By Drew D. / August 12th, 2021
|Title||The 7th Saga|
|Original Release Date||JP: April 23, 1993
NA: September 1993
Whenever The 7th Saga comes to mind, it’s always a vexing thing for me, for when I think about this particular title, it stirs a number of conflicting emotions within me. At times, I love it, for the sheer epic-ness of the adventure, and for its distinguished aesthetics, which still impress me today. Other times, I downright loathe it, lesser for its lacking narrative, more for its notably unforgiving gameplay. This game is an endeavor, not to be challenged casually, for this game does not test skill so much as it tests patience and endurance. To say The 7th Saga is a tough game wouldn’t be wrong, but rather, I think a better term to describe it would be a trek. This game is a trek; one for only the most devoted of JPRG enthusiast; one that, personally, ever challenges my patience and drains my endurance.
The 7th Saga takes place in a land called Ticondera, where Lemele, the current king and son of legendary hero, Saro, has recruited seven individuals to become his apprentices. After five years of training at his palace, Lemele tasks these seven to seek out the seven runes that are hidden across the world. These runes contain immense power, and whomever acquires all seven will become Lemele’s heir. And so, the seven individuals set out into the world; surviving, competing against one another, and battling the evil forces who have come to possess the runes. However, the legend of Saro, the secrets of the runes, and the evil which once haunted this land in the distant past will all play their parts in the fates of the apprentices.
The 7th Saga possesses a fairly serviceable story, in that what seems like a straightforward plot hides a few twists and turns along the way. During play, we learn more about the history of Saro and his epic battle with an evil being named Gorsia. We also receive hints of the individual reasons as to why these apprentices wish to obtain the runes, along with how those reasons influence the thinking and actions of these characters. Throughout play, the simplistic, overarching plot point of finding the runes gains a touch of depth through these inclusions of history and, though to a lesser extent, character background. It all serves to create just enough intrigue to carry the story to its conclusion.
However, those minimal touches of depth also expose the glaring flaws of the story. Simply put, there needed to be more: More dialogue, more character development, and more depth and details. Especially among the characters, I wish we could see more emotion in their actions and interactions. Instead, it’s a dry, uninspired effort. And, the shortcomings are only made more apparent by the pacing of gameplay, for there will be terribly long stretches where hardly any story tidbits are offered. The narrative doesn’t help things either, as many of the most critical story points are delivered by exposition or long, emotionless rants. Lastly, what little appeal the story possesses during a first playthrough is lost upon its conclusion. There just isn’t enough offered by the story for a revisit. The story has its moments of intrigue, with the few plot twists that may entice committed players to see the journey to its end, but the story falls short in its ability to offer any more beyond that.
As I mentioned, there is an unfortunate lack of character development that also hurts the overall story performance. Perhaps having seven characters was a stretch, for they all tend to blend together regardless of who you choose to play as. There are hints at individuality, with some characters receiving more than others, like Lejes the demon, not hiding his arrogance nor shying away regarding his desire for power. Or Esuna the elf, treating the task as an amusement at first. Yet, despite these glimmers of individuality, ultimately, they all tend to behave more similarly than not throughout the campaign. Those initial reasons as to why they seek the runes are the only outstanding distinctions they receive. Add to this the severe lack of any genuine growth or development and you have a set of characters that are terribly forgettable. If the journey wasn’t worth the emotional investment, the characters certainly aren’t either.
Leaving its story behind, The 7th Saga’s gameplay is perhaps the most memorable aspect of the game, for both its strengths and its weaknesses. Starting with the good, at its core The 7th Saga features gameplay mechanics that would presently be considered traditional, in that play utilizes many of the aspects that we now consider part of the classic RPG style. Roaming from one town to the next, clearing dungeons in between, and, most notably, a model of menu-based interactions, including the use of menus for its archetype turn-based combat. At the time of the game’s debut, this game’s turn-based mechanic was exemplar with its clean, simple to use design, which would ultimately help pave the way for this style to be recognized as a standard within the genre.
Another strength to gameplay is the randomizing feature that alters the behaviors of the other apprentices. During the campaign, the other apprentices will suggest joining up with you or challenge you for your collected runes at certain points. Also, early in the game, it will be revealed that one apprentice wishes to eliminate the others through the hiring of a mercenary. This traitor, as well as where and when specific apprentices are available to team up with, or challenge, are all varied with each playthrough. This adds a bit of variety to gameplay and may force players to rethink their strategy during play.
