I’ll admit it: I only heard of Romancing SaGa from browsing ROM sites back in my younger days (come on, we all did it). It always seemed to have a bit of a cult following too, but with the games never getting an official Western release, I didn’t really want to play fan-translated versions of them which may have had imperfections here and there.
Fortunately, Square Enix have been re-releasing some of their older titles recently, and Romancing SaGa 3 is one of those that has now received an official English release. It has finally given me the chance to play it how it was intended and it’s safe to say that it has been an interesting experience – Romancing SaGa 3 might not be the most conventional of RPGs under the Square Enix banner, but it is one that is undeniably unique and has been a lot of fun to play.
Romancing SaGa 3’s world has an event called the ‘Rise of Morsatrum’ that occurs every three-hundred years, when the sun gets eclipsed by a Dark Star and all life on the planet is extinguished. However, the event has been foiled twice over the last six-hundred years – once when a child became the evil being known as the Archfiend that would bring terror to the world, and again when another child became the Matriarch to bring peace to it once more. With the cataclysmic event due to occur once more, another child is brought forth to change the fate of the world and its people – will it be for better or worse, though?
On paper, Romancing SaGa 3’s narrativehas all of the hallmarks of your typical RPG. However, once you really delve into its world, you’ll quickly find that it’s full to the brim with situations and characters that are outside of the norm. You won’t be inundated with RPG stereotypes here, but rather characters that manage to feel both eccentric and believable at the same time. The game is oozing in charm and it is when you interact with these genuinely unique personalities that it is most entertaining.
Another unique aspect of Romancing SaGa 3 comes with the main character. Instead of being given a fixed protagonist to play as, you instead get to choose between eight different heroes that have their own unique approach to the narrative. Some come with unique gameplay mechanics too: one character lets you have your own company where you manage an array of businesses across the game world, one allows you to take on the role of a marquis of the kingdom and make decisions from the throne, whilst others will allow you to partake in huge wars between different armies – there are plenty of different mini-games to be found across Romancing Saga 3 that you can only play if you selected a specific character. It ensures that each character you play as really brings their own unique and clever touch to the experience, but it will also encourage players to go through the game multiple times to see everything that it has to offer. It’s good stuff and helps the game feel like one of the meatier RPGs available right now.
Combat will feel a bit more familiar to gamers, with it following the typical setup of taking on enemies, issuing commands, and then battling until you either win or lose. However, it does have a ‘Commander’ mode which is a bit more streamlined by allowing the player to give a directive that the rest of the party then follow – it makes battle instances easier to get through, but at the expense of the player’s freedom of choice. Both work effectively though, so it really comes down to what sort of experience you want from the combat.
One thing that Romancing SaGa 3 does differently with its combat is how you earn experience points. In a nutshell, you don’t. Instead, your stats increase and skills unlock based upon the actions you take during battle. I’ll admit, this was something I wasn’t a fan of at first, especially since I like to grind in RPGs and see the levels of my party members slowly rise. The more I played though, the more rewarding it became to see each advancement come to my team. Each stat increase came as a welcome surprise and it added a genuine sense of progress to each improvement when I saw that a lot of it was dictated by the things I was actually doing as opposed to following a set path.
Another interesting aspect of combat (and the adventure as a whole) is the fact that you’re not given a set party, but rather recruit a team from around the world. Romancing SaGa 3 doesn’t force you to make specific characters a part of your adventure, but allows you to pick and choose who you want from a selection of over twenty – it means you can pick those that play to your strengths or just those that you like the look of. Be warned though: these characters are each given three lives and if they run out, you have to find them back out in the world to recruit them again. There’s nothing worse than finding yourself losing a vital party member halfway through a dungeon!
Outside of the battling and the unique mini-games, there’s typical RPG exploration to be done in Romancing SaGa 3. There are plenty of towns to visit (that all manage to look great thanks to some superb pixel art), the world map itself is expansive, whilst there’s also a fair bit of freedom given to the player as to how they want to approach the adventure. The only thing I didn’t enjoy that much with exploration came in the dungeons – they just all felt too conventional in design, with little in the way of secrets or puzzles to give each one a bit of extra personality. There aren’t any that are particularly long though, so they never became too frustrating.
However, there was one aspect of Romancing SaGa 3 that could frustrate: how obtuse it is. Rarely will you be told where to go or what you need to do next to progress the story, whilst a lot of the game’s systems and mechanics aren’t fully explained either. Shamefully, I had to resort to using a walkthrough just to figure out what exactly I had to do at times, though that could be attributed to my own lack of patience more than anything else. Just don’t expect any hand-holding in Romancing SaGa 3 (and don’t be afraid look up a couple of FAQs online to figure out how everything works).
Romancing SaGa 3 really does something different in the genre thanks to the freedom it gives to the player, but it is held back by just obtuse it can be too – both with its gameplay and how it explains a lot of its mechanics. When you do start to figure things out though, it becomes a whole lot easier to appreciate the grand adventure that it offers, with the game easily standing out as one of the more uniquely enjoyable RPGs out there.
It certainly veers away from the norm, but there’s no doubting that Romancing SaGa 3 has a whole lot of its heart. RPG fans really ought to check this special adventure out.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita, PC