|You have to admire
Squaresoft. Not only are they the undisputed champions of the RPG, having redefined the
capabilities of the PSX with the Final Fantasy series, but also they refuse to sweep their
failures under the carpet and forget about them. Nope, they go back to the drawing board,
try to fix what was wrong, and release a sequel. The programmers at Squaresoft take pride
in their work, folks, and that is rare in the big bucks gaming industry of today.
So, the failure was SaGa Frontier, a game burdened with an incomprehensible story and unresponsive gameplay. The sequel is SaGa Frontier 2, an attempt to smooth out those problems while sticking to a less linear format with multiple characters and storylines. The result has its ups and downs.
First of all, as the general attributes of all RPGs are similar, the hook has to be the story. SaGa Frontier 2 concerns itself with two characters: Gustauv XIII and Wil. At the onset of the game you must chose one of these characters to follow. Gustauv XIII is the eldest son and heir of King Gustauv XII, but when it is discovered that he lacks control over the Anima (a magical power akin to the force), he is banished from the kingdom along with his mother. Exiled, living in ruin, your quest will be to take control of Gustauvs destiny and prove you are the rightful heir to the throne. Wil is a treasure seeker; your quest will be to, well, seek treasure. Seems a little lop-sided, doesnt it?
Well, not really. I mean, lets face itboth of these quests are from the wholesale, recycled medieval plot bin anyway. Add to that the fact that neither character, nor anyone else you encounter has anything interesting to add (they either ask to join your quest or say something worthless, like "Im in a hurry" or "Nice hat"), and you pretty much just resign to scrolling through the dialogue as fast as the game will let you. What the choice really amounts to is this: Wil begins his quest and almost immediately hooks up with three fellow treasure seekers, and you are able to take advantage of the groups diversity right away. Gustauv starts out as a young boy and fights alone for a very, very long time. From there their paths twist and turn, and you are able to choose from different scenarios as you progress, all the while slogging through the ridiculous captions.
Why would anyone be interested in progressing through such a humdrum storyline? Well, I wasnt. However, I was very interested in seeing the next level. The backdrop of every level is a unique, hand-painted watercoloreach beautiful in both its style and simplicity. There is a reason why Japanese watercolors took the art world by storm in the mid-1800s, and this game celebrates it.
So, the graphics are good, right? The backgrounds are gorgeous. But everything else is just laid down on top of it, with no apparent attempt to integrate it appropriately. The characters are mismatched and heavily pixilated. The motion capture is terriblecharacters walk forward, stop, pivot, and continue; windmills turn in a series of jumps instead of a continuous circle. And there are no cinema screens. I know that SaGa Frontier 2 is meant to be a stylistic turn from Final Fantasy VIII, but that was a game that began with a riveting cinematic opening and followed with flawless camera and motion effectsand, if only for a moment, you can become convinced that events taking place are real. At no point in SaGa Frontier 2 was I convinced of anything other than the next background was probably going to be pretty cool.
The sound is capable. The music never impressed me, but it didnt seem out of place. I cant recollect enough of it to hum a few bars if I was asked. The sound effects are the same way.
On a control basis, the gameplay is very good. You know the basics: melees, HP and LP, attack order, etc. But the menus are quick, easy and intuitiveI had them down in no time. A nice addition is the duel feature, where in certain situations you can chose to fight one on one with an enemy and use a more intricate set of attacks, defenses, and combos. Also, as your characters gain experience and proficiency with the weapons that they use, you can increase your success with your weapons of choice over the course of the game.
The downside to the gameplay is that the fighting styles and magic arent all that captivating. In fact, the magic pretty much consists of swirling leaves that erupt into flames, falling boulders, and the like. The enemies hide their numbers on the field screens, so that the mean, pink bunny thing you encounter on your quest may actually have a giant sand rhino in its ranks when you enter the battle screen (I kid you not). Also, no HPs are displayed for the enemies, so you have no idea how much damage you are really inflicting, or how long the battle might last.
All in all, SaGa Frontier 2 is an improvement over the first. The story is coherent, and although the paths your characters take are fairly linear, you still have a choice of which paths to follow, giving the game a little replay value (the rumor is that there are 140 hours of gaming total, as of yet I couldnt tell you if that is true). The fighting system is more intuitive and the duel feature adds an extra dynamic to the gameplay. But all of this still adds up to a very average game. And given the slow motion-capture and long-winded, boring captions, you will spend a lot of time waiting to play. Patience is a virtue.
The RPG genre has a lot of die-hard fans who pick up every title on the market and love them, faults included. If you are one of these people, this game will hold your attention (hell, youve probably already bought it). However, if you are reading this review to find out if it will keep you in good hands until Final Fantasy IX comes out in the fall, I would advise you to rent it. This game just doesnt pack the same punch.