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SaGa Frontier Remastered

Purple

(She/Her)
And I find it hard to buy into the argument that ALL of these games are missing some kind of deliberate polish that then leads to players labeling them as "a mess." You just don't go out and make 7 games in the same series over the course of ~16 years without developing some kind internal framework for your common game design language and concepts.
I mean, if we're talking plot wise, it's definitely an intentional vibe. Even going back to the original GB SaGa, there's a pointed lack of context for how all the towns are full of just like sandworms and goblins with the odd human in the mix, and all these little barely there tower floors which clearly have their own stories that don't involve you, like sidequests pulling the help wanted sign when they see you coming.

Mechanically though... I feel like Kawazu is the kind of guy who GMs tabletop RPGs and if anyone has read a single page of any book that isn't the character creation pages he clearly bookmarked, they're banned from the table. I don't mean that as a metaphor, it's just the vibe I get.

So we have these really unorthodox systems, and games where boss fights in particular expect you to master them, but they are... impenetrably obtuse and not generally decipherable while in the midst of trying to just play the game and like... I dunno, if you have a neatly organized system for all your canned goods that makes sense to you personally, and then you peel all the labels off them and invite someone to make chili or something, calling that cupboard a mess isn't unfair?
 

spines

behold my godlike
(she/her, or something)

video is related, but maybe not obviously, so like.

in a "normal" rpg, you prepare until you can win. or maybe even until you basically can't lose! sure, you aren't gonna walk into a boss in shin megami tensei nocturne hd remaster and have a party that's readymade to beat it (well, probably. there was a pretty good cheese combo i found that worked on a LOT of things when i first played it and the most finicky requirement assuming it was adequate was waiting till new moon before walking through doors with a prompt), but after the first time, you slap together a team that doesn't take any fire damage and that's pretty much it. and, admittedly, in post-gameboy saga games, you can still do that a lot of the time. and there are parts where you have to have some build-up beforehand.

but these are universally regarded as the worst and hardest parts of the games. stuff like the magma slimes in this game, or rs2's final boss, really do require immense power and specific abilities or contingencies prepared to finish (if not also a decent dose of luck). and i admit that i'm a stubborn player who often approaches games like a very slow and stupid machine learning algorithm; i'm sure that i'm strong enough and just need to come up with the series of actions that works until my last idea fails. so saga already kind of caters to the experimental approach i tend to go for, while the approaches that other rpgs encourage tend to be less productive. they're generally not self-defeating; fighting battles to get stronger really doesn't hurt you. but unless you're basically getting killed in one hit constantly it probably doesn't help as much as you'll expect either

but i feel that the spark system is basically the most consistent recurring "saga" mechanic* for a reason: it kind of represents the power of what you don't know. maybe it is too hard, or you get unlucky, or you didn't really know how to prepare for it. but then one of your characters busts out something totally sick that turns the battle around. i actually beat unlimited saga's final boss the first time after a bunch of defeats clearly because my dog learned the best move in the game (along with everything else i'd figured out). obviously that fades as you figure out what's useful and how to get it faster, but on a first playthrough it's one of the game's most important tools for explaining things, and rewards the process of trying to win a hard battle rather than just gaining more stats to win it.

though i think the even bigger reason i like it is just that it feels truer to my life. i've never been the kind of person who can study things, or try to memorize them on purpose, but i can keep persevering until i get the inspiration that makes it work out, and usually that's the thing that carries forward for me. even in scarlet grace, where sometimes sparking things is "bad" (because you always get the best effect possible at the moment when you learn it and various things can become way less useful when used normally, so it kind of wastes that opportunity)...well, that makes sense to me too. sometimes you just don't learn something at the time it would've really helped.

*(obviously the LP thing has been around longer, but also gets changed up a lot more. it's very different in unlimited or rs2 than it is in rs3 or frontier, for example)
 

Paul le Fou

Pickle Bus Owns Tulip Town
(He)
An obvious-in-retrospect but still very cool detail that must have been introduced for the remaster because NG+ didn't exist in the original iirc: When you recruit Rouge in NG+, he has all of Blue's stats and spells from your previous playthrough.


