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Romancing SaGa - PS2 - Review

Romancing SaGa brings together eight different characters for another journey of long battles and hard choices. It's an ensemble adventure. No one character is intended to be more important than the other. Who you choose to play as decides your objectives, your party members, and where your story begins.

Game developers face a huge problem when designing a game with multiple character-specific quests in mind. To where should they devote their resources? Should one character be treated with more care than the others? Is one quest more likely to be played than the rest? Is there anyone on the planet who will care enough about the game to play through all eight of the quests just to complete the story?

Romancing SaGa doesn't tackle these problems as well as I had hoped. Below-average RPGs can hold my interest if the story is top-tier, and while I'm happy to say that Romancing SaGa is not a sub-par role-playing game, the majority of the content falls somewhere inbetween boring and almost exciting.

 

Square-Enix is the king of music so that's one thing I knew I could count on. For Romancing SaGa Kenji Ito composed a compelling soundtrack with a wide range of tunes. Visit a town and you're bound to hear something simple and quirky. The average person might not get it, but this game was made for the hardcore crowd and we love the sound. Explore other locations and the music takes a more orchestral and traditional path. Start a battle and it'll toss out an exciting, thumping theme that's wonderful for those long monster encounters. Additional songs approach high emotion but the story prevents them from achieving their full potential.

Romancing SaGa's cast is made up of characters that are hokey, dorky, shallow, or a combination of the bunch. Voice-overs are used where only text is necessary, making those exhausting conversations with townspeople the most annoying sound effect since the pant and the whine. The voice-overs slow down your ability to skip the speech, a spiel that is rarely worth listening to. Chances are there is one, just one character that has something that must be heard before the game can be advanced. Their comments might not be that helpful, but speaking to them puts the game into motion.

You know the voice acting is bad when student and independent films showcase superior talent. The dialogue between main characters isn't much better than the conversations you'll have with the town idiots. That's excruciatingly disappointing. You pay top dollar for an RPG from the world's greatest RPG publisher and get stuck with 99-cent performances. And 99-cent dialogue – the story is butchered by awkward sentences and unenthusiastic dreams and desires. I'm supposed to believe that Captain Hawke is a strong, respected man; that Albert wants to become the knight of his kingdom; and that Jamil is a skilled thief. But I don't buy into any of it. I don't feel like these characters are what they say they are, primarily because there's no realism in what they say.

 

Although I've never played through an RPG solely for its gameplay, Romancing SaGa could've redeemed itself if the combat had lived up to expectations. Unfortunately for those of us who have played the previous SaGa games, what you can expect here is exactly what you got before: frustrating disappointment. There are too many battles with too little of a reward. Trial and error is a part of the experience thanks to special moves (called Surges and Benedictions) that cannot be controlled. They may or may not occur during a harsh battle. Combination attacks give players a slight advantage by combining the forces of each party member. Do this from the proper formation and your combination attack may be sustained, causing much more damage.

These attacks aren't original nor are they entertaining for more than a few hours (a short lifespan for any game, especially an RPG). The Final Fantasy series has been using the same mechanics for nearly two decades and it's still fun. SaGa has had kinks in it since the series began, it's no wonder we're unhappy with the sequels when massive changes have yet to be made.

Artistically Romancing SaGa is a Square Enix-caliber game with one exception: the big heads look weird. They appeal to some gamers, which is probably why developers continue to use a big-headed cast. Regardless, I couldn't help but enjoy the unusual, oil painting visuals of the computer graphic sequences. They're in full 3D but have this great, colorful mask that makes everything look less perfect. The effect is done on purpose to give the game a messy, original style and it worked.

 

In a perfect world games would be worth purchasing for music and graphics alone. Of course, if we lived in a perfect world that wouldn't be the only way that Romancing SaGa could leave a lasting impression on gamers. The story would be fantastic and have the best dialogue ever written. In this imperfect world we live in we didn't even get 10th best. Romancing SaGa is what all the SaGa games have been: fairly long, fairly frustrating, big on repetitive combat, and little on story and character development. Multiple paths aren't worth taking when the story's a bore.

Review Scoring Details for Romancing SaGa

Gameplay: 6.5
If Romancing SaGa were a racing game it wouldn't be a part of the Grand Prix, but it'd be the star of the Repetition 500. Any fun that could've been had with the eight quests is diminished by not rewarding the player with a good story. A story fuels us; it makes us want to continue at any cost. Without it we're left with dated turn-based battles, and several flaws that become more prevalent than they would have otherwise been.

Graphics: 8.5
Easily the best-looking RPG I've played all year. Romancing SaGa isn't the prettiest game in battle, but the outside environments look good, the characters are nicely designed, and the animated clips have one of the most original art styles I have ever seen.

Sound: 8.5
Another top-notch score from a Square Enix game. Kenji Ito is extremely talented and must have been very inspired to create a soundtrack that stirs a multitude of emotions for a story that does not.

Difficulty: Medium/Hard
There are better games with better challenges, but if you must have a new RPG, Romancing SaGa will drive you insane for hours.

Concept: 3.0
Generic story, bad dialogue, pointless objectives, horrendous voice acting, typical battle features that don't advance the series, etc. I'm saddened just thinking about all the things that went wrong.

Overall: 5.0
Artistically Square Enix is on par with their top titles (Final Fantasy, Parasite Eve and Xenogears excluded – they're still the best). But no matter what I do I can't get past the story. As a result I was bored while playing the game.

Average

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