Despite these few achievements, The 7th Saga possesses some major gameplay missteps, and due to a combination of these different flaws and quirks, the game has ultimately gained a reputation for being unforgiving in its approachability, especially for new players. Firstly, the game is tough. Common enemies will hit hard and can take a beating while every single boss battle can easily result in your swift defeat. The only way to stand a chance is to grind. And the grind is real. If you try to progress into new areas without first amply grinding, you will fail. Even after grinding, you will often only achieve a sense of adequacy in level against enemies in each area. And so, gameplay quickly becomes a test of patience as you’re forced to grind when reaching any new location, every time. New town; grind. New dungeon; grind. Rinse, repeat, all to have enough of a fighting chance to proceed. It’s a slow process, to say the least.
Another standout issue is the high encounter rate. Battles occur far too often, breaking any kind of play flow and dragging play down to a crawl. Despite a radar that shows enemy positions, they are faster than you, meaning you can’t exactly outrun them. Also, the maps of the game are large and have a bit of complexity to them, and so with that high encounter rate comes an ultimate snail’s pace for progress, along with pure dissuasion when it comes to exploration. There will also be necessary backtracking, as the need to recoup at a town and restock supplies will be significantly often. Due to the difficulty, after a major fight, like a mid-boss or boss fight, you’ll need to retreat regardless of level. Fortunately, the wind rune, which can be obtained early in the game, allows you to warp, but not always within a dungeon, so more battles are an inevitability even when a fast getaway is needed. Lastly, for those playing blindly, the encounters become a far worse issue as the time spent finding the right paths or roaming the overworld are compounded by the constant interruptions. Battle after battle, gameplay wears thin real fast.
The last aspect I wish to address are the overall imbalance issues that plague the game. I’ve already spoken of the difficulty of enemies and the like, however, depending on how you progress in the game and in what order you choose to collect the runes, you may inadvertently set yourself up for failure later. Some of the runes must be taken from the other apprentices, who are always at the same level as your main character, and so they may possess a combination of stats and spells that make for a virtually unwinnable scenario. Speaking of the apprentices, they too suffer from imbalance. Some of them are clearly better choices to play as or team up with than others due to their spells, equips, or growth potentials. Olvan the dwarf will nearly always be a lesser choice than Kamil the knight due to his lacking speed and magic. Lux the Tetujin robot will hardly ever receive new equipment, forcing a reliance on leveling for stat boosts, so he too is rarely an optimal choice, especially as you approach mid game. Truly, the imbalance makes some of these apprentices so unappealing that you may never want to use them ever, unless you purposely want to make things harder than they already are. Taken in its entirety, imbalance plus the overly frequent battles, the need for grinding, the need to recover and restock often; all of it adds up to an experience that’s far more obnoxious than fun and challenges temper and patience above all else.
Counter to the flawed story and the tedious gameplay, The 7th Saga features some truly remarkable aesthetics. Visually, this game is beautiful, and I’m impressed with its uncommon level of detail. The towns and nature locales of the overworld are vivid and colorful. I also admire the spritework throughout, especially the enemy designs. They are detailed and intimidating, and some are so well designed that they’re downright horrifying in a good way. The bosses in particular have some fantastic designs, matching looks with their sheer power and ferocity. This is the one positive of the game that genuinely sticks with me; just how well the visuals convey the liveliness of the world, as well as the danger of the journey.
The soundtrack is also noteworthy, for each piece fits its intended purpose or locale well. While not the most memorable of sound scores, I do appreciate each track for their ability bring much needed mood and a touch of depth to the world and its events. Perhaps it’s because of the shortcomings of the story I notice how supportive this soundtrack can be to the overall experience. Taken altogether, the visuals and audio breathe life into an experience shrouded in stress and ennui.
The 7th Saga is a difficult recommendation. This is not a JRPG for those looking for an emotionally immersive experience, or those wanting more complex, intriguing gameplay mechanics that other titles of the genre can offer. While its aesthetics remain impressive, its average story helps not, and the lack of character development hurts. However, its harsh gameplay will remain the biggest aversion for newcomers. Truly, I would only recommend the game to players seeking that straining, rough, old school level of challenge that thoroughly tests a player’s patience and mental endurance. Finally, unless you know exactly what you’re doing or closely following a guide, this game will take a serious time commitment. As I said, the grind is immense, and with its lopsided difficulty, slow combat, and high encounter rate, veteran players may still take up to 30+ hours to complete a playthrough, whereas first time players going in blindly can easily approach the 50 hour mark. The 7th Saga has glimmers of magic, but they are buried beneath a play effort whose demand is nigh hopeless to justify.
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