Back to the game being a mess:
OK OK OK these are all very good and interesting arguments, and I'm at least partially convinced by a lot of them. That said, Blue's story still has even less incidental dialog and storytelling than any other given story so far (3/7) (not counting Lute for the time being), and with such a...bold ending, taking everyone's very good analysis into account, I still think they could have done a little more to convey that. Like... instead of freeze-frame in the middle of a technique, have the camera slowly zoom out and/or fade to black as that last turn plays out. That would have given the player time to process "something is happening" and it's also very classic/recgonizable visual language. Now I'm nitpicking, I guess, but I do wish it had given just a little more to go on so the reaction could be "What? Hmm..." instead of "Wait, what the fuck?"

But the more I hear in-depth analysis of initially-inscrutable game and storytelling design decisions, the more I appreciate them.

Uh-oh...

That kind of brings me to my own "final thought" on SaGa Frontier: I feel like this game was a little too understood by its authors, and there were a lot of design decisions that can absolutely make sense, but only if you really understand the whole of the game. Like, every scenario, every sidequest, and the importance of knowing the difference between the two before you burn out on experiencing everything. And narratively, the fact that, say, Blue is very much just a jerk, and isn't like another PSX Final Fantasy-esque "he'll be less gruff eventually" protagonist is super important to his ultimate fate, but you really can't understand the full scope of that until you realize Rogue was "the good twin" all along from other scenarios. And the whole of the game (particularly in the original incarnation, thanks memory cards) is not the easiest thing to grasp under the best of circumstances. I can see how a lot of these decisions make sense in the fullness of understanding all of SaGa Frontier, but in the individual moments of it, it is all over the place, and likely to "offend" a player with its very distinct choices.

Anyway, I do believe a lot of thought and care went into SaGa Frontier's original creation and the remaster. I very fondly remember the game then and now. I also think it is kind of a mess.
This resonates with me a lot. I actually don't go so far as to agree with the dungeons thing you mention, but even that is proven by this paragraph's argument, because I "know" the game well enough to accept that. And part of that is through a frustrating experience or two of getting to the end of a dungeon and finding out I'm in the wrong place (both of the ruins in Shingrow are just called "Ruins," fucking come on guys), and part of that is through absorbing others' discussions and participating in my own.

So now I look at all the extra spaces and areas and it doesn't bother me because instead of wondering why I can't go there, I look forward to finding the scenario that actually takes me there; that, I think is a really strong part of Frontier's anthology design. Case in point, after two runs wondering what was going on at Shingrow palace, I finally got to explore it in Emilia's scenario. (Meanwhile, I'm already tired of the Bio Research Lab from grinding human stats and monster/mystic absorbs, and I have yet to be actually pointed there by any scenario).

So by playing and getting to know the game, all those weird design decisions start to take on context and become "just part of the game" for better or worse.

Oh no...

Guys...

I think...
 

Lokii

It's always time for burgers
(He/Him)
Staff member
Moderator
Frontier is loose, obscure, and full of unconventional structure. These aspects could all be described accurately as messy, as in they feel like they're all over the place and out of control. I don't the word though, because to me it implies a incompetence, or unintentionality on the part of the developers. Even the term "beautiful mess" still implies a happy accident. That despite their bumbling they ended up making something kinda neat. "Weird," if not "fun."


SaGa?

Would it be appropriate to call a Jackson Pollock painting a mess? It has all the qualities of a mess. It's literally paint splattered all over a canvas. But calling it a mess misses that it was painted with intentionality. And we know it was because if Pollock wanted to paint in a more traditional manner he would have. This suggests that there was thought behind the choices he made. Intentionality suggests consideration.


SaGa?

Now I'm not trying to imply that SaGa Frontier is a work of art on the level of a Pollock painting or anything like that, but I do feel like both works operate in some similar ways, in such that they push against the boundaries of the conventional approach. And like a Pollock painting Frontier is difficult and controversial. Both works are intentionally doing something that is off the beaten path.

