North American cover art depicting the character Blue
|Developer(s)||Square Product Development Division 2|
SaGa Frontier (サガ フロンティア SaGa Furontia?) is a role-playing video game developed by Square for the PlayStation and released in Japan on July 11, 1997. The game was later published by Sony Computer Entertainment (SCEA) in North America on March 25, 1998. It is the seventh game in the SaGa series and the first to be released on the PlayStation.
The plot of SaGa Frontier takes place in a science fantasy universe called "The Regions", a group of worlds with varying degrees of culture, unique races, technology, and magic. The game allows the player to follow the exploits of one of seven protagonists, each with his or her own storyline and goal. The game's "Free Scenario System" offers a large amount of non-linear gameplay, allowing the player to freely travel between many of the Regions, interact with other characters, and take part in turn-based combat.
SaGa Frontier enjoyed commercial success, having sold over one million copies. The game was generally well received in Japan and has been re-released under a few best-seller labels, as well as the PlayStation Store. However, it received largely mixed and average reviews in North America, mostly due to its ambitious Free Scenario System.
The basic concept of SaGa Frontier is based on its Free Scenario System, in which one can play as any of seven different protagonists, all of whom exist in the same setting: a solar system known as The Regions, a group of planets, each with its own culture, game-level of technology, and form of magic. The game is considered non-linear, in that from the beginning many of the characters are free to go almost anywhere and interact with almost anyone. Travel through most of the Regions is easy due to inter-regional ships traveling regularly between them. The player controls the protagonist on the field screen, a set of interconnecting pre-rendered backgrounds, and is able to speak with a slew of other characters in order to gather information, recruit party members, and initiate quests. Each character has his or her own storyline and a main quest to fulfill, but there are also several optional quests that any of the characters can participate in. Some of the main characters even encounter each other during their quests. The storyline of each character also changes depending on who is chosen, what is said in conversation, what events have already occurred, and who the protagonist has in his or her party, a concept first introduced in Romancing SaGa 2.
Combat in SaGa Frontier pits players against groups of enemies encountered on the field screen. The battle screen depicts 2D-animated sprites amidst a 3D-rotating background. Battles are turn-based, in which the player chooses his or her actions and allow them, along those of the enemies, to play out. A variety of weapons, special skills, and magic spells are at the player's disposal. Most skills are learned mid-battle, while many spells are purchased in the game's shops. If certain conditions are met within the battle, party members on either side can create combination attacks for added damage. Winning battles will increase player character statistics such as hit points (HP), life points (LP), strength, and quickness. Outside of combat, players can equip and unequip (or "seal") weapons, armor, skills, spells, and items. First introduced in the Game Boy incarnations of the SaGa series, the game contains different races that exist within the Regions: the Humans, the Mystics (similar to vampires), the Half-Mystics (half Human and half Mystic), the Monsters (shapeshifters) and the Mecs (robots). Some of the game's races are limited in this system. For example, Monsters cannot equip weapons, armor, or spells, while Mecs are capable of equipping parts from other Mecs to add more abilities.
The player is encouraged to complete each of the seven scenarios one after the other. For added incentive, beating a character's game and saving its completion to the system data adds some bonuses. After beating one character's game, essentially every character in the following game starts off stronger and with better gear than before, and may depend on how many battles players fought in their previous quest that they saved on the system data. Fulfilling all seven main quests allows the player access to the "2nd Division" room, in which the player can fight all final bosses and talk to the game's programmers.
At the outset, the player can choose any one of seven main characters to play as, each with their own storyline:
- Asellus, formerly a human girl, was run over by a carriage and given a blood transfusion by the Mystic Lord Orlouge. Chosen as the Charm Lord's heir, she is despised by human and mystic alike due to her status as the only half-Mystic in existence. She escapes Orlouge's castle with the help of the Princess White Rose. Asellus and White Rose remain on the run from Orlouge's many servants, but after White Rose sacrifices herself to save Asellus's life and freedom, Asellus decides to return and defeat Orlouge, to end the struggle once and for all. Depending on the actions the player does, there are three endings, in which she end live on as a human, half Mystic, or complete Mystic.
- Blue is a young mage fresh out of magic school. His quest is to collect the "Gift" for as many magics as possible. After that he is destined to fight his twin Rouge who has gained the opposite magics. Whichever brother survives obtains the other's magic and receives the sacred "Life" magic. It is revealed they were created artificially to produce the only wizard who could master all magical powers, even the conflicting pairs, and the duel is a mere formality to establish the dominant persona. Afterwards, Blue/Rouge descends into Hell to fight the demons who attacked his home.
- Emelia is a blonde ex-con and secret agent formerly working as a model. Her story began when her fiancé Ren was murdered by a mysterious villain known as the "Joker". Wrongfully accused of the crime, she was sentenced to imprisonment in Despair, where she met Annie and Liza. With their help, they complete a competition the warden created to receive a full pardon for their crimes. After their escape, Emelia was recruited by the two to join the secret organization Gradius, which was also hunting for the "Joker".
- Lute is a carefree bard whose mother kicked him out of the house until Lute found a decent job. He stumbles face-first into a plot involving Trinity general Mondo and resistance leader Captain Hamilton, and the legacy of Lute's deceased father, who was betrayed and killed by Mondo.
