So when people were saying this is one of the weirdest JRPGs ever made – they were not lying. I did not play the original SaGa Frontier when that came out back in 1997, so this remaster was the perfect opportunity to jump in and give it a look.
Now I should start by saying that you cannot really go into this one expecting a traditional JRPG. This starts before you even get into the game, as you have to select one from a bunch of different characters and that’s whose story you will be playing. Each character’s story plays out in the same world – and you will be visiting a lot of the same locations – but it’s effectively a bunch of mini-JRPGs rolled into one game.
This sounds great on paper. You get to see this world and explore its lore through the eyes of all these characters, each starting out in some different location and then expanding from there. Ultimately though, this setup is underutilized as there is basically no crossover between the different stories (well, aside from one).
Such a setup can still work, but this only makes the next problem more apparent – that being that the stories by themselves aren’t that great to begin with. In fact – for most of them – they are hardly even there. One of the characters, Lute, quite literally has like one minute of introductory dialogue before just tossing you into the world. Ten minutes later, I had managed to reach the final boss of that route by accident. There was no main questline, no deeper story, just a little introduction, traveling to a couple cities to talk to an NPC, and then bam – final boss.
Of course, that is the most extreme example. Red, another one of the characters you can select, probably has the most fleshed-out story of the bunch, but even his is extremely light for a game world of this size. It’s mostly little bits of dialogue between the story events and a whole lot of grinding in-between. In none of the routes did I ever really get a deeper look at the characters or really care for them at all. So yeah, this is definitely not a JRPG to play for the story.
That said, this gives greater emphasis to the gameplay – which can actually be a good thing. Unfortunately though, I was disappointed again there. SaGa Frontier is a very free-form JRPG, with most of the character routes opening up the entire game world early on for exploration. Given that, a lot of your time is going to be spent exploring – which is good, I always love a JRPG with a good sense of exploration.
You wonder around, talking with NPCs (some of which actually join your party so its definitely good to do so), and basically learn more about the limited lore behind it all. When it comes time to actually tackle the story, well – that’s where the problems come up again. Even with the introduction of a new “story” UI element to give you hints as to where to go – the game is still very obtuse and a massive chunk of your time is going to be spent trying to figure out where to go.
Of course, that is if you go at it without a walkthrough – which honestly, the design choices here basically necessitate it. To give an example. I was playing T260G’s route. Early on you have to go through a series of fights in an arena before the story progresses. I won my first two and lost my third, advancing the story and pitting me up against a boss. I kept losing to this boss until I looked it up and realized that I was required to win that third fight previously because it dropped the weapon I needed in order to take down the boss. Well, my last quick save was after that third fight and it was so early on that I had no manual save yet, so I was effectively softlocked and ended up having to restart the playthrough entirely. Granted, I was only 30 minutes in, but it was an early indicator of what was to come.
Later in that same route, there was an NPC I was required to talk to. However, every time I tried, nothing would happen – he would just stare at me. I explored the entire game world and talked with basically everyone I could – with the one hint from a scientist in another location telling me I needed to talk to this guy. Well, upon looking up a walkthrough, I found out that I needed to interact with a computer in a completely unrelated location that looks like its part of the background – not something to be interacted with.
So, I did that, traveled back to the guy, and he STILL wouldn’t talk to me. The walkthrough then indicated that he would not because I had completed the quests out of order and had already upgraded my character – the NPC wanted to speak with my previous form. Fortunately, I was still able to revert to my character’s previous state at another location, so I went back there, reverted, finally talked to that NPC, and then went back and upgraded again. It’s an absolute mess of events that took me an hour to figure out – just to talk with one NPC. The entire game is designed like this and it is just outright frustrating to play at times.
Then there’s the difficulty curve. This game is extremely hard at some points, but easy at others, oftentimes right next to each other. During Red’s story, for example, I had to face four bosses at four separate locations. I discovered the location of one and then proceeded to go through a gauntlet of 40 or 50 enemy encounters – each where I was just spamming A because my characters did enough damage to one-shot them all. I finally reached the boss – where I had the complete opposite experience and kept getting wiped over and over. I finally managed to beat it after twelve or so attempts only to then uncover that that was actually not the boss – the real boss is immediately after it and easily does 10x the damage.
