SaGa 3 DS - Shadow or Light - Staff Review  

Back from the Past
by Michael Baker

20-40 Hours
+ Vastly improved graphics.
+ Interesting character advancement system.
+ Pays due homage to the series' history.
+ Some very interesting side missions.
- Main story is still riddled with plotholes.
- Repair costs for later weapons are exorbitant.
Click here for scoring definitions 

 I will admit that when SaGa 3 - Shadow or Light first appeared on the horizon, I was skeptical. While I had enjoyed its original American version, Final Fantasy Legend III, back in the day, time and experience had lowered my opinion of the game. It lacked the variety of the other SaGa titles, and came off as a poorly realized Final Fantasy clone, or so I thought. Would a full-contact remake in the style of SaGa 2 do anything to improve it?

 The answer is: yes.

 The developers have stated that they went into this project with the question "What can we change?" on their minds, and certainly lots of changes have been made. The primary storyline is one of the few parts of the game to stay largely intact, enough so that anyone with a good memory of the original Game Boy title will be able to muddle through. Most plot scenes have an expanded amount of dialogue, which certainly helps to clarify details on some points.

 To summarize, the world is being invaded by the monstrous deities of the Other Dimension (the Pure Land in FFL3). Through the indestructible vessel known as the Water Entity, an endless amount of water flows, threatening to sink the world beneath the waves. In a last ditch effort three infants are sent 30 years in the past with information on the Talon, a vessel capable of breaching the dimensions of time and space. Once they're old enough, the three children of the future, along with a friend from the present, must find the missing parts to the Talon, break the seal holding it in place, and take the battle to the Pure Land. New to this version, they must also deal with the mysterious motives of the Wanderer, a being with control over time itself.

 But that's just the bare bones. The meat of the game's story lies in the Free Scenario system, a.k.a. side quests. While there are plenty of bounty hunting missions, there are also thirty story-based missions that often present the player with multiple outcomes. Some of these story missions are the sort of material one would expect of a main quest. At least half a dozen of them contain more character development individually than could be found in the entirety of the original game. It's worth noting that all four of the main characters have actual personalities in this version, and will have some serious discussions on which option in a quest is best, whether it's worth their while to use the game's new Times Gear to shift forward or backward in time to resolve the current mission, or even whether or not they should even be bothering with the piddly stuff when there's a world in need of saving.

Caption Cat Scratch Fever!

 Unlike the plot, the advancement system in SaGa 3 bears zero resemblance to the original game. FFL3 had a basic, experience-based leveling system which only dealt with stats, and spells were bought separately. For the remake, the developers present the player with a setup strongly reminescent of other Kawazu productions. The screen that shows a character's skill level might have come from Final Fantasy 2. The system of upping stats through use comes from SaGa 2, though with an interesting twist — stat-ups happen mid-battle and are effective immediately. Combat techniques (including spells) are linked to specific weapons, similar to the original Romancing SaGa, and are sparked in battle via the Glimmer System (Romancing SaGa II et al.). All of it comes together in a way that shows the developers were aware of the series' history and wanted to do well by it.

 In a nod to FFL3's quasi-relative, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, the player now travels between points on a map, though exploration is encouraged to open up new pathways or find secrets hidden in each section (again similar to how such an interface was handled in Romancing SaGa).

 In battle, MP is effectively abolished. Instead, all attacks take durability points (DP) off the associated weapon or spellbook. Basic attacks or spells take only 1 DP, and each successive skill on the list takes one more. So for example, the Rapier's basic attack is 1 DP, the Cut-In attack is 2 DP, and the Snipe Whip attack is 3 DP. A later weapon may start with Snipe Whip or a stronger technique at 2 DP though. The same goes for spellbooks, with earlier tomes starting with weak spells like Fire or Blizzard, and higher tomes of the same element starting with Firaga or Blizzaga in the 1 DP slot. Any equipment can be repaired at the Inn, restoring it to full DP.

Caption Wonder Twin Powers, Activate!

 One of the more interesting aspects of the original game was its transformation system. SaGa 3 has kept this, but not without some improvements. Originally, the basic unaltered party was two Humans and two Espers (Mutants in the English translation), with no way to change that balance around. Robots, Cyborgs, Beastmen, and Monsters were all groupings of enemy types that the party members could turn into. Now Robots, Cyborgs, and Beastmen are character classes in their own right, with their own weapons specialties and the mostly the same leveling system as Humans. Robots and Cyborgs also get stat bonuses from equipment, but Beastmen have a much higher base HP and speed stat. All enemy types, including mechanical enemies, now fall under the umbrella class of Monster.

 Characters can be altered by using meat or bolts dropped by enemies. Meat will change a character into a Beastman, or into a Monster after two successive uses. Bolts will do the same, but with Cyborgs and Robots as the result. Each character has an associated element, and using meat of bolts of the opposing element allows the player to change a Human into an Esper or vice-versa, something which was not possible to do in the original. Also, using meat or bolts of the same element may allow the character to absorb support skills from the enemy without changing. Returning a character from a Monster form may also result in that character inheriting a native attack skill that can be recharged by resting.

Caption Deep Deliberations

 There are several other interesting aspects of the battle system, like enemy size or chain battles, but the only thing left that is worth going into in detail is the Times Gear. Over the course of battle the TG Gauge will slowly charge. Outside of battle, Times Gear Points (TGP) can be used to influence events in free scenarios, but they're just as useful in battle. At specific points in the story the player will gain access to the Past, Present, and Future Drives. Past and Future Drives call dopplegangers of the party members from different directions in time to add attacks in that round. These past and future selves can even link attacks, allowing for ten-person hit combos if one is lucky. Present Drive suspends time for one critical moment, in which one to five party members rush the enemy for an all-out attack. Finally, the Times Gear can be used to stop time in the field, freezing enemies and nullifying terrain that affects the movement of the party.

 Graphically, SaGa 3 takes most of its visuals from its immediate predecessor. There's nothing to complain about, since pretty much anything would look better than the Game Boy monochrome graphics of the original. Still, SaGa 3 lacks some of the variety to be found in the many worldlets of SaGa 2, especially towards the beginning. It makes up for it a little later with some of the settings later in the game, and with the enemy designs.

 Final Fantasy Legend III did not suffer from a lack of good music, and the arrangements found in the remake remain true to their roots while sounding far better. Anyone who remembers the original soundtrack with fondness will be in for a treat.

 In conclusion, while SaGa 3 is by no means a perfect game, many of its faults lie with the original game and the plot it inherited. This title is so far removed from its roots in some respects that it's difficult to consider them one and the same. The changes keep it dynamic and varied, and have made my second playthrough notably different from the first, which is not something I could ever say of FFL3 — and that was before I managed to trigger the bonus ending on my second playthrough. The secret final boss is just plain mean, by the way.

If only more remakes were this effective.

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