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February 2023

Romancing SaGa -Minstrel Song- Remastered

Platform(s): Android, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, iOS
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Dec. 1, 2022


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PS5 Review - 'Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song Remastered'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 28, 2022 @ 7:00 a.m. PST

Players will follow the exploits of one of eight protagonists, each with their own storyline and goal, and create their own unique adventure where their actions will affect the world around them courtesy of the “Free-form Scenario” system.

The SaGa franchise is perhaps my favorite franchise that isn't for everyone. The long-running JRPG franchise is the opposite of what's expected from a JRPG. The plots are relatively basic and nonlinear, and the mechanics veer between unusual to incoherent. They're an absolute oddity to this day, and for there isn't anything like them on the market. Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song was a PS2 port of the original SNES Romancing SaGa, which was released to confusion more so than wholehearted delight. Minstrel Song Remastered is a chance for the somewhat-obscure game to get another chance to shine, but the franchise's many oddities may still make it difficult to embrace.

Romancing Saga: Minstrel Song Remastered is set in the fantasy world of Mardias, which is populated by fanciful creatures, magic-using wizards and sword-wielding heroes, kings and queens, and dark gods. As the story goes, the gods warred long ago, and the deadliest of them was sealed away a thousand years ago. As any good dark god does on its millennia anniversary, he is trying to break free. The dark lord doesn't go unopposed, and a small group of unlikely heroes starts a journey that may lead to saving the world....

Romancing SaGa follow the same basic premise as many games in the franchise. You choose a selectable character, each with their own story, and then you're thrown into the world and must make your way through adventures. Each character explores the world on their own, but some character stories may intertwine or overlap. For the most part, each character must do the same side-quests and adventures. You can generally choose whoever looks coolest, but some adventurers are easier than others.

As you might expect from a remake of the original Romancing Saga, Minstrel Song uses what could be called the "standard" SaGa combat system. On the surface, it looks like a standard RPG combat system. You and enemies take turn beating each other up until one falls, you get your loot, and you continue. As you might expect from the SaGa franchise, there are a lot of weird twists and gimmicks.

Combat actions are based around a lot of different factors. Weapons have durability points (DP) that drain as you use them, with stronger techniques taking more durability. If you spend time mastering a single type of weapon, you'll grow more effective and need fewer durability points — or none at all. Each character has battle points that are also needed to use certain techniques. Different characters have different strengths and weaknesses. Claudia is a slow starter who only begins with 2 BP in combat but gains several every turn, while Barbara is better balanced between the two.

This means you need to think about what each character does. A character with low BP gain but high starting BP is probably best focused around alpha strikes and doing a lot of damage right off the bat, while someone who gains a ton of BP every round is better for long rights. Replenishing DP in the middle of combat isn't particularly easy. Characters can also combo attacks together, which can add even more thinking to the combat.

Death is a bit unusual. For the most part, your characters recover health points (HP) after every battle, but being knocked out in combat drains your life points (LP). Lose all LP, and that character may leave the party or permanently pie. LP is pretty difficult to replenish mid-dungeon, which means you need to consider how you spend it. It can be replenished at inns easily enough, but sometimes, it's better to cut out of a dungeon early. Running away from battles and traps can also drain LP, which discourages the mindset that "the last LP is the only important one"; a misstep can be critical.

Of course, there's the franchise's iconic glimmering (or "sparking") system. As characters fight, they'll occasionally "glimmer" new moves in the middle of combat. The likelihood of glimmering is significantly higher against tougher foes, which strongly discourages grinding against weaklings. Skills that let you avoid or hide from enemies become very useful, and it's often wise to not fight every battle you see.

Each character has a default combat class, but eventually, you're able to swap characters into different job classes. Depending on the job class your character is in, they may have an easier or harder time learning certain skills and using certain weapons. There are some classes that basically exist only for defense, offense, or even non-combat mechanics, like sneaking or disarming traps. It's best not to swap too often because a character who specializes is always better than a jack-of-all-trades.

The biggest make-or-break feature in Minstrel Song is that depending on the character you choose, the game can be somewhat guided or wide open, and it doesn't give you much of an idea of what to do or where to go. You choose a path and explore, and you'll eventually find a plot or adventure to follow. The problem with this is that the game eventually locks off content. If you don't do certain content before an invisible meter reaches a predetermined point, you don't get to do it. If you're the kind of person who only plays a JRPG once, then Minstrel Song will probably give you hives. Back when the PS2 version came out, I recall people complaining about a "JRPG made up of nothing but side-quests," and that is an adequate description.

The key to enjoying the game is to understand that you're not supposed to do everything in one playthrough. Each of the game's characters has an easier or harder time doing certain questlines, and there are exclusive plots and characters for each. Instead of trying to min-max everything for a single playthrough, it's better to do multiple runs with different characters. The game even offers a New Game+ bonus feature that lets you carry over some things to make another character's adventure easier.

Overall, this isn't a bad thing. SaGa games know exactly what they want to be, and Minstrel Song is a perfect example of it. I don't think it hits as many high marks as Scarlet Graces or SaGa Frontier, but it's a perfectly fine example of a "non-linear" JRPG. If you're looking for something plot-heavy or largely guided, you'll probably be immensely frustrated. There are some fun characters and plot beats, but this is a game that puts the mechanics first and foremost.

The other big, contentious feature is the graphical style. It uses a big-head superdeformed style that I found rather unpleasant to look at when the game came out. It doesn't catch the cute simplicity that is usually associated with those sorts of superdeformed art styles, and unlike Wind Waker, it never grew on me. The game has a distinct painted art style that looks rather nice with the improvements from the remaster, and if you like the art style, they did a great job of improving the graphics. My complaint is that some of the game menus look incredibly awkward, as they kept the PS2 design rather than something more modern.

The soundtrack, on the other hand, is absolutely top-notch and sounds great. The game contains a number of outright bangers, and even the less fantastic songs are still excellent. Some of the remastered tunes sound amazing. The voice acting is firmly OK; it's not terrible but also nothing great, and I can't help but wish a little more effort had been put into it.

Minstrel Song Remastered includes a nice variety of bonus features to make the game feel better for modern gamers. There's customizable high-speed movement for battle and overworld movement, which is an absolute godsend since the original PS2 game was too slow for its own good. There are new characters, new quests, and even new optional superbosses that offer something special for those who've already mastered the combat system. You can even make tweaks, such as adjusting the progression of in-game time to match the original Japanese release or the slower English release. It's nothing major, but it's certainly enough to make it the definitive version of the game.

Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song Remastered is an excellent remaster of a very weird game. It's one of those games that is difficult to necessarily recommend because so much of what it does evokes love or hate. If you're curious about the franchise, it's probably a lot easier to hop in with SaGa Frontier Remastered or Scarlet Graces. If you like games in the SaGa franchise or want to try something different, Minstrel Song is a worthwhile experience. If you already know that you don't like the franchise, you'll probably be annoyed and frustrated with this offering.

Score: 7.5/10

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