Posted by: seanmalstrom | April 26, 2021

Email: SaGa Frontier’s still better after all of these years, and has aged better than Octopath will

Hey Sean, Glad to see you awake from your blog hibernation lol. Was saving this email for the moment I saw signs of your life back on here again.

So anyway, I was busy attempting to do a big review of this game and compare it to Octopath Traveler, as SaGa Frontier was clearly the target of their company’s history the developers were trying to beat ([just take a look at the back of the box art for the original US release if you don’t believe me](https://www.mobygames.com/images/covers/l/266657-saga-frontier-playstation-back-cover.jpg)), and they kinda did it. I was going to go into really huge detail, but life circumstances had to cut it really short to just a bunch of bullet points.

First off, Octopath Traveler had a really big advantage over SaGa Frontier, [being that the latter was literally rushed out the door](https://tcrf.net/SaGa_Frontier) (that, and Xenogears since they were released at around the same time, hmm…). Anyway, to show you how badly it was rushed, here’s some key things that were wrong with the game:

– Poorly optimized save system. You had to create a system save file that took one block of memory (it kept a record of your progress for each character story you’ve played, which unlocks a Chrono Trigger-esque Easter egg upon immediately completing the last character story in the game), and each actual save file of said character’s story took two blocks of system memory. Considering the standard Playstation Memory Card stored only 15 blocks and were one of the most expensive accessories that you needed to buy if you know, WANTED TO SAVE YOUR PROGRESS FOR ANY GAME THAT YOU PLAYED, you needed a minimum of 1/5th of your memory card free just to be able to play this game properly. No, just because you can save anywhere at anytime and have a maximum of 15 party members is no excuse; final fantasy tactics only took one block of space and had to store more data than just 15 party members. Same with metal gear solid.
– There were sections of your character’s story that had stat check encounters that you had to guess through trial and error to see if you were at the right level to overcome it. The thing is, the pacing’s really, really off; you could be in one part of the character’s story and take care of the issue without a problem, then immediately go into the next part of the story and get completely wrecked because the boss’ stats were 3x that if the previous encounter. This is one pain point Octopath Traveler fixes, since it gives you a recommended baseline level you need to be at before you start the next “chapter” so to speak. Since the character’s stories were pretty short (like, ocotpath traveler short), a lot of time was spent usually finding the party members you wanted and grinding the party that you’ve made and going through the same spots to get the spells/gear/skills before you decided to tackle the next encounter for each story. 
–  The other big problem with SaGa frontier stems from the previous bullet point: since it wasn’t too clear whether or not you were ready for the next “chapter” of the character’s story, you could be locked into a dungeon that you couldn’t escape from. The developers tried to mitigate this problem by implementing a Quick Save feature (yeah, even the developers were aware of how stupid their save system was) that instantly saved your current story progress inside the playstation’s system RAM for as long as the game was running  at the blink of eye (see how badly they programmed the memory card save feature?), which was meant for situations where you weren’t too sure if the next part of the story locked you into a dungeon you couldn’t leave if you realized you weren’t quite ready for it. Once again, octopath traveler fixes this problem by allowing you to backtrack if you realize you’re in over your head and can come back to that spot later when you’re better equipped. 
– SaGa Frontier, for its debut release on the PlayStation, was meant to have nine invidual character stories, but had to scrap one because the tone didn’t fit well with the other eight (!). Time constraints dropped it to 7, but realistically you had only six unique stories. 1 story had no real… story (Lute) since they didn’t even have any time flesh it out, let alone give you a proper hint to a specific NPC they’ll reply with something along the lines of HEY IF YOU TALK TO ME AGAIN I WILL SEND US TO THE FINAL DUNGEON AND YOU WON’T EVEN KNOW IT BECAUSE OF HOW RANDOM ENCOUNTERS WORK since you could literally run into them immediately from wandering around the overworld after the opening cutscene. Another story had its ending requirements changed (Asellus) to tie in more with her unique game mechanics instead of visiting certain locations (this change personally was a lot better).  

