SaGa Frontier, Square Enix’s idiosyncratic JRPG classic, arrives on Nintendo Switch in a lovingly crafted remaster that gives long-time fans plenty to get excited about whilst fully retaining the ability to absolutely infuriate and bewilder anyone who isn’t au fait with its many, many eccentricities. This is a twenty-six-year-old game that’s still worth experiencing, and one that benefits greatly from the additions made in this upgraded version, but it’s also one that you’ll need to prepare to work hard at in order to enjoy, especially if this is your first trip around The Regions.
First things first, though — and on the most positive of notes — this really is a properly excellent remaster and an absolute gift for hardcore SaGa series fans. It introduces a bunch of neat quality of life improvements, restores lots of cut content, polishes character models to a high resolution sheen, adds pointers to help with level traversal and even throws in a New Game+ mode and brand new quest log system that makes it far, far easier to keep track of what you’re up to as you blast through the eight character storylines on offer.
Starting out in SaGa Frontier Remastered, you’ll initially choose from the same seven character campaigns that were available in the original version of the game – with the option to play as previously cut character Fuse unlocked once you complete any one of these narrative strands – and the effort that’s been put into revitalising this age-old experience is immediately apparent. Player characters and enemies look delightful here, crisp, colourful and bursting with previously unseen detail, and the many, many pre-rendered backdrops don’t seem to have aged a day. There’s double and triple speed boosts available at the touch of a button to help you bound around levels or battle through fights as quickly as you’d like, and you can easily save at any time by simply holding 'X' and hitting 'ZR' (something we'd advise you do as often as you possibly can). In short, if you were already a fan, if you’re someone who has played through this one countless times before, you’ve got plenty to look forward to with this remastered release and should immediately add two points to the score below and go make that purchase.
However, if you're coming at this one as a first-timer, things are quite a bit more complicated. There’s no getting around the fact that this is a nightmare of a game in many respects; a real oddball curio of a thing that really does not want to hold your hand, explain itself at all or help you out in any way whatsoever.
We started out playing as Red, perhaps the most straightforward of the eight available characters — and the one that is most often recommended to newbies — and even then it wasn’t too long before we were racing off to the internet for help with the game’s battle system, often unfathomable level progression, abrupt difficulty spikes and so on. If you’re willing to spend the time learning (most often from external sources and guides as the game hasn't got your back in this regard) and slowly getting to grips with this stuff, there’s absolutely plenty of fun to be had here, but be warned that this one will test your patience to breaking point before you arrive at a place of even vague understanding or comfort.
Just making your way through levels or completing tasks here, even early ones, can be an exasperating affair with finnicky, exacting ways to do things that aren’t in any way hinted at but must be completed just so in order for events to progress. Almost immediately in Red’s storyline, for example, you’re asked to enter a building in order to confront members of BlackX, the evil syndicate that murdered your father. However, as with almost everything here, this task is not at all straightforward or intuitive. You’ll need to find and approach the thugs in question, interact with just the right one of them in order to send them running off and then get yourself to the building's parking garage in order to initiate a battle that sees the mission completed. There’s no way of knowing the order in which any of this needs to play out and so you can — and we did — spend an absolute age just milling around this early level trying to figure out what on earth you're meant to do next.
It’s easy to miss out on chunks of the experience too, missions can end abruptly without giving you time to explore areas if you happen to accidentally go to the wrong place first or unwittingly set the ball rolling on a final boss encounter. 'Soft locks' are a common occurrence as you get yourself trapped with no other course of action available other that to restart because you’ve made the wrong choice, missed out on recruiting some party member or other, and so on.
