The SaGa series is one that I’ve been interested in getting into. I first attempted this series with Romancing SaGa on the PlayStation 2, but never finished it since I got lost. Then I attempted Romancing SaGa 2 when it was remastered back in 2017. I didn’t get far in that game either since the mechanics felt confusing for me at the time. Third time is the charm however and I was able to actually finish a SaGa game! SaGa: Scarlet Grace – Ambitions was one of the easiest SaGa games to get into, but also one of the hardest games that I have played.
This is all I got from the opening cutscene.
In the beginning, there were the twelve Celestials. These twelve decided who was cool enough to exist in this cool realm that they built and punished anyone who they didn’t like. One person they didn’t like was a scarlet star that was called the Firebringer. The Firebringer did something to betray the Celestials’ cool realm that they had going on and decided to banish him from the sky. He must have done something bad like mixing M&Ms, Recess’ Pieces, and Skittles all in one bowl and served it at a party or something. The Firebringer, not liking the idea of not partying in the heavens anymore, decided to grant man the gift of fire and force his way back into the heavens. Instead of doing something about it themselves, like all responsible deities, they decided to grant this one emperor’s bloodline the ability to defeat the Firebringer whenever he showed this spiky hair around. The emperor’s lineage was able to defeat the Firebringer six times before a future heir struck him down “permanently” on the seventh try. This shattered his body into scarlet shards, and peace fell over the realm; until it wasn’t. Humanity started to act like humanity and brought about the dark ages by worshiping Spirituals and Infernos that turned the world into a modern day Wednesday afternoon. The emperor’s bloodline came to a halt when he was assassinated with what the game calls a dagger but if you look at the cutscene that looks like a freaking jagged claymore. So now after all this time, the Firebringer plots his return to burn the heavens. It is up to YOU to stop him now; and when I say “You” I mean one of the four protagonist that you chose from after answering a Buzzfeed quiz.
The introduction is not that all important. You just need to know that shit is going down and it is the protagonist’s destiny to stop the Firebringer from returning. How that happens is all determined by the actions and choices that you make. For those who are new to SaGa games, each game follows the nonlinear, open world RPG mechanic where you are responsible for the story and adventure that you have. There have been games similar to this design that prove to be great experiences. What makes the SaGa games different, unique, and sometimes frustrating is how the game commits to your decisions and affect characters, items, and events that you can get if you miss out on it. The other good or annoying aspect of these games are the different character’s stories that you can play after finishing each of them. This can vary your playtime as the first playthrough could be longer than the next once you have the basic understanding of how the game works. SaGa games are not meant to be easy or hard, but they do challenge your understanding of how combat works, how to grow character’s skills, and your ability to save as often as possible.
I Can’t Tell If I’m Enjoying This Or Hating It
For my playthrough of SaGa: Scarlet Grace, I was given Urpina as my main character for this journey. Urpina is left in charge of watching her father’s kingdom as he goes off to war. While on patrol, she spots some shady characters hanging around and summon an Earth Inferno. After dealing with it, she gets word that he father is missing and brother has been kidnapped. Now it is up to her to track them down and stop the shady characters from summoning more Infernos around the world.
That is all I remember before I just stumbled around places to see what would happen. Thanks to the nonlinear nature of the game, I was free to chose how I would go about tackling the main story. This resulted in me missing out on some good characters and skills (like dual wielding) because I just didn’t know what was going to trigger what. To some this might sound exciting since each playthrough is its own experience that could be drastically different the next time. For someone like me who likes to do as much as possible and unlock as many options as I can, I felt like I missed out on a lot of things that may have made my playthrough more enjoyable. Its like finding a can opener that fits your inventory really well, but knowing you missed out on another can opener that has a bottle opener as well and can also shoot lightning. It is possible to unlock all characters and get most special items in one playthrough, but it requires a lot of research or trial and error that I did not have.
