Romancing SaGa 3 Review (Switch)

Game Details

Retail Price (USD): $28.99
Release Date: November 11, 2019
File Size: 1.7GB
Publisher: Square Enix
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.

It’s finally here! After decades of waiting, Romancing SaGa 3 has finally arrived worldwide in an official capacity! SaGa fans, especially those that missed out on the fan translation, have been patiently waiting for the follow-up release to Romancing SaGa 2 – an entry with a somewhat polarizing reception, though that is nothing new in the realm of SaGa titles. These games are unconventional at best, and have a tendency to be incredibly difficult to navigate for those unfamiliar with their oddities. Heck, even fans of the series can (and will) get lost at times while playing.

This remastered version of Romancing SaGa 3 aims to please with enhanced visuals that retain much of the original framework, additional content, and a free-form scenario system that absolutely influenced the likes of more modern releases like Octopath Traveler. While I’m beyond happy that the West has received more SaGa, I can’t help but feel that this repackaging of the Super Famicom classic could have been so much more if it fully embraced the remastered approach.

Story

Every 300 years, the “Rise of Morastrum” occurs – a death eclipse that kills all life brought into (brief) existence that year. However, 600 years ago, a child miraculously survived this macabre phenomenon, but their rise to being would only bring about more destruction. This “child of destiny” – better known as the Archfiend – would go on to use his powers for evil, ultimately unsealing the horrific creatures known as the “Abyss Lords” to do his bidding. While the Archfiend would eventually vanish, the Abyss Lords would remain to sow terror and reap despair for ages to come.

That is, until another child of destiny would be born 300 years later – this time, one of righteousness. This “Matriarch” would go on to seal the Abyss Lords and spur on a time of peace. War and peace are cyclical in nature however, and the drums of war (and destiny) thunder once more. Another death eclipse has occurred, yet no one knows whether the next child of destiny – if there is one – will be one of good or evil.

Romancing SaGa 3 is deeply rooted in choice, and this applies to all facets of the narrative. The various children of destiny made their choices, and so shall you with whomever you choose to bring on your adventure. There are eight main characters to choose from, each with their own prologue to explore, though certain portions of these are shared among multiple main characters. In some cases, choice and consequence applies even to these opening acts, with some events (or characters) becoming inaccessible depending on your chosen course of action.

This trend doesn’t stop, and actually takes off after the prologue, where the opportunities of choice begin to crop up all over the place. You can, and will, make some decisions that leave you to many “what ifs” in hindsight – a core value to RPGs, that is the true beauty of the free-form scenario system in Romancing SaGa 3. Of course, this also means that multiple endings are a thing, depending on what you choose to do – or not – with your party.

Realistically though, outside of the prologue sequences, some sub-objectives, and a handful of key moments, Romancing SaGa 3 is surprisingly light on meaningful story content. Characters aren’t developed much beyond their opening sequences, and even though the endings vary based on your decisions, they aren’t the most exciting things to witness, either. The inclusion of the Phantom Maze in this version helps flesh out what feels missing from the original release, but it is optional content that can easily be missed if you aren’t actively looking for it.

The overarching narrative lacks impact and refinement overall as a result – certainly a side effect of being one of the earliest free-form scenario systems in gaming. Romancing SaGa 3 was, no doubt, ahead of the curve with these narrative mechanics – and should be commended for that – but in retrospect, it only feels like a prototype design that would see refinements in the future. Regardless, there are plenty of incentives to play through multiple times over, whether that be to learn a bit more about each individual character, and/or are just a fan of the multi-layered, addictive game mechanics.

Character Progression

Romancing SaGa 3 can be best described as a “choose your own adventure,” turn-based JRPG, with the aforementioned free-form scenario system offering a multitude of options to the player. For newcomers to SaGa, the battle system may very well be the most shocking feature of all, as it throws the customary framework of the traditional RPG right out the window. There are no “character” levels, only “skill” or “stat” levels, which will occasionally increase at the end of successful battles.

Weapon skills are learned mid-combat through a system known as “glimmering” rather than the traditional method of achieving a set character level. The more you use a certain weapon, the more proficient you become with it – a la skill levels – and the more opportunities you have at sparking new abilities alongside it. Collectively, this progression system drip feeds you power increases rather than saving it all for a chunky, singular level-up. While this approach may not appeal to everyone, it pairs exceptionally well with extreme grinding sessions – another staple of SaGa games. This mechanical change does away with the notion of worrying about “that next EXP threshold for the next level,” as most random encounters will immediately improve your progression in some small way.

The Grind

Unless you’re an expert – or just a glutton for punishment – there’s no way around the massive grind present in Romancing SaGa 3. Lengthy story content doesn’t really stand in the way of the finish line – the difficult boss encounters, each requiring a certain threshold of power, are what really keeps the player from easily achieving their goals. While the wonderful spritework and excellent animations absolutely help keep you company during this process, this remastered version could have absolutely benefited from some form of “speed-up” feature that has become a staple in almost every modernized retro release these days.

Of course, the actual exploration aspect of Romancing SaGa 3 is sure to keep you busy for some time too, especially as you are familiarizing yourself with what events happen where, and sorting out everything in between. With that in mind, if you are committed to exploring each character’s story, you could easily be looking at a 200+ hour game when it is all said and done.

Looting And Gearing

There’s a large assortment of equipment that can be found in shops, from monster drops, through treasure chests via exploration, and from the blacksmith. While the first two are pretty self explanatory, the latter half requires a little more clarification. Treasures aren’t plentiful in Romancing SaGa 3, but have a tendency to be extremely valuable when discovered. Most areas typically have a handful of containers scattered about, making each subsection of any given location well worth the effort of thorough exploration. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the vast majority of objects found in towns, which are there almost exclusively for cosmetic purposes rather than serving as potential rewards for those that like to give each village a clean sweep. The same could be said for most RPGs from the Super Nintendo era, however.