The battle system, easily the best part of the game for us, also doesn’t play ball when it comes to helping you understand its many archaic complexities. There’s some excellent combat in SaGa Frontier Remastered, there’s no doubt about it. We love how your skills and attacks are added to and evolved by simply using them repeatedly and there’s real depth on offer in the many items, spells, combination attacks and so on that are available to your party, but you best be ready to settle in and suffer if you’re a newcomer; have Google handy and prepare to be battered and bruised repeatedly before you begin to get your head around the many moving parts that make up the action here. You'll find yourself absolutely at a loss as to how to deal with many of the boss battles laid before you as tried and tested techniques and combos you've come to depend on do next to nothing when the game decides, without any warning, that it's time to turn up the heat. There's an infuriating lack of even the most basic explanation, and yet this game does remain somewhat compelling; it draws you back in and keeps you interested because, well, because it’s absolutely bananas.
The eight campaigns here, how they intertwine and cross paths with one another, the constantly shifting styles of area that you’re treated to as you venture around The Regions, Kenji Ito’s superlative soundtrack, the depth of that combat, the enormous parties you can gather to battle bad guys… there’s lots to enjoy here if you can stick with it, if you can commit to slowly making your way through it, restarting ad nauseum when you mess up and hitting forums and wikis to get to grips with stuff you can’t get your head around.
The level of freedom you're afforded too, for a game of this vintage, is still really impressive. There's no doubt this one was breaking new ground back in 1997 with how it abandons the expected linearity of JRPGs of its day in order to present players with such choice in how they experience its world. If only it wasn't so bloody stubborn — if only it made its systems more transparent and offered more in the way of guidance as to how it expects you to overcome its challenges, tasks and battles — it would be a much easier game to recommend getting involved with.
As things stand, SaGa Frontier Remastered on Switch is an impressive revamp of a cult classic JRPG that long-time fans should absolutely dive right into; this is the game you know and love looking and playing better than it ever has. Curious newcomers, however, should be more than a little wary of an experience that will absolutely frustrate and confound as much as it will provide nuggets of enjoyment.
SaGa Frontier Remastered sees Square Enix's cult classic JRPG looking and playing better than ever, with a lovely HD lick of paint and lots of restored content and quality of life improvements providing hardcore fans with an experience they'll doubtless enjoy. However, this is still a game that's aged quite poorly in many respects; an idiosyncratic, eccentric and infuriating experience that refuses to guide you or help you in any way, and one that, in the end, is quite hard to recommend to anyone who isn't already a fan.
Oh I am looking forward to getting this! But I will have to wait a little longer than expected. Car repairs ate my budget alive.
Me: Where do I go?
NPC: Lol idk
Next Room over: -Level 80 monster truck-
Sounds like SaGa Frontier isn't worth my time, either.
I guess it's just a matter of personal opinion then. On the PS1, it was an easy 8-9 for me. Completed all 7 characters playthrough without external help. So for me, if the remaster is just making the game even better, it should at leat be an 9-10. I'll only play this in June though, since I'm waiting for my physical copy from Play-Asia, which should only ship at the end of May unfortunately.
Ill wait till this is half off. Im glad Square Enix is dusting off a lot of its classics and I hope this leads to remasters of Brave Fencer Musashi, Vagrant Story and Threads of Fate.
I'm often drawn to games where the reviews basically inform us that the game will punish its and make us work for every inch.
I guess I'm a gaming masochist.
Still looks like something I'd be into.
I have to say, this sounds appealing. It's one of those 6 scores that, if you're a certain kind of gamer, actually reads like an 8 or even a 9.
I'm about to finish Final Fantasy VII for the first time on the Switch, so I'm itching to play more Square JRPGs from that era. This sounds quite different to Final Fantasy VII, though, because Final Fantasy VII is pretty linear and NPCs always tell you where to go next. This seems like a much more open-ended (and evidently confusing) affair.
I'm also intrigued by Parasite Eve and Vagrant Story, but I'm not sure if I should nab them on my dusty PS3 while I still can or wait for a remaster. Probably the first option...
I'm on the fence on this one. In one hand, I do enjoy this kind of novelty and a good dose of "no hand holding" can be fun. On the other hand, I don't have the time to spend on a game by not playing the game (either by being utterly stuck or researching the internet about it)
Yeah I am like 20 hours in and I love and hate it at the same time. And both for the same reasons. It is super frustrating but also very fascinating because of that. Does that makes sense?
