SaGa Frontier 2
  • Genre:
    • RPG
  • Platform:
    • PlayStation
  • Developer:
    • Square
  • Publisher:
    • Square
  • Released:
    • JP 04/01/1999
    • US 01/31/2000
    • UK 03/22/2000
Score: 70%

This review was published on 11/14/2014.

SaGa Frontier 2 is a role-playing game developed and published by Square for the Sony PlayStation. It was released in Japan on April 1, 1999, North America on January 31, 2000, and Europe on March 22, 2000. This is the eighth game in the SaGa series and the second and final one released on the PlayStation. It's one of the few games to support the PocketStation; a memory card peripheral with an LCD screen that only came out in Japan. The first SaGa Frontier released in the states to underwhelming reviews and the second one didn't do much better. Now it's a game that is seldom talked about. That's precisely why I'll be talking about it. SaGa Frontier 2 fixes many of its predecessor's faults, but in doing so, it introduces a host of new problems. It's an overall more polished game, though it loses most of what made the last game unique.

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Sandail is the stage in which SaGa Frontier 2 is set. This fictional world is inspired by medieval Germanic and Anglo-Saxon themes. Instead of being broken into seven scenarios like the previous game, SaGa Frontier 2 simplifies matters by splitting the story into only two major scenarios. One scenario follows the exploits of Gustave XIII and the other one centers around a fellow named William Knights. Gustave was exiled from the Kingdom of Finney at the age of seven by his father, the king, for not possessing any magical power. Wil is sent from his home village to dig for Quells, valuable artifacts possessing elemental properties, so that he may bring prosperity to his family. Despite the two pronged approach to storytelling, the game places a much greater emphasis on Gustave's scenario, making him the true star of the show. The guy is featured prominently on the game's case, after all. Both scenarios eventually intertwine to form a larger plot that involves the fate of the word. Not a bad premise for a game, if I do say so myself.

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The game throws you right into the thick of things by placing you at the beginning of Gustave's story, with no title screen or anything preceding it; a brazen concept at the time. You do get a title screen after saving and quitting the game, but not when starting it for the first time. After completing the introduction to Gustave's scenario, a map screen with different events becomes available. The plot is experienced on an event-by-event basis, with new events being unlocked as you complete old ones. You can switch between Gustave's and Wil's scenarios during breaks in the story by selecting the appropriate event. The problem is that, while the event order is slightly nonlinear, the events themselves are extremely linear and almost totally devoid of exploration. This is a step down from the freedom of the first game. Another issue is that the events follow a timeline, and doing them out of order will make the plot confusing. It's also possible to permanently miss events if they're done in the wrong order. On the flipside, the stories are better executed this time around, which makes up for the poor plots of the first game. Sadly, the better storytelling came at the expense of exploration.

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Story wise, Gustave's scenario is more cutscene heavy, while Wil's scenario is more game play focused. Gustave has the more interesting storyline, but the overabundance of cutscenes makes his scenario feel more like a graphic novel than an actual game. If you elect to finish Gustave's scenario before starting Wil's, then you will have to wait a long time before you actually start playing the game proper. This is kind of bad design, because the game forces you into Gustave's scenario at the start, as if to imply that's the one you should do first. The issue is alleviated by alternating between Wil and Gustave, which mixes the cutscenes and game play segments in a more acceptable manner. Constantly bouncing between the two stories has the side effect of being disorienting, but there's no other way to offset the imbalance. Further adding to the disorientation is the large time leaps the story often makes, leaving many details up to the player's imagination. The actual stories themselves are solid, but they'd be even more solid if things were better balanced.

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The first thing you'll notice about the game is its graphics. That's understandable, considering graphics are the first thing you see in most games. These visuals are a huge step up from the previous SaGa Frontier, featuring amazing 2-D artwork inspired by watercolor paintings. The character sprites are bigger and more detailed than before, and they're also far better animated. That extreme attention to detail extends to the backgrounds, which always look great. It's admirable that they went for the 2-D look again, considering 3-D was the norm at the time. The only real issue with this portion of the graphics is that the colors are a little washed out, but for the most part, everything looks fabulous. Battles, however, are a different matter entirely. The battle graphics are a garish mishmash of 2-D and 3-D, bringing the worst of both worlds together in a smelly gumbo. It would have been best if they stuck to pure 2-D, but alas. The only benefit to the 3-D battles is the dynamic camera angles, which admittedly do make things more exciting. Aside from the battles, the game looks great.

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Battles are turn-based and thankfully, not encountered randomly. Combat isn't much different from your average RPG, with the exception of team combos. Team combos make a combative comeback to spice up fights in SaGa Frontier 2. Multiple characters can link their attacks together during battle to form combos. Only four characters can be in your active battle party, one down from the previous SaGa Frontier. As a result of that, the largest combo possible is four hits, one for each character. Combos are always beneficial, because they inflict more damage than unlinked attacks. All combos are made up of different attack combinations, so a fair amount of experimentation is needed to discover new ones. Newly discovered combos are recorded in a log for future reference, which is handy. Combos are cool, but they don't always trigger when you want them to, even if you select the correct arts combination. Battles are also slower paced now, unfortunately. Beyond that, battles aren't much better or worse than other RPGs.

