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May 2024

SaGa Emerald Beyond

Platform(s): Android, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, iOS
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: April 25, 2024


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Switch/PS5/PS4/PC Preview - 'SaGa Emerald Beyond'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 3, 2024 @ 4:00 a.m. PDT

SaGa Emerald Beyond is a brand new entry in the SaGa franchise offers player freedom, strategic combat, singing robots and vampires!

SaGa is a franchise that prides itself on complexity. Each game is different and distinct. Sometimes this works in its favor, and sometimes it doesn't. It's difficult to deny that games like SaGa Frontier or SaGa: Scarlet Grace are some of the most intriguing titles on the market and unlike anything else. That is why SaGa: Emerald Beyond is such an exciting addition to the franchise; it seems to mix some of the greatest hits into something new.

At first blush, Emerald Beyond feels like a cross between Scarlet Grace and SaGa Frontier. Like those games, it allows you to pick the character you want to play as, but the plots feel more distinct and focused, akin to Frontier. We got some hands-on time with three of the characters: Tsuanori Mido, a youth aided by powerful puppets; Ameya Aisling, a trainee witch; and Diva No. 5, a songstress robot who lost her ability to sing. Each of the three characters has their own story and gameplay mechanics. Mido can customize and change his puppets. Ameya has to recover her lost magic in the form of adorable cats. Diva is locked out of her own body and has to take control of different mechs, which she can swap at will.

All three characters follow a similar sort of storyline. After an initial chapter, they're taken to a mystical gateway where they can travel to other worlds. Each of these other worlds is its own distinct place with its own distinct plot that the heroes get involved in, and their choices impact how the plot plays out. For example, one world is an eternally frozen land under the curse of an evil emperor, and Ameya must help a youth figure out who to unfreeze to solve the issue — while running into monsters from time to time, of course.

Combat is Emerald Beyond has a lot in common with Scarlet Grace, but it's notably more complex. Combat is turn-based but occurs on a timeline. Both allies and enemies have BP, represented by stars, that are a shared resource for the entire party. You choose actions that cost a specific number of BP, and once you're out of BP, combat starts and automatically goes down the timeline. Any unit who doesn't act defends, which can massively reduce damage taken from attacks. The exact amount of BP — and how it increases during combat — depends on your party's formation, which also grants special bonuses (or even penalties), depending on the formation.

Where the complexity of the combat comes together is in united attacks. Each character's attack takes up a certain amount of space on the timeline. If another character's attack touches the first attack, the two characters will perform a united attack, where they both attack at the same time and the overall damage of the attacks increases. This can be chained together multiple times for multiple characters, with the damage bonuses increasing with each multiple. Each attack you chain together builds up a chain meter. If you get it over 150%, you get a chance at an overdrive, which is a second combo attack done using semi-random choices from your character's set of techs. If you get it over 200%, then you're assured an overdrive. Overdrives can trigger from an overdrive, so if you do smart planning, you can massively extend your combo.

It gets far more complex from there. For example, there are bonuses for certain situations. If your attack delays an enemy and a character joins the combo who wasn't part of one previously, you get a bonus to your chain. If you kill an enemy in the middle of a united attack, not only do you get a bonus, but the enemy's combo range also gets added to your own. Even one of your own characters dying before a combo goes off yields a vengeance bonus, which makes up for the sudden loss. It's even possible to execute a united attack with yourself (called a showstopper) if you attack with two free spaces on either side; this is a huge bonus if you are behind in battle.

Conditional abilities let you "cheat" the timeline in response to specific actions. For example, chain attacks automatically follow the attack of the first ally to act. Interrupt attacks go off after the first enemy to meet the conditions attacks. Protect triggers when a specific ally is attacked. Pursuit triggers after the first enemy to attack. These, in turn, can be stopped by quell attacks — if they attack before the condition is met. Then there's magic, which requires multiple turns to go off but tends to be powerful. That's a lot to juggle in any given fight.

However, the key to combat is all of this also applies to enemies: conditionals, united attacks, even showstoppers. Not only do you have to plan carefully around your own chain, but you also have to account for enemy actions. An attack that delays an enemy might let you make a chain, but it could also push the enemy into chain range of another enemy, or an enemy conditional could ruin your hard-planned combo. A showstopper from an enemy can be brutal, so you need to make sure that no enemy has enough free space on the timeline.

Emerald Beyond also emphasizes the difference between different types of species. Humans (and human-like creatures) are the baseline. They are defined by their ability to "glimmer" custom techs that no other class can access. Mechs like Diva gain abilities and techniques from the equipment they have. Ephemerals are humanoid-like creatures who die easily but are reborn with new skills and abilities. Monsters can learn abilities by defeating other monsters. There's a variety of different species in the game, and each has its own role.

We only got a short bit of time with SaGa: Emerald Beyond,but what we played left us excited for more. It's clear that the developers knew exactly what did and didn't work with SaGa: Scarlet Graces and are aiming to provide a distinct upgrade to the franchise. Our preview also left us feeling like Emerald Beyond might be the most accessible SaGa game since Frontier. Hopefully the full version continues to impress when it comes out later this month (April 25, 2024) for the Nintendo Switch, PC, PS5 and mobile.

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