Role-Playing From the Golden Era
Originally released on the Super Famicom in 1993, Romancing SaGa 2 is JRPG classic that puts a unique spin on many of the genre’s staples. This version of Romancing SaGa 2 is an enhanced edition of the mobile port that Square-Enix recently released. Does Romancing SaGa 2 still hold up today, or do too many of its mechanics feel trapped in an era long gone?
Romancing SaGa 2 has two aesthetic styles that clash. One is the classic, 16-bit style that make up the game’s character and enemy sprites. The second is a more bland, RPG Maker-looking modern visual style that makes up the game’s backgrounds and menus. I wish that Square-Enix stuck with the former for this enhanced port instead of meshing the two together; this version of Romancing SaGa 2 resembles a fan game at times, especially since only boss enemies have idle animations during battle.
Unfortunately, the writing and overall story in Romancing SaGa 2 isn’t particularly compelling. The story takes place over several generations of Emperors and Empresses as they grow their empire and rid the world of the “Seven Heroes,” which turn out to actually be horrifying demon creatures.
This multi-generational aspect to Romancing SaGa 2‘s narrative is both a boon and a bust for the game. On one hand, the constant leaping-forward to a future ruler negates any capacity for character development. In fact, there isn’t a single memorable character in the game. You’re given a couple different heirs to choose from whenever a generational leap takes place, and then you can recruit up to four other characters to your party. The only defining attributes to these characters are the combat class they’re in; the only bit of dialogue they ever get is when you ask them to join your party.
On the other hand, these generational leaps give way for a mechanic that, if playing in 1993, surely felt way ahead of its time. Romancing SaGa 2 doesn’t have a strict progression: during each generation, you’re able to complete a multitude of different scenarios in any order you wish and completing certain scenarios wil prompt a new generational leap to take place. For example, during one generation my Empress was summoned to a distant kingdom that was in the midst of a crisis: their king had just passed away and the rightful heir had gone missing. I got stuck on a boss and decided to explore a different area of the world to do some grinding, and ended up completing a different scenario that resulted in a generational leap at the end of it. I decided to travel to that distant kingdom during the next generation to see if anything had changed, and, surprisingly, it did: the kingdom had been taken over by an evil chancellor and the heirs to the old royal family were in hiding.
This scenario mechanic almost makes up for Romancing SaGa 2‘s poor story. The sheer openness of the game’s world is a fresh break from the more linear plodding of other game’s of that era, but any changes to the world or expansion to the empire don’t have any weight behind them when there aren’t any worthwhile characters. My reaction to that kingdom being ruled by an evil chancellor had nothing to do with the characters I was introduced to during the previous generation; my reaction was simply “oh, it’s kind of neat that a game from 1993 did that.”
That “oh, neat” reaction describes almost everything that Romancing SaGa 2 does well, but quicky gets unercut by the more archaic aspects to the game. The characters in your party have perma-death if they fall a certain number of times, but their deaths are meaningless because they have no characterization or development. Your party fully heals after each battle, but there’s a ridiculous amount of enemies to run into on-screen so battles quickly become tedious.
However, there is one mechanic in Romancing SaGa 2 that I would love to see in other games. Party members don’t level up or gain skills in the traditional, EXP-grinding way. Instead, party members will become more prolific with the weapons they use the more they use them in battle. For skills, there’s a “sparking” system where party members have a chance to learn a new skill at random when they attack powerful enemies. Future generations of your party members won’t retain these skills, but there is a dojo where some of these skills can be learned again.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased a copy of Romancing SaGa 2 for this review.