Sunday, August 5, 2012

Video Game Review: The 7th Saga

RPG; Super Nintendo; Enix/Produce; 1993
Given the amount of things I had to do on Friday, and the fact that it was too damn hot, I've decided to move my updates from Friday to Sunday, since it is far more likely that I would have far less to do on any given Sunday than any given Friday. And you guys are in for a treat as I review... The 7th Saga!? Oh, crap.

Don't worry, none of this is important.
The story to The 7th Saga revolves around 7 artifacts of great power called Runes. They've been scattered across the world, and whoever collects all 7 would have enough power to rule the world. King Lemele, a legendary hero in is twilight years, decided to gather 7 warriors from all across the world to train under him with one goal: To find all 7 runes. The one who collects all 7 shall be deemed king (I think), and thus the 7 apprentices go out into the world, all for their own reasons.

The plot is.... virtually nonexistent. Outside of the intro and very few cutscenes as the game progresses, there is practically no development of the story. I do like how, with very little dialog, they do manage to give each of the 7 heroes different personalities and goals, but even that doesn't serve any purpose to the story, especially with an ending that doesn't change no matter who you are playing as.

You must choose, but choose wisely.
The 7th Saga is a very old school RPG, and while the core mechanics are pretty much no different from any other RPG of the time, there are several additions that do help the 7th Saga stand out. First, is the fact that you play one of 7 different character. These range from the various traditional class archetypes; like the strong but slow Dwarf Olvan, to the quick magic focused Elf Esuna, to the Jack-of-all-Trades Human Kamil; to very interesting departures from convention; like the Alien Wilme, who sacrifices nearly all equipment for superior stat growth, and the "Robot" LUX who has few weapons and armor but they are far superior to everyone else. While the character you choose here you have to play with for the rest of the game, the remaining 6 will be wandering around towns, and can even offer to join you (Though some pairing would be less likely to work together than others, like the Priest and the Demon). But be careful, they also might attack you, especially if you have some Runes.

This system is very reminiscent of another SNES RPG called Seiken Densetsu 3 (The Japan only sequel to Secret of Mana), where you choose a party of 3 out of 6 characters, and the person you made the lead changes the plot of the game. While SD3 handled the mechanic FAR better than the 7th Saga did, especially in terms of storytelling, I think 7th Saga worked better at making the game play differently depending on which character you are using. In SD3, so long as you have someone to heal, nearly every party combination works just as well with the exact same strategy. In 7th Saga, who you are and who is your partner determines greatly how you fight. I'm not saying that SD3 is the inferior game, just inferior in this limited regard.

Get use to this world map, it never changes.
Another interesting addition that makes this game stand out from the rest is its encounter system. Unlike it's contemporaries of Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Breath of Fire, The 7th Saga uses a kind of radar to determine encounters. On the world map and in dungeons, a radar appears in the upper corner marking town, treasure chests, runes, and most importantly enemies. Enemies will appear as white dots moving erratically and when they run into your position a fight will break out. This mechanic is nice and will always tell you how far away you are from another fight; however, in practice it can range from being able to avoid every single enemy you come across, to just a superficial way to hide random encounters since the enemies will converge on you location, and are not hindered by environmental barriers. Combat is a very simple turn base affair but with two interesting additions. First, is that if you defend you will get an attack bonus for your next turn. This really changes strategy quite a bit, since if an enemy would take 2 hits to kill it is better to defend first and reduce damage on the first volley. However, the draw back is the risk you take that he only have to avoid ONE hit rather than two. Second is your partner, turn order is randomized for each round in this game with the sole exception that you act first in each round. With a partner, his/her turn is also random, but during your turn at the start of the round you can switch between you and your partner, leaving the other to act later in the turn order. The catch is that all enemy attacks will target whoever just acted. This also adds a bit of strategy to the game, which you will need because this game is RIDICULOUSLY HARD!

Be prepared to die... A LOT!
When Enix was localizing Elnard for North America under the name The 7th Saga, they decided to up the difficulty by a factor of 11. All character growth was reduced by one third and all the enemies got substantial stat boost. Normally for an RPG this would just mean that you would have to do a lot more grinding than normal, and while this would artificially lengthen a game, it wouldn't be the worse thing you could have done. However, either through accident or design, this small modification to the player character stats makes one aspect of the game almost impossibly hard: The Apprentice Battles. As I said earlier, fighting the apprentices is a part of the game, and to ensure they are always a match for you, the other apprentices level up with you. The problem is that they retain their stat growth of the original version, which means that no matter what they ALWAYS out class you, and the mechanics behind the stats pretty much mean that they can easily kill you in ONE HIT. To make matters worse is the fact that while you are revived at the last inn you stayed at, when you lose to an apprentice they take all of your runes. Also, the balance of this game is all over the place. Enemies that are far stronger than previous opponents sometimes do not give much more EXP or Gold than their predecessors, even to the point where late in the game I fought harder versions of enemies that are give no more experience OR gold than older versions. Also, magic is strange. For most spells there are only two levels, and while the second level spell costs 4 times as much as the previous spell, the amount of damage deal is only like 20 percent more. And lastly, get use to seeing your attacks whiff. Unless you have really high Speed, you will have a hit rating of like 50%.

Despite all of my bitching, I don't think the 7th Saga is a bad game. I've certainly played worse RPGs *COUGH*Phantasy Star III*COUGH* and while it can be nearly impossibly difficult at times, it is none the less beatable, and that ridiculous difficulty does, in a strange way, make this game kind of fun. There are always difficult enemies placed in certain areas that become more common foes in later stages of the game, and there is a sense of satisfaction and feeling of growth and strength that comes from easily dispatching enemies that once filled you with dread when you came across them. However, this level of difficulty and the fact that the story is bare bones does keep it from achieving any kind of greater appeal. Perhaps, if they could have given more depth and variation to the story it could have been a hidden classic. But as is, it can only appeal to the hardcore.

Until next time
-Crescent, Okay, who the hell are you!?

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