES) artwork

The 7th Saga (SNES) review


"With its high degree of difficulty and the necessity to devote a great deal of time to level-building, the 7th Saga was not something that appealed to everyone. But it is a game that gains momentum the farther into it you progress, and it provides a bleak and edgier alternative to the glut of anime-tinged fluff RPGs that came out on the SNES. "



With its high degree of difficulty and the necessity to devote a great deal of time to level-building, the 7th Saga was not something that appealed to everyone. But it is a game that gains momentum the farther into it you progress, and it provides a bleak and edgier alternative to the glut of anime-tinged fluff RPGs that came out on the SNES.

Evil is threatening to overwhelm the kingdom of Ticondera; the seven runes that can bring order back to the land have been scattered and must be found. For the past five years, King Lemele’s apprentices have been training for such a mission and they are finally ready. So it is your job to take control of one of the apprentices and try to be the first to recover all the runes.

As far as adventures go, the 7th Saga is uncomplicated and linear with only a couple of opportunities to diverge from the main quest and discover secret areas. The journey consists of the typical RPG sequence of events: travel in the overworld to a town, talk to the townspeople, travel to the dungeon they tell you about and kill the boss there, then carry on to the next town, and so on. There is your standard array of weapons and armor, offensive and defensive spells, coins, and items that affect your status. However, there are a few things that make the 7th Saga a little different.

The first is the battle system. One of my least favorite things about RPGs has to be the random battles that occur without warning every five seconds while you’re trying to explore or concentrate on getting through a dungeon. The 7th Saga gives you a way, theoretically at least, to avoid random battles by having the monsters show up as little blips on a crystal that always remains in the top corner of the screen. So by seeing the monsters as they approach you can sometimes move past them and not have to fight. I say sometimes because I don’t want you to get the idea that you can go through the whole game without fighting. The monsters generally move faster than you do, and there are a lot of them. So avoiding only works to a point, but enough to make the crystal a worthwhile and welcome feature.

The second thing that the 7th Saga does well--indeed the thing that draws me to the game most--is that once you’ve chosen which apprentice to take control of, the other six don’t just go off quietly into the night. No, they are still in the game following the same paths, visiting the same dungeons and talking to the same people in the hopes of recovering the runes before you do.

The apprentices are a varied bunch who each have different and often conflicting personalities, morals and motivations for obtaining the runes. There is Lejes, a demon, and Wilme, a hideous monster, both of whom want the runes for personal power. At the other end of the spectrum are Valsu and Kamil, both humans, one a monk and the other a warrior, who have more noble plans in mind for the runes. The remaining characters, Esuna the elf, Olvan the dwarf and Lux, a kind of android, are more ambiguous characters. What I like is that, to put it bluntly, not all the apprentices are nice. A lot of the characters in RPGs of the same time period spouted cheesy, childish dialogue even if they were supposed to be villains. But in the 7th Saga it’s possible to talk to someone and be met with a terse “I’m not in a good mood. Stay away from me.” Or an apprentice might even flat-out attack you if you have a rune that they want. (Conversely, you’ll have to fight them if they manage to obtain a rune before you do.) And this isn’t easy because the apprentices gain levels as you do and some of them, especially Esuna and Lejes, can get very powerful very quickly.

What’s even cooler is that occasionally you will find an apprentice that you can get along with (either that or they’re just afraid of you), and they will offer to travel with you. Having a companion is pretty much essential in the 7th Saga due to all the fighting you have to do. Ideally you’ll want to balance your character with someone who has a different set of skills. An magic user with a fighter, or an offensive specialist with a healer. The apprentices have varying strengths and are not all created equal, which adds challenge (or frustration depending on how you look at it.)

The graphics in the 7th Saga are for the most part quite good. There is a high level of detail on both the monsters and the buildings, and the battle sequences are especially good because the entire screen rotates and zooms in all in one shot. Instead of fading out and back in to a new battle screen, the background is the exact terrain that you were walking on seconds before, but from a different angle (because all that has happened is the entire screen has rotated.) The only quasi-negative comment I can make about the graphics is that the colors seem rather faded, and not as vibrant as I’ve seen in other SNES titles. However, I have a feeling that this could have been a conscious choice by the developers who, since they were aiming for a rather darker feel for the game, may have toned down the graphics to match. This could just be wishful thinking on my part, but I happen to feel that the muted colors merely complemented the atmosphere of the game.

Even the music in the 7th Saga is…I don’t know, slightly off somehow. Not in a bad way, mind you. But it has that feeling of “differentness.” A prime example is the battle music, which I feel is one of the best tracks. It’s an up-tempo song with extremely fast chord changes and a spasmodically leaping and clangy bassline that sounds almost industrial, with a melody in the strings juxtaposed overtop. But even the prettiness of the strings is hardened up by the addition of a clarinet or oboe sound. It’s the gems like this that make the audio well worth listening to; definitely more progressive than your average straight-ahead melodies, if perhaps not as instantly memorable.

I should make mention of the much talked about issue difficulty in the 7th Saga. Yes, the game is difficult. Why? Because even with the help of the crystal there are a lot of monster battles, and the monsters are very tough. The battle system is structured so that you have one move per “turn” where you can either attack, defend, use an item or cast a spell. Therefore battles can turn into a simple war of attrition; whoever has the strongest attack will win because in the time it takes to defend or use a healing item, you’ve just wasted your opportunity to attack and given your opponent two attacks in a row. I found that for this reason there wasn’t a great deal of strategy involved with battles; basically you could be guaranteed to win by being at a higher level than your opponent (and therefore having a stronger attack and better defence.)

This brings me to the next point about level building. If you aren’t prepared to devote several hours to doing nothing but this, then this game most likely isn’t for you. Level building is an essential part of the 7th Saga. In each new area, you’ll find that the monsters are significantly stronger, and you’ll have to prepare for them beforehand if you want to have a fighting chance. In one of the strategy guides it is recommended that your character be at level 5 before even entering the first dungeon--this is the kind of thing you can expect throughout the game.

I don’t want to sound overly negative, but if you choose to play the 7th Saga be prepared for the monotony of level-building and a higher degree of difficulty than the average RPG. But when weighed against all the things that the 7th Saga has done well, I would still give it a positive recommendation. I enjoyed the 7th Saga precisely because of its differences, the edginess, and that vague sense of urgency that permeates the entire game: In short, all the things which make it slightly less user-friendly, but infinitely more interesting.

Rating: 8/10

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Community review by alecto (January 19, 2003)

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