Unlimited SaGa
Game Info
Platform(s)
Playstation 2
Publisher
Square Enix
Developer
Squaresoft
Genre
RPG
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Mild Violence, Suggestive Themes
 
Grade
The Good

• Great artistic style
• Fine music
• 7 story arcs to take

The Bad

• Next to no animation
• Overly complicated
• Tedious menu system
• Gets hard early with no attempt to explain the game's systems

 
Grade
D+

Square's newest installment in the far-less-maintstream-than-Final-Fantasy Saga series has hit the PS2, but with a strange and very retro twist to the genre, one that the truly hardcore may enjoy, but the average gamer will be more than willing to pass up. The base plot revolves around "The Seven Wonders of the World", which contain powers that the badguys want to use and abuse. Since you're given seven different characters to start the game with, you'll be given a number of different perspectives and story arcs, all of which are slow to develop and take some work to really get to the meat of the story. Some of the story arcs are pretty good, while others just seem tedious and with the "bits and pieces" method of story telling, it takes some effort to really get the full scope of the story.

Unlimited SaGa's gameplay, outside of random battles, is very reminiscent of old text-based role playing adventures. When you stop in at a town, you'll be able to select one of a handful of locations to go to. In each, you'll be given menu selections, which include talking to people for information, buying equipment, creating new equipment from materials, or access adventures. Instead of just walking out of town to continue the main adventure, you'll need to access it from these menus, and often you'll find an unrelated side mission/quest to perform for treasure and experience. Once you head onto the main story, you'll find that you need to select your path as movement is grid-like. Often, you'll be given a few paths to take - moving the analog stick will send you into one of these direction. Every step you take will give you the chance for a random trap, monster attack, or even treasure depending on the location. To perform any skill-based actions, like moving stealthily, preemptive attacks, or even opening a treasure chest, one has to go in and navigate the menu to find the necessary skill to perform. Not unlike Dungeons and Dragons, avoiding traps plays like a dice-roll, where a wheel spins about and players hit the X button to stop it.

Once you reach combat, you'll be set to input a series of attacks from your team. You can choose to use just one character or give everyone in the team a turn or two. Within this system, the attacks you choose can include magic, equipped weapon skills (more of which can be learned through use), and standard punch/kick/throw attacks (which become necessary if and when your weapon breaks). After the attack selection is made, players will be given another spinning wheel to initiate the attacks. From this point, you can even combo attacks by using the Hold function to string multiple attacks together for strong damage. The only drawback to this is that combos can be interrupted by enemy attacks if their turn falls between the two attacks you wish to combo. Luckily, you can change up the order of attacks by moving the analog stick back and forth. So, if you want to cast a magic attack you set late in the series, you can go ahead and select that attack before the others.

You will find that you don't gain experience until reaching the end of the stage. When you do finish, each character can acquire a new or improved version of a skill, which can be placed on their growth panel grid. They also gain increased hit points, which is essential as you need hit points to use any of your attacks. Luckily, you can reach 0 hit points in a fight and keep going, as long as you have Life Points. And, after every battle, you can replenish your hit points, which really just act like a shield for your all important Life Points.

Artistically, Unlimited Saga is a gorgeous piece of work. The hand-painting illustrations of characters, monsters and locations are wonderfully designed and executed. As a piece of art, you'll really enjoy the way the game is delivered. Unfortunately, this is tempered with the actual presentation of the game, which is highly static, almost to the point of being antiseptic. Cutscenes are composed of still shots, where characters speak in comicbook bubbles. The dungeon and travel sequences involve moving around a static "chess piece" over generic looking locations, which are all placed over a fanciful background. Occasionally, more still shots of traps, treasure chests or monsters are thrown up at you to give you an idea of what's going on. During combat, players are treated to 2d sprites duking it out over a rudimentary 3D background. While the design and artistry are nice, it's a shame that none of the sprites have more than a few frames of animation and any extraneous effects are limited at best. Even worse is that every location only has one or two backgrounds for the battles.

Musically, the game is sharp and wonderful. Fans of game soundtracks should try to acquire the soundtrack for Unlimited Saga, as it delivers a fine experience. Sound effects, though, are pretty bland, but since there is a lack of animation, the lackluster sound effects become a non-issue. Voiceacting, when it comes in small portions, is average, at best. There isn't enough portions to the story to make the voice acting more than a convenient add-on.

Let's not kid ourselves - Unlimited Saga is overly deep and complicated to a fault. It's as if Square was trying to make a complex game but failed to add some serious polish or just cut out the excess. The game gets hard from the get-go and is never explained in the detail and depth it needs. The menus are counterintuitive, which only makes things all the more challenging. Also, I wish they had simplified the skill/action interface so that you didn't have to scour through the menu just to perform what would seem like basic actions. When it comes to Life Points and hit points, things are iffy and confusing at best (you'll only understand it if you play the game for a serious length of time and even then it's an educated guess) and the use of hit points for any kind of attack is just ridiculous. Toss in a limited ability to save, extreme linearity and excessive randomness of the combat and trap evasion aspects (so much so that it takes any kind of strategy out of the game) and even the most innovate aspects of the game are lost in the shuffle.

Unlimited Saga will only be enticing to the fringe RPG fan base of the series. With the game being as hard and overly complicated as it is, the standard RPG player will skip this one without a second thought. It's a shame that Square didn't try to refine some of the better elements of the game as there are some nice features in the game. Too bad you'll have a hell of a time figuring out how to best use them.

- - Kinderfeld

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