Like Vincent Gallos "The Brown Bunny"
Edit: Also I think this review is 100% spot on.
another game would like to play again at that price no way
I’m playing for the first time and having a blast. It’s a very unconventional game with an excellent battle system and unique mechanics, but it’s pretty hard to unserstand what’s going on for the first few hours.
On a side note, Square-Enix did a pretty good job with the upscaling, QoL adjustments and new content. Some people have been saying it’s hard to go back to the original SaGa Frontier once you touch the remaster.
Glad I didn't pre-purchase. Seems like I would've struggled immensely and just put the game down. However, when the price drops I'll take a look.
They're definitely not for everyone but I'm so glad Kawazu games exist and are being rereleased. The industry needs people like him to shake up the conventions.
god the characters in game look absolutely atrocious.
why does Square keep employing some bad mobile game charater crap in their remakes?
it's a disservice to Yoshitaka Amano.
@konbinilife Wait till you find a in-game moneybag
I always felt Saga Frontier had something in common with how Octopath Traveler has parallel storylines.
I feel the SaGa games were never as ground breaking as the main Final Fantasy or Mana games but the concept of some of the games were cool. I feel that fans of the series would had take the SaGa Frontier games more seriously had Squaresoft evolve it into a 3D RPG series like what they did Final Fantasy cause when you look at the original games they just look more like their Super Famicom predecessors.
A fair review. I love this series, they offer experiences that aren't available anywhere else to this day, but I won't blame anyone for going in with a guide handy.
The ability to flee any regular battle is nice addition. There can be so much randomness to how hard an encounter can be. You could also quick save in the original and soft reset (L,R,+,- in this version) but being able to flee directly is a time saver.
I never got very far in the original, but I'm blasting through this version. If you have access to traveling and 3000 credits, trading gold ingots to buy some of the best equipment in the game ASAP makes it much easier and the credit minimum was greatly lowered and the process simplified. This is actually a much less daunting than any of the earlier games in the series except maybe Romancing Saga 3.
I'll prolly buy this game once it gets some nice discount.
Now, if they were to do a remastered version of SaGa Frontier 2 however, then its gonna be good!
@Beaucine I'd wait and see if they announce anything at E3, otherwise I'd definitely pick up parasite Eve 1 & 2. I played them both on the Vita and the games still really held up. Makes me wonder why we haven't seen a game like that since.
I'm still very curious to play this; it's one of those PS1 JRPGs that sadly passed us by in the UK, and I'm fascinated to see what I missed.
Saying that though, points of no return and missable items/plot points are a huge bugbear for me, and I don't want to have to play the game with an FAQ constantly at arm's reach.
This game is amazing. My first character choice was Blue. I am using a walkthrough. I am almost at the end of the story for Blue. My next character choice is Lute the bard. The key to this game is to pick an easy character story in the beginning and work your way through the characters. You should also have multiple saves. I rate this game an 8. The battle system is fantastic. The story is ok. This game is everything to me until Shin Megami 3 comes out.
I simply can not get into this series. The battle system is just not fun.
So this is sort of the original Octopath Traveler, and it's also supposedly the sequel to Romancing SaGa 3. Personally I think the Romancing SaGa games are more appealing, there is something about the art direction they went with in this title where I just don't think it's as appealing. That and I think it lacks what made the Romancing games so appealing, especially 2 and 3 where 2 was sort of a rogue-lite and 3 was almost a JRPG Elder Scrolls title. Compared to those it's like this expects you to take a far more linear path, but it's also very specific about what you need to do making it the type of game you need to play with a guide since it doesn't do a good job of helping you progress. Seems like an easy pass for me, I have no shortage of classic JRPG's I would want to play over this.