I was reading an article today on different kinds of literary prose and this description seemed to accurately describe the same space SaGa exists in:

Experimental prose takes risks with format, structure, and content. It’s never going to have a traditional plot arc, nor will it conform to existing tropes or archetypes. While it may retain echoes of the standard fair, it will always contain a dash of the new and unknown. Experimental prose is often ergodic, requiring a high degree of effort on the reader’s part to fully comprehend what it’s trying to state. Navigating the book’s structure may be nontrivial, possibly requiring a reader to flip between pages and footnotes and storylines to create their own reading experience. At its heart, authors dabbling in experimental prose care most about creating an active reading experience unlike any other.

It seems to me that Kawazu and team are experimenting in form with their games, that they're intentionally looking to make an experience that ignores certain traditional approaches. Part of that is the truncated way the story and dialog is presented, part of it is having a very open world design, part of it is hidden and unexplained systems (I love Purple's metaphor of the soup cans with the labels removed), and part of it is the experience of going from befuddlement and utter confusion to learning how the systems and structures work and seeing behind the curtain to the intricate patterns beyond.

But as an experimental work too it does require more investment and energy to engage with than a more traditional and familiar experience. I totally understand that some people don't like or aren't seeking this kind of experience and I'm very sympathetic to the fact that the game requires extra energy and some people who are interested don't have it to spare. I don't want to push the game on anyone or insist that the experience is for everyone, but I do want to explore this strange and experimental thing that is SaGa and assuming intentionality helps me to do so. That's why I'm resistive to classifying the game, specifically, as a mess.


...SaGa!
 
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Paul le Fou

Pickle Bus Owns Tulip Town
(He)
Anyway I started Emilia's scenario in NG+. Luckily I had done Runes on Blue's story, so my Gradius people are all leveled and decked out and I was good to go out of the gate. I actually kept their starting gear on for a bit so as to not feel too ridiculously overpowered. As much or probably more than T260G's story so far, there are actual characters! They have back stories and interactions with each other and opinions! It feels downright unusual at this point.

I got the Light gift and spent most of this run spamming Sunray with Annie to teach her Light Sword, which finally sparked after, judging by my JP gain, 56 casts.

As I got other characters, to build them up I sidelined my NG+ characters (Roufas, Annie, Liza, Rouge; couldn't pick up Nusukan); they're already endgame strength, and meanwhile I'll be running into other characters along the line, so it'll be good to have them all stronger for when I do. Current party is Emilia, Asellus, White Rose, Zozma, and Fei-On. Yeah, that's a lot of mystics. I also have Mesarthim and Cotton around; Cotton is a manticore right now I think, which I'm hesitant to mess with before getting a full-on guide. (Do monsters retain their forms and abilities and all across NG+?)

Still messing around with Mystic builds and getting the hang of them, but I've been grinding absorbs in the bio lab, trying to get at least one or two suzakus for everyone. Currently focusing str on Zozma and Asellus, Con/magic on White Rose and Mesarthim. The stats are one thing, and I have a guide to refer to, so that's easy enough. But now I still need to figure out what abilities are best and how to build a mystic to balance good stats and abilities. So I'll probably need to rejigger everything all over again (and then build their damn WP up to boot). Luckily I figured out which enemy in the lab is 100% a Suzaku, so it's really easy to just wail on them and wait for them to eventually get absorbed. Part of the question is also figuring out which abilities scale on which stats besides the obvious.

Asellus: I know she's half human, half mystic and works differently; she can actually spark techs and magic and grow all her stats, for one, and take off her mystic equipment arts if she wants (I think). Then, she does a mystic transformation after using a piece of mystic equipment; I'm pretty positive that the stat increases from the mystic gear absorbs don't kick in until she does. (Makes it kind of a pain when grinding absorbs to take an extra turn but oh well.) My main question is: After doing her mystic transformation, can she still spark techs, or is she just stuck fully in "Mystic mode"?

