Another Tower to Explore

Final Fantasy Legend II

There is no question that The Final Fantasy Legend (aka Makai Toushi SaGa in Japan) was a huge success. It was Square's first million-selling game and helped to cement their legacy as a premiere RPG maker in the U.S. A success like that cannot be overlooked as, as such, once Square saw the hit they had on their hands they pushed a sequel into immediate production. One year after the release of the original Legend game we had 1990's Final Fantasy Legend II (aka SaGa 2: Hihou Densetsu). And, well... it's a lot like the first SaGa in many ways.

Final Fantasy Legend II

That is not meant as a disparagement. The first SaGa was a brilliant (and maybe a tad too obtuse) handheld RPG and the sequel takes everything from that first game and expands it. If you went in the sequel saying, "man, what I really want is more SaGa just as I like it," this this sequel provided. It's more, bigger, longer, but still clearly set in the same series from start to finish. It's ideas are SaGa's ideas. It's game play is SaGa's game play, through and through.

This second game focuses on the player-created character on a quest, many years after he disappeared, to find their father. Their quest leads them to the Pillar of Sky, a tall, organic and stone structure that sits at the center of every world. To access each new world above their own the protagonist, and their recruited team, have to collect Magi, magical stones that convey abilities and powers when used. 77 Magi exist across the worlds and to get to the top of the tower, and defeat the gods that are causing chaos across the worlds, the heroes will have to collect them all. It's a fight to save the worlds, and save creation, for a band of wise heroes.

The basic setup of the game should be familiar to anyone that played the first SaGa title. The player creates a character and then can recruit three other creatures -- human, mutant, monster, or robot -- for their party. They then set about the world, finding the ways to improve each character type via the various systems the game has in place. Some of these are logical -- putting weapons and armor on a human makes them stronger and harder to kill -- while (like the first game) other systems can see downright obtuse.

Humans are the most basic. They live and die by their equipment, and will slowly gain in abilities naturally as battles are fought and bosses are defeated. Mutants can use equipment but their real strength is in magic. They can equip weapons and armor, but where they shine is in the magic they gain and the Magi they equip. It should be noted that as the mutants learn spells other spells from their stable will be forgotten, and this can sometimes cause them to forget useful spells you wanted. Still, if you want good area of effect spells, and natural healing spells, the mutant class can be very useful.

Monsters work about the same as in the previous game. As you play some monsters will drop meat. When your monster eats this meat it will evolve into some other kind of creature. These evolutions will seem random to the inexperienced, but it's all actually controlled by an evolution table within the game that players have to figure out on their own (as it's never revealed). The experienced players know that the best way to handle a monster is to take a baby dragon at the start of the game and then ignore them until one of the later worlds where there's a specific forced encounter that can drop meat, and then having the baby eat that meat to become much more powerful (and stupidly useful). But, you know, good luck knowing that your first time into the game.

Finally there's the robots. These are the new race of the game and they can seem pretty broken in their own way. A robot's stats are tied, one hundred percent, to the equipment they wear. Put on better armor and the defense and health will increase. Put on different weapons and all kinds of stats will improve. And robots are immune to physical attacks, so all you have to worry about with them is magic. Against many encounters, and certain bosses, the robot will be all the carry you need.

Structurally SaGa II hews so close to the original it feels like a fleshed out remake. Since the game forces you to go from world to world along a tower, you'll feel right at home with the structure if you played the first game. And the gating feels the same too, forcing you to get magic crystals in a certain amount before you can progress the story and gain further access into the game. It's all very structured and linear, simply swapping Magic for Spheres and using the same ideas to control the flow. Having already played one, it can feel a tad repetitive, but not to the point that the game gets boring.

Plus, there's an actual story this time. The original SaGa was pretty stripped down, all things considered, with as minimal of a story for the game as was in the original Final Fantasy. You're a hero out to save the world so... go do that. But SaGa II puts you on a quest for family. To find your missing father. To take down an evil cabal of gods. The enemies are clear, the goal is set, but you do feel invested because there's enough story and character development to make this feel like more than just a rote quest.

Plus, honestly, the game does feel more forgiving this time around. It's still hard, yes, but with the inclusion of robots, along with greater character flexibility, and stats that are slightly easier to understand, this game does feel more welcoming. It can still be obtuse, and sometimes the game will play some tricks on you to throw you off your game, but in general this does feel like the improved version of the SaGa concept from start to finish. Series lead Akitoshi Kawazu clearly learned from the first game and worked to make this title even better.

If you weren't a fan of the original game at all you may or may not like this one. It's still a weird, at times obtuse, off shoot from the mainline Final Fantasy series. It has the trappings of a traditional RPG (overworld, dungeons, random encounters) but it does its own thing in style and structure. You have to like the weird ideas this series has to enjoy this game. But if you do enjoy it, then this is a more welcoming entry point than the original title. This might be the SaGa game that Western players remember most fondly.