I really like the look of this but I am a bit put off by the review . It seems to back off a lot of other reviews I’ve read about this game . Don’t get me wrong I don’t mind being challenged in a game but not sure I have the patience if it’s as tricky as it sounds . I might bite when it’s in the sale
I don't mind that some of these JRPGs are just not for me. Just glad they exist for games preservation and for those who have a deep love and are willing to jump through some of the additional hoops and criticisms that were referenced in the review.
If we're going to bring back some classics, PLEASE PLEASE NINTENDO, JUST RELEASE MOTHER 3.
I played this game back in the day. Just couldn’t get into it long enough to finish any of the stories because there’s a good kind of no hand-holding that rewards you, and then there’s this where it frustrates the hell out of you while making you think you’re smart for figuring out what to do when nothing is even hinted at clearly.
That said, I will still pick this up for the QoL improvements based on how they originally envisioned the game, because it did feel very incomplete back then.
@Slowdive Yes, the soundtrack by Ito is absolutely incredible. The music that plays when you journey by ship between different regions still brings chills.
I have waited so long for this. This was my first SaGa game, and the title that made me fall in love with the franchise. Amazing freedom of exploration and character progression, fun battle and magic systems, phenomenal soundtrack by Kenji Ito, cool story with intertwining character arcs, a rich world brought to life through inspired art design... I love this game. It is a fresh, revitalizing breeze in a world of stagnant, cookie cutter RPG's.
oh those "Bads" were clearly written by someone who had not been even born yet when the original game came out
I never understood this game at all, though I was into it for a bit and somewhat fascinated by the strangeness of it all. It's a bizarre game that doesn't give a ***** about being accessible.
@BlackenedHalo Have you seen a picture of the writer? He’s definitely old enough lol
@Vash0125 I started Vagrant Story for the first time earlier this week and it's been really interesting so far. Nearly died during the first battle trying to figure out what to do. The music is sublime and the story is interesting. The graphics though...ouch, my eyes.
@jrb363 i think a good HD rrmastering would definitely benefit Vagrant Story. Its one of those games where you gotta put in the work to understand its combat system and i think the gameplay has held up making it ideal for modern gamers. Square Enixs output on the PS1 was amazing i hope they release all of their PS1 classics on Switch eventually.
Are a lot of improvments. Many things time consuming in the original was fixed and grafics are better too. Maybe I get this in a sale.
@PJOReilly Oh, my. Looks they do the kids start study really soon in your country.
The SaGa games like to make sure the "metagame" is as inaccessible as possible. They won't tell you how to raise this stat or how to be strong enough to beat that boss. It just lets you walk into walls to see what you learn.
Still better than Romancing Saga 3
@Drac_Mazoku see this makes me want to try it, but i can't afford (financially or time wise) to buy games i won't play. I feel like i would be better at this than some of these reviewers, but I'm worried i may get it & be in the same boat as this reviewer. Hmm... 🤔
The combat/leveling system sounds a lot like final fantasy 2, which, coincidentally, is one of m favorites. Maybe I’ll pick this up some time
@Beaucine I love parasite eve, highly recommend getting it on the ps3 eshop while you can. The combat is active time turn based, like FF7, but you also move around and dodge attacks in real time. I’ve been loading up before the shutdown and I’ll be playing Vagrant Story for the first time soon.
@Drac_Mazoku Glad to.hear this.
I got the physical version preorder and looking forward to playing it
"Almost impossible to make much progress without external sources of help if you're a newcomer"
This is really what kills if for me. I don't mind or hesitate to look up something like where I can find a specific item or what level an ability is unlocked.
But if I need a guide just to progress in the main game if I haven't played it before, then that's just a sign of bad design.
Also games should teach their players the basic rules and mechanics. You shouldn't need an outside source to figure these things out.
Gonna have to pass here.
8This got wildly differing reviews from reliable reviewers I "consult". Some say it's around 6/10 like you guys, but some others give it 8 or 9/10. The latter must be previous players of the original.
