SaGa Frontier Remastered: more Frontierer than ever

To be this good takes SaGa

Correct me if I’m wrong, but ask most people what they think of SaGa  and they’ll say “well, I have a soft spot for Sonic and the Dreamcast, but their output post-2000 has been patchy at best.” Then after you’ve slapped them, apologised for slapping them and explained, they’ll go “Oh! I see. I’ve never heard of it, sorry.”

I, myself, had barely heard of SaGa. I knew of franchise black sheep Unlimited SaGa, because I bought it from Choices Video when I had more money than sense. I had no idea what was going on and promptly sold it, though I was very fond of the packaging. But now here’s SaGa Frontier Remastered, an encore performance of the 1997 PlayStation RPG, the first in its series to make it over to the West and retain its name; the earliest SaGa titles saw release as The Final Fantasy Legend and sequels. But here it is once again. And what does it have to offer?

Well, what it offers is a very compelling RPG experience even – or especially – for people like me who aren’t wild about RPGs in the first place - and are, as will become obvious, crap at them. Rather than a single, lengthy narrative, you’ve got multiple compellingly different scenarios, taking in boy’s-own style sci-fi adventure, a “tokusatsu” story of revenge and a prison escape, amongst others. You can play these in any order, each with a different cast, though the central gameplay remains alike – and really rather good.

Maps are rather large and maze-like and while you zoom around at a very reasonable clip, I found it exceptionally easy to get turned around or lost, but that didn’t hurt the experience for me; rather, it helped the more compact multiple storylines to feel a little more sprawling – the worlds are thoroughly well-realised and while things are a little simpler narratively than you might be used to, it’s easy to get drawn on either on its intended level or as a fascinating piece of off-kilter RPG design.

It’s all very unusual, with a turn-based combat system that struck me as rather confusing, but in an eminently entertaining way – Cool Things will often happen for no perceivable rhyme or reason, but that’s a lot of fun, isn’t it? The strictly 2D graphics are impressive and often flashy – cleaned up very nicely for this remaster, too, along with a host of quality of life features such as quick saves and a speed toggle. Now, normally I’m one of those bores who rails against quick saves in games where they were never previously available, but in my view, the fun of SaGa Frontier is in following the story, so anything that helps the player to do that is A-OK by me. It’s also nice to see some of Square’s lesser-appreciated non-Final Fantasy stuff getting a turn in the spotlight – Legend of Mana is on its way, too, and I can only hope we’ll see more of their oddball games in the future – certainly SaGa Frontier 2, and maybe new translations of the un-localised likes of Live-A-Live.