In the first gaming era, I was a lot less selective than I am now; if it even remotely resembled an RPG, I had to play it- and more so if was created by the then Squaresoft. Back in those days, I was a hopeless Final Fantasy fangirl, and so everything they produced had to be great- didn’t it?
Sadly, there was a rude awakening ahead of me, and it was to begin with this game- SaGa Frontier 2. Due to their lack of availability in the
SaGa Frontier 2 takes place in the fantasy
As the easier of the two storylines, Gustave’s tale can be completed fairly quickly and easily, but sadly, the reason for this is that it turns out to be 90% cut scene. Much as you may want to get down to actually playing, you will instead have to sit through endless dialogue so underwhelming and forgettable that you will ultimately wonder why you even bothered.
Surely, then, this exposition heavy tale is a mere starter, a prelude to the far more satisfying Knights family storyline? Well, yes, there is a lot more game play to be found in this section, but ultimately this means there are only more opportunities for the game to demonstrate just how painful it is. Perhaps in an attempt to be varied and challenging, every aspect of the game is laced with unwanted difficulties; even walking around the field is a pain due to the tortuously mazelike nature of each and every map (it is even possible to get lost in towns). Worse yet, monsters also appear on the field map, and as soon as you enter, even those on the farthest side of the screen make a beeline straight for you, ensuring that battle is inevitable. And heaven forbid you should get lost and have to retrace your steps, for any time you re-enter a particular screen, all the monsters on that map regenerate. Only the patient and the crazy will make it through without recourse to a strategy guide to show the quickest route through these hellish torture chambers.
At this point, you may start to think that I am overreacting a little- after all, just how bad could battle be? Think again, for of all the battle systems both boring and addictive that I have experienced, even now, that of SaGa Frontier stands out as one of the more tortuous ones. Like Suikoden, the game has three battle modes- one on one duel, normal ally party vs. enemy party skirmishes and all-out multi-unit tactical conflict. Sadly, where Suikoden made all of these worthy, SaGa Frontier 2 does the exact opposite.
Although they aren’t particularly inspiring, regular battles are probably the least painful of the three types- for the most part they play out like most RPG battle systems, with characters taking turns to perform attacks and spells- which, if performed in a certain order, unleash more powerful combo moves. Unfortunately, because the battles are harder than average and occur so frequently, you soon begin to dread each encounter.
One-on-one encounters are even worse, however- despite being available at the start of battle as an alternative to regular party battle, they are an option you will rarely want to exercise. In these single battles, your commands are reduced to simple component moves such as “Slash” and “Blow” which you must chain together in order to (hopefully) perform the moves you would have available automatically in normal battle. This is just one example of the pedantic and number crunching nature of the game, which elevates the idea of menus and stats to a whole new level; in fact, every single aspect that could be overcomplicated has been. Take one look at the menu and you will soon be overwhelmed- characters have individual elemental and weapons based affinities, combo information, and both HP and Life Points (reach zero HP and you can revive by spending a life point, but getting to zero LP results in a more permanent death), whilst even weapons have stats relating not only to their attack and defence, but to how long it takes for them to break. All in all, it is as if every possible stat system has been squeezed into a single game, with predictably bad results.
Getting back to battle, and the tactical system has its own unpleasantness to offer. As with Suikoden, you move units across the field as they take their turn, but whenever they encounter the enemy, they have to fight a one round battle with them. Not too bad, you might think, until you realise that the vast majority of your units are composed of four weak and useless generics, who are predictably far more pathetic than the well trained enemy generics. In the end, there’s no real strategy for these tactical battles except to brute force them by throwing all your forces at the enemy and hoping for a favourable outcome.
Even if you do manage to endure all this and level up your characters into a crack fighting force, there is further disappointment to come. Since the Knights storyline covers three generations of the family, just as you get one Knights and his companions up to a decent level, their part in the story ends, and the baton is passed to a new group of newcomers who are often far too weak and under-levelled to take on the latest batch of enemies. This is truly the final blow- the knowledge that even if you work hard and put up with the game’s system, all your efforts are only going to be taken away from you anyway.
These days, SaGa Frontier 2 seems to have long fallen into obscurity, and given the many flaws the game had, perhaps that is just as well. In between finding your way across hideous area maps, keeping track of what combos to use, and hoping that your best weapons won’t break too soon, there’s precious little fun to be had from this game, which is surely best kept confined to the shelves of the dedicated RPG collector.