SaGa Emerald Beyond Review – Make JRPGs Experimental Again

SaGa Emerald Beyond Review

SaGa Emerald Beyond is a standalone entry in the venerable SaGa franchise. This classic JRPG series is known for its multiple protagonists, interesting structural decisions, and striking fantasy art styles. The latest entry takes things into its own hands by upsetting some classic elements of the JRPG formula on a mechanical and narrative level. I had the opportunity to play the game in advance of sharing my impressions, and what I saw intrigued me.

In this game, players can take on the role of six protagonists in five groups, each with distinct campaigns to follow. Magical puppeteer Tsunanori Mido has been roped into the mysterious Cathedral Project to help save his world. The overthrown vampire king Suignas seeks revenge after a betrayal. Young witch Ameya struggles to pass her witchterms in a strange world. Bonnie and Formina are two cops determined to solve a world-spanning mystery. And Diva No. 5, a singing robot who lost her voice, abandons her body after a traumatic incident.

All of these characters travel across 17 distinct worlds on multiple playthroughs, seeking power, answers, wisdom, vengeance, and much more. How much effort they put into unraveling their circumstances, helping others, and exploring the various worlds is up to you. Depending on your choices, individual runs can play out quite differently. And New Game Plus is worked into the narrative structure to add even more replay value.

Choose Your Own JRPG Adventure

SaGa Emerald Beyond has six protagonists and five story campaigns. However, this game is less about plot and more about encouraging the player to explore its worlds. Even the introduction spends very little time setting up the premise. Instead, it puts the player in control and leaves them to make their own way forward. This plunge into the deep end makes it very clear, very quickly whether or not you’ll enjoy the rest of the game.

Each of the 17 worlds can be cleared quickly, meaning that individual playthroughs can be very short. Especially in early playthroughs before the effects of New Game Plus start to stack. However, you can clear the same world in multiple different ways of varying difficulty, leading to multiple different outcomes. The game also features an abundance of optional scenes and sidequests. If you want to get to know the characters and setting, you can do that. If you’d rather cruise through the main plot, you can do that, too.

SaGa Emerald Beyond visions

Every world has its own unique atmosphere and overall feel. And replaying an adventure after completing it once can cause the entire plotline of a visited world to change. Options you already took might be closed off, while entirely new ones may open up. And I mentioned, the game’s New Game Plus function makes taking more difficult options much more reasonable on a second playthrough.

In short, the more you play this game, the more its setting unfolds before you. This is a fascinating approach to the JRPG genre that allows for a very customized storytelling experience.

SaGa Emerald Beyond is a Fascinating Experience

SaGa Emerald Beyond has trimmed out most of the fripperies of modern gaming. This includes fancy cutscenes, a streamlined story, and even the ability to explore on your own terms. In exchange, it offers a fascinating kaleidoscopic experience if you’re willing to spend the time. This game is designed to be played and replayed, giving a slightly different experience each time. If you’re the type who enjoys deep dives into games with complex structures, you’ll have a good time with it.

The main narrative gimmick lies in visions, which allow you to advance the story in the direction you want. And see story events in the order you want. Some visions lead to combat, while others advance quests or show optional scenes. The game is far from a narrative-driven experience, but there’s something to be said for titles that allow you to drive the narrative at your own pace.

SaGa Emerald Beyond overseers

The music is incredibly beautiful. And so are the 17 worlds found within the game. Different worlds have dramatically different atmospheres and design sensibilities. Each has a cohesive and unique feel, no matter how long you spend in them. And the character designs range from grounded to delightfully outlandish.

I wish the visual presentation lived up to its potential. While there’s nothing offensive about the graphics, the decision to use the in-game character models during dialog disappointed me. SaGa Emerald Beyond’s character models aren’t terribly expressive. It sometimes felt like their faces were frozen as they talked. Combat animations can also be confusing to follow as the focus jumps between characters.

When is a Battle System Too Complex?

SaGa Emerald Beyond is a turn-based RPG. That said, if you try to charge into it like a standard JRPG, you will get killed. Players must balance the many types of techs with a limited pool of Battle Points. And take into account that conditional enemy techs can turn an easy battle into a grim defeat if triggered. The key is figuring out how to mitigate enemy damage while making your own hits unblockable. Every battle is strategic.

SaGa Emerald Beyond battle

The lack of repeatable fights makes it really hard to level grind in early playthroughs. And when you’re starting out and learning the combat, each fight risks wiping your party, so level grinding isn’t necessarily a good idea. If you’re good at piecing together the rules on the fly, you’ll probably enjoy the tension in each fight.

You can customize equipment, techs, spells, and roles. And use different formations to strategize for facing different foes. This allows for a lot of control over how a battle plays out… once you figure out how to fight effectively. The lack of real exploration mechanics was a bit disappointing. I would have liked to be able to poke around the creative settings and see little details tucked away. However, the amount of optional scenes and alternative paths packed into the game is frankly jaw-dropping.

SaGa Emerald Beyond Lita

All in all, SaGa Emerald Beyond is a conversation between the player and the worlds it contains. Its presentation is far from perfect, but I’d rather something flawed and interesting than perfect and boring. And SaGa Emerald Beyond is certainly not boring.

***PC code provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Complex narrative
  • Tons of replay value
  • Complex combat
  • Worldbuilding focused

The Bad

  • Complex combat
  • Stiff character models
  • Requires multiple playthroughs
  • Narrative could be stronger
  • Overly streamlined exploration