- Red is a teenage boy whose family is destroyed by the criminal syndicate called Black X. After being rescued from the same fate by the masked superhero named Alkarl, he is granted the identity of the superhero Alkaiser. After destroying several Black X bases and their main stronghold, Red stands at his father's grave, and Alkarl appears to take Red's powers away, making him a normal man again. It turns out that Alkarl was Red's father's friend, Hawk, and Red will not be able to live a "normal" life for long.
- Riki (Known as Coon in the Japanese release) is a Lummox, a fox-like creature, and one of the last remaining inhabitants of the mysterious world, Margmel. Determined to save his homeworld, he seeks the Rings of Margmel. In his search, he starts out in Scrap, where he finds the researcher Mei-ling. Riki's quest takes him around the regions to gather the Rings until he comes face to face with Virgil, a Mystic Lord. Following the battle, Riki returns home to attempt to restore Margmel.
- T260G is an ancient Mec, a model constructed from junk parts, awakened in modern times. Originally part of a combat ship with a secret mission against the RB3 (Region Buster 3), it lost its memory when it crashed into Junk. With help of Leonard, a human who transferred his memories into a Mec, and Gen, a master swordsman, it recovers its memory and finishes the job.
SaGa Frontier was developed by the then-Square Production Team 2 (referred to as 2nd Division in the game) with Akitoshi Kawazu as director and producer, Koichi Ishii as planning chief, Kenji Ito as composer, and Tomomi Kobayashi as illustrator. Square Production Team 2 included Kyoji Koizumi, Miwa Shoda, Kazuko Shibuya, and Minoru Akao among others. The musical score for SaGa Frontier was composed and arranged by Kenji Ito, who provided music for many previous entries in the SaGa franchise.
Originally, the title of this game was "Romancing SaGa 4" during early development. In that stage of development, two more heroes' quests were also being planned, in addition to the existing seven lead characters. One of them was Fuse, the IRPO agent who may be enlisted as a playable character in the actual release. In his quest, Fuse was supposed to be able to take part in other characters' scenarios, and the ultimate goal of his quest might be determined by what the player did in the course of gameplay. The "ninth" protagonist was to be the daughter of a channellers family who is engaging in a controversy as to who of them shall inherit the property of their former patriarch. This scenario seems to be dropped during the early development because of being too comedic.
Due to time constraints, some plot points of Asellus' story were removed. During those events, Asellus was supposed to visit Dr. Nusakan's clinic, Bio Research Lab, Lambda Base, and Furdo's Workshop so that she would find her true identity so that she would decide to live as a human being or as a mystic. These quests were also intended to affect her scenario's ending.
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Due to its popularity in Japan, the game has been re-released a number of times at a budget price: in 2000 as part of the Square Millennium Collection, in 2002 as part of the PSone Books best-seller range, and again in 2004 as a part of Square Enix's Ultimate Hits line. Most recently in 2008, the game was released on the PlayStation Store in Japan.
SaGa Frontier Original Sound Track comprises 75 tracks spanning three compact discs. It was released in Japan on April 21, 1999 by DigiCube and was later reprinted by Square Enix on February 1, 2006. On disc 3 of the soundtrack, there is a hidden track, in the pregap, which can only be heard when rewinding the CD from the beginning; this was originally supposed to be Riki's theme. There also are alternate titles for those pieces of music which can be seen in the songlist in the in-game "2nd Division". Itō states that he wanted to create an arranged album for the game as well, although one has yet to be released.
Two guidebooks for SaGa Frontier have been published in Japan by ASCII: The Essence of SaGa Frontier and The Complete of SaGa Frontier. Another companion book titled SaGa Frontier How To Walk In Regions was published by Kodansha. BradyGames released its own Saga Frontier: Official Strategy Guide in North America in 1998. When the game was re-issued in Japan in 2000 as part of the Square Millennium Collection, it included a collectible teacup set and a tee-shirt depicting the character Blue.
SaGa Frontier received mostly mixed or average reviews in North America. The game currently holds a 73% on GameRankings. Although many publications disagreed on positive aspects of the game, much criticism arose from its Free Scenario System. GameSpot called the game a "solid, if not exactly stellar, RPG that'll certainly keep you busy for a while - or at least until you tire of its occasional lack of focus". The website found the combat refreshing and many of its pre-rendered visuals to be well-done, but had many negative comments, specifically concerning the game's nonlinear nature and unfocused scenarios. IGN proclaimed SaGa Frontier to be "the only bruised apple in Square's current collection of role-playing games", similarly stating that the game's Free Scenario System can become confusing and easily cause the player to become lost. However, it labelled the story and sprite-based graphics its strong points. Game Informer notably found that the plot of SaGa Frontier is more of an outline than a descriptive formula as seen in other Square titles such as Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger. The publication also criticized the game's graphics, but praised its length and gameplay. Staff reviewers at RPGFan and RPGamer agreeably noted the game's battle system to be its highlight; both websites mention that discovering combinations attacks to be "fun" and "exciting".
Saga Frontier sold over 1.05 million copies in Japan by the end of 1997, which had not appreciably increased by 2008. It was the 5th top-selling game in Japan in 1997 and is currently the 15th top-selling PlayStation game for the region. In 2000, SaGa Frontier was voted the 18th best PlayStation game of all time by the editors of Famitsu magazine.
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