It goes without saying that JRPG games are extremely lacking on Xbox One, something that’s made all the more apparent when rival platforms are churning them out like there’s no tomorrow. As a huge fan of the formula, you can imagine my excitement when Square-Enix made the surprise announcement that one of their 16-bit JRPGs would be coming to Xbox, namely Romancing SaGa 2. This is as bare-bones as it gets for the genre, a game that sits inline with the likes of Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger, but doesn’t enjoy a similar following in the west due to localisation issues. Now that we can all finally get hands-on, how does a 90s JRPG hold up in 2017?
The premise is surprisingly easy to chew on. The game tells a tale of seven heroes who rose up to banish an evil threat that was hell bent on consuming the lands within. However, before the heroes could revel in their victory, they vanished without a trace. Forgotten by many through the passage of time, only a few still remember the tale of the seven and their brave deeds of valor. In present time the player takes on the role of a member of the Royal family of Avalon. Before long the empire’s capital is attacked by none other than one of the legendary heroes, revealing all of them to be the antagonists of the adventure, and so begins your quest to bring them down.
Romancing SaGa 2 isn’t your straight forward JRPG, there’s quite a bit more to this game than meets the eye. Rather than simply going on a linear quest-line to rid the kingdom of the aforementioned threat, you’ll be balancing quests based on priority. Take for example very early on in the game, the first of the seven heroes resides to the east of the capital. You can choose to go straight there and attempt to bring him down, or you can travel west and liberate a nearby village from an onslaught of beasts. There’s a blanket layer of choice within the game, but with this being a game that primarily released in the early 90s, don’t expect to be blown away by the concept. In fact these additional quests are often necessary as you’ll beef up your stats to a degree that puts you inline with the requirements of the main quest.
Exploration is key, especially when you find yourself in the capital. Here you can pick up new followers and recruits, expand on your empire using the gold in your treasury, and other interesting tidbits to aid you on your way. It’s important to balance out your choices, because making one hasty decision could temporarily gate another choice further down the lines due to lack of funds. Further exploration of the capital will reveal helpful info, such as being able to develop new weaponry and armor, and even the construction of a university to attract new talent. I was honestly quite shocked to see this level of depth in a game that’s over twenty years old, but that’s merely scratching the surface against Romancing SaGa 2’s most endearing feature – Imperial Succession.
This works much like the generation system in Rogue Legacy. Whenever the emperor passes away through old-age or in battle, you’re able to select a successor to the throne. The successor is able to utilize all of the techniques and spells from the predecessor, meaning that even if you die a lot, you will gradually become more powerful and capable over time. To counter this there’s a light permadeath feature in the game too. As previously mentioned, you’re able to recruit new followers in the capital. The trade-off on the other hand is that if these followers fall in battle a certain number of times, they’ll eventually be gone for good. I found this out the hard way when I was taking on the first of the seven heroes. I stormed the enemy castle with a party of five, but only had a party of four by the time I reached the boss battle. This radically forced me to play with a lot more care and attention, because by design alone, you naturally become weaker as a party if party members begin biting the dust.
Combat is as straight forward as any other given JRPG from the origin era. You’ll constantly encounter enemies as you explore your surroundings or push forward in a quest. Enemies appear on-screen and will pursue you if you get too close. They also tend to be either as fast as you or marginally slower, and upon touching them a battle sequence will commence. This is primarily where Battle Formations become of significant importance. You have two to begin with but there are several other formations to unlock as you get deeper into the experience. Party members will have altering attributes based on what formation you are using, which can result in them being attacked either more or less frequently by engaged enemies. That being said, I was able to disregard this specific system without too much difficulty. The unavoidable problem with Romancing SaGa 2 however, is the control system and enemy placement.
As alluded to above, enemies fiercely patrol the world map. You can only rely on four directional control to outmaneuver them, and when you have multiple enemies on-screen at once (which is a frequent occurrence) it can be frustrating to get from A to B. On top of this if you find yourself pinned into a corner, you may as well kiss goodbye to the option of running from a fight. Running from battle will only return you to the world map, and again you will find yourself pinned into a corner, only for the battle sequence to once again commence. On the plus side however you can exploit this system to produce an easier fight due to the fact that each sequence will randomly select a pool of enemies to throw at you. Don’t fancy taking on six enemies at once? Just run from battle and allow the enemy to engage with you again until you’re given a pool you’re happy with. It’s a cheap tactic, but it does come in handy. It’s also worth noting that enemies will repopulate areas that you revisit, which is massively useful for farming.
Another downside goes to the controls. I appreciate that this is a 20+ year old game, but if the developers went that extra mile by implementing brand new features, would it really have been too much to ask for them to remove command lag in the process too? Maybe it was just me but it felt as though each movement had a slight delay to it, which is a nuisance when you’re trying to trek through a cave full of goblins. The combat itself is super easy to adapt to. Most of the enemies that you battle with are motionless sticker book-like foes that will periodically attack through the turn-based combat system. Square have indeed animated a few enemies, but for the most part, your enemies will have about as much life as a piece of wood. Party members will learn new skills at random, during combat.
Once a new skill has been learned, you will always have access to it. It’s a neat touch to say the least and pushes you into battling with as many beasts as possible. Unlike many other JRPG games, you wont be leveling up. Instead you will be earning Tech Points at the conclusion of each battle. Once a party member has accumulated enough points, they will enjoy a bump to their weapon and stat capacity. That’s not to say that you can horde gains at the beginning of the game and walk through the rest of it like Chuck Norris, because as far as I could tell, enemy strength seems to scale with your progression. Collectively all of these features come together quite nicely, despite the lack of insight you’re given throughout. Much of my own time with the game during the initial phases consisted of trial and error as I gradually got to grips with how it all works. This isn’t a dig, but it would have been nice to have direct access to an FAQ beforehand, or at least a tutorial of some sort.
Visually the game is a massive step up from the original version, but with that being said, this is a direct port of the mobile version released last year. Gigantic font within large text boxes galore, and it doesn’t do the game any justice as a result. Additions such as new dungeons, avalonian gardens, and new game plus helps to add to the longevity of the game, but the new content isn’t very diverse in comparison to the core game. The soundtrack gets a thumbs up from me, simply because it doesn’t come across as annoying or bland. It doesn’t stack up against the better known JRPG titles of the 90s, but it gets the job done nevertheless. Though in fairness, when I sit back and recollect my point about the lack of JRPG games on Xbox One, these issues are forgivable to a certain degree. It just would have been nice to see some more tweaks and a UI that was fit for a large screen, because as it stands, you would be better playing this on mobile.
Romancing SaGa 2 is a solid JRPG that houses some good ideas and interesting mechanics. Sadly it just doesn’t quite suit the large screen due to over-sized text within screen hogging text boxes. The control system also has a slight delay when inputting commands, which can prove frustrating when it occurs during battle sequences or evasion. With these issues to the side there’s a surprisingly in-depth experience to be had thanks to the innovative systems within, but if you have the choice to play this on mobile, that’s where you should go.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.