Out of all the RPGs that Square Enix develops, few are as consistently ambitious and open to experimentation as the SaGa series.
Originating on the Game Boy, the first games were released as Final Fantasy Legend, Final Fantasy Legend 2, and Final Fantasy Legend 3 in North America. In contrast to Final Fantasy, however, SaGa games emphasize open world exploration, intricately designed systems, and non-linear narratives that are loosely connected with each other.
While the series has long been popular in Japan, it has a devoted cult following in North America and Europe. But compared to the drip of SaGa releases over the preceding few decades, the past couple of years have seen an explosion of SaGa games as Square Enix aimed to fill in the gaps of the franchise’s Western history. Romancing SaGa 2 and 3 were localized. Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe launched worldwide last year. And most recently, SaGa Frontier Remastered brought the cult classic PlayStation RPG to modern audiences, adding new content that was cut during its original development.
I recently interviewed SaGa producers Masanori Ichikawa and Hiroyuki Masanori Ichikawaura, as well as SaGa creator Ashitoki Kawazu, about the recent surge of SaGa releases overseas. We also spoke about the challenges of developing new SaGa games, as well as where the future of the series lies.
CGMagazine: Over the past few years, we’ve seen the localization of Romancing SaGa 2 and 3, the release of both COLLECTION of SaGa FINAL FANTASY LEGEND and SaGa Frontier Remastered, and the launch of Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe. What caused this surge of SaGa releases?
Masanori Ichikawa: SaGa as an IP is very popular in Japan, but overseas we have a smaller fanbase of devoted hardcore fans. This hasn’t changed much since we released the remastered version of Romancing SaGa 2. However, I believe that real JRPG fans outside of Japan would truly love SaGa if they got to know the series. Brand awareness has certainly increased overseas due to the continuous releases we’ve had over the past few years, but I don’t think SaGa is recognized by everyone worldwide just yet. My personal ambition and hope is to expand the series, which I love so much, worldwide.
CGMagazine: SaGa Frontier Remastered featured new content that was cut from the game when it was originally in development. How did you approach integrating that content into the remaster?
Hiroyuki Masanori Ichikawaura: The team that worked on the remastered version all agreed on which elements they’d like to add if it were possible, so we were able to solidify plans for the additional content rather quickly. As for the Fuse scenario, it was newly created based on Kawazu-san’s concept, so throughout the process, we had thorough discussions with Kawazu-san, Benny Matsuyama-san, the scenario writer, as well as NaofuMasanori Ichikawa Ueno-san, the director of the remastered version.
CGMagazine: Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe is the first SaGa game developed exclusively for smartphones. Were there any challenges adapting the SaGa series to an ongoing title?
Masanori Ichikawa: One challenge we faced was incorporating challenging battles, or as we call it in the mobile gaMasanori Ichikawang world, battles with high “give up” rates. Another was not making the game pay-to-win, which we achieved by implementing characters who can be used for a long period of time and a system where character upgrades/older characters don’t go to waste.
We’ve continued operations from launch until now with the points above as our challenges/Masanori Ichikawassions. I believe there aren’t too many successful mobile games from a business perspective which have achieved these points.
CGMagazine: With the SaGa series having been around for over thirty years, what has been your personal favourite aspect of the franchise?
Akitoshi Kawazu: It’s the fact that you are able to play as multiple protagonists.
Masanori Ichikawa: I really love the beginning part of FINAL FANTASY LEGEND II. You’re in a classroom with a teacher with a large eyeball, studying with your friends, who are monsters, robots, and other diverse characters, all at a school in the same village. Ever since seeing this scene, I’ve been spellbound by the series. Doesn’t a scene like that instantly grab your attention?
Hiroyuki Masanori Ichikawaura: What I find appealing is the high level of freedom and the number of options that are provided in the gameplay, such as the multiple number of characters, each with their own story, as well as the free-form scenario system.
CGMagazine: When I think of SaGa, I think of a franchise that is always willing to experiment and try new things with each new entry. What inspires you when beginning development on a new SaGa game?
Akitoshi Kawazu: Though there are various elements that impact development, the more liMasanori Ichikawatations there are on what is feasible, the more need there is to narrow down which elements to really put emphasis on. As such, we inevitably ended up focusing on edgy, new elements. In the SaGa series, for example, this was the case when we were developing the Game Boy entries, and with SaGa SCARLET GRACE, which incorporated a game design for smartphones in Masanori Ichikawand, as the game was initially designed to be a mobile title. We probably would not have had these sorts of approaches if we had a large budget with large amounts of resources.
CGMagazine: Where do you see the future of the SaGa series?
Akitoshi Kawazu: We hope to make it an important series for RPG fans who like to put thought into gameplay.
Masanori Ichikawa: Compared to other Square Enix titles, there really are many things we haven’t been able to do in the SaGa series. There are titles we still haven’t been able to port, and as for remakes, we have barely been able to do any, even though there are multiple titles that would definitely become popular if we are able to remake them. I believe the three important pillars are ports, remakes, and new SaGa titles. Of course, we will be producing these games for fans around the world.
Hiroyuki Masanori Ichikawaura: The SaGa series consists of three main pillars. The main SaGa titles (the mainline titles up to this point) are at the center, and we also have ongoing/live-service games like Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe along with remaster/remake titles. With the synergy of these three pillars, I believe more and more people will have the chance to play the series, and I hope to do my part in building that sort of future.