The SaGa series is a long and complex one featuring many titles, actually starting with The Final Fantasy Legend in 1989. Fast forward to 1992 and Romancing SaGa releases in Japan as the fourth entry in the overall SaGa series, and fast forward once again to 1995 and we have Romancing SaGa 3's Japanese release. It's never been released in the West, but it's time for that to change with a remaster out now.
It's a big occasion for Square Enix, and that's why we were eager to hear from series director Akitoshi Kawazu and series producer Masanori Ichikawa when we talked with them about the series recently. You see, it's a big occasion for these two as well, since Kawazu has worked on a plethora of Final Fantasy titles and others since Romancing SaGa 3 first released, and now the pair are coming back once more to celebrate the return of this title.
"The Romancing SaGa series is a part of the wider SaGa series, the first title of which was released in Japan in 1992 on the Super Famicom," Ichikawa said when we asked for a breakdown of the series.
"The initial Romancing SaGa came out in Japan around the same time as Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI, as well as Secret of Mana and the original Seiken Densetsu 3 (which is now being remade as Trials of Mana), and rivaled them in popularity. It was also the first Japanese RPG to incorporate a free-form scenario progression system."
But why is it only now coming to the West? Well, Ichikawa says that there's been a resurgence in popularity for older titles.
"For a while, there was a quiet period for the SaGa series in the Japanese market, but in recent years we have seen re-releases of titles such as SaGa Scarlet Grace and Romancing SaGa Re-universe, which has led to fresh appreciation, with old-timers re-playing them, as well as an influx of new players who may not have experienced the series before."
"As the series was comparatively late in moving overseas when compared to other franchises, we wanted to get the international version of Romancing SaGa 3 out alongside the Japanese release, which led to the date we have now of 11th November to give it a global release."
As for the remaster itself, this process has meant it's been given another level of visual polish (with HD graphics), but that's not all that's been included.
"For the remastered edition we left the pixel sprites for the characters and monsters as-is but we have updated the graphics for everything else in the game," Ichikawa said.
"Additionally, there's the new dungeon, the 'Phantom Maze', where we reveal some things about the characters that has never been said before. However, it is not anything that changes the main story greatly - it's extra information and characterisation to round out these characters beyond what's found in the main story. You also get to fight against monsters that you could not fight in the original release and pick up new items that are really exciting and useful so you can enjoy the battles even more."
"I worked together with Mr. Kawazu as he wrote some of the new scenario additions for this new release. These show new aspects to the story of Romancing SaGa 3 - please look forward to seeing these when you play the game!"
At E3, however, we got a trailer for something called SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions as well, a re-release of SaGa: Scarlet Grace that was released in Japan last year. For those who are unfamiliar, we asked the pair to explain how this game fits into the grand scheme of things.
"SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions is an RPG designed specifically for handheld consoles. It was created with an overarching philosophy of removing any extraneous elements from the gameplay in order to improve the tempo of play. Of course, playing it on a home console will do nothing to lessen the fundamental enjoyment it offers," Kawazu said.
In terms of designing RPGs for specific audiences, we asked about how Romancing SaGa 3 has been adapted for modern audiences as well. Tastes have changed when it comes to games and specifically RPGs since 1995, after all, but Ichikawa thinks the visual polish is a big factor in making it appealing again.
"The graphics and UI would be quite tricky to follow if they were left in their original form, so we updated them to make them more accessible for modern players," he said.
"Additionally, we've looked at the game and adapted the gameplay balance and systems in certain areas, to ensure it's a smooth gameplay experience for modern players to make this the best version of Romancing SaGa 3 available."
As to the significance of bringing such an iconic game to the West for the first time, Kawazu said that he actually owes a lot of his inspirations to Western games and traditions:
"I first encountered RPGs through games like Dungeons and Dragons, Ultima and Wizardry, and so it feels like a great honour to bring my games back to the homeland where these kinds of games began. I will be even happier if the people there enjoy them too!"
In terms of other inspirations, the Kawazu has worked on many different titles since the original release of Romancing SaGa 3, and we also asked him about how these have shaped his approach to the remaster.
"I have worked on many different titles, but my desire to keep providing players with new play experiences hasn't changed. I feel that Romancing SaGa 3 still stands up as a very unique game, even today, so we did not need to do anything particularly drastic to update it for new, modern audiences."
Last but not least we had to ask about the Free-Form Scenario feature, which makes this game unique in the space.
"The main objective of the remaster was to make it possible to play Romancing SaGa 3 on the current generation of hardware. For that reason, we prioritised making it as close to the original as possible. However, we did also take into account some of the feedback from players of the original version of the game when deciding what to improve and update," Kawazu explained.
"The Free-Form Scenario system is one of the major defining features of the Romancing SaGa series, but it is interpreted differently in each individual game. In Romancing SaGa 3 this system gives a playstyle, where the player is free to do whatever they like outside of the core story where they battle the four Sinistrals and eventually defeat the last boss. On top of that, the freedom in the system allows each player to decide the extent that they will get involved in other unique gameplay elements such as trading and fighting large-scale battles."
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