The world wasn’t ready for Romancing SaGa when it was first released in 1992. It wasn’t until the PS2 remake in 2005 that the title made its way to western shores, where it quickly gained a passionate following. among fans for its nonlinear storytelling, expressive characters, and multiple-choice approach to protagonists. Playing through this remaster of the cult classic JRPG, dubbed Romancing SaGa – Minstrel Song – Remastered, reminds us how special it is, despite some confusing design decisions.
Unlike the 2005 remake, this is more of an upgrade to the Romancing SaGa experience than a complete overhaul. It comes with brilliant, updated HD visuals and new playable characters, along with a handful of quality of life changes to improve the experience for new players. But even as a remaster of a 20-year-old JRPG, Romancing SaGa – Minstrel Song – Remastered is an ambitious title that tries to do a lot of things that even modern games struggle with.
The plot of Romancing SaGa is told through eight different protagonists, each with their own story to tell in the world of Mardias. Albert, for example, is the heir to a noble house who finds himself on a mission to save his house from invading monsters. Jamil is a thief from a town on another continent, but despite having separate backstories, it is possible for the two to interact and venture together if the player chooses to recruit them. Players who choose to take control dictate how the adventure begins and through what lens it is told, and all parties will eventually grapple with the same world-ending disaster by the end.
Player choice is one of the most interesting things about Romancing SaGa – Minstrel Song – Remastered. Whichever character you choose to control, you’ll soon be immersed in an open world and given the freedom to find your way around. Playing as young Aisha, you can choose to wander around for a few minutes and then return home, but if you speak to the wrong person, they will be captured and must find their way to freedom. In most games this would be an entire character arc, but here it is an optional side quest. Romancing SaGa is still years ahead of most JRPGs in its narrative approach, even decades after its initial release.
The opening of the world, however, has a cost. Many quests don’t tell you how to move forward beyond vague statements, requiring you to go back and scour the world for the next step or the NPC who will drop a vital clue. This can be frustrating for players who expect the game to hold their hands a bit more, but it all encourages them to get out and see as many people as possible. Recruit new characters, get better gear, and unlock new skills to help you and your party take on the next challenge.
When you’re not scouring continents for your next quest objective, you’ll fight your way through the countless monsters that populate the world map. Combat takes turns, with players choosing their characters’ actions before the round begins. The most powerful actions consume Battle Points (BP), which regenerate at the end of each round, making the deadliest attacks something you have to wait to unleash. There are also durability points (DP), which represent the damage a weapon takes; once depleted, the weapon is unusable until repaired. Balancing your consumption of these two pools forms the backbone of this game’s unique combat system.
Health fully regenerates at the end of each battle, so you can jump straight from fight to fight without having to worry about healing. This makes grinding much easier, which is good because you’ll be doing a lot. Romancing SaGa – Minstrel Song – Remastered does not have experience points – instead characters gain new skills by performing actions in battle. If Albert continues to use his sword, he will unlock new sword abilities, eg. Stats also randomly improve after combat, so progress can feel incredibly slow as a result.
The glacial pace of progression is compounded by the difficulty spikes that come with boss fights. Every character we played had a point a few hours where we encountered a boss who could suddenly obliterate our party with a few hits, forcing us to go back to the grind to improve our skills and get better gear before we could beat them. The suddenness of these spikes sucked much of the joy out of the game, forcing us to abandon the main quest for hours while we figured out how to reconfigure our party.
There are other design decisions in the game that make Romancing SaGa – Minstrel Song feel dated, despite its ambitions. Not being able to control the camera is almost unforgivable, forcing us to take blind turns where monsters lurked just out of sight. Other issues, like the interactions shown in cutscenes and those that were playable, made the game feel inconsistent and felt like weird choices on the part of the developer rather than huge issues with the game.
A few technical issues also spoiled our time with this remaster. Most were minor, such as characters stuttering while walking or objects going through walls, but a serious glitch prevented the game from reading our input until we slept the switch and woke it up. This issue seemed limited to handheld mode, but it happened several times during the first five hours of gameplay.
These issues are even more frustrating because there’s such a gem of a game here, but issues with both its progression system and the way it plays on the Switch make it hard to recommend. The art and design is gorgeous and the music is gorgeous and epic. There are few JRPGs like Romancing SaGa – Minstrel Song – Remastered and we wanted to enjoy them way more than we did. Unfortunately, the ambitious title doesn’t live up to its potential.
Romancing SaGa – Minstrel Song – Remastered Ambitions and Achievements are still fresh today. The open-world system is remarkably well implemented, and the multi-player approach feels modern even in a game that’s been around for decades, but control issues, the vague nature of the game, and a slow progression system drag it down. . Sadly, this is a cult classic JRPG that’s less than the sum of its parts.