Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song- Remastered Review
Finally, players can experience the first 7 SaGa games, chronologically, on modern consoles! The first current gen SaGa port was Romancing Saga 2 in 2017. It’s taken 5 long years to finally get our hands on Romancing SaGa 1, in the form of Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song- Remastered. The inception of the SaGa series came in the form of Final Fantasy II, for the Famicom. It was different from the original Final Fantasy in a lot of ways, and those ideas would leave the mainline Final Fantasy series and become the SaGa GameBoy series. There were three games, released as Final Fantasy Legend I-III in North America. The series continued, on the Super Famicom, as Romancing SaGa 1-3. None of those titles made it to the Super Nintendo. SaGa Frontier for the PS1 was the 7th mainline SaGa title and is probably the most popular North American SaGa title to this day.
The Final Fantasy Legend games were bundled for the Switch and PC as Collection of SaGa: Final Fantasy Legend. Romancing SaGa 2, Romancing SaGa 3, and SaGa Frontier have gotten remasters for most modern consoles. But Romancing SaGa 1 hasn’t been available until now. Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song was a PS2 remake of Romancing SaGa 1, and it is now available on both PlayStations, Switch, and PC. JRPG fans can now experience the first 7 games in the SaGa saga, in chronological release order.
All About Freedom
The thing is, that kind of doesn’t matter much. The stories of the SaGa games are self-contained, and they’re not even close to the primary focus of the SaGa series. Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song- Remastered is all about freedom, exploration, combat, side-quests, and multiple characters. There are 8 protagonists. They can be chosen in any order. Each one has a short prologue and begins their quest in a different area of the world. The stories of the 8 protagonists do converge, but they’re not useable in each other’s quests. Each protagonist has a different set of party members, outside of the 8 protagonists. Most of the story content comes from the short character prologues, and eventual combined goal to fight a god of destruction.
The bulk of the story comes from classic JRPG gameplay though. Characters have to talk to NPCs in towns. Those NPCs flesh out the world, give optional quests, and unlock new areas to explore. Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song- Remastered is all about sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying JRPG gameplay. This is not a game for players who like to blast through JRPGs. It’s a long game, and it’s light on story content. Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song- Remastered is for JRPG fans and veterans only.
A-Typical Old School
SaGa isn’t the simple comfort food that Dragon Quest is either though. With some strange gameplay mechanics, some need explaining. Another SaGa series trademark is that levelling up is a-typical. It’s accomplished through learning more powerful skills and buying more powerful equipment. As far as I could tell, skills are gained randomly during combat. It would make sense to battle lots, and gain lots of skills in a game all about exploration and discovery. But the more battles the player fights, the higher enemy levels get. This cuts down on the need to grind levels, but it also makes understanding where a character’s progress should be way too difficult to predict at times.
Combat involves entering all character commands, then watching a turn play out. The three main battle stats are HP, LP, and BP. HP is the usual RPG health points, which regenerate between battles. LP is the amount of damage a character can take while unconscious. If it reaches 0, the character leaves the battle. Some actions, such as retreating from battle, also consume LP. And BP starts low at the beginning of combat, but builds each turn, and can be spent on more powerful actions. Characters can equip multiple weapons at a time and select them like different commands during combat. Different weapons have different effects on different monsters. Some weapons require durability points to use. There are three rows to place characters in during combat. The menu shows how row placement will affect attack, speed, and defense for each character.
Pros and Cons
What makes Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song- Remastered a tough game to review is that for every awesome aspect it introduces, it makes some kind of horrible decision. For example, choices are frequent and important in the game. Slaying a boss too hastily will take away a character’s ability to gain a quest from it. But there are lots of quests that are completely missable, just because the player took too long to uncover them. There are too many unexplained mechanics. This new remaster includes expanded instructions, but too much feels like it requires a guide. But a guide would ruin the core point of the game, which is to be dropped into a wide JRPG world, and just go exploring. I hate it when games encourage freedom, but put permanent timers on events.
Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song- Remastered has additional content that includes multiple playable characters. This content can be turned on or off. The new quality of life improvements remain, whether the player chooses to have the additional content or not. There are lots of little upgrades to the main game. Gameplay can be sped up. There are quick save and auto save features added. Players can choose sped up progression or OG grind speed. Players exit towns with the press of a button. Text is improved, but not ruined with a horrible mobile game-looking font. Game graphics have been sharpened, although cutscene graphics have not. There are a few little reminders of Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song- Remastered’s PS2 origins, such as screen transition stutter, and lack of camera controls. But these didn’t upset my experience in any way. Even the chibi graphics should feel right at home with Bravely Default fans. Some of the background textures are downright gorgeous, with a faux-watercolor paint-style.
For JRPG Veterans Only
Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song- Remastered is awesome in so many ways, but it’s annoying in a lot of ways too. With the steep learning curve at the beginning, I can’t imagine anyone enjoying it who’s not a JRPG veteran. But for those of us that love the genre, there are some cool experiments to shake things up, and a massive world to explore with multiple protagonists. It’s a ton of content; easily over 100 hours’ worth. Anyone curious about the roots of modern JRPGs like Octopath Traveler and Bravely Default should really give it a try.
***PS5 code provided by the publisher***
Huge open world
Tons of game to play
New content/ quality of life upgrades
Steep learning curve