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SaGa (series)

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SaGa
サガ
SaGa logo.jpg
Basic Information
Developer(s) Squaresoft/Square Enix
Publisher(s) Squaresoft/Square Enix
Platform(s) Gameboy, Super Nintendo, Playsatation, Wonderswan color, Playstation 2, Nintendo DS, Android/iOS, Playstation Vita, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release
First Game The Final Fantasy Legend
December 15, 1989
Gameboy
Latest Game SaGa: Scarlet Grace
December 15, 2016
Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Best Selling Game Romancing Saga: Minstrel Song
April 21, 2005
Playstation 2
More Information
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The SaGa (サガ) series is a collection of unrelated, original stories set of creative titles that play loosely with the established definitions of role-playing games. Conceptualized and produced by Akitoshi Kawazu for Squaresoft, the series has become famous as one of Square Enix's most innovative franchises.

Overview and design philosophy

The SaGa games are the free spirits of the company's portfolio, eschewing what is considered to be "standard practice" for an RPG in the name of player freedom. Each title is highly nonlinear in nature, with players free to explore vast world maps and participate in sidequests that define the game's story at their leisure instead of moving from one area to the next in a strict order and being told the story through a lengthy cutscene or dialogue session.

This freedom of choice extends to the playable cast as well, with every game since the early 90's having an ensemble cast possessing his or her distinct journey. Players select one cast member to serve as the game's primary protagonist at the start of the adventure, with the other characters joining as party members if the player so chooses. Character growth and development is also considerably more fluid than in other franchises, with experience points being non-existent and ability progression for skills, spells, and weapon aptitude being based on usage in battle. This is a refinement of the system used in Final Fantasy II, which Kawazu served as game designer for.

Kawazu considers the series' defining feature to be it's ability to reinvent itself with each new title--a fresh experience that gamers can look forward to that respects previous entries within the series without being shackled to prior expectations.


History

The series began life as Makai Toshi SaGa, the original RPG developed for Nintendo's Gambeoy hardware in 1989. Wanting to distinguish his title from Final Fantasy, Kawazu added several aspects of science fiction to the game in the form of modern military armaments, psychic espers, an even a post-apocalyptic Tokyo as part of the setting. The game was a smash hit, becoming Squaresoft's first million seller and establishing the Gameboy as a piece of legitimate hardware.


Makai Toshi SaGa would see two more sequels on the Gameboy, with Kawazu serving as director and scenario writer with the first and as a general supervisor on the second. With development of the third game wrapping up in 1991, Nintendo's Super Nintendo Entertainment System had an entire year to establish itself as the premier hardware in the Japanese market. Feeling he had accomplished all he could with the Gameboy's capabilities thrice over, Kawazu proposed to the chairmen of Squaresoft for a full-color SaGa game, and was given the green light to begin production on a new title.

Returning to fantasy roots with no science fiction elements present, the project was titled Romancing SaGa to reflect this purity. The elements originally found in Final Fantasy II were taken to the next level on the leagues-more powerful hardware, allowing for a plot that was almost entirely controlled by the player's actions. Players took control of one of eight characters to lead the journey, whether with the remaining seven at their side or by themselves. A major addition to the series was the ability for characters to be struck with sudden inspiration and learn new skills in the midst of battle. This created a higher intensity for battle and encouraged players to continue even in the face of insurmountable odds.

Romancing SaGa proved to be another feather in Kawazu's cap, selling 1.3 million copies and being voted by Japanese players as the 53rd video game of all time in Famitsu's top 100 list in 2006. Though no English release was planned for the SNES version, Western players would be able to experience the game through a 2005 Playstation 2 remake dubbed Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song. This version included fully three dimensional environments to explore, and voice acting for every single line of dialogue.

Romancing SaGa would be followed up with two acclaimed SNES sequels, neither of which would receive international releases until the 2016 and 2019 remasters, respectively. Once the hardware generation moved on to Sony's Playstation, the Saga series followed suit with the SaGa Frontier duo. When hardware changed hands once again in 2000 for the Playstation 2, Kawazu wanted a fresh approach to game design that harked back to earlier times, when utilizing symbols and primitive graphics to convey meaning and action to the player were commonplace. With this in mind, work on Unlimited SaGa with the intent to shake up the RPG genre began.

Unlimited SaGa was developed to display a fresher approach to role-playing games than had been seen in previous years, with the focus on development being to challenge the genre's core style while still adhering to the essence of an RPG. As such, Unlimited did away with exploring towns, dungeons, and moving on a world map in favor of a board game layout where the player's icon is moved a number of spaces after a dice roll. Each square can have a different event, from a cutscene to a shopping section to a battle, giving the game a very high degree of replayability. Battles are displayed in full 3D, as the team felt it was an ironclad rule of the industry after the original Playstation, but cutscenes are instead presented as pictures from a story book. Characters possess text boxes and portraits, and will cycle in and out of the screen as they speak during the conversation.

Though praised for it's creativity, Unlimited SaGa was met with lukewarm sales. This lead to the decision of making the next PS2 title a fully 3D remake of the original Romancing SaGa, which was also planned to be released internationally for the first time. Sales were strong in Japan, earning the title a position among Sony's ultimate hits line, though reception overseas was mixed due to bad press coverage and low marketing. The gaming press did not understand that the series as a whole was not as restrained as other franchises, and couldn't cope with the non-standard character progression and exploration offered.

The series would go on a temporary hiatus from 2005 to 2016, broken by the releases of SaGa: Scarlet Grace and the remaster of Romancing SaGa 2. The later of which would receive high acclaim in the international market, being praised for finally gaining an official localization with sales in America and Europe matching those in Japan.

SaGa logo.jpg
Makai Toshi series
Romancing series
Frontier duo
Individual titles
Mobile titles