According to who (and where) you ask, SaGa border is either a little-known cult classic JRPG or a best-selling building block of a famous franchise. It’s engaging, it’s complex, it’s repetitive. Now it’s being remastered, 24 years after the original release.
“We want more gamers, especially those in the West, to play the games of the SaGa series, which has a long history in Japan,” says Hiroyuki Miura, the producer of SaGa Frontier remastered.
I played SaGa border like a goofy, angsty teenager in the late ’90s. I spent hours leveling my characters down and then getting mad at myself for not recording before erasing again. I stopped to switch to the home computer, searching for gaming tips and painstakingly detailed walkthroughs on the old school forums. My devotion to the game was amplified by the fact that none of my friends had heard of it. It was my game.
Over the years, I periodically returned to the world of SaGa border. I took my empty PlayStation to college and bought a third copy of the game on eBay (my original copy long scratched in hell, the second accidentally smashed). Gambling brought me joy, but the precariousness of aging technology worried me. If this disc were to become unusable as well, how many were left in the world?
Concerns about limited availability resonated with the SaGa team. “We have received many requests from players asking to be able to replay these games. We believe it is important to respond to those requests,” said Miura. “These plans can only be realized if there is a demand from the players, so we are very grateful to be able to release this game to the world this time around.”
Before the remaster, fans made peace with the fact that parts of the game would still be unfinished. The creator of the series did not share the same complacency. “This is an opportunity that we created ourselves,” says Akitoshi Kawazu, general manager of the SaGa series. “For a little less than 10 years now, producer Ichikawa and I have been working on various initiatives to reboot the SaGa series. I am very pleased that we have been able to get to this point thanks to this work.”
SaGa Frontier remastered includes a major graphics overhaul as well as previously cut content and quality of life adjustments, all amazing updates for SaGa fans. But SFR always punishes as only a classic JRPG can be. Did you get the right characters in the right room to trigger the right dialogue in the first fifteen minutes of the game? Well, you’ll never get a secret character three hours later then.
The arcane game architecture is a hallmark of Kawazu, which pushes the boundaries of storytelling and gameplay to original, sometimes incomprehensible levels. And it’s in the name: SaGa border was literally uncharted playing territory, complete with free roaming regions, level-scale monsters, and attack combo systems. But again, every part of the game is affected by impenetrability, that feeling that you are missing out on something.
You can create punchy combos by playing with your characters, but the rules governing those combos are not explained in the game. This is how SFR can be flashy and fun while being an absolutely confusing experience.
While the mechanics can be confusing, the visual and auditory dimensions are dazzling. Running around town involves a little leprechaun sprinting over a painted background. The sets range from the neon grime of Koorong to the whimsical Devin in Wonderland and the Gothic glow of Facinaturu. Each region has its own unique musical theme from renowned composer Kenji ito, endless looping lo-fi beats like a pixelated Escher painting. (Another plus of the remaster: you can listen to the soundtrack from a media library on the main menu.)
Equally striking is the combat system. If you throw an enemy into the air for a Rising Nova attack, your perspective changes with the movement of the sprite. The view is organic, as if you are actively participating in a real battle. This technique has helped the game age gracefully and added visual complexity that is just plain fun to watch.