ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE: Import Reviews are still an extremely new endeavor for the oprainfall Staff. In the coming weeks, you may see several from folks like Will Whitehurst or Jodie Langford who understand Japanese, but rest assured, anything coming from me, Jonathan Higgins, comes from someone who has no understanding of the language whatsoever.
|Title: SaGa 3: Jikuu no Hasha – Shadow or Light
Publisher: Square Enix
Console: Nintendo DS
Release Date: January 6th, 2011
As I tore open the package from Japan containing my brand new copy of SaGa 3: Jikuu no Hasha – Shadow or Light for the DS, I couldn’t help but think back to a time before the Operation Rainfall campaign, before Square Enix became rather obsessed with social games. Some of you may dismiss this as another Jonathan-talks-about-how-good-things-were-twenty-years-ago tirade, but…I’m actually referring to September 17th, 2009. ’Twas the Japanese release date of SaGa 2: Hihou Densetsu – Goddess of Destiny.
I still have clear memories of reading news of the game on GoNintendo, insisting Square Enix would have to give these remakes a chance in the West and, once and for all, dismiss the Final Fantasy Legend name in hopes of giving the SaGa franchise a new breath of life overseas. I waited…and waited…and after some time went by and there were rumblings of SaGa 3 being in development on the DS, I became quite sad. With the chance of playing these remakes in English a distant memory (by legal means, mind you), I wrote at length about keeping the past in the past and how I was hesitant to watch or play through SaGa 3 DS.
I do not regret changing my mind over the past few months, particularly while writing my first MOSAIC piece just over a month ago. Without further ado, let’s discuss the strengths and weaknesses of SaGa 3: Jikuu no Hasha – Shadow or Light.
How Import-Friendly is SaGa 3 DS?
Did you play the original Game Boy game? What about Final Fantasy Legend II? If you’ve answered “yes” to both questions, then SaGa 3 DS can be considered quite import-friendly. I was able to make my way to the end, see the credits roll, and experience several of the game’s New Game+ features, if only because of my familiarity with the original game and how the franchise treated its battle system in the past.
The battle system of Final Fantasy Legend III played more like the early Final Fantasy games than its predecessors. I’ve included the video above as evidence of the original game’s roots, as well as its surprising versatility. What I’m trying to say is that the DS remake completely does away with the game’s old battle system in favor of making it more like a conventional SaGa game—which is to say, more like Final Fantasy Legend II. SaGa 3 DS ditches experience and level-ups in favor of conventional stat grinding, seen in games like Chrono Cross, to name a more modern example.
How import-friendly you’ll consider SaGa 3 DS will directly correlate with how easy you find it to track your characters’ stats and growth despite the game being in another language. Since SaGa 3 DS indicates how your stats grow in battle (they do so instantly, by the way—no need to wait until after the battle is over), it shouldn’t really be a problem. But I won’t lie when I say the game’s new system was a huge barrier of entry for me. I saw clips online and thought, “There’s no way I’ll be able to understand all this stuff!” I thought wrong, of course, and that’s why I’m writing this review.
Final Fantasy Legend III featured a robust world map that was open to exploration pretty instantaneously. SaGa 3 DS, by contrast, features a way more linear world map system that has you unlock new locales on the map by talking to various townspeople, completing side quests, and what have you. The game’s top screen displays the map, as well as a handy finger that points out where your destination should be in order to advance the main story. Between each major destination are small fields, cliffs, and other environments where you can hunt for treasure, specific side-quest enemies, and more. I suppose ditching the boundless world map in favor of a more linear one could be to the game’s credit in terms of import-friendliness, but…take that as you will.
To conclude, SaGa 3 DS is significantly less import-friendly for those who have not played the original game or do not understand how the classic SaGa/Final Fantasy Legend battle system works. There is very little hand-holding in this game; your only hope of not getting stuck is to stick with an FAQ or know Final Fantasy Legend III like the back of your hand as I do.
The World of Final Fantasy Legend III, Expanded
The story of Final Fantasy Legend III involved an evil entity flooding the world with an evil waterfall and spewing forth hundreds of evil monsters. Over three epochs of time (Past, Present and Future), one could see the devastating effects this waterfall had on the world (e.g., everything is submerged in the future, while the past is quite a bit drier). The goal of Arthur, Curtis, and Gloria, three kids sent from the future to the past by means of a time machine called the Talon, was to…stop their world from drowning. That plot is absolutely filled to the brim with basic JRPG tropes, and many of you will likely feel that such a plot cannot possibly age well.