Emilia's outfits getting progressively more skimpy/objectifying is definitely not my favorite. And can we talk about how Roufas fucking roofied her to sell her to a bad guy as part of an undercover op she very understandably didn't want to do that way?! That was.........extremely unpleasant, to say the least.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
Roufas is a dick and I kind of like that he is because anyone who sets himself up as an authority figure in a secret organization with zero accountability and which is exclusively staffed by attractive women sets off all the warning signs possible immediately. The best thing about Emilia's story and why I got into it was the solidarity between her, Annie and Liza which for as lightly shaded as these kinds of interactions tend to be is emphasized consistently. It's gendered in complicated ways throughout.
 

nosimpleway

(he/him)
In the original at least, MysticalChange means Asellus is treated as a Mystic for the rest of the fight. She can't spark, she gets the stat boosts out of her Mystic gear, and she is limited to Mystic stat growth at the end of the fight. I thiiiiiiink the fights with the assassins sent after you and the one with Furdo count as her being MysticalChanged already, but not the fight with the final boss.

Again in the original, you can use MysticGlove to absorb something without losing your shot at the good ending, because for all the intentionally bizarre design decisions the game was also hacked to bits to fit onto a single CD and rushed for release.

And yeah, drugging your scenario protagonist and selling her as a sex slave is, uh, not a good look.
 

Paul le Fou

Pickle Bus Owns Tulip Town
(He)
Again in the original, you can use MysticGlove to absorb something without losing your shot at the good ending, because for all the intentionally bizarre design decisions the game was also hacked to bits to fit onto a single CD and rushed for release.
I don't know the context for what any of this means D:
 
The gameplay decision about just how mystic to make Asellus is also a narrative decision, but one part of that (MysticGlove) is bugged so you can use it with no consequence.

Mystics are kind of a mid-ground between humans and monsters, and they have three pieces of equipment that can each absorb a monster to gain some kind of attack (or passive ability, I believe) and also stat bonuses. For any mystics other than Asellus, this is the only way to increase their stats, so you will want to absorb strong enemies into their three pieces of equipment or they'll essentially never level up. For Asellus it's more like a boost to make her extra good. You can use that or ignore it, with narrative consequences.
 
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Paul le Fou

Pickle Bus Owns Tulip Town
(He)
I did know all that except for the Asellus-specific narrative consequences and their related bugs. So, if you use Mystic powers you get a different ending than if you don't use them at all? (Except only for Faeblade and Boots, because Glove is bugged not to count against that?) Is that a one-and-done thing, or a certain-threshold thing? I suppose I could just look up a guide too.
 

Lance Noble Aster

did his best!
(he/him)
You can get locked into one of those paths instantly if you NG+ into an Asellus with abilities already in her gear, so if at all possible, don't carry over Mystic abilities into her scenario.
 

spines

behold my godlike
(she/her, or something)
they get removed in ng+ for this exact reason. at least, if the main character is fuse (though i can't see why it'd be different for herself or emelia)
 

video is related, but maybe not obviously, so like.

in a "normal" rpg, you prepare until you can win. or maybe even until you basically can't lose! sure, you aren't gonna walk into a boss in shin megami tensei nocturne hd remaster and have a party that's readymade to beat it (well, probably. there was a pretty good cheese combo i found that worked on a LOT of things when i first played it and the most finicky requirement assuming it was adequate was waiting till new moon before walking through doors with a prompt), but after the first time, you slap together a team that doesn't take any fire damage and that's pretty much it. and, admittedly, in post-gameboy saga games, you can still do that a lot of the time. and there are parts where you have to have some build-up beforehand.

but these are universally regarded as the worst and hardest parts of the games. stuff like the magma slimes in this game, or rs2's final boss, really do require immense power and specific abilities or contingencies prepared to finish (if not also a decent dose of luck). and i admit that i'm a stubborn player who often approaches games like a very slow and stupid machine learning algorithm; i'm sure that i'm strong enough and just need to come up with the series of actions that works until my last idea fails. so saga already kind of caters to the experimental approach i tend to go for, while the approaches that other rpgs encourage tend to be less productive. they're generally not self-defeating; fighting battles to get stronger really doesn't hurt you. but unless you're basically getting killed in one hit constantly it probably doesn't help as much as you'll expect either

but i feel that the spark system is basically the most consistent recurring "saga" mechanic* for a reason: it kind of represents the power of what you don't know. maybe it is too hard, or you get unlucky, or you didn't really know how to prepare for it. but then one of your characters busts out something totally sick that turns the battle around. i actually beat unlimited saga's final boss the first time after a bunch of defeats clearly because my dog learned the best move in the game (along with everything else i'd figured out). obviously that fades as you figure out what's useful and how to get it faster, but on a first playthrough it's one of the game's most important tools for explaining things, and rewards the process of trying to win a hard battle rather than just gaining more stats to win it.