There’s no saving, no regenerating your action points, nothing – just thrown right into this boss. So I go through this boss’ dungeon one-shotting most of the enemies only to then get one-shot by the boss and it isn’t even close. I figured – okay, I’ll just leave the dungeon and go grind somewhere, but nope, you can’t leave the dungeon once you enter it – a fact I did not realize until this point and I ultimately ended up reloading a save from a couple hours beforehand – when I was outside the dungeon.
So yeah, the difficulty is all over the place – and again, this is yet another example of why playing with a walkthrough is basically necessary – along with saving every five minutes or so. I can understand a game not giving you direction on what to do – and I’m usually one to complain about modern JRPGs giving you too much – but this is the extreme opposite, where you are given nothing and expected to just figure out the game’s bizarre design choices.
Like grinding for example. There are no levels in this game and the stats you gain at the end of fights are entirely random. I would go from one-shotting an enemy and getting a bunch of stat increases to fighting a boss and hardly getting any. The skills too are unlocked completely at random and require you to have an open ability slot to even acquire them. So not only is this an incredibly grindy game (as demonstrated by the extreme difference between regular mobs and the bosses), but the grinding itself is completely random.
I just don’t understand why some of these design choices here were made. Sure, it makes for a unique experience – but a fun one? No, not really. What you are left with is a JRPG with a really cool game world and story concept – but no actual story content, no sense of direction, and a mountain of grinding and aimless wandering around.
I know some are going to say “well, that’s just how JRPGs were done back in the day” and yes, to a certain extent they were, but SaGa Frontier is that to the extreme and it’s really telling when I’m able to play through the original Megami Tensei game – released a full 10 years earlier and known for its extreme difficulty – and not have to look at a walkthrough every hour or get softlocked.
That’s what ultimately brought down the experience for me. I mean, the combat, exploration, music, and design of the world and all of that is great and it can be fun at times, but the frustration brought on by its obtuse game design eventually outweighed that.
Before I close out the review though, I should give a mention to the remaster elements – given that all that I just talked about was also present in the original game. Right off the bat, I gotta knock the game for not having resolution support above 1080p. It doesn’t even stretch if you have a monitor bigger than that – either changing your monitor’s resolution to 1080p when running in fullscreen or just giving you a floating window when running borderless. It’s 2021, I mean, come on. It’s not like it would even be demanding or anything.
It does at least run at 144 fps though, so points for that. I also had no issues with crashes, freezes, or actual bugs. The updated graphics are good too, better than the similar upscale we saw with the Grandia HD collection. And the stuff added by the remaster is also nice, including faster battle speed, the ability to run from battles, and map pointers so you know which elements of the background you can walk through. Some nice quality of life stuff that honestly makes me wonder just how much more time-consuming the experience would have been without them.
Then there is the fact that the remaster straight-up adds new content, like an entire new character and restored scenarios across the board that were previously cut to save space. The only other complaint I have with the remaster side of things is that the UI has that nasty mobile game look to it – which unsurprisingly is because the game was also ported to mobile. They couldn’t be bothered to give the PC and console versions a better UI I guess. Still, it’s definitely the definitive way to play the game now.
Despite a strong foundation for a good JRPG, SaGa Frontier Remastered makes so many bizarre design choices that it quickly devolves into aimless wandering, plentiful grinding, and even outright frustration. It’s one of those “needs a walkthrough” kind of games taken to the extreme, not even explaining the basics of its own combat system. That, coupled with how easy it is to softlock and all the other minor issues and I just cannot in good faith recommend it – even if the remaster elements help make it more palatable.
Quote: SaGa Frontier Remastered, despite having a strong foundation, makes so many bizarre design choices that it quickly devolves into aimless wandering, plentiful grinding, and even outright frustration.
You can buy SaGa Frontier Remastered on Steam here. It retails for $25 USD and is also available on Switch, PS4, Android, and iOS.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.