Combat was something that I struggled with the most at the beginning, but slowly turned into an expert towards the end. You are able to bring 5 characters into a battle and select a formation that works best for what you have. Formations are important since each one carries a specific buff for characters in key positions and determines the amount of Battle Points (BP) you have in battle. BP determines the techniques that each character can use with basic techs costing less BP and stronger techs costing more. Enemies follow the same logic as well, but you can’t see what their BP gauge is, so just know that they can’t spam their strongest attacks if fighting in a large group. If I haven’t lost you yet in the explanation of the battle system then get ready to get a migraine after these next parts.
Like an RPG, enemies (and you) have weaknesses that you can exploit. There are weapons that can go slash, poke, and bonk, but there are also spells that are hot, cold, or shocking (oh my!). Monsters come in a variety of classes and each carry their own weakness and immunities that you have to take into account. Beastman for example, have no weaknesses what so ever, so hit them with status aliments to help bring them down quicker. The main problem I have with this game’s approach to strengths and weaknesses if that most of them are weak to one weapon type, but will resist multiple types. It becomes less of a game of exploiting weaknesses and more of finding ways to outsmart and overpower with what you have. I constantly had to have a weakness chart on hand mostly to remember what enemy types resisted or were immune to.
Ok. Time for the hardest curveball. There are no levels or traditional stat increases that characters get at the end of each battle. The only things characters improve during battles are their HP stat, weapon proficiency, and the rank of their techniques. The most important thing to remember about this game is that character’s improve in battle AND the equipment that they have equipped. Each character comes with stats that cannot be improved in battle or consumable items, but can be affected by their equipment. Each stat (like always) corresponds with how effective they will be with certain weapon types. If you have someone with a good acuity, you better give them a spear or bow to make the most out of them. Some characters come with great stats in one or multiple areas that will tell you what they are made for. Characters become stronger when they have more proficiency with weapons they are good with, so try only using two weapons per character. Technique rank goes up the more times you use that technique in battle. The only difference is magic which staff users have to absorb flux in order to level up that spell. You get a certain amount of flux depending on the difficulty and element of the battle; and the staff wielder has to be in the battle to obtain flux.
Each battle will tell you the elemental boost of the field (I am not going to explain that one since I ignored it), how difficult the battle(s) will be, tasks that you can do during battle to get extra rewards, and a silhouette of the enemies you will be facing. One of the best things about this game is that there are no random encounters, and the game does a good job of giving you a heads up before you enter a fight so you can accept or decline. Once you accept a battle, you will have time to change up your party and formation and leave the fight if you feel like you are not prepared. A reason you may want to back out of a fight is if party members are hurting. Each character has a Life Point counter that goes down each time they fall in battle. If that number reaches zero, that character cannot be used in battles until their LP is fully restored (LP restores when they are not taking part in battles (about 1LP per 2 battles)). This is where having rotating party members come in handy so you are not left with your weaker characters taking on the harder fights while your MVPs are resting.
You Know What. I’m Tired Of Talking About Mechanics
As you can tell, there are a lot of mechanics that go into this game. The sheer amount of things to take into consideration like using a ranged attack on an enemy that has ??? under their icon to quell them from interrupting or countering is something to look out for. Defeating an enemy in-between two of your characters can trigger a united attack and vise versa with enemies. The despair you get when you are trying to protect someone only for some bullshit to happen and causes you the fight. It is a lot of information to process at all times, and that is one of the best and worse things about this game. What I found enjoyable and what got me to play through the entire game is the combat. As frustrating as it is to learn things through trial and error, I always felt satisfied when I was able to take down a tough opponent. There were fights where I was down to my last character, but thanks to counterattacks, it was easy to take them out since I would keep countering them. When you are able to pull off a united attack three times in a row and finish a battle in the same turn, it just feels good. Those are the moments when I felt like I had somewhat mastered the battle system. I was able to think ahead in a lot of situations and find ways to keep all of my party members alive at the end thanks to my planning ahead. There are no recover items that you can use in battle and the two healing spells that I got were pointless since they costs a lot of BP for little effect. When I was able to start predicting the flow of the battle, that is when I was starting to have the most fun.
