My first introduction to the SaGa franchise was SaGa Frontier 2 on PlayStation, and to this day I consider it one of my all-time favorite RPGs. However, with having limited to no internet access at the time, I was unaware of most titles that came before it; more specifically, the Romancing SaGa trilogy on Super Famicom. I ended up importing them and playing them on my modified Super Nintendo (Yes, I just broke off the plastic tabs that were considered “region locking”).
With little to no knowledge of the actual story of the Romancing SaGa trilogy, I was excited when Square Enix announced that updated versions would be arriving on modern hardware. Even though this particular version of Romancing SaGa 2 was released on iOS and Android devices in 2016, I decided to wait for the console release and I’m personally glad that I did.
Romancing SaGa 2 presents many unique systems to unpack since the game is told over multiple generations of the kingdom of Varennes. The story begins by introducing Emperor Leon and his two sons, Victor and Gerard. The opening scenes quickly give a rundown of the situation that Varennes is facing at the brink of approaching evil. This calamity is brought upon the lands by the ones that should have been protecting it, the Seven Heroes. As one of the heroes begins to attack the capital, Emperor Leon and Victor fall, and Gerard must take up the role of emperor and seek revenge against the Heroes.
Interestingly, all of this is put into the prologue and in this time, we are able to learn a lot about Gerard and the current state of the kingdom. As Gerard learns battle formations and techniques, the devastating event of losing his father and brother inches closer. However, after being appointed emperor, Gerard understands that running a great kingdom and going on a quest for revenge might not happen in his lifetime, and this is where the more interesting systems of Romancing SaGa 2 present themselves.
Aside from Romancing SaGa 2’s narrative, a large portion of the game will be spent in dungeons. If you’ve played other SaGa titles, you’ll enjoy that enemies are still found roaming around the dungeon for the player to avoid or run into to commence battle. However, strategy comes into play when players are given the option to edit the formation of the party. This allows the player to position magic and weaker party members in the rear or behind a wall of characters with higher defense stats. However, these formations can be broken if the player runs into an enemy, which ends up being kind of annoying because I had to press the “walk” button before each enemy encounter to prevent that.
The battle system can get rather deep if you’re willing to put time into it. Party members can be equipped with multiple weapons and can also learn new skills in battles. This is a feature that made its way into future SaGa titles and it’s one that evolved well, but the barebones basic SaGa features found in Romancing SaGa 2 might not be enough for fans of the series. With that said, if this is your first run in with a SaGa game, then there is no better place to start.
Grinding is necessary if you care about your party and don’t wish to start over and over again. You see, party members are healed after every battle, but if they fall, they then lose a life point. If every life point of party member is exhausted, then they will be permanently dead; this is also the case for the current Emperor. If the entire party falls in battle, then you won’t see the typical “return to main menu” screen: instead, you must create a new party and choose a new heir to the throne.
There are some difficult dungeons to be explored through Romancing SaGa 2 and many of them will bring the end of the Emperor. However, the game does get easier once you get a grasp on how to level your party members properly so you won’t be losing your favorite characters as easily. I enjoy a nice level grind in RPGs, but for modern players, these systems could have used some updating or difficulty balancing at some points. It seems like modern RPGs are developed to allocate quick results in order to keep the attention of the player. However, Romancing SaGa 2 is told through a long narrative of a kingdom and requires the player to invest time into developing their skills within the game’s unique battle system, which is why I preferred to play the game on PlayStation Vita during a commute or whenever I had extra time to explore a dungeon and grind.
Leveling up in Romancing SaGa 2 is not the traditional “across the board” stat increase that normal RPGs have. Instead, post-battle experience points are allocated toward individual stats, such as HP or weapon skills, in an unconventional way. Instead, the system is based on how the player uses that party member in battle and which skills are utilized the most. Additionally, gold collected during battles is used to invest back into the kingdom instead of purchasing armor and weapons, because who would dare take the Emperor’s coin? The gold invested will then grant upgraded items and weapons. Being innovative for its time, the kingdom upgrading system is lacking when compared to RPGs that came after it, but it’s still a decent introduction to the feature.
Spending most of my time with the PlayStation Vita version of Romancing SaGa 2, I can say that I enjoy the upgraded visual presentation. However, I found that the game doesn’t look as good when played on a modern TV. Even though the systems and mechanics came off as dated at times, the game looked great as a handheld title and gave me, what I felt, was a needed dose of nostalgic RPG gameplay.
Romancing SaGa 2 brought the RPG genre to a new level when it was first released, and the series continued to change and grow over the years: sometimes not always for the best. However, this is a game that should be experienced by classic RPG fans and more specifically, SaGa fans who have yet to journey back to the series’ roots.
Being a port of an 25 year old title, Romancing SaGa 2 gives a promising look back at how RPGs have grown over the years. With the game’s story spanning generations of characters and a fairly decent story, Romancing SaGa 2 is worth the price, but try not to get too attached to your main character because you will die, a lot.