Square-Enix's SaGa series has existed alongside Final Fantasy since 1989. In fact, you might've played the first SaGa game yourself when it was released as Final Fantasy Legend for the Game Boy. Otherwise, the release of the SaGa games has been a patchwork affair outside Japan. Romancing SaGa 2 was a Super Famicom favorite in its country of origin, but North America didn't get to sample it until it came to mobile platforms in 2016.
Now Square-Enix's RPG classic is even more accessible than ever. We got to talk to series creator and director Akitoshi Kawazu about Romancing SaGa 2's transition to modern consoles, as well as his inspirations for past games and the current state of the industry.
Is this remake of Romancing SaGa II built from the ground-up, or is it based on the 2016 mobile release in any way?
Kawazu: The content of the PSVita, iOS, and Android versions are the same. We've added some functions and improved the quality of the features necessary for gaming devices, such as support for 2K and cross-saves.
The SaGa games share a lot in common with Final Fantasy, but they certainly have their own identity. For one thing, they're typically more difficult than the average Final Fantasy game. What, in your mind, specifically makes SaGa more challenging than Final Fantasy? What early steps did you take to make the first SaGa game more of a challenge than the Final Fantasy games available at the same time?
Kawazu: For the Gameboy version of SaGa, we were careful as to not increase the difficulty too much because we placed importance on the overall tempo expected from games on handheld devices which can easily be picked up and played. We heard some feedback about FINAL FANTASY II enemies being too strong, so I think that had a certain level of influence. The mechanics were also unique, so our theme was to ensure that the game, including the scenario, wouldn't become too difficult.
For Romancing SaGa, we aimed to create a true fantasy RPG. Back then, FINAL FANTASY was clearly taking the path of appealing to a wider audience, so SaGa's objective was to secure the core fans. When it comes to the game's difficulty, rather than having people get bored, we felt it would be better to have people give up on the game—we tackled the project with this type of thinking as we designed and adjusted the game.
Romancing SaGa II is an interesting entry in the SaGa series because it places special emphasis on its story. What made you decide to make SaGa II more story-heavy than its predecessors? Will you be doing anything to "update" the story to match storytelling in more modern games? For example, will you be including additional dialogue, more cutscenes, and so on?
Kawazu: In Japan, it's said that Romancing SaGa 2 places more emphasis on the game system and Romancing SaGa 1 and 3 place a special emphasis on the story, so this question is unexpected. In Japan, stories are generally evaluated based on how much a player is able to delve into the characters on an emotional level, so that may be the reason for the sentiment described above. I feel as though stories are presented in a quite excessive manner in modern games, so I don't feel the need to add anything.
The unique gameplay mechanics in Final Fantasy Legend / SaGa (for example, the meat-eating system) inspired other portable RPGs in the future, including Pokémon. I know the Game Boy's limitations had a lot to do with how the first SaGa game was designed, but did you have any specific games in mind when you planned its world and characters?
Kawazu: There were other games released around the same time that brought monsters into the party, such as Megami Tensei. I looked to those, and made sure that the monsters didn't become just a simple class type (like warrior or mage) or a disposable pet.
Given your legacy of portable game development, has it been exciting for you to watch the Nintendo Switch gain momentum in Japan and abroad? Do you think the Switch will have a major impact on game development (and especially RPGs) in the future?
Kawazu: I think it'll largely change depending on whether the Switch will officially be positioned as the 3DS successor or not. If that does happen, I believe many games will be developed upon narrowing their target platform to Switch. Regardless of the game being an RPG or not, if many players end up experiencing their first game on the Switch, I believe there will be a large, long-term impact. If games allowing players to pass time for free, and games players pay to enjoy are able to split their roles and coexist, I feel like it'll become a great environment for game creators.