And that’s why SaGa 3 DS expands on that plot: in order to do things a little differently. The characters of the Game Boy original, despite a translation by Ted Woolsey, had very little personality. The characters in the remake have a lot more personality, with quite a bit more dialogue as well as quite a bit more closeness between the hero, now called Dune, and the girl from the Present, formerly known as Sharon. Ladies and gentlemen, I might not understand Japanese, but I can certainly tell what’s happening when the camera pans down to two characters’ feet and the heroine gets really close to the hero, then moves away. I wouldn’t be surprised if that line of Japanese dialogue was translated as “*kiss*,” or something to that effect. I can promise that Arthur and Sharon’s relationship wasn’t offered up so blatantly in the original game.
Characters have more personality, and the time travel is given much more importance, as well. There is also a new character called “the Wanderer” in this remake. And while I couldn’t understand what he said, I could tell that each encounter with the Wanderer left the heroes contemplative of the consequences of their actions, as indicated by the camera switching to a scene involving an important character from each time period after the fact.
Who is the Wanderer? The main game doesn’t tell you, as far as I know. Playing from beginning to end, SaGa 3 DS very closely follows the story of the original game, with added bits regarding the Wanderer.
Playing certain side quests and talking to certain characters near the end of the game, however, allows for a certain chain of events that reveals the Wanderer’s true identity—and a few major changes because of this revelation. And the real twist completely changes my thoughts regarding the “simplicity” of the original game’s plot. I’m not going to spoil anything in my review of the game, but I must say that seeing this storyline twist for myself was completely worth the price of admission and all the lengths I went through to understand what was happening.
The graphics and music of SaGa 3 DS aren’t anything truly remarkable. They certainly help breathe new life into the grayscale, chiptuned environments of the original game, but I would hardly consider the presentation of the game groundbreaking. The newly renovated battle system and expanded story are where this game truly shines, which is a bit unfortunate in the case of an import review. Still…
The gameplay is certainly worth praising. The consequences of the new battle system means that the game has become a little more grind-heavy and luck-based, but the challenge of this new battle system is certainly there. I considered Final Fantasy Legend III a relatively simple romp—grind to win, master magic, wield legendary swords with little consequence…
SaGa 3 DS certainly forces players to become more aware of the consequences of their actions, both in terms of story and in battle. Virtually everything (weapons, magic, even legendary swords) expires and must be replenished or repaired with a hefty sum of cash. Bosses are more aware of this fact than ever and will sometimes force you to waste your resources through cheap attacks (especially in terms of the final boss, who has new forms and is excruciatingly painful to face unprepared).
NOTE: The game features an easy mode that removes the expiration of weapons and allows for their infinite use. Should you decide to import the game, removing one of its major challenges may prove beneficial.
Battle structure is further expanded upon by allowing players to summon carbon copies of their past and future selves with a simple press of the Y button later on in the game. Allowing yourself to attack twice is a handy new addition to even the odds against cheap foes. Furthermore, friend and foe alike can team up with one another for added devastation. And like the remake of SaGa 2, battles are not random—they are activated by running into an enemy you can see in real time. And two or more enemies on the same map can be grouped together and fought in chain battles, which means more challenge and less breathing room.
I shall always hold Final Fantasy Legend III close to my heart. This import review is mostly geared towards the select individuals who share my sentiments towards the original game and franchise, as the import-friendliness of this title would be completely lost on someone approaching this series for the first time. I can only recommend this game for those with memories of the original and the same determination I had to see this remake through. For those on the fence: jump over to my side, because the new environments, new bits of story, and especially the intrigue of the Wanderer are worth experiencing this game for.
For the rest, SaGa 3: Jikuu no Hasha – Shadow or Light is an exceptionally text-heavy game with little hand-holding and quite a few places to get you stuck for a while if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. I can promise you that your cash would be better spent elsewhere. But, as far as RPGs go, it is an extremely solid, high-quality, and challenging experience…something Square Enix needs to embrace going towards the future.
Import copy from Japan purchased by author