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SaGa Frontier 2
Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Forget static 3D backgrounds, a la Final Fantasy VIII or Legend of Dragoon. SaGa Frontier 2 gives you water colored backgrounds and hand-drawn characters, a visual method that's an absolute treat. Locations simply pop with beauty, not the overwrought detail of FF8, but a warmer, more natural feel. It's good stuff. Unfortunately, the battle graphics are not as impressive. The characters seem to have a frame or two of animation a piece, and clash mightily with the rendered backdrops that they fight upon. 3D on 2D works; 2D on 3D does not. Ack. The spell effects are nice, but again clash with the 2D characters. I did like the many different ways that you transitioned to battle, however -- it breaks up the monotony of getting thrown into combat.

For the most part, the music in SaGa Frontier 2 is good. Most of it fits well, with enjoyable battle themes and melodic town tunes. None of it's particularly memorable, however, and as I sit here writing this review after a long session of SF2, I find myself humming the Prologue theme from Final Fantasy IV. In other words, you won't want to turn it down, but you won't have it charging across your mental landscape either. The sound effects are adequate, with appropriate clangs and clanks and whatnot, but there's nothing here that'll really blow you away.

Chances are good that the game, while a solid RPG, won't bowl you over either. It gets a little too caught up in the mediocre storytelling, with cardboard characters and contrived events, and in the end its only saving grace is the enjoyable battle system. It's also damned hard at times, which is a pleasant change from the piece-of-cake RPG’s of today, but some normal encounters will consume more of your time than most other game's boss battles, which can be a pain.

The story is told in two major threads -- that of Gustave XIII and those around him, a young boy exiled from the kingdom he was to rule because he could not use magic, and the story of Wil, a young Digger out to find out what happened to his father. The storylines cross, of course, and in an interesting change, you often have a choice of following different pieces of the storyline. A timeline keeps track of everything that's happened. Unfortunately, the storyline isn't particularly enthralling, and the characters don't have the appeal of, say, Vivi in Final Fantasy IX. Many people seem put in the game as placeholders, fodder for the story to feed on.

As the storyline twists and turns, you'll find yourself subjected to a whole lot of exposition. You can't seem to speed up the text-scrolling speed, which is a pain, especially since some of the rambles almost challenge Xenogears for longest time without any real interaction. The translation, while adequate, has none of the pizzazz of the more recent Square translations, and fails to convey any deeper emotion or meaning.

Fortunately, the battle system is intriguing enough to make SaGa Fronter 2 worth playing, at least for a little while. Most weapons have a limited number of uses, like the SaGa games on the Gameboy (they were called Final Fantasy Legends here). And you gain new attacks and skills in the weapons that you use the most. As you learn new abilities, you can equip them so your character can use them, but each ability costs a certain number of WP to use. By timing it right and picking the right attacks, you can do combos, where more than one person attacks at the same time, usually for major damage. Along with the party battle system, you can do one-on-one duels. These duels allow you even more control over the combat, allowing you to pick different types of blows (feint, backslash, etc.) and combine them to deal some damage. Combining the attacks in the right order and having enough skill in the weapon you're using often gains you new combos to use in the standard combat system. It's fun, if a little overwhelming at first.

SaGa Frontier 2 is no pushover. Some of the battles take a long time to do correctly, and SF2 has some of the longest boss battles I've ever participated in. Since the level-up system is semi-random, you can't expect to be at a certain strength when you get to a boss. Regularly fighting standard enemies to gain new combos and more HP is a must, and even then some fights are a matter of endurance.

Game Mechanics:
SF2 has a wonderful little feature -- a Quick Save button that doesn't put anything on the memory card, but works instantly. This lets you try something difficult and not have to backtrack. Of course, if the power goes out, you lose it, but it's a quite handy little feature. The menus are a little confusing at first, as they're not set up like most RPG’s, but a little digging around for options and how to equip weapons and you'll find them easy enough to use. Moving around is simple enough (use the Analog Stick for greatest effect), although sometimes it's hard to trigger events when you want. I had a tough time triggering the opening of the secret door early on in Gustave's storyline until I walked around the room s-l-o-w-l-y.

PS2: Make sure you don't use the Graphics Smoothing option. Since SF2 is loaded with sprites, you get the annoying 'boxing' issues that plague 2D objects. Putting the disc speed on Fast seems to work, however, and it improves the load times a little. They weren't long to begin with, though, so it's not really a noticeable improvement.

SaGa Frontier 2 isn't a bad game, it's just not quite good enough when compared to other games that came out this year. Looking at Vagrant Story, Chrono Cross, and the recently released Final Fantasy IX (and these are just the PlayStation titles), one can see that there are better games out there. If you have the money, and don't mind some annoying exposition, SaGa Frontier 2 is a good game. But if you're on a limited budget, you'd be better off with some of the other RPG’s out there.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

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