SaGa (サガ) is a series of science fiction open world role-playing video games produced by Square, now Square Enix. The series originated on the Game Boy in 1989 as the creation of Akitoshi Kawazu. It has since continued across multiple platforms, from the Super Nintendo Entertainment System to the PlayStation 2. The series is notable for its emphasis on open world exploration, non-linear branching plots, and occasionally unconventional gameplay. This distinguished the series from most of Square's titles. There are currently nine games in the SaGa series, along with several ports and enhanced remakes.
The SaGa series was created by game designer Akitoshi Kawazu, whose credits prior to the franchise's introduction include Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II. At a time when Nintendo's Game Boy was becoming popular worldwide due to the puzzle game Tetris, then-Square president Masashi Miyamoto requested that a development team create a game for the handheld console. Kawazu and fellow designer Koichi Ishii suggested that the company develop a role-playing video game, thus making Makai Tōshi Sa·Ga, later released in North America as The Final Fantasy Legend, the company's first handheld title. The gameplay was designed to be difficult, described by Kawazu as the main difference between the SaGa and Final Fantasy series. The character illustrations in all the games in the SaGa series were done by Tomomi Kobayashi, who has also done the illustrations for the MMORPG Granado Espada. Although the series has been long-running, as of 2008 none of the ten production teams at Square Enix is assigned to the franchise. Akitoshi Kawazu and Production Team 2 are devoted to the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series.
The SaGa series emphasizes nonlinear gameplay and open world exploration, with its open-ended branching plot and free style of character development separating it from the more linear Final Fantasy series. Like the Final Fantasy series, however, the story in each SaGa game is independent of its counterparts. The SaGa series is also considered a successor to Final Fantasy II, which introduced a more open-ended activity-based progression system that was abandoned by later Final Fantasy games but embraced by Makaitoushi SaGa (Final Fantasy Legend), which expanded it with weapons that shatter with repeated use and added new ideas such as a race of monsters that mutate depending on which fallen foes they consume.
The early games in the series also feature some common gameplay elements and themes first established in Final Fantasy, such as random enemy encounters, but most of these disappear with the Romancing SaGa games, providing a unique gameplay experience. It also features a similar turn-based battle system, where a character's prowess is driven by numerical values called "statistics" which, in turn, increase with combat experience. Given the open-ended aspect of gameplay and the ability to play through multiple character scenarios, heavy emphasis is placed upon the replay value of SaGa games.
Since the original Makaitoushi SaGa, much of the series has relied on loosely-connected stories and sidequests rather than an epic narrative. Makaitoushi SaGa allowed players to travel through different worlds and it was also the earliest example of memento mori in video games. Romancing SaGa expanded the open-endedness by offering many choices and allowing players to complete quests in any order, with the decision of whether or not to participate in any particular quest affecting the outcome of the storyline. The game also allowed players to choose from eight different characters, each with their own stories that start in different places and offer different outcomes. Romancing SaGa thus succeeded in providing a very different experience during each run through the game, something that later non-linear RPGs such as SaGa Frontier and Fable had promised but were unable to live up to. It also introduced a combo system where up to five party members can perform a combined special attack, and required characters to pay mentors to teach them abilities, whether it's using certain weapons or certain proficiencies like opening a chest or dismantling a trap.
While in the original Romancing SaGa, scenarios were changed according to dialogue choices during conversations, Romancing SaGa 2 further expanded the open-endedness by having unique storylines for each character that can change depending on the player's actions, including who is chosen, what is said in conversation, what events have occurred, and who is present in the party. Romancing SaGa 3 featured a storyline that could be told differently from the perspectives of up to eight different characters and introduced a level-scaling system where the enemies get stronger as the characters do, a mechanic that was later used in Final Fantasy VIII, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Silverfall, Dragon Age: Origins, Fallout 3, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. SaGa Frontier further expanded on the non-linear gameplay of its Romancing SaGa predecessors, with a setting that spans multiple planets and an overarching plot that becomes apparent after playing through each of the different characters' quests that tie together at certain places.
