The name 7th Saga alone doesn’t really tell us much about what to expect, but one look at that box art and you know this is going to be an epic adventure. Looking back, “7th Saga” still doesn’t really make sense. Sure there are seven characters, and we’re going to hunt for seven runes, but how does that make this the “7th Saga”. This implies there were six previous Sagas. Maybe that’s the case, because there is time travel at one point, but the game doesn’t touch upon it. To be fair, I don’t read most of the text when I have a walkthrough, but I think I would have caught wind of these previous adventures.
We begin with choosing our character. In classic fashion we see Humans, the Elf and the Dwarf. However, if that’s too mainstream, there’s also the choice of a Demon, Alien or Robot. Early on you’ll get an apprentice, and your team will remain a team of two for the rest of the game. You can switch out your apprentice, but with a team of two I felt like the choices were limited. This is even more true when you factor in later events in the game. Melee do well against melee, and likewise magic users will be stronger against magic. This means you should probably keep one of each.
Melee: Alien, Robot, Dwarf
Magic: Demon, Human(Caster), Elf
Both: Human (Knight)
Having only one class that was in the middle eliminated him from my picking since with only one apprentice, my strengths would be lopsided. This would leave me fighting either melee or magic with this gimped half-useful character. Later in the game you’ll fight one “traitor” from this bunch, but it will never be the Robot, the Elf, or your apprentice. I wanted to avoid fighting a magic user because to compensate them for their low defense, they’re usually extremely strong. Due to a leveling nuance in the game this could be very bad, trust me. Of the non-elf casters, the Human (Valsu) is stronger so I went with him as an apprentice. This meant I needed a melee and seeing as I had recently been watching Desolation of Smaug, this was a no brainer. The dwarf (Olvan) it was.
Walking around the world is standard, but one nice feature is the way an encounter is handled. Using Mode 7 graphics, the map is rotated to create the battlefield as your perspective changes. This is just so much nicer than a fade out and into the battle. The number of mobs in this game is noticeably limited. In the beginning it’s understandable, but as you progress through the game you just keep seeing reskinned versions of previous enemies. The attacks are mainly reused, the stats are simply raised. A significant number of these mobs, including mini bosses, are part of their own Power Rangers team, and even the names are lazy. In the above image we’ve got (from Left to Right) Demon, S.Demon, B.Demon, and R.Demon. Though I should be grateful since when they tried being creative, the three undead became Undead, Unded, and Undeed. Just awful.The townsfolk are identical, but it doesn’t hit home as hard since you aren’t dealing with them constantly. You are however subject to grinding the repetitive mob rainbow brigade. As a former Runescape and WoW player, this grinding wasn’t really bad at all.
One unique aspect in this game is the fighting systems application of defense. Normally we view defense simply as a way to reduce damage when we know a large damage dealing ability is on its way. 7th Saga uses defense also as a way of counterattacking by increasing the power of an attack after a round on defense. This forces a bit more thought than merely button mashing “attack” with a melee.
Once you acquire the first of seven runes, the wind rune, you can use it to teleport to any town you’ve already been to. In town you can heal up for just a few gold. This early teleport doesn’t work in caves, but it brings a flow to the travel that is perfect. You can explore with relative safety, but completing a long trek is still challenging. Distances between towns and castles/caves are enough so that the open world is still a consideration. This is a mechanic that at first glimpse seems overpowered, but is handled just right.
The monsters you encounter at times have you feeling clearly outmatched. Outside you’re wiping the floor with them, step into a nearby cave and all of a sudden a Sage hits you and your apprentice for full damage at the same time. It’s volatile. You’ll even take down an opponent and realize that someone else on the team can resurrect, creating a pecking order. You get used to it after awhile and every new enemy has you immediately on your toes. It’s actually a bit exciting, but I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. Leveling and gearing up over time will solve this. That’s all it takes really, pressure, and time. But Red was wrong, because once you get to the 3rd and 4th rune (Star/Sky Rune) all bets are off.
For both of these runes you find yourself fighting one of the original seven adventurers. To ensure that your neighbors will be privy to your extensive vocabulary, Enix places your opponents level five higher than yours and makes you fight them without your apprentice. Even this may not have you pushing your vocals to the max, so let’s talk leveling rates. (As I understand them)
Each new rune, except the last, can be used as a buff. For example, the water rune doubles as a reusable potion, and the sky rune will regenerate MP. This is super useful in the constant grind, and will keep you from having to continuously return to town for supplies. It also lets you save a bit of gold. Again this gives the immediate impression that it will be completely overpowered, but the balance is maintained pretty well while also giving you another reason to collect the runes other than “because that guy told me to”. Later in the game (during that whole time travel bit I mentioned earlier) you won’t have access to your runes, making MP management more crucial and travel away from cities more painful.
Past the 3rd/4th runes, the game can simply be outgeared and outleveled. The story line will carry you along from location to location until you have acquired all seven runes. At this point you find out that the person you set out to gather the runes for is your worst enemy and you’re a moron for handing over these powerful things. You wake up without your runes 5000 years in the past, hows that for punishment? You now set out again, leveling and grinding until you rescue the person capable of returning your runes to you. This time the runes won’t double as reusable items but instead will allow you to damage the final boss. Start with the Wizard Rune (the 7th rune) and then apply all the others until Gorsia is susceptible and you can return to your normal battle methods. I was level 50 at this point. The dodge on the boss is a little goofy, it doesn’t show him moving, you just miss. At first I thought I didn’t use the runes properly and ended up resetting and having to run back from the town. I guess when you’re chained up, you can’t move much…but then how exactly are you dodging me?
One last point is about the currency. When you die you will lose half the gold in your possession. To avoid this, at the towns you can buy gems. Since they are items they aren’t affected by death. They sell for the same as you buy them for, with the most expensive being a diamond at 10k. All items are capped at nine for carrying, so maxing out on gems of all types lets you hold 173,700G without risk of losing it. This is a large amount, but items in the end game can run upwards of 50,000G. Needing a weapon and armor for each of your two characters as well as an extra item like a shield means you may need six items in the 30-50k range. (Nothing like dumping hard earned gems so your caster can wear his sparkly tiara) Assuming you had nothing to trade in (you will) the total to gear out my two people comes to 296,000G. Even with gear to trade in, this number is still massive. After trading in the gems painfully slow to get the gold you’ll still come up short. I had hardly any deaths, and almost none cost me a large sum of gold but I found myself poor by the end of the game due to upgrading each chance I could.
Overall the game isn’t bad. It’s a fairly straight forward RPG and there are some neat new concepts like the defending and early teleportation that make it worth trying out. I can’t however get past the fact that in the American version there is a severe road block with the leveling issue. This makes the game nearly unbeatable and punishes those who don’t know about it ahead due to research or walkthroughs. Many players like to level up to a very comfortable level to enjoy the game, but as I stated, leveling up too high could put you in a spot where the other adventurers are far too strong when you have to go and fight them. At this point it’s too late, as you can’t level down, and you have no choice but to use the apprentice two-on-one “bug” to win. If there was a Japanese port, I would suggest using that, because I’d rather learn the Kanji and enjoy the actual gameplay rather than deal with those two sections. Plus, I’m interested in the translation that made Undead, Unded, and Undeed.