Thanks for the review. It was on my wishlist for monitoring purposes but I think I'll pass. Sounds like a good remaster but the negative points bite a bit too hard for me though I understand why some people would love it.
Just because a game is older doesn't make it a "classic".
This isn't a case where a game was beloved in its time and is getting punished with new re-reviews just because of its age. At its original release it got middling reviews, for all the same reasons this NL review cites.
@MontyCircus There are several divisive games that became classics regardless of being well received or not. Diddy Kong Racing, Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Tooie, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Final Fantasy VIII, Bomberman 64... they're all average at best (some even got punished by critics), but are still considered "classics" in their respective genre.
@twztid13 Don't get me wrong, this game, like MOST SaGa games, is not for everyone. I feel that most of the negatives points in this review came from someone who would not enjoy a SaGa game to begin with. My opinion is obviously from someone who have played the game to death when he was younger, and knows what a SaGa game is ever since I've played Final Fantasy Legends as a kid on my old Game Boy. So as such, as someone who LOVES what the series is, Frontier is the pinacle of the series, and deserve AT LEAST 8-9 for the original version. So this one shouldnt be below a 9-10 in my eye.
BUT if you've NEVER played a SaGa game before, beware, maybe indeed this is not a game for you. It's not a traditional JRPG. It's really weird, not hand-holdy at all, and you might indeed get stuck sometimes. But if as a teenager I managed to figure everything out for every scenario, there's no reason you shouldnt be able to do so as an adult if you invest the time. And I feel that those games are just rewarding for doing so.
@rushiosan "There are several divisive games that became classics regardless of being well received or not. Diddy Kong Racing, Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Tooie, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Final Fantasy VIII, Bomberman 64... they're all average at best (some even got punished by critics), but are still considered "classics" in their respective genre.
Here are the MetaCritic scores of the games you mentioned:
Diddy Kong Racing - 88
Donkey Kong 64 - 90
Banjo-Tooie - 90
Secret of Mana - 87% on GameRankings, with Electronic Gaming Monthly & GamePro both named it RPG of the year for 1993
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles - 80
Final Fantasy VIII - 90
Bomberman 64 - GameRankings 69% with IGN giving a 7.6
Of the 7 games you mentioned, the critics called 5 classics, with only Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and Bomberman 64 getting less-than-stellar reviews. NintendoLife users currently rank both of them outside the Top 100 Best Games for the GameCube and N64.
So, 5 of the games you said were divisive were actually instant classics, and 2 that you say are classics are not classics at all.
I really, really hated this game when it came out, for the reasons the reviewer mentioned. Die, die, die right from the beginning with no direction at all. I don't know why Square is putting so much effort into rereleasing SaGa games. They had so many great non-Final Fantasy games from that era. Xenogears, Vagrant Story, Parasite Eve series, Front Mission 3, Brave Fencer Musashi, Threads of Fate... I would so love to see some of them polished up and released, especially Xenogears.
Hoping to see Unlimited Saga get a rerelease
"Almost impossible to make much progress without external sources of help if you're a newcomer"
The funniest complaint I've read about a game. Talk about modern gamer privilege, right? Whole new generation of gamers that can't get through a game without Googling for a guide.
For the pre-internet generation, especially those who couldn't afford guides, you just figured it all out and developers gave you credit for brains and grit. You got limited checkpoints, one hit kills, zero in-game hints... and you loved every minute of it.
In the NES era especially, if you weren't screaming at the TV then you probably weren't enjoying the game. Steeling and forging yourself into a master by this trial by fire was part of the experience and it ended up making you a more proficient gamer.
I really don't care that SaGa Frontier doesn't hold your hand. Some people like hardcore board games with lots of rules. Some prefer Hungry Hungry Hippo. I'd probably be more offended if the developers dumbed things down at any point or neutered the challenge - even if that challenge was a product of quirky design. Japanese game design has certainly been weirder & quirkier than this.
Something also to be said about design, however flawed, that feels as if it came out of the minds of creative types than focus groups.
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