An old school Square role-playing game filled with funny looking sprites and turn based tactical battles, Romancing SaGa 2 introduces itself to a new generation on PlayStation 4 and Vita. Unlike Final Fantasy, Romancing SaGa was never able to find its footing here in the West, mainly because we didn't get a sniff of the series until much later, when the original game was remade for the PlayStation 2 -- and even then, it didn't release in Europe.
So it's a bit weird that Romancing SaGa 2 can come out of nowhere and arrive on Sony's current-gen systems, no doubt giving many players their first real glimpse of what they missed all those years ago. Unfortunately, the retro title doesn't make a great first impression. This is a remaster of the recently released mobile version, and that would be fine if it wasn't for the fact that it comes burdened with awful looking menus clearly designed for touch input, all blown up and blurred on a big screen.
Indeed, the user interface is, in a word, fugly, and it's a stain on what is otherwise an interesting RPG adventure. You see, what sets Romancing SaGa 2 apart is its rather unique approach to storytelling. Instead of simply playing as a hero out to save the world, you're placed in the role of an emperor or empress, who's all but destined to die while trying to wipe out seven legendary warriors turned evil monsters.
The twist is that when your current character does die, they're able to pass their experience and powers onto a new generation, and from there you're plopped into the shoes of a fresh protagonist, potentially surrounded by both new and old allies. When the original game first released on the SNES in the early 90s, you can probably imagine how fresh this system seemed, and even now, it's something that stands out.
There's an argument to be made that Romancing SaGa 2 was well ahead of its time. It's like a fusion of a classic Japanese RPG and a management sim, as you're tasked not only with fighting against storybook beasts and exploring a fantasy world, but you're also expected to build your empire, expanding its reach and funnelling gold into your coffers.
The more money that you stockpile, the more upgrades you can research and ultimately use against your ever-powerful enemies. Unlike your typical turn based RPG, your characters don't level up and become stronger through finding victory in battle. As such, discovering or developing better equipment is key, as is unlocking new magic spells and abilities as you progress. Thankfully, all of this stuff is passed down to your chosen successor once your avatar snuffs it, so the unorthodox progression system doesn't get in the way as much as you might think.
That said, it does throw up some unwanted balancing issues, which can potentially become a real obstacle later on. In order to gain access to increasingly effective magic and skills, you'll need to partake in battle. You may not gain experience points for doing so, but your party do learn how to utilise new techniques as you conquer your enemies -- seemingly at random. Obviously, you'd think that it would be in your best interests to master as many spells and skills as possible, but the sucker punch is that your ultimate enemies, the aforementioned legendary heroes, grow more powerful as you bolster your own abilities.
It's a weird one, because you're essentially making things harder for yourself in the pursuit of power. If you simply avoid grinding and do your best to advance through the main plot, chances are that you'll have an easier time of it -- and that goes against just about every rule written in the guide to making a traditional JRPG.
To be fair, Romancing SaGa 2's design encourages multiple playthroughs at a relatively fast pace -- and that's pushed further by the welcome introduction of a New Game Plus mode. Your experience can vary quite a lot depending on which party members you recruit and who you choose as a successor -- your allies can even be killed off prematurely if they're knocked out in battle enough times. Again, the title presents an intriguing twist on the usual JRPG format.
In its systems and its storytelling, Romancing SaGa 2 is still a unique RPG -- one that genre enthusiasts may want to experience for its unorthodox methods alone. For all of its strange intricacies, though, this is a flawed fantasy adventure, hindered by potentially significant balancing issues and a horrible looking user interface. As a curiosity, Romancing SaGa 2 is worth looking into, but a lot more could have been done to bring the overall package up to speed.