though i think the even bigger reason i like it is just that it feels truer to my life. i've never been the kind of person who can study things, or try to memorize them on purpose, but i can keep persevering until i get the inspiration that makes it work out, and usually that's the thing that carries forward for me. even in scarlet grace, where sometimes sparking things is "bad" (because you always get the best effect possible at the moment when you learn it and various things can become way less useful when used normally, so it kind of wastes that opportunity)...well, that makes sense to me too. sometimes you just don't learn something at the time it would've really helped.

*(obviously the LP thing has been around longer, but also gets changed up a lot more. it's very different in unlimited or rs2 than it is in rs3 or frontier, for example)
When I got up this morning, I did not expect to see Big Time Tommy in a thread about SaGa Frontier, let alone on Talking Time. But here we are!
 

gogglebob

The Goggles Do Nothing
(he/him)
Roufas is a dick and I kind of like that he is because anyone who sets himself up as an authority figure in a secret organization with zero accountability and which is exclusively staffed by attractive women sets off all the warning signs possible immediately. The best thing about Emilia's story and why I got into it was the solidarity between her, Annie and Liza which for as lightly shaded as these kinds of interactions tend to be is emphasized consistently. It's gendered in complicated ways throughout.

Not to minimize the distinct characters involved, but in the same way that Red is a sentai story, I always (like back at original release) assumed that Emilia was existing in a Charlie's Angels pastiche. Three powerful women, a single authoritative man, and a lot of "spy missions" that coincidentally involve playing dressup. And the "crime they didn't commit thing" heroes seems very A-Team. I'm trying to think if this setup is common in Japanese media of the time, but I always kind of assumed Emilia's whole scenario was deliberately trying to be the "American" culturally-themed story. And all the complicated gender politics that would inevitably include...

(If it seems like I am posting in this thread more than others, it's because I have twenty years of pent-up opinions on this game that has barely been mentioned elsewhere in my life.)
 

Sprite

(He/Him/His)
Frontier is loose, obscure, and full of unconventional structure. These aspects could all be described accurately as messy, as in they feel like they're all over the place and out of control. I don't the word though, because to me it implies a incompetence, or unintentionality on the part of the developers. Even the term "beautiful mess" still implies a happy accident. That despite their bumbling they ended up making something kinda neat. "Weird," if not "fun."
I mean, accident isn't the right term, yeah. Other than the glitches, some of the weirdness is just compromising for the fact that they didn't have enough time to fully make the game they wanted. Compromises are still deliberate even if they're only done out of necessity. And yes, "unfinished" can't apply anymore, because they had the chance to change it and largely didn't. They took this thing they made that was almost but not quite what they wanted to make, looked at it, decided it was still neat, and just filled in some missing edges.

I still maintain the game is a mess, but it is a mess on purpose. Everything there is there for a reason.

And I'm glad they kept what they did! The major glitches are Good, Actually because they make the game easier to play and a great escape valve when you hit a wall. It still feels like a wild and ambitious experiment and I love it for that.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
I was going to make the Charlie's Angels connection directly at first, yeah; the way Gradius is set up is creepy in similar ways, but also aware of the connotations around the premise in ways that go back and forth in how critical the game actually is about it all and how it wants to make you feel. In usual SaGa fashion, it doesn't nail down a particular viewpoint about the material presented.

