Review: Unlimited Saga (PS2)

Unlimited SaGa
Genre: Non-Traditional RPG
Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: Teen
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 6/18/03
Official Home Page: U-Saga.com

Squaresoft (and now Square Enix) is known for quite a few different series of games. There is of course Final Fantasy and Seiken Densetsu (the Mana series, in America) for Square, and on the Enix side of things there is the Dragon Quest and Star Ocean series. But one of Square’s lesser-known series in America is the SaGa series. Spawning 9 titles in Japan, including the Romancing SaGa and SaGa Frontier series, the SaGa games have been pretty popular and have a decent following. This is only the third release of a SaGa title in America, the first two being SaGa Frontier and SaGa Frontier 2. One of the series traditions is throwing tradition out the window and being totally unique. Unlimited SaGa is no different.

Before we begin with the review, I just wanted to say a few things. First of all, I’ve only played one other SaGa title (SaGa Frontier 2), so there is very little to compare this game to, so I won’t do so in many cases. Also, since I had heard bad things about this game, and wasn’t too overly impressed with SaGa Frontier 2, I decided to rent this title rather than buying it. And of course, I got no manual of any kind, so I had to figure a lot out, so please excuse me if I get some details wrong in that regard.

Oh, and despite being a Square Enix whore, I’m going to be completely unbiased here. I threw out every bad thing I heard about the game and am looking at it like it’s fresh and I know nothing. So sit back, relax, and enjoy. This is gonna be a wild ride. Errr, maybe not.

Story
This game features 7 main characters that you can choose from at the beginning. Each has their own story that you experience. Their paths cross and at some point, the 7 join together for a common goal: to find the 7 Wonders of the World.

The characters are Laura, Judy, Ruby, Mythe, Kurt, Armic, and Ventus. All come from different backgrounds and have different back-stories that are explained in their particular journeys. For my game, I picked Armic, because he’s a lazy Chapa (which is like a squirrel) and I figured since I’m lazy, it’d be a perfect fit. His mission is to get a tablet deciphered and gather items to help make a spell to create rain for his village.

Despite all the different quests and adventures you can go on, the story is unfortunately light. You don’t get to hear much of a story except on major quests, and even then, it’s very brief. The optional quests give you little side stories that are completely unrelated to your own. This aspect of the game could have been improved upon greatly.

Gameplay
As I said before, this is anything BUT a traditional RPG. Everything you may be used to or may like in an RPG is not present in this game. In some cases, the uniqueness is good, but in many cases it’s bad.

First off, towns are navigated not by walking, but by moving your cursor over the shop or building you want to go to, and even a large town probably only has 3 buildings you can go to, and only one of those will actually be available. The primary places in towns are Lodges, where you can buy items, save your game, talk to a few people (some of which will go with you on adventures) and find a mission to go on. Missions are unusual as well. Rather than getting money for an adventure, you get enhancements that improve your adventuring or fighting skills. I’ll speak a little more on that later.

Once you have actually undertaken an adventure, you are put on a map. Rather than walking on the map, you have a figure that hops from area to area, kind of like a board game. It also plays somewhat like a Zork style game, where you just move from area to area instantaneously. Some areas have obstacles, some have bodies of water you must swim across, and some you can just walk through. For the first two, to pass, you need skills like Obstacle Crossing or Swimming, which are some of the aforementioned Enhancements you gain after completing an adventure. You can gain others, such as Lockpick and Diffuse Traps, of which the applications are obvious. You’ll also run across monsters on the map, and occasionally, they will not attack you, so you can either move on or get a preemptive strike on them (which does absolutely nothing, in all reality).

Battles are an interesting affair as well. Each battle lets you have 5 attacks spread out amongst your party members. If you wanted, you could have one character use all 5 turns, and the rest of the party would hop off screen, and be protected from damage. The HP system is very unique in the fact that if you lose all your HP, you won’t necessarily die, because each character also has LP, which is kind of like extra lives in the fact that when you run out of LP, it’s Game Over. But it is possible for you to lose LP without losing much HP too. This is one of the negative things about the game; you can’t tell how much LP damage an enemy will do.

The attack system is one of the best things about the game, but also one of the most frustrating. Each character can equip up to 2 weapons, and you can use both in a battle, as well as magic that may be available on accessories or armor. Over time, your characters can learn new skills for their weapons, but unless I’m missing some very fundamental facet of the game (again, no manual, and GameFAQs has only 1 very useless FAQ for me), there is no way to make your characters learn new skills. You can also do combos between your 5 attacks, which will increase the damage done, but the enemy can break up a combo and do more damage themselves. Again, you can’t really tell when the enemy’s turns are in relation to your own 5 turns, so you can’s really judge whether or not they will break up a combo. Also, your characters can learn special attacks that aren’t really that much better than the standard attacks, and that too is something you can’t really judge. Executing one of the special attacks involves hitting a certain place on the attack reel. Also, as with the previous US SaGa title, weapons have durability and can break without any notice. Sure, it tells you how many durability points a title has, but it won’t tell you when it’s about to break, or when it DOES break, so you have to keep track of your weapon if you don’t want those precious skills to go to waste.

