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Romancing SaGa 3 Review

Before Square Enix was known as the company that only made Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts games, they were a very creative developer known as SquareSoft. They used to make so many varied and interesting JRPGs, and would cover a wide range gameplay mechanics like the genre-bending Live A Live or the tactical adventure Treasure Hunter G.

If you were a fan of SquareSoft games in the 90s, there was a good chance you had to resort to playing the fan translations for some of their games. JRPGs traditionally have a lot of text, and the Romancing SaGa games were especially dense due to the multiple playable protagonists and endings. Up until now, you didn’t have much choice but to play a fan translation.

SquareSoft before the Enix merger was a behemoth of a RPG developer, and some of their ambitious games would become too costly to localize to the west. The Romancing SaGa games were among some of the casualties. and it wouldn’t be until exactly 24 years later Square Enix would finally release an enhanced port of Romancing SaGa 3 to the the whole world.

Romancing SaGa 3
Developer: Square Enix / SquareSoft
Publisher: Square Enix / SquareSoft
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PlayStation Vita, Super Famicom, Xbox One, Andorid, iOS
Release Date: November 11, 1995 (Super Famicom), November 11, 2019 (all other platforms)
Players: 1
Price: $28.99 

Final Fantasy fans coming into Romancing SaGa 3 will become overwhelmed by the freedom and non-linearity. Classic Final Fantasy games are focused and will almost always give you some kind of direction. Romancing SaGa 3 and its predecessors will establish things early on, and then set you loose in a vast world full of characters to meet and things to do.

There are eight playable heroes, and each of them has their own story. Some characters are more flexible than others, and most optional quests are interchangeable between them all. Depending on who you play as, some campaigns might be more focused than others, and have more defined direction. Some characters have an extra strategy gameplay mode supplementing the experience.

There is a lot to take in before the game takes the leash off and leaves you to fend for yourself. The prologue establishes that every 300 years an extinction event happens, leaving a single survivor who is known as the Child of Fate.

The last living soul ultimately decides the fate of all living things, and is a looming threat in the background of the grander scope of the adventure. For a bulk of the experience, much of the plot involving the Archfiend is not the focus. Instead, expect to get involved in countless optional adventures.

There are a lot of characters to recruit, and not every protagonist can get every single one of them. Romancing SaGa 3 respects the player to make their own choices, and to choose their own level of involvement. This also applies to how character builds are developed.

Romancing SaGa 3 is a complex JRPG, and there is more going on than what you initially see. This was originally on Super Famicom in 1995, and games released then almost always came with an instruction manual. This was crucial to fully understand how to play, since the games rarely bothered with a tutorial and expected you did your homework.

This new version of Romancing SaGa 3 comes with no manual of any kind. Understanding how characters learn abilities and how to reduce the cost of attacks or magic is one of the most important lessons to have before getting deep into Romancing SaGa 3.

Luck is a critical element on how much of the character growth is determined, and then there are so many hidden aspects that no gamer would expect. Things like invisible caps on random stats that can only be lifted after specified progress is made is not something you’ll find for yourself in the in-game descriptions.

Your only options is to read up some FAQs that were written up for the old Super Famicom game over 20 years ago, or to go into the game with a certain mind-set. Romancing SaGa 3 is a JRPG that encourages experimentation, especially in battles.

After the opening, there is no handholding and the world is free to explore. There are no randomized encounters, and every enemy is visually represented on the field. Thankfully, surviving is forgiving since HP is fully restored after every battle.

This won’t make battles easy. With such a forgiving system in place, it means that enemies and bosses rarely hold back, because the designers know that your party will be ready no matter what. The resources that are not replenished are consumable items, MP, and WP.

Expanding your abilities means having to use them in battles. How and when this is triggered is determined by many invisible variables that will not be privy to the player. The upside to this is that most people who play Romancing SaGa 3 will ultimately have unique experiences.

The best way to enjoy Romancing SaGa 3 is to take your time with it and relax. The discovery of a new quest line is part of the joy of the adventure. Meeting weirdos like the Zorro knock-off or the fairy town full of liars on your own is what makes Romancing SaGa 3 different.

All of the character sprites have been ripped straight from the Super Famicom original. The updated visuals pertain to the backgrounds, which look like highly detailed photoshop renders that exceed their original resolution.

This effect makes the backgrounds look worse than the originals, which had a 16-bit charm to them. The old sprites clash nastily with these updated maps, and it was all for the sake of the wide-screen aspect ratio. They went through the trouble to make new backgrounds, but expanding the old 16-bit ones was too much?

While the backgrounds do have some beautiful qualities even at their worst, the same cannot be said to the laughable adjustments done to the boss sprites. Romancing SaGa 3 has some of the most mature and meticulous sprites the Super Famicom had, and this version butchers them by trying to animate them.

These sprites were never designed to move, and for some reason a savant at Square Enix thought it would be a good idea to break them up into pieces and animate them like a puppet. The effect is uncanny and highly distracting. It is cheap, low-effort, and would have been better off as a static image to keep in line with the old-school appeal.

Romancing SaGa 3 is seemingly built using some kind of 3D game engine, which is unusual since this was originally entirely 2D and still uses 2D assets exclusively. This was possibly done to maintain parity across every single platform it was released on like mobile phones, but the trade-off is that the game runs a spotty 30 frames per second.

The original on Super Famicom was always a 60 fps JRPG, like almost every 16-bit game ever made. It is really disappointing to play what is supposed to be an enhanced version running worse. Thankfully, Romancing SaGa 3 is a turn-based RPG and won’t demand timing or reflexes, but moving characters around and navigating menus never feels right with graphics moving so roughly.

One aspect of the original that has been faithfully preserved is Kenji Ito’s utterly electric and rousing musical score. His compositions for the SaGa franchise are distinct for their fast paced melodies and exhilarating rhythms. Romancing SaGa 3 is very consistent with his previous and later efforts, ranking as some of the best JRPG music that was on the Super Famicom.

His most standout piece of music is the one used for the final battle. There is a profound sense that existence itself is hanging by a thread, and has a valorous flavor. It truly captures the feeling of being on a heroic suicide mission and will be seared into your soul.

The most notable improvements over the original is an expanded new game plus mode that makes the game easier, and the bonus dungeon Phantom Maze. There is no turbo mode to speed up travel or cutscenes, and it is disappointing that there is no option to use the original backgrounds over the sterile re-draws.

Romancing SaGa 3 is still best played on original hardware. This new version’s updates are not worth the outrageous asking price from Square Enix. Despite the shortcomings of this “enhanced port,” this is still a highly recommended JRPG; so long as you are willing to take the time to understand how it works.

If you enjoyed the PlayStation cult classic, SaGa Frontier, then you will feel right at home with Romancing SaGa 3. The free-from, go-at-your-own-pace non-linearity allows players greater flexibility than anything from a Final Fantasy. At times, it even has shades of western RPG flourishes. The gameplay has aged well, and the creative fantasy setting proves to be a fun sandbox.

Romancing SaGa 3 was reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro using a review code provided by Square Enix. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

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The Verdict: 7

The Good

  • Open ended and nonlinear JRPG with lots of exploration
  • Multiple protagonists with unique party members and alternate endings
  • Huge replay value thanks to new game plus
  • Kenji Ito's music is electric
  • Undeniably charming old-school sprites that have a lot of expression and personality

The Bad

  • Hideous new UI design and new background art is a mixed bag
  • The various systems and mechanics are not explained at all and requires a manual to understand how to play
  • 30 frames per second
  • Butchered boss sprites thanks to laughable animation
Fingal Belmont

About

A youth destined for damnation.