JRPG Journey 2021: Romancing SaGa 3 (October)
September’s game: Fire Emblem: Three Houses
November’s game: Fantasian
Developed by Square and released in 1995, Romancing SaGa 3 first got a Western release in 2019, with updated visuals and added quality of life mechanics. I played the Nintendo Switch version, but it’s on several other platforms too.
Now, Romancing SaGa 2 is one of my favorite JRPGs, so I’m going to focus on comparing with that game and highlighting the differences, for better and worse. The visuals are the element that changed the least. The remaster looks about on par with Romancing SaGa 2, with slightly better drawn architecture and a little more color and variety. 3 also leans hard into more fantastical, magical settings, like the creepy Archfiend’s Palace, whereas the second game is more of a traditional medieval setting with some magic sprinkled in. I’m a fan of both styles, and with the remaster especially, this game will always look great.
Structurally there’s a lot of differences from Romancing SaGa 2. First, the generation system is gone. No more re-making your entire party every few quests, no more passing down skills through the dojo, and most importantly, no “final character” to build toward. I happen to love Romancing SaGa 2’s generation system, but it’s not for everyone, and while I would have liked to see it expanded on, I’m OK with its absence. However, that means there’s also no more global stat levels, a mechanic that makes Romancing SaGa 2 a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else.
In Romancing SaGa 3, you instead get to pick from several starting characters, each of whom bring their own flavor to your playthrough. They’re not entirely different — you get essentially the same experience no matter who you choose, but minor elements, such as where you start in the story, which side of the greater conflict you’re on, and even which minigames are available and when, all depend on your starting character. While this incentivizes replaying the game, I didn’t feel a need to jump back in immediately after beating the final boss — compared to Romancing SaGa 2, it’s much easier to see most of the content here in one playthrough. I’ll replay it someday, but not someday soon.
Like the previous game, characters’ magic and weapon levels increase through usage, but things get interesting when it comes to the revamped magic system. For some reason, Romancing SaGa 3’s schools of magic kept their Japanese names during translation. Water magic is called Genbu, earth is Byakko, for example. Now, I’m a dirty gaijin who can’t read Japanese, so I’m not sure if the spell names were changed between games in Japanese too, but regardless, it’s a neat way to make the magic types feel more unique, even though you’ve got the same options of water, earth, wind, and fire. Oh, and Light and Dark magic are replaced by Solar and Lunar.
This time, characters can learn either Solar or Lunar as well as only one other school of magic. As a result, it’s more difficult to do a magic-only playthrough compared to Romancing SaGa 2, and magic in general has been nerfed. Grinding magic levels takes an eternity, and if you replace a magic type for a character then decide you want to use it again, you’ll have to start over from level 1. This is where I miss having global levels. It means you’ve got to come up with a plan for each character’s magic early on and stick to it. On the other hand, there’s more flexibility and more strategies will work.
Overall, Romancing SaGa 3 is a little easier than the second game due to these changes, but it’s still on the difficult side as far as JRPGs go. At the same time, it’s fair. Strategy and tactics matter much more than stat levels in boss fights, and if you’re really struggling, chances are you’re not making the best of the mechanics. More of the battle formations are useful this time around, and characters who succeed in certain formations are almost useless in others. I love this kind of strategy.
The world itself is about the same size as Romancing SaGa 2’s, if not a little smaller. Though, each area is more densely packed, there’s way more towns to explore, and trekking to each new region isn’t nearly as annoying as before. The amount of enemy-filled fields in the overworld is cut down by a lot in favor of more and deeper dungeons. This is enough to differentiate the games structurally, but Romancing SaGa 3 goes further by adding expansive minigames, such as a real-time strategy war effort, a stock-buying business simulator. Each of these affect other aspects of the game if you do them, but they’re optional — for most characters, anyway.
Speaking of characters, rather than choosing from various potential recruits for each class that get replaced over the generations like in the second game, there’s now fewer characters in total, but each feels a bit more special. You can even add to your party some of the starting characters you didn’t choose, which is cool. NPCs you recruit each have their own story and motivations, all of which are more in depth than in 2, but not by much. It’s more an evolution than a revolution, if you’ll excuse that hackneyed expression, but it’s enough. There’s the quirky girl who refuses to leave your party — unless you visit a certain town — two warring mage tribes, the leaders of which may join you, even a wannabe superhero named Robin who decides to help you after you get him out of a jam. You can play as all of them and many others—characters are among the strongest points of this adventure.
Kenji Ito crushes it with the music, as he did in Romancing SaGa 2, and while I prefer that game’s version of the title theme, there’s plenty of fantastic tracks here, and I’d put the OST on par with the previous game. It’s one of those JRPGs where I never felt the need to throw on a podcast and play on mute. Music plays a big part in keeping me engaged with a game, and composers for classic JRPGs like this rarely let me down.
That’s all I’ve got for October. Once again, I’m a month behind, but expect November’s review soon. The game is Fantasian, and I will see you then.