At this point you are probably asking what happened to the story? All I can say is nothing really. There are some good moments like if you are unable to save Urpina’s brother (like me) and character moments that I actually found entertaining. I was able to recruit this lady (names Lady) who had a giant crush on Urpina and she was like “let’s go my love!” Moments like this made me want to find new party members and never turn down anyone that wanted to come along (you also learn new formations by recruiting more people). I missed a lot of people in my playthrough, but the team I assembled got most of the job done even when I started to default to the same 8 people over and over.
Remember To Always Save
All things get boring at some point. Towards the end I was starting to get my fill, so I decided to stop doing side quest and head straight to the final boss (after I was told that I could). I felt confident in beating the Firebringer since my team felt tight. Little did I know, the Firebringer likes to fight with AOE attacks that wiped my party out in about three turns. I felt like this was going to be impossible without a guide to help me get pass his bullshit. After finding a guide (there are not a lot of guides out there for this game) I learned that not only was I fighting him at his full strength, but he had 7 more forms that I had to beat in succession. Luckily, my guide told me that I needed to finish destroying the scarlet shards in order to make the final boss easier to manage. So I loaded up a previous save and got to work. The last shard requires you to fight against one of your party members, Elysed (best Mage in game), and depending on your decision, you can either “save” her or leave and get a powerful weapon. I didn’t want to lose one of my best characters before the final fight. So I fought her, won the battle, and the following dialogue scene says that she was going to stay home and support Urpina from there.
Uh, no. I need you to come with me to finish this fight.
Upon reading the guide again, Elysed needs to be one of your top 15 characters in order for you to keep her. Something wasn’t right then since she was in most of all my fights ever since I got her. So I grinded some battles really quick, redid the fight, and the dialogue still said that she was going to stay at home. In bewilderment, I checked my roster to see if she wasn’t truly there, but there she was in my party! I don’t know if it is just a translation issue or what, but I wasted so much of my time trying not to lose her when I still had her all this time. To add salt to the wound, when I went back to fight the Firebringer, Sasha (the character that has been following you to destroy the scarlet shards) will join your party for the final fight (only if you destroy the other shards, plus Urpina’s ring) and then she becomes the most powerful mage in your party. I spent hours trying to keep my favorite mage, but ended up tossing her back in the toy box when I got my new BMF (Best Mage Forever). Thanks to her (and destroying all the shards), the Firebringer fight was piss easy and none of my characters died during each phase. So much for throwing the biggest barbecue in the heavens.
At the end of the day, I ended up enjoying this game more than I had the right to. It is not an easy game for beginners or people new to the series, but it is also the easiest game to get into the series. Other games in the series has permadeath if a party member’s LP reaches zero unlike this game. This game has no random encounters and gives the player as much preparations and chances to back out a fight if needed (you can’t flee battles, but you can load up the last autosave if a fight is too hard, which will be right before you accept the battle). Honestly, if someone wanted to try out the series I would suggest them to start with this one to get a base understanding of the series. However, I cannot recommend this game to anyone unless you are seriously interested in this game or the series. For $30 USD, I don’t feel comfortable recommending this game to you unless you feel like you are going to have a good time playing it. I enjoyed my time playing this game, but I have no desire to play through the other three character’s stories anytime soon*. You definitely get your money’s worth with the content and replay value, but if you don’t like overcoming certain limitations and strategic battles, then I would say save your money. If game rental stores were still around, I would definitely recommend borrowing it and trying it out for yourself and then determine if you want to continue. But seeing as this is only a digital game outside of Japan, you either have to enjoy it or be sad that you wasted money.
*Hello! Future Danames here to tell you that I recently started a second playthrough. You do have the option to carry over some techs and skills over to the next playthrough to make that process a bit easier. I am on Taria’s story now and she is kinda busted with her role ability and the spells she starts off with. I haven’t gone too far in her story since I have other games to finish, but I enjoy having this on the backside if I need a break from what I’m currently working on. Now if you excuse me, I’m off to do more future things like pay the future tax. You have to pay a tax for going back to the past in the future. It sucks.