Once every 300 years, the Rise of Morastrum – an event where the dark star blocks out the sun – threatens the very existence of our world. All born in that year are doomed to perish before its end. Whether man or beast, none have a chance at survival.
However, there came a time when a sole child did survive. He was entranced by the power of death, using it to conquer the world. He came to be known as the Archfiend, opening the Abyss Gates and unleashing the Sinistrals: the four lords of the Abyss. Yet one day, he simply vanished.
From that time on, the Sinistrals crushed the world under their heel. Another 300 years passed, and again a child defied fate. She did not give in to the same powers that controlled the Archfiend and came to be known as the Matriarch. With the aid of mighty allies, she drove the Sinistrals back into the pit from whence they came and sealed the gates behind them.
It has been nearly two decades since the previous rising of Morastrum, and 300-odd years since the appearance of the Matriarch. Humanity now stands at the fulcrum between hope and despair. Will there be another child of destiny? Will the child be righteous, evil, or another force that the world cannot fathom?
For all those players who enjoyed playing RPGs during the SNES and PSOne eras, the name Squaresoft still has a special place in our hearts. Fast-forward to 2003 and the former Squaresoft merged with the Japanese publisher Enix and formed the studio Square Enix, the company known for some of the best RPG games of the last decades. Especially to me, Square /Square Enix has always been the benchmark when the subject was JRPGs. And they still are. Their most famous franchises (guess what?), Final Fantasy, has already sold more than 147 million copies along since its debut in 1987. But formed from the merge of two company giants, there are many more titles other than Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Kingdom Hearts in theirs sleeves: Chrono Trigger, Mana series, Front Mission series, Xenogears series… just to name a few. And there’s one series I’ve always wanted to try but never had the opportunity. Until now.
Developed and published by Square Enix, Romancing SaGa 3 is the sixth installment of the SaGa series released for SNES in 1995 in Japan. Now, 24 years later, the game was remastered and released on mobiles, PCs and all the current platforms.
Originated in the ancient Game Boy (the second handheld console by Nintendo, my dear millennial readers), the SaGa series developed to be Squaresoft’s first title on Nintendo handheld console. Although all the similarities, it differed from Squaresoft’s main franchise, Final Fantasy, in the difficulty (which was waaay higher in this new series), open-world exploration, nonlinear gameplay and open-ended branching plot. Romancing SaGa 3 follows this already established formula in an adventure that starts in a throne dispute and will take you around the world in a quest to defy the destiny of mankind. Start your adventure from 8 different perspectives, according to the main character you select, recruit party members to aid you in this quest and prepare for an adventure like no other!
What do you do? Romancing SaGa 3 is a non-linear turn-based RPG where you and your group of adventurers will explore the world while doing quests for NPCs while your crew becomes stronger after each battle. It seems very familiar to any other RPG title, but I can grant you it isn’t. Here your quests, your skills and abilities and even your group of characters will depend on a series of factors, starting on who’s your main character. But let’s not jump the gun here and examine each one of these aspects for you.
What we liked!
- Visuals: Keeping the same charm of the original version of the game but with graphics totally remastered, Romancing SaGa 3 will be a delight for those who love a good-and-not-necessarily-old pixel-art game. And here you have a full package, with colorful and well-detailed elements wherever you lay your eyes upon. The game world, cities and dungeons all seem gorgeous in this remaster, while the in-battle visuals try to keep things closer to the original, with a little less detail. Exquisite to say the least!
- Music: Keeping the tradition from Squaresoft and later Square Enix studio, the sound aspect of this game is superb! The music proudly carries the legacy of the studio. Its composer, Kenji Ito-Sensei, is for SaGa series what Nobuo Uematsu-Sensei is for the Final Fantasy Series: a true Master! And don’t worry about its sound-effects: they have the same quality level.
- Interesting characters: From the beginning, you can choose your main characters between 8 different individuals, each one with his/her own story. Sometimes they will meet and interact in each other’s story, but your adventure tends to take you to places, quests and companions totally different. I must say I hadn’t finished the game with the 8 characters to confirm how far these differences go, but there are enough differences in the early stages of the game to make you want to see them all before deciding who is going to be your hero.
