Depending on who (and where) you ask, SaGa Frontier is either a little-known cult classic JRPG or a best-selling building block of a famous franchise. It’s engaging, it’s complex, it’s repetitive. Now it’s remastered, 24 years after the original release.
“We want more gamers, especially those from the West, to play games from the SaGa series, which has a long history in Japan,” says Hiroyuki Miura, the producer of SaGa Frontier Remastered.
I played SaGa Frontier as an awkward, angsty teen in the late ’90s. I spent hours leveling up my characters, then getting mad at myself for failing to save before wiping again. I’d pause to switch over to the family computer, looking up game tips and painstakingly detailed walkthroughs on old-school forums. My devotion to the game was amplified by the fact that none of my friends had heard about it. It was my game.
As the years passed, I periodically returned to the world of SaGa Frontier. I took my empty PlayStation to college and bought a third copy of the game off eBay (my original copy long since scratched to hell, the second accidentally shattered). The game brought me joy, but the precariousness of the aging tech worried me. If this disc became unusable, too, how many were left in the world?
Concerns about limited availability resonated with the SaGa team. “We’ve received a lot of requests from players asking to be able to play these games again. We feel that it is important to fulfill these requests,” says Miura. “These plans can only be carried out if there is demand from the players, so we are very thankful to be able to release this game worldwide this time around.”
Before the remaster, fans made peace with the fact that some parts of the game would always be unfinished. The series creator did not share the same complacency. “This was an opportunity that we created ourselves,” says Akitoshi Kawazu, the SaGa series’ general director. “For a little less than 10 years now, Producer Ichikawa and I have worked on various initiatives to reboot the SaGa series. I’m very satisfied we were able to get to this stage as a result of this work.”
SaGa Frontier Remastered includes a major graphical overhaul as well as previously cut content and QoL adjustments—all amazing updates for SaGa fans. But SFR is still punishing in the way only a classic JRPG can be. You didn’t bring the right characters to the right room to spark the right dialogue within the first fifteen minutes of the game? Well, you’ll never receive a secret character three hours later, then.
The arcane game architecture is a hallmark of Kawazu, who pushes the boundaries of storytelling and gameplay to original, sometimes incomprehensible levels. And it’s in the name: SaGa Frontier was literally uncharted territory of gaming, with free-roam regions, level-scaling monsters, and attack combo systems. But again, every part of play is touched by inscrutability, that sense you are missing something.
You can create hard-hitting combos by playing around with your characters, but the rules governing those combos are not explained in the game. That’s how SFR can be flashy and fun while simultaneously being an absolutely bewildering experience.
Though the mechanics might be baffling, the visual and aural dimensions are dazzling. Running around town involves a tiny sprite sprinting over a painted background. Settings range from the neon grime of Koorong to whimsical, Wonderland-esque Devin and the Gothic rose-glow of Facinaturu. Each Region has its own unique musical theme from renowned composer Kenji Ito, lo-fi beats looping endlessly like a pixelated Escher painting. (Another plus of the remaster: You can listen to the soundtrack from a media library on the main menu.)
The combat system is similarly striking. If you throw an enemy into the air for a Rising Nova attack, your perspective shifts with the sprite’s motion. The view feels organic, like you’re an active participant in a genuine battle. This technique helped the game age gracefully and added visual complexity that is simply fun to look at.