The pastiches are really knowing and strong everywhere you look in the game. Fuse is basically a sex romp jackass lead in the Lupin III/Space Adventure Cobra vein, especially prominently so visually in how Kobayashi defines him. Asellus's story is a pitch-perfect tribute to the works of any number of shōjo field masters in its grand gothic melodrama, but considering that tone and the vampiric theming mixed with courtly intrigues, Moto Hagio and Riyoko Ikeda come to mind as specific influences. The intense queerness certainly carried over in Miwa Shoda's writing career in games, as Nights of Azure which she wrote much later is built on the same central foundation.
 

nosimpleway

(he/him)
I don't know the context for what any of this means D:
Humans are humans. Mystics are basically magic vampires. Asellus is, due to circumstances in her scenario intro, a human with a magic vampire blood infusion that makes her half-mystic. Humans can grow their stats based on practicing those things. Mystics don't grow their stats directly (except, like, Charm), they raise them by soul-sucking monsters into their equipment using special Mystic skills.

Asellus, straddling the line between both, is treated ingame as a human most of the time, including sparking skills and stat growth after a fight. Eventually she gets the ability to MysticalChange, or whatever they renamed it in the remaster, to tap into her Mystic powers. One of those Mystic powers is to soul-suck monsters into her equipment to raise her stats while she's Changed, same as all the other Mystics you can pick up in your party.

But using those powers also makes her... more of a Mystic! And how Mystic she is determines what she does after her scenario is over: does she live life as a normal human, does she seclude herself from humanity and take on the life in the vampire court? Or does she continue to straddle the line between the two worlds? Needless to say, if you soulsuck monsters you're not getting the full-human ending.

Except, in the original release I can only assume they fixed this in the remake, that one of her pieces of equipment is bugged and the game forgets to check whether there's a monster in it when it determines what ending you get. So you can pull a Suzaku (for example, since they're pretty much the best monster) into her MysticGlove, use MysticalChange to get the Suzaku's +20 to all her stats and the HellWing skill all you want, and still get the full-human ending.
 

YangusKhan

does the Underpants Dance
(He/Him/His)
You guys, I think 3 different people all just explained to Paul how Asellus gains stats and abilities when that was only part of his confusion.
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
On the subject of Asellus endings, regarding the new content...allegedly the new side activities post-Dark Labyrinth can have her alignment lean more one way or another? I mean, Dr. Nusakan just gets you a little exposition and a new party member, but apparently doing Furdo's Workshop moves your alignment closer to Human and doing the Bio Research Lab moves it closer to Mystic?
 

Paul le Fou

Pickle Bus Owns Tulip Town
(He)
You guys, I think 3 different people all just explained to Paul how Asellus gains stats and abilities when that was only part of his confusion.
It actually wasn't a part of my confusion at all; I fully understood that, as I explicitly stated and outlined in my longer post above the one being quoted. I just didn't know what was up with multiple endings and one bug relating to them.
 

Lance Noble Aster

did his best!
(he/him)
I finished Asellus's scenario! I got the human ending, mainly because humans kick so much more ass than Mystics that it's not even a competition. I'm glad White Rose got out of the forever zone. The scene immediately after the forever zone with Turnip and Zozma was... really weird? Like it fades in and out several times for unclear reasons? Maybe it's trying to communicate the passage of time as Asellus cries over the effective death of her girlfriend, but mostly it just feels like the game is breaking.

Almost certainly going to do an actual New Game + of this scenario at some point.
 
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jpfriction

A most radical pontiff
I’m as guilty of inconsistency here as anyone but the posts in this thread reliably alternating between “completely redacted with spoiler tags” and “openly describing ending scenarios” is amusing to me.
 
I just started Assellus after finishing Blue and Fuse/Emilia.

I had forgotten there were multiple endings for her; I've read a few discussions and think I know which one I will go for. It does help that she's already pretty strong thanks to NG+. Already she can wipe the floor with many foes.

Incidentally, for those of us who don't follow the sales thread, a bunch of other SaGa games are currently half-off in PSN and Nintendo eShop. I picked up RS3 and am considering Scarlet Grace. I hear that's a good one, but I doubt I'll ever love a SaGa game as much as this one.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
I call Frontier one of the best games ever made but Scarlet Grace has at least as justified a claim to such esteem, in very distinct ways. I encourage everyone to try it.
 
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