TL;DR- Octopath Traveler pretty much removed the pain points of  getting stuck in an unwinnable situation because you didn’t properly prepare (aka- grind) for the next section of the character’s story (except for Lute, because his only story segment triggers by talking to said NPC and agreeing to go there). However, SaGa Frontier still beats Octopath Traveler in a lot of ways:

– If you thought Octopath Traveler was hard, SaGa Frontier is brutal. The game does not hand-hold you as to how any aspect of combat actually works, let alone give you any tooltip as to what anything does. Depending on what species your party member is, they have different methods of learning skills, and certain story protagonists have access to ones not readily available on top of all this. This isn’t a big issue if you’ve played a SaGa title before, but considering this was my first SaGa game, it was the Square RPG that graduated me from a newb to an experienced veteran of the genre (it was so brutal that I thought the developers were wussies for making Saga Frontier 2’s combat less difficult and capping the damage to 9999 instead of… 99999? I never got that high of a number, only around 30K-ish). There is literally a boss in the game that doesn’t test you to see how well you can manage your party’s skill point reserve and pound their 6-digit HP down to zero, but how well you can do level 5 combination attacks, and you can’t spam the same skills to trigger said level 5 combination attacks all the time! Oh you know what else? You couldn’t run away from any fight. Ever. You either won, or died. Either that, or I never found that feature since I was playing the game without a manual and was a moron to not use gamefaqs for help.
– The graphics look really dated now (hey, no looking at the remaster yet!), but it’s still technically superior than Acquire’s efforts with their 2D-HD look using Unreal Engine (the combat engine, that is). The sprites look muddy, but they’re more animated (with no flag-warping tearing in the sprites either whenever the camera moves around!), have way more personality, and do a better job looking believable in a 3D space than Octopath Traveler does. They even did a good job blending in 3D effects with the sprites and the camera does stuff that not even Octopath Traveler can pull off, and are just barely coming to grips with in that PTSD game. I mean, [just look at this final boss fight.](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psdY0xgQu08) This comparison is unfair, but it goes to show you what Squaresoft could do at their peak with 2D sprite graphics (this technically wasn’t their peak; Legend of Mana and Saga Frontier 2 look much better, but still have crappy colors with slightly blurry sprites which I was never able to fathom why they did that until the Wha Happun? Series covered Bubsy 3D) compared to now where they have to relearn everything all over again
– Remember how I hinted about Lute’ story in regards to random encounters but never explained it yet? It’s pretty brilliant, actually. Simply put, the strength of the monsters scale to the overall stats of your main party (there’s a very technical reason as to why you can have up to three parties of 5 members, but I’m not going to go into that here). In other words, your main party can accidentally level up to the point where the random encounters are more difficult than the story bosses themselves, especially when you didn’t buy the right equipment to be able to deal/take the damage that scales up with the monsters you encounter! Sure, it makes no sense that you’re wandering around a high-tech factory and then SUDDENLY DRAGONS in your random encounter, but I’d rather have that instead of monsters that do fit the theme of the place but are a pushover because my party accidentally over-leveled or over-geared.
– This was also the last SaGa title that used a science fantasy setting. I didn’t have a manual to read, but apparently the reason the game is called SaGa Frontier is because the game modeled its setting after the Five Star Stories, where different planets contained different civilizations of differing technological and cultural settings and people can travel between them like they’re riding a bus. That’s why one story was a combination of charlie’s angels mixed with a detective plot that involves a fiancé murder, one that’s literally a homage to Japanese superheroes, another that’s high-tech, two that’s high-fantasy, one that’s gothic fantasy, and one that doesn’t have a story (sorry, Lute).

TL;DR- Sean, I think SaGa frontier is probably a good way to detox yourself after playing games from Squeenix’s amateur hour developers trying to emulate the magical success of using Unreal Engine like [Arc Systems does,](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ox11CCHilmo) but fail miserably at. I just took  a peek at the remastered graphics, and even I want to buy a hard copy from play-asia, despite putting 120 hours into the game many, many, many years ago.

The game is goofy as hell. There seems to be lack of cohesion. There already isn’t an overriding narrative. But I see things like a space ship as a party member (WTF!? Hahahaha), a girl character with bunny ears (oh no!), and other things that give me the cringe reaction.

I haven’t been able to get into the combat style of SAGA games. Maybe I need to put more time into it.

I don’t want to do direct comparisons, but if you love Saga Frontier, that’s great. Unfortunately, it looks like a game I would have difficulty getting into.


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