| The Final Fantasy Legend
Released in Japan as Makai Tōshi Sa·Ga
| December 15, 1989 (JP)|
September 30, 1990 (NA)
March 20, 2002 (WonderSwan Color) (JP)
|Game Boy, WonderSwan Color, mobile phones||Not only was it the Game Boy's debut role-playing game, but it marked the first appearance of an RPG on any handheld video game console. The game introduced new systems of developing characters. The game released in North America less than a year later as The Final Fantasy Legend, presumably to boost sales on the strength of Final Fantasy's name. An enhanced remake of the game released exclusively in Japan in 2002 for the WonderSwan Color and 2007 for mobile phones, sporting more advanced graphics than displayed by the Game Boy's four-color set.|
| Final Fantasy Legend II
Released in Japan as Sa·Ga 2: Hihou Densetsu
| December 14, 1990 (JP)|
November 1, 1991 (NA)
September 17, 2009 (Nintendo DS) (JP)
|Game Boy, Nintendo DS||The game retained the same character classes used in its predecessor, but introduced a fifth ally that often helps the player's party in combat. The game's story is more developed than the first SaGa game, with a journey that spans across more than a dozen worlds. GameSpot's "History of Console RPGs" touts Final Fantasy Legend II as the best of the Game Boy SaGa games, calling it a "portable gaming classic". An enhanced remake of the game was released in Japan in 2009 for the Nintendo DS.|
| Final Fantasy Legend III
Released in Japan as Sa·Ga 3: Jikuu no Hasha'
| December 13, 1991 (JP)|
September 29, 1993 (NA)
January 6, 2011 (Nintendo DS) (JP)
|Game Boy, Nintendo DS||The game eliminated the non-level based individualized growth system of the previous two installments; instead the title introduced "experience points" and across-the-board stat leveling in the style of Final Fantasy, introducing two human and two mutant characters with predetermined backgrounds. An enhanced remake of the game was released in Japan on January in 2011 for the Nintendo DS.|
| Romancing SaGa
Re-released as Romancing SaGa: Minstrel's Song in Japan
| January 28, 1992 (Famicom) (JP)|
December 20, 2001 (WonderSwan Color) (JP)
April 21, 2005 (JP)
October 11, 2005 (NA)
|Super Famicom, WonderSwan Color, PlayStation 2, mobile phones||The first of three Japan-exclusive Super Famicom titles, this game allows players to choose from one of eight character scenarios to follow. The game was ported to the WonderSwan Color in 2001. An enhanced remake of the game was released in 2005 for the PlayStation 2, which was released outside Japan. The game bears the title Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song in Japan, but was released as simply Romancing SaGa in North America. A mobile phone version was announced for release in 2009.|
|Romancing SaGa 2|| December 10, 1993 (JP)||Super Famicom||The second installment of the Romancing SaGa series and the fifth in the SaGa series in general, places a greater emphasis on storyline than its predecessors. The game's story plays out across generations, so players cannot keep one party of warriors throughout the game.|
|Romancing SaGa 3|| November 11, 1995 (JP)||Super Famicom||The third Romancing SaGa game features a battle system similar to that of Final Fantasy II and the first two SaGa games, where character development is determined by the player's commands in battle. If the player commands a character to cast magic spells frequently, for example, then that character will grow in magical power.|
|SaGa Frontier|| July 11, 1997 (JP)|
March 24, 1998 (NA)
|PlayStation||This installment was both the first SaGa game to be released in North America since Final Fantasy Legend III in 1993 and the first of the series to be released in North America as a SaGa game. Similar in style to the earlier games in the series, SaGa Frontier allows players to choose from multiple characters, each with his or her own unique storyline and scenario.|
|SaGa Frontier 2|| April 1, 1999 (JP)|
January 31, 2000 (NA)
March 22, 2000 (PAL)
|PlayStation||The game was the first SaGa title to reach PAL territories and was one of Square's last RPGs produced for the PlayStation. The game shunned 3D graphics in favor of traditional 2D hand-painted watercolor sprites. The game featured two separate storylines spanning across three generations.|
|Unlimited Saga|| December 19, 2002 (JP)|
June 17, 2003 (NA)
October 31, 2003 (PAL)
|PlayStation 2||The game features a combination of 2D and 3D graphics known as "Sketch Motion" and a complicated battle mechanic called the "Reel System." It garnered heavy criticism for its difficulty.|
|Emperors SaGa|| September 18, 2012 (JP)||GREE||Announced in September 2011, the game features a combat system utilizing digital playing cards. |
Music in the SaGa series have been composed by a number of people, the most prominent of which is Kenji Ito, who also composed many soundtracks for the Mana series. Ito scored a majority of scores for the series. Nobuo Uematsu, responsible for a large portion of the music of the Final Fantasy series, solely composed The Final Fantasy Legend and co-composed Final Fantasy Legend II with Ito. Ryuji Sasai and Chihiro Fujioka worked on Final Fantasy Legend III together. SaGa Frontier 2 and Unlimited Saga are credited to Masashi Hamauzu.