This remaster of a remake might be the most approachable SaGa game yet.
The SaGa series has gotten a lot of love over the past few years, whether it was the first Western release of the Super Famicom game Romancing SaGa 3 or the remaster of the PS1 RPG SaGa Frontier. The latest is a remaster of a remake in the form of Romancing SaGa Minstrel Song Remastered. It’s a remaster of the 2005 PlayStation 2 release (which did leave Japan), which is a remake of the 1992 Super Famicom game Romancing SaGa 1 (which did not leave Japan). The end result is a tuned-up version of one of the friendlier entries in the franchise, but the eccentricities of the style and the unappealing visuals help to make this generally enjoyable adventure a tougher nut to crack.
At the outset, you can pick from one of eight different characters, running the gamut from thieves and warriors to witches and musicians. For the most part, each character has their own distinct prologue and then the quest is loosely similar (with a big emphasis on loosely), building up to a confrontation with an ever-present antagonist. Like other SaGa games, Minstrel Song features the Free Scenario system where you more or less play your own tabletop RPG roaming around picking up a slew of quests and shaping your party and the world. It’s an ambitious concept that is well executed here, largely thanks to a Notes section in the menu that helps you keep tabs on quests. I tried my best to tackle this game without a guide on hand and it’s likely the best explained SaGa game I’ve experienced even if it still can be overwhelming. If you do hit any sort of wall, don’t feel bad about checking a guide. Some quests you come across are time limited, which can be frustrating, but that also encourages replays with different characters to then conquer those quests. The way this all interlocks together might scratch a similar part of your brain as Majora’s Mask.
If you’re new to SaGa, the combat is going to be familiar but weird. At face value, it’s your typical turn-based battle system, but there are no levels or experience points. Instead, your characters randomly unlock new attacks and abilities as you fight battles. Even as the number of SaGa games I’ve played is creeping into the double digits, I always feel like I have an adjustment period coming into the battle system, but then it clicks and the incredible variety of what your party might have at their fingertips reveals itself and it’s a blast. What bothers me about the battle system is that it is focused on something called Event Rank, which both gates off available party members and increases the difficulty of enemies. Essentially, the more you play, the more you can unlock, but this can be a double-edged sword. The more battles you encounter, the more difficult the enemies become, so the concept of grinding to get over a tough fight is futile because the enemies will just keep matching your ability level. For a game that already is a challenge to figure out thanks to its intersecting quests and unique aspects, the battles punishing you for doing too many of them just makes it borderline unapproachable.
New content is added here as well, but since I have no experience with the original game, I can’t judge its impact. New characters and events are present now, as well as gameplay tweaks such as a high-speed mode and helpful mini-maps. They definitely make the game better, but I wish some of the tweaks added for other Square Enix RPG ports and remasters showed up for this game as anything that made the battle system more accessible and less punishing would go a long way.
The visuals are true to the PlayStation 2 original, which employed a distinctive chibi art style that I just don’t really like. It’s extremely a “your mileage may vary” situation and I’m honestly surprised how much I didn’t enjoy the look of this game, especially since I liked the PlayStation 1 stylings of SaGa Frontier Remastered. Thankfully, the music did not let me down at all, as it is another collection of excellent SaGa series tunes from composer Kenji Ito.
I’m happy to have experienced Romancing SaGa Minstrel Song Remastered. It’s based off of a PlayStation 2 game I was always curious about and the fact it’s now out on modern platforms is awesome. This might not be my favorite SaGa entry (I think that would go to Romancing SaGa 3 or Scarlet Grace?), but it’s another fine entry in a franchise that is well represented on Switch. Whether you’re hooting and hollering for Unlimited SaGa to make it to Switch next year or you’re a newcomer to the legacy of producer Akitoshi Kawazu, Minstrel Song Remastered is an enjoyable adventure as long as you come prepared for some open-ended RPG escapades.