- With great power comes great… replayability: And with all these interesting characters, comes great replayability. If you want to fully explore the world or get to know all its secrets, you have the New Game Plus option where you can carry on items, abilities, skills and money into a new game.
- Quo vadis? I’ve already mentioned that Romancing SaGa 3 is a non-linear RPG, but I’m not sure how I feel about it. It’s cool that each one of its 8 main characters has his/her own plot, passing for different cities and/or attending quests in a different order. But when you don’t know what to do or where to go next, it becomes a burden. Even more when certain events only trigger under special circumstances. For instance: your group of adventurers arrives at City A. After entering every store and talked to every NPC in there, nothing happens. With no clue about what to do, you leave the city. Then you go to City B and the same happens. When at City C, you talk to an NPC that mentions someone who lived at City A in the past – and this is the trigger that was needed for something to happen at the City A. But as you had no clue about it, you lost around 30-40 minutes exploring the three cities before finding what you had to do in the first place.
- Navigation: The free-exploration of the game is actually very limited: you can’t free roam in the map – only access cities and places already mentioned to you by an NPC or that are the destiny of a ship. And with this free roam, the game takes away the random encounters too: you will only find enemies inside of dungeons (enemies that you can see in the map and must touch them to engage in battle). I know some people that will love this!
What we disliked
- Skill and Magic Systems: One of the main characteristics of the game is also something I didn’t enjoy at all: the skill and magic learning. Each character learns skills related to the weapons he/she is using. But the process is totally random: you have no control over when this happens. They learn these skills in a glimpse: at a determined while using an attack, your character will execute the skill and it will become available for you in the following battles. And the worst part: to discover new skills can take like forever! Now the magic isn’t learned: you buy them from magic shops available in some cities. Once you master a skill, you can erase it or teach it for other characters like it’s equipment you can put on or take off whenever you wish.
- Excessive farming: You will need money in this game. A lot of it! Not far from the beginning, items start costing above 1000 coins, while enemies you face will give you 4 or 5 coins after each battle. So, if you want to better equip your characters – and trust me, you will need it! – you will need to keep farming for countless hours. Up to the point of sleeping while playing (it happened to me more than once).
- Pointless game modes: In some situations, the game puts you in other game modes that feel like minigames. It’s something usually cool in JRPGs that revolve around you doing some tasks to pass the time or to chill between one and another battle. Here you’ll have two minigames: the first consists of ‘controlling’ one army that will clash against another army where all you can do is select their formation or use some commands that cost their morale like pushing forward or guarding back (or something like it). The second one puts you working for a holding and gives you the mission of buying new companies and expanding the business. The offers are made against other interested and an auction takes place. If you make the bigger bid, you buy the company. Both minigames seem interesting and I’m sure they would be interesting – if the game explained to you what to do. Like in the Magic/Skill system, you are on your own here.
I remember back in the day when this game was released some gaming magazines covering it (or any other title from Squaresoft) calling it a Masterpiece. And I grow up with that in my mind: everything that came from this studio was something special, something that would raise the bar for other studios. Something new and revolutionary. A true masterpiece. And some of them truly were – but only a handful. Now, more than twenty years later, I’m a grown-up man who tried all styles and genres of games from studios from the four corners of the world. This allows me to say that Romancing SaGa 3 is no masterpiece. It is indeed a good JRPG with beautiful art and a touching soundtrack. But it’s far from friendly with the player: it gives you little to no guidance (including its game mechanics!), making it a rather frustrating experience. I still want to see it to the end – with all the characters. But I can already see ahead that this will be a really hard task to accomplish
With a history of gaming that goes from his old man’s Atari 2600 to his Xbox One, Rafael or RAF687, our Brazilian editor, has a love for games as old as he can remember. He has already spent countless hours in many consoles (Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega Saturn, PS1, PS2 and Xbox 360) and is always ready for more (as long as his wife is asleep). Raf has been writing for LifeisXbox since 2017, with a passion for games of almost all genres – though we know he has a special place in his heart for RPGs, racing games and anything that includes pixel art. Writing about games has always been a childhood dream to Raf, dream that he has fulfilled reviewing games for you here. You can drop him a message at Twitter, Facebook or Xbox Live at any time.