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Arts are skills characters can learn and use in battle. These skills are divided between Weapon Arts and Spell Arts. Weapon Arts are based on different weapon types, like swords, axes, and spears, whereas Spell Arts are based on different elements, like fire and water. As an example, you need a sword equipped to use sword skills, and you need a piece of equipment with fire attributes to cast fire spells. Weapon Arts use Weapon Points and Spell Arts use Spell Points in battle; WP and SP for short. Conveniently, characters regenerate trace amounts of WP and SP every turn in battle, allowing them to make extensive use of their arts. What's awesome is that every learned art is shared across all characters. This makes the process of learning arts way more rewarding and far less tedious. The only downsides are the inherent randomness of learning arts and the lack of information regarding how to learn them. Unless you use an outside guide, learning arts involves lots of trial and error. That trial and error is less painful than in previous games, though.

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Duels are one-on-one fights with rules that differ from normal battles. When in a duel, character sprites are much bigger and more detailed, and you have a unique set of commands to choose from. Most of these commands are only available during duels and they depend on the currently equipped weapon. You can select up to four commands per turn, with compatible commands forming combos. In order to actually use arts during duels, you must memorize and input certain commands to trigger them. Enemies can do the same. This combo system is similar to Legend of Legaia, if you played that. Duels are fun due to the increased interactivity they grant, but you can't pull up a list of known art combos during a fight, which is irritating. Combos are basically the only way to inflict damage in duels, so you're boned if you can't remember any. As fun as they are, there isn't much strategy to duels beyond using the most powerful combos you know repeatedly.

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Duels are one-on-one fights with rules that differ from normal battles. When in a duel, character sprites are much bigger and more detailed, and you have a unique set of commands to choose from. Most of these commands are only available during duels and they depend on the currently equipped weapon. You can select up to four commands per turn, with compatible commands forming combos. In order to actually use arts during duels, you must memorize and input certain commands to trigger them. Enemies can do the same. This combo system is similar to Legend of Legaia, if you played that. Duels are fun due to the increased interactivity they grant, but you can't pull up a list of known art combos during a fight, which is irritating. Combos are basically the only way to inflict damage in duels, so you're boned if you can't remember any. As fun as they are, there isn't much strategy to duels beyond using the most powerful combos you know repeatedly.

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For better or worse, Life Points are back. HP is what keeps characters conscious and LP is what keeps them alive. So long as a character has LP, they can be revived through the use of healing spells. Recovering HP is easy, but restoring LP is tougher, as it can only be done at inns or at the end of a scenario event. Inns are exceptionally rare in this game, so in most cases, LP restoration has to wait until an event's conclusion. When in a pinch, LP can be used in battle to fully restore HP. Also, if you run out of WP and SP to use arts, you can resort to using LP instead. In other words, characters can exchange their life energy for special benefits. This makes LP more than a liability, which is good, but there are still annoyances. Some enemies possess the ability to attack your LP directly, for instance. Saving LP for boss fights is the best strategy, since all of it gets restored afterwards. All in all, the LP system isn't as frustrating as it was in the previous few games.

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All playable characters are restricted to humans, so you won't be able to form a dream team of monsters and robots like in some of the previous SaGa games. Character growth in SaGa Frontier 2 is also a tad different than the previous Frontier. There are no individual stats like strength; instead, there are proficiency levels for every weapon and magic type. Continuously using weapons or magic of a certain class will level up that character's proficiency in said class, increasing their damage output. Each character has natural talents in different categories, which allows them to level up proficiencies much faster. In addition to talents and skill levels, characters sometimes get permanent increases to their HP, WP, and SP after battle. Characters can also be assigned roles to give them some passive traits, but these don't do much and are easily disregarded. The problematic thing with building up characters is that you're constantly losing party members due to the plot, so there isn't much incentive to grind early on. The other problem is that growth is, as usual in the SaGa series, totally random. That makes grinding a pain later in the game when it's actually needed.

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Equipment durability returns in SaGa Frontier 2 after being absent in the last game. Durability has been a signature feature of the SaGa series, much to the chagrin of many. The good news is that durability isn't as intrusive in this game as it was in the older ones, as many pieces of equipment have unlimited durability. In general, armor and accessories are unbreakable, except for a select few. Additionally, worn down equipment can be repaired at certain towns for a fee. Speaking of money, currency is strange in SaGa Frontier 2. The game has two types of money; crowns and chips. Crowns are used to buy stuff at shops and purchased goods can be sold for chips. You're then able to convert those chips back into crowns again to spend on more equipment. The big stinker about this is that chips can only be bought and sold in two separate locations that you don't have the leisure of returning to at any desired time. While equipment durability isn't as annoying as in past games, the currency exchange thing is stupid.

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Explore a new frontier of linear game design in SaGa Frontier 2. Actually, you'll be doing the exact opposite of exploration. There is almost never a situation where you have the freedom to return to previously visited locations, explore environments, or do side quests. It's all a straight shot to the end of the game, with the only nonlinearity being in what order you choose to do the events. Such a rigid structure isn't befitting an RPG. On the bright side, the graphics are good and the story is decent. The question is whether that's worth the sacrifice in freedom and exploration. My answer would be no.

Word Count: 2,261

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