Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Game 4 - Romancing SaGa

Note: I am not skipping Dragon Ball Z. I'm going to have to start the game over but rather than do that immediately I'm going to start the next game and come back to this either during RS or after it.

Romancing Saga (ロマンシング サ・ガ)

Released 1/28/1992, published by Square


When I was a kid I had a Game Boy. Two of the games that I have the strongest memories of on that system are Final Fantasy Legend I and II (I never played III). They were different from the other RPGs I had played in eschewing the level system. Instead, you had different types of characters that advanced in different ways. Humans bought HP (at least in 1). Robots gained stats by equipping items or equipment. Monsters would eat dead creatures to morph. Mutants gained skills and stats after battles, seemingly randomly.

Much later I learned that these games were not Final Fantasy at all, but part of the SaGa series. The FF name was slapped on in the US to bank on the name. After the Game Boy, English-speakers next saw the series in SaGa Frontier for the Playstation. Meanwhile, three of the games had come out for the Super Famicom under the title Romancing SaGa.

As you can see in the box art, there are 8 characters to choose from. They have different backstories and slightly different beginnings to the game, but quickly they all basically reach the same point. It's a very open game where you have no real direction or specific tasks. Instead you go around looking for quests. Now, this is hard to do well. There has to be some progression where you can do more difficult things as your characters develop. But it's bad if this is done by simply having some easy areas and just not telling you what they are. That is, if you have to blunder around the whole world to find the one or two dungeons that beginning characters can actually survive, with no direction, that's bad.

What Romancing SaGa does is base everything on how many battles you've fought. The more battles you fight, the stronger the enemies are in any given area, and the more events open up. This allows you to go most places in the game right away. Apparently you could theoretically fight tons of battles in the first area you arrive at, and the event leading to the last boss would appear.

Apparently the final boss's strength is also based on your number of battles. I was seeing some English stuff about this game where people were saying the final boss was nearly impossible and required savefile hex editing to even stand a chance; I can't imagine this is true, so it must be some aspect of the game that was lost in translation or without access to the instruction manual.

The female choices
I went with the female hunter (the second choice), who was raised in the Lost Forest by a witch. The game gives no default name so I named her Katarina; evidently her "real" name is Claudia but I don't know if this is in the instruction booklet or in other materials. I didn't know at the time that in the PS2 remake she's played by Minaguchi Yuko, who is one of my favorite seiyuu.
A beary good friend
You start off with two animal companions: Silven the wolf and Brau the bear.

Cutest starting party in any RPG?
The only character-specific event for Katarina happens right at the beginning, when you have to save Jean from Orcs, thus giving you your first fight.


The Tolkien estate can't sue if they can't read the text
As you can see, the battles look a lot like the Final Fantasy tradition, and especially like IV. There are some important differences, though. There are three lines for both the enemies and allies. Only certain weapons or spells can hit to and from different rows, and spells may target an entire row. You can move back and forth in the rows. You can also equip multiple weapons and choose between them -- fortunately they got rid of the system from the GB games where weapons only have a limited number of uses before they break. 

After you rescue Jean, you progress to the nearby castle town. This is the end of Katarina's specific events, so from here on out it's total freedom. One immediate problem is money. Everything costs a lot, and enemies drop very little money. I've read this gets better as you progress, but for now I can't even afford basic armor or spells.

If you can read Japanese you know how annoying this text is
So far I've accomplished two things: I got a second party member (Grey) and went to a mining town, killing some monsters who were trying to steal the gold. Back in town, I recovered some money that had been stolen by thieves (which I had a chance to take for myself), and also defeated some cultists under the town that had captured a girl for sacrifice. That seems to have exhausted everything I can do in the first town at least for now, so I took a boat to several other places but haven't found much of interest yet.
One of the maps
Travel works by leaving a location, and then being presented with a map. You can only go to places once you hear about them from a person or party member -- this does limit the freedom that the game gives you quite a bit. Also the boats to different areas cost a lot of money. I suppose they had to make the choice between this and aimless wandering in an outside wilderness.
Brau, don't sleep!
If anyone has general tips for this game, I would welcome them. I feel like knowing that fighting battles advances events helped me out a lot -- even if I'm just wandering aimlessly at least I will eventually cause some new events or characters to appear.

3 comments:

  1. Let's see, some mostly spoiler-free tips...

    The seven potential main characters whom you didn't pick, and who don't join as part of your character's specific story (e.g. Grey in Claudia's quest) will appear in pubs. They move from town to town every few dozen battles you fight (on a fixed schedule, not randomly) If you remove a main character from your party, they'll eventually reappear in some pub or other and you can recruit them again. However, characters other than the eight mains (e.g. Silven and Brau) are generally gone for good if you ditch them.

    Until you're close to the end of the game, it's a good idea to keep your party size to three people maximum. Because of the row system, three is the largest party you can have while giving everyone free choice of weapons to use. Also, RS has the same issue as FFL2 where if you win a battle in the first turn before some of your characters have moved, the characters who didn't get their turn won't gain action-dependent stats like weapon or magic levels (only it's even worse than in FFL2, because in FFL2 only humans and mutants depend on battle actions to gain stats, but in RS everyone does. Like many of RS's annoyances, this is fixed in the sequels)

    When you re-recruit a character whom you previously removed from your party, they will have gained some stats and levels with whatever weapons and magic you left them with. So by rotating your party members periodically (and not stripping their weapons when you leave them--stripping their armor is okay, though) you can build everyone up for the time you're ready to take on a full party.

    Using a weapon's special attacks doesn't count as using the weapon for stat-training purposes, so stick to regular attacks as much as possible (another annoyance that's fixed in the sequels).

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, I'll keep those in mind. I guess I don't need Silven? He barely does anything anyway.

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    2. The only thing good about Silven and Brau is their built-in armor at the very beginning of the game, before you can afford anything. Unlike the GB games' monsters, the only special mechanic they have is a negative one, namely not being able to equip anything.

      Something I forgot to mention in the previous comment: Quests appearing and characters moving between towns is related to the number of battles you've fought, but the state of the world only actually changes when you finish a quest or when you enter certain specific locations from the map or by ship (Isthmus and North Point are two that I know about). This is probably meant to ensure that the world doesn't change under your feet in an unnatural way (if time constantly advanced, then you could go into the sewers, kill a few fish, emerge and the town you're in might suddenly be occupied by pirates)

      Oh, and re the font: If you've ever seen this internet meme:

      メ几
      木又してでも うばいとる

      ...well, this game is where it comes from (a conversation option allowing your character to obtain a certain valuable item by extremely unheroic means)

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