Romancing SaGa 3 features a basic crafting system that becomes available once you have access to the town of Pidona. There, you’ll uncover a blacksmith guild that is a shadow of its former self, though with your help, can slowly gain back the ” productive fire” that was lost. Upon unlocking this, the player can select what item(s) should be researched next – some of these crafts require reagents, while others are essentially created for free. Once a certain amount of battles have been completed, you can return to receive a free “prototype,” and eventually unlock a way of purchasing additional copies of the same item from guild vendors. Keep your eyes peeled for “retired” smiths around the world that may want to help with this cause.

Traveling

The world of Romancing SaGa is vast, but not necessarily open and definitely not seamless. Initially, the world map will only feature a couple of destinations, but this will grow into a few dozen once you discover more about the world and its inhabitants. Traveling between two destinations is often instant if it is done from the world map – a design choice that certainly makes the world feel smaller than it could be. There is enough variety to the areas, however, that it shouldn’t be a huge issue when considering the “big picture.”

Locations are not universal between main characters, nor will they all remain optional destinations as you progress your story. Choices made along the way and even your average health can play a factor in what will appear and what may be gone forever for a specific character. It is impossible to experience everything in a single run (even with a guide), so enjoy the ride and know that there are many ways things can be sliced for future adventures.

Presentation

The presentation in this remastered version of Romancing SaGa 3 has been handled in such a way that should be appealing to both fans and newcomers to retro, pixel-based RPGs. While character and enemy sprites have retained their original charming forms, backdrops, objects, and locations have had their resolution upped dramatically, capturing the spirit of the initial design while simultaneously increasing their potential for mass appeal. There are absolutely stunning locales to experience – from caves with flowing waterfalls in the foreground and crystal-etched palaces, to demon-infested, dilapidated temples with rolling, red clouds in the background. Add the newly animated, absolutely epic boss sprites on top of the already exciting and satisfying character animations, and you have a graphical package that is sure to win over the hearts of many.

Already proving himself a worthy asset to the series years prior, Kenji Ito returns once again to compose an excellent soundtrack for Romancing SaGa 3. Though he excels in almost every type of composition, his battle themes are among the most celebrated of the genre, and in this regard, Romancing SaGa 3 certainly does not disappoint. Below is my favorite of the numerous battle themes in the game:

(Muddled) Foray

SaGa games are notoriously obtuse, and Romancing SaGa 3 certainly follows that trend. To put things into perspective: apparently, the original Super Famicom release came with a 40+ page manual, something which would have been an incredible boon if it was included in some form in this release. There is no in-game reference beyond an adventure log that keeps log of your journey and the quests you have taken so far, but that definitely won’t be enough to prevent you from wandering aimlessly at times.

What is likely to be the biggest hangup for most are the myriad of components that are just not explained at all, leaving one to only speculate on the finer details. Lots of equipment have hidden effects – some beneficial, some even detrimental – that you might not pick up on if you aren’t paying close attention. Then there’s stuff like the six-man Commander mode – a totally separate battle system from the one outlined previously – and field effects, which can alter the elemental properties of the battlefield to your advantage or disadvantage, that are never explained, and may go unnoticed for some time.

Even though I am a fan of the SaGa series – oddities and all – I’m not above suggesting informational improvements either. For me, extremely dense, complex games that give almost no information about its inner workings does not make the experience better. At the end of the day, the average consumer plays games for entertainment, and there’s nothing entertaining about having to reference an external guide for the most basic of things. What I’m asking for isn’t for my hand to be held – I do want to figure some things out for myself – but rather just a base knowledge of the numerous, layered systems that can easily be referenced in-game.

Simply put, Romancing SaGa lacks the built-in tools necessary to fully explain what it is, and what it is trying to be, meaning it will be a particularly jarring experience for those that have never played SaGa games before. Guides, references, and asking for help should not be frowned upon when it comes to SaGa games, but even so, avoid clinging to such tools blindly so as to not spoil all of the (eventually) wonderful experiences and surprises that the game can offer you.

New Game Plus

This version of Romancing SaGa 3, like the second entry on Switch, comes with a NG+ feature that allows you to carry over most items, equipment, skill levels, and learned abilities to a brand-new save, and this can be done any time and as often as you see fit. While this obviously gives you access to powerful equipment and abilities from the very beginning, for me, it kills the spirit of SaGa – the grind – because it removes a large chunk of what makes the experience so enjoyable: character progression. Either way, the option is there for people that may want to really beef up specific characters over multiple playthroughs, and make the journey much easier in the process.

Conclusion

On narrative ambition alone, Romancing SaGa 3 deserves a spot alongside the coveted RPGs of the Super Nintendo era, though it lacks the ingredients necessary to appeal to a broad audience. The gameplay is fun, and battles are immensely satisfying if you can look past its rather obtuse design. If you’re looking for something a bit different than the norm that still encapsulates that retro RPG feel, there’s a lot to enjoy in Romancing SaGa 3. Just be sure to have a guide at the ready when the going gets crazy.

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Firestream
firestream
7 months ago

Great review here. I’m still completely on the fence though. I didn’t love RS2 on Switch, but this one looks a lot better. The sprite work here is very similar to the original FF6 sprites (before SE messed up the ports) and the backgrounds look amazing. I wish SE would give FF6 the same treatment (or use the octopath engine). This game sounds very interesting…. guess I’ll wait for a sale.