After releasing exclusively in Japan on the PlayStation Vita back in 2016, SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions has now made its way to the West for the first time, bringing with it an RPG experience that fans of the SaGa series are sure to embrace with open arms. Be warned though: this isn’t your conventional RPG, but one that has forged its own identity with its unique gameplay mechanics. It won’t be for everyone, but those who like to do things differently and adapt strategically in battles will have a good time.
The world of SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions was shaped by the Firebringer: a god that had unleashed his fury across the land for a long, long time. When he was finally vanquished, peace should have come with it. Instead, mankind finds itself in a situation where trouble is seemingly brewing from all corners, with a lack of purpose felt now that the wrath of the Firebringer is no longer present. Fortunately, there are four souls out there who can help bring a peaceful time to the world and forge a new destiny for mankind to follow – it’s up to you to shape their stories.
SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions gives you four different protagonists to play as, with a brief personality test at the start of the game assigning the one that’s best suited to you (don’t worry, you can just select one if you prefer). Each campaign offers something different, with their own stories to go through and events to see unfold, so there’s definitely an incentive in place to encourage gamers to play through them all. You can expect to get a good amount of hours out of SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions if you want to see everything it has to offer (though a lot of its events can be skipped), so it’s a pretty meaty experience for RPG fans to get stuck into.
One interesting feature of SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions is its world map, which acts as a hub for just about everything you do in the game. You’ll lead your character around it and visit landmarks and towns (all of which are presented in a neat style akin to a pop-up book), with each area of the map full to the brim with personality. The thing is, that’s all there is to explore – you won’t get to go through towns or explore dungeons, but instead see an illustration that represents the area and some menus that are tied to the things you can do at each locale.
I think this will be a deal-breaker for a lot of gamers. The one thing I’ve always loved about RPGs is the sense of exploration that comes with each one, with the towns often loaded with their own distinct traits and the dungeons full of hazards to avoid and puzzles to solve. You don’t get any of that in SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions though, with the world map your hub for just about everything. Whilst I did like the world map, I did find myself missing the sense of awe that comes with exploring a new location, whilst the routine of just going through battle after battle could grow tiresome with nothing inventive to be found in-between.
That being said, there are plenty of story details to be revealed and characters to encounter across the world. Akin to other titles in the franchise, SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions is pretty open in design so you’re given the freedom to venture off the beaten path on the world map and see what different areas or scenarios you can encounter. Sometimes, you need to simply re-visit areas to come across something different, so it’s always worth going back on yourself to see if there’s something new to discover. The choices you make in these situations can change things up too, so there is a bit of freedom given to the player in how they shape each hero’s adventure in the game.
Outside of exploring the world map, the majority of your time in SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions will be spent battling, so it’s a good job that the combat mechanics are well-designed and enjoyable. There’s a real demand for strategy with each showdown though, so you’ve got to go in prepared.
Like other SaGa games, you can expect to have a pretty sizable party in SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions, though you can only take five into battle – at the start of each encounter you’re given the chance to swap members around and apply different formations. Not only does this add a strategic touch to each battle, but it also allows you to ensure that you’re taking advantage of all of your party member’s strengths. You’re given an indicator of how tough a battle might be before you initiate it too, so it’s a good way to work out how you want to approach things.
You’ll assign actions to each of your characters during the start of a round, with the showdown then playing out in a turn-based fashion. The order of action is made clear by a table at the bottom of the screen that shows each combatant’s illustration, so you always know the order – the different actions you assign to your characters can change this up though, so it’s always worth keeping an eye on. There are other things to consider too, such as the magic abilities that can take multiple turns to perform as well as the actions of your enemies, which are displayed above their icon. It gives you a rough idea of what they’re going to do, so it can encourage you to try and respond in an efficient way.
The order of turns can also affect other things, such as chain attacks which are initiated when an enemy who’s turn was placed between two hero characters is defeated. This applies a knock on effect which allows you to dish out some heavy damage on an enemy. It encourages player to target specific enemies in order to vanquish them first, and again adds to the strategic vibe of the combat. You’ll also want to make sure you mix up your weapons on a regular basis as they each offer different advantages over certain enemies, whilst they’re also vital in unlocking new roles to make your characters even stronger. Of course, you’ll also gain stat increases for your party members after battles anyway, so you’ll always feel like you’re improving with each encounter.
It might seem like a whole lot to take in, and sure, combat can take a while to get used to – this certainly isn’t a game that’ll ease RPG newbies into the genre. After a few hours play though, it’s easy to figure things out and learn the best ways to deal with enemies. It’s rewarding to see your characters improve with each battle though, whilst continually changing and upgrading their gear feels satisfying too. Combat is definitely the high points of SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions, which is a relief given that the majority of your time in the game is spent battling.
SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions was initially released in Japan on the PlayStation Vita back in 2016, so it’s an older game that was played on less powerful hardware – it does mean that you shouldn’t expect some visual marvel. Despite that, it still manages to look quite pretty with the character models in particular standing out, whilst some aesthetic improvements have been made across the board anyway. The only area in which the visuals were disappointing was with the battles, with the arenas themselves a little bland and simple in design. They certainly weren’t spectacular showdowns and instead felt samey throughout.
Voice acting has also been introduced in this new release, so there’s a more cinematic vibe to be found – it’s not included in all scenes in the game, but the performances are of a decent quality when they are present. The music is brilliant too, with the epic soundtrack up there with some of the best I’ve heard in RPGs recently. Each character has different battle music too, which is a small feature but one I was fond of after playing as each one.
There were a whole lot of things I liked about SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions, with its strategically satisfying combat, the rich narrative choices offered with each protagonist, and the brilliant soundtrack standing out as some of its strongest aspects. However, the lack of exploration in towns and dungeons did make it feel like it was missing that sense of adventure that I associate with the genre, whilst the visual presentation during battles could be a little drab too.
There’s no denying that fans of the SaGa series will enjoy SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions with plenty of the hallmarks associated with the games shining through, whilst RPG fans in general may appreciate the different ideas it brings the genre. There’s no denying that it won’t be for everyone though, with the unconventional approach it takes to combat and exploration sure to prove divisive to gamers. If you do fancy playing an RPG that does things a little differently though, SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions is certainly worth checking out.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC