In my teens, I was utterly obsessed with JRPGs.
When I wasn’t playing the latest entry in series such as Suikoden, Final Fantasy, or Breath of Fire, I was deep into the likes of Legend of Legaia. As games have become more mainstream, however, my love of JRPGs has massively waned.
Turn-based battle systems have been thrown out of the window in favour of more action-based variants, soundtracks have become more generic, and narratives have been reused so many times that they’re just no longer compelling. It’s very rare now for a brand new JRPG to hold my attention for more than 10 hours or so because they’re just so dull. When I heard that Romancing SaGa 2 was to be released on consoles in December though, I was quite excited.
Romancing SaGa 2 isn’t a new JRPG, but it’s one that I’d never played before. Originally released in 1993 for the Super Famicom (the SNES to us in the West), it remained a Japanese-only title until it was translated for release on iOS and Android in 2016. Now finally available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, I was eager to jump into it and acquaint myself with what is a said to be a classic of the JRPG genre.
Admittedly, Romancing SaGa 2 was made some years before I really got into JRPGs and so seems more antiquated that those I fondly remember, but even still, only a few minutes after booting it up it had put a smile on my face. The game’s pixel art is just wonderful, though better still is its soundtrack. Old JRPGs just have an endearing quality about them that make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and Romancing SaGa 2 is no different.
Being a SaGa game, character development doesn’t follow the usual template of gaining experience and levelling up. Instead, your HP and skill with particular weapon groups and spells is increased as you play. The more you use certain spells or weapons the more likely you are to get better with them, so your characters develop over time based on how you use them.
Another step away from the norm is that many characters that join your party are expendable. If a character dies too many times, including the protagonist, they’re gone for good, forcing you to continue playing as an heir while finding new companions to adventure with. It all makes for an adventure that feels refreshingly unique even 24 years or so after its original release, but there are some gameplay aspects that I wish had stayed in the past.
Enemies dramatically differ in difficulty in the same area, for example, forcing you to save very frequently in case you run into one that makes short work of you. Even more infuriating though, is how enemies respawn when you move between rooms.
You can take time to clear out an area, opening chests to claim their sweet loot, but if you then walk through a door into another room which turns out to be a dead end, you’re likely going to find yourself engaging in yet more battles when you have to turn back to find another route. A great deal of the time it’s not much of an issue, but when you’re low on supplies or just fed up of fighting time and time again, it does irritate.
I’ll continue to play Romancing SaGa 2, albeit sporadically. It reminds me of the best of times, but then its issues also remind me of how far games have moved on. While JRPGs may not be quite what they used to be, they are at least more respectful of the players’ time in many regards. Still, if you’re up for a decent challenge and some nostalgic delights, give Romancing SaGa 2 a try. It may be dated in many ways, but some of its ideas still impress.
Romancing SaGa 2 is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.