Overall, there are a lot of fun and innovative things about the game, but there is too much reliance on luck. Luck to execute combos and luck to learn new skills and special attacks. There is an unfortunate lack of skill required to play the game. The only real skill one would need is patience, because it can be extremely frustrating at times. It’s truly a pity when something with so much potential is ruined by lack of forethought.

Another big complaint is that the only leveling up you can do is by learning the new skills (again, luck) and by completing missions. And then, none of your actual stats increase except for HP, and even that is just a minute improvement. The LP NEVER increases, which is a decently big flaw. In addition, even though you never increase your stats, the enemies DO, and just by playing the game, the enemies get harder and stronger. And what happens when you finish all the adventures you can except for 1, and the boss is too hard? Well, normally you’d level up, but in this, you can’t do that. You can only try to get skills, but all the while, the monsters are getting stronger. Again, so much potential wasted. The unique way of traversing dungeons is very nice, but that doesn’t make up for the poor battle system.

Graphics
This is probably the best aspect about the game, but what else would you expect from Square? What was once a company known for its epic storytelling is now known for graphical quality. Despite that, the graphics aren’t without their flaws.

The game uses a modified type of cel shading that isn’t really cel shading. Apparently called Sketch Motion, it is a type of technique that is used primarily for the opening scene and is really truly very nice. Unfortunately, I do not like the character designs at all. Though they are somewhat anime inspired, the characters look malformed. I don’t know what it is about them, but they just look wrong.

Despite the ugly characters, the graphics look hand painted, and the execution is beautiful. The pictures of the towns are really nice and detailed, even if they’re just static pictures. The graphics in the dungeons aren’t anything to write home about, since it’s basically just the map. The best graphics probably come during battle, where all the characters and enemies look really good.

Sound
This is another aspect of the game that had a lot of potential that wasn�t realized. The music itself is good. I mean, I can’t complain about it. It served its purpose well, and when I paid attention to it, I realized that there was a good deal of quality to it, but it didn’t leave a lasting impression with me. I didn’t jump up and say “WOW, this is some damn good music” like I did with Arc the Lad.

On the downside, the voice acting in the game was pretty poor. Granted, I didn’t hear ALL the voices in the game, but the ones I did hear weren’t very good. Maybe they were the same group that did the voices of Final Fantasy X? None of the voices sounded familiar, with the exception of one voice that sounded a little like Mona Marshall (she did voice Brave Fencer Musashi after all), but I doubt it was her.

Fun Factor
For a game that could be screaming “I’m fun! I’m fun! Play me!” this game instead screams “I’m different! I’m special! I ride the short bus!” Though the game could add up to quite a few hours if you play all the different characters, I don’t know if anyone could sit through it all.

Yes, I’ll come clean. I didn’t play the game for very long. I played it for like 4 or 5 hours on one character. I would have played longer because I really and truly enjoyed some aspects of it, but I got to a point where I had the option of going on two adventures, both of which were not possible for me to win. I tried multiple times to improve my skills so I COULD defeat the bosses, but it never helped. So I gave up. And I think I am justified in that because if a game is that hard and I’m only a few hours in, it has some serious problems. The frustration level is very high as well, because when you die, it sits on a black screen playing sad music for several minutes. I know that if you’re like me, when you die, you want to either quit right then, or immediately load your save game and try again.

Like I said before, this game could be a lot of fun if it only tried. I really liked how unique the map was and the different skills you could use because it reminded me not only of Zork, but also Dungeons and Dragons. I liked how you could get skills to unlock chests and potentially get a decent item. Though usually I got money, which isn’t worth a lot in this game early on. In my estimation, all this game needed to be REALLY good is a better battle system, one that is more traditional and that you could level up your stats. Without it, it’s just an exercise in frustration.

Ratings
Gameplay: 5
Graphics: 7
Sound: 7
Fun Factor: 5

Short Attention Span Summary
This game could have been very good if a little bit more thought was put into the design. I wouldn’t have been that hard, but then again, it wouldn’t have been as “unique”. As I’ve said in some other reviews, it’s not good to sacrifice gameplay just to be innovative. This game isn’t for everyone. Most people would play it for 5 minutes and give it up. I don’t know if I could even suggest that someone shell out $5 to rent it. If you have a Blockbuster games freedom pass, pick it up for a day just to see, and then take it back if you don’t like it. I honestly think only diehard SaGa fans will truly appreciate the game, and even then, I don’t expect them to enjoy it.