Emperors SaGa is the latest game in Akitoshi Kawazu’s SaGa series to come out this September in Japan. It is a mobile title headed for smartphones, and Square Enix is teaming up with GREE for this free-to-play entry in the series. In the game, you will take control of an Emperor who is tasked with saving the world from some sort of ‘crisis.’ Supposedly, the game will feature characters and enemies from previous SaGa games, and will boast a new card-battle system.
To someone who has poured hours into the free roaming, hardcore experience that is SaGa Frontier, this news comes as…bittersweet. On one hand, I pretty much thought Square Enix had declared this series as dead. On the other, I am happy to feed on the crumbs of any new kind of SaGa game. To my surprise, I had found out that there were several remakes of the early SaGa titles for the Nintendo DS. Unfortunately, those were Japan-exclusive. OpRainfall’s Jonathan Higgins wrote an article dealing with that topic.
Speaking of Japan-exclusive games, the SaGa series has largely been kept in it’s homeland, out of reach of western players. The first titles on GameBoy did make it over the pond, and were in fact renamed as Final Fantasy Legend in America (to the success of Final Fantasy, but to the detriment of SaGa). Beyond the first three titles, the Super Nintendo trilogy labeled as Romancing SaGa was completely held from western release.
Ever since the series has made the jump bearing its rightful name, it has met with nothing but middling success. While SaGa Frontier was a success in Japan, selling a million copies total, upon western release the game was misunderstood and failed to mimic the same success from its home country. American gamers just didn’t understand the open-world Free Scenario System that this series has continuously championed. SaGa Frontier II also made the jump, and was received with a slightly better result. Personally, I would say that the original SaGa Frontier is my favorite of the two, in terms of having the deepest, most intricate battle system and a vast world to explore with lots of interesting characters. However, SaGa Frontier II has a deeper, more personal story.
In a stroke of bad luck, the SaGa series’ most ambitious title was brought to our shores and practically put a nail in the SaGa coffin. Unlimited SaGa was a game that was perhaps a bit too ambitious in its ideas, and upon release, it was met with depressing reviews and sales. I own a copy of this game mainly for the sake of owning it: it is indeed a game that is almost unplayable, but for some reason, it has a beautiful nature about it and I consider it an artistic experiment in the world of video games. For that reason alone I find it worthy to keep in my collection.
Despite the ‘failure’ that was Unlimited SaGa, Square Enix still chose to bring the PS2 remake of the original Romancing SaGa classic to the west. But, I think, the damage was done. Even though Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song was a return to form for the SaGa series, critics still lambasted it for its open-ended world design and style choice. This is quite unfortunate, because the remake of Romancing SaGa has quite a bit of depth and charm to discover, and will keep you playing for countless hours. You could play just one of the 60 hour quests and be satisfied, or, if you want a more complete view of the world, go for all eight of them if you are feeling brave enough. Unfortunately, shortly after release, Romancing Saga: Minstrel Song had its price slashed to a fraction of the original cost. You could pick up the game new for close to $10 while it was still being stocked.
The sad fate of the SaGa series in the west has made me look critically at how games are perceived. Lately, there has been large demand for games that ‘give players choice,’ and ones that boast ‘vast open-ended world designs.’ I find it rather ironic that Japan has had its very own series with said qualities for at least 20 years- and yet no one cared or payed attention.
Looking upon images of Emperors SaGa, I am filled with moments of nostalgia and happiness, mixed with despair and the realization of the hard truth that this series has been left for dead in my country. Either way, we can cross our fingers that Emperors SaGa may still make it to our shores. As a member of Operation Rainfall, I will be chomping at the bit to cover anything new in this beloved series.
Now, feast your eyes on the beautiful artwork of Tomomi Kobayashi: