Preview: Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song (PS2)

Publisher: SquareEnix / Developer: SquareEnix / Genre: RPG / Release Date: TBA

The Minstrel Song was originally released on the Super Famicon, so while many are familiar with the later games in the series (SaGa Frontier 1 and 2, and Unlimited SaGa), this latest re-release of the earlier game will be a completely new adventure for quite a few players.

The SaGa games are known for their departure from traditional RPGs usually linear play. Boasting a ‘free scenario selection’, players can choose from a number of characters and play through each adventure in a variety of ways. Unlimited SaGa deviated from the previous SaGa games and was not well received in North America, but seeing as Minstrel Song is a remake, this shouldn’t be a problem. SaGa Frontier had a fair showing here, so hopefully the developers have taken that into strong consideration.

Minstrel Song is going to be more than just a straight port of the original over to a new system, the new game has completely revamped 3D graphics, new character designs, and two new characters who will alter the plot. Sprites and battles are all pretty in 3D style, and artist Tomomi Kobayashi is back for original/concept art in the game.

Not only have the graphics been… improved [it feels wrong and unfaithful to say that, like my SNES is going to leave me for another] but characters have been altered, and the plot changed to adapt two new characters. The game is being released as Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song. The graphics are 3D and the characters have been updated to accommodate the change. They’re well done but… sort of creepy. They are mostly like sprites except they have realistic faces. It looks like someone dropped an anvil on the cast of FF8. But the good thing is, the whole cast is back for the makeover [I think that’s a good thing]. Albert, Claudia, Sif, Hawk, Aisha, Barbara, Jamil, and Gray will all be playable characters. A few remain mostly unscathed appearance wise, others have minor [sometimes inexplicable] changes, and Hawk… well let’s just say the years haven’t been kind to Hawk. EYEPATCHED! While I personally like my re-releases with the same crapass graphics they had originally, this game has been modernized enough to perhaps bridge the gap between people new to gaming, and those who still miss GrImps. Hopefully this will be one of many re-releases in the coming year; there are many more great SNES/Super Famicon games that I for one would love to see again. (Or, I just don’t want to pay 100$ on eBay for a used SNES game /bitters)

Battles progress as the player encounters enemies visible on screen. Once the battle begins, commands are given to all the characters. Most players will be relieved that the strange chessboard style of Unlimited SaGa has not been revisited. The Life Point system in previous releases had the character have two sets of life points, one was able to be replenished a la normal hp, but once the other was gone, so was your character. A slightly uncommon feature not seen in many RPGs (Fire Emblem comes to mind as one I’ve played), some players enjoy this feature for the ‘danger element’. Some players get really angry at the game and abandon it to play Harvest Moon. We shall see how it holds up this time.

The music of the original has been updated with the graphics, but will still stir some nostalgia in players of the original.

If everything goes well, Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song will be the music that sweetens North American players to the series. But I will own my ranty bias- I don’t like the SaGa games [sans the art of course]. Playing Saga Frontier made me want to hurt myself. I mean, linear alone is no good, once the game is done it’s done. But a player does need some direction. And the old players, do need remnants of their original game. It’s my opinion that the SaGa games haven’t reached a nice balance between the two, and this ‘newest’ game’s focus on the scenario selection makes me wonder if they ever got the hint. It’s too early to tell, though. We shall reserve judgment until the final reviewable.

The game will be hitting stores in Japan this Spring, with a U.S. release to be announced. Keep it here as we get more info.