Up until this writing, the remake of the first Romancing SaGa (often referred to as Minstrel Song) had been a hurdle that I couldn’t overcome. I made four attempts to get through it on PlayStation 2. So, when I saw that a remaster was in the works, I made a commitment to myself as a SaGa fan that I had to make it through the game with at least one character. That’s exactly what I did. (I played as Hawke, for those that were wondering.) There were moments that I thought the challenge would be too great or the directions on advancing too obtuse. But, I made it through. The result? This was a fantastic adventure. Really, the game’s biggest issue is that it lacks the snappy replay ability of other games in the series.
The remastered version of Minstrel Song retains the same look as the PlayStation 2 game but with HD crispness. The character models are still, in a word, goofy. Monsters, special effects, spells, techniques, and anything else you’ll lay eyes upon look lovely. But, is it enough to make up for how silly the character models look? The answers will vary. I was confused by the design choice since Minstrel Song was first released. Tomomi Kobayashi’s artwork elevates everything and yet Square refuses to take full advantage of it yet again. Other new features in this remaster included double movement speed, display options, and a handy new game plus that I’ll talk about in the conclusion. The music still slaps. Kenji Ito can rarely do wrong so there isn’t much else to say. Finally, voice acting is the same as it was before. It’s mostly high-quality, although some voices took the campy route for variable results. Here’s a tip: do all you can to meet Patrick because his voice actor is hilarious.
Minstrel Song takes place in the world of Mardias. When the world was still young, three gods of evil led an army of monsters to do battle against the mortals. Elore, the lord of the gods, gave powerful jewels called Fatestones to a hero named Mirsa. With the power of the Fatestones, the ruler of the evil gods, Saruin, was sealed away. Sadly, Mirsa died in the process and the Fatestones scattered. Now, Mardias is enjoying a temporary but testy peace. Various kingdoms throughout the world have their own agenda. Monsters and demons still run amok. And whispers of Saruin’s resurrection are circulating. Players get to select from one of eight heroes, each with their own objective, and embark on a journey that will lead them to the Fatestones. Albert is a young lord that wants to protect his family and his homeland. Jamil is a thief that wants a Fatestone to add to his collection of stolen goods. Claudia is a young lady that lives in the forest with no recollection of her past. There’s a hero for just about everyone, and a party can be formed from a slew of other characters that inhabit Mardias.
At a glance, it looks like there’s a lot of variety when selecting a hero to travel through Mardias since each one has their own, unique introduction and backstory. Minstrel Song has a classic SaGa formula in which you will play through your selected MC’s introduction and be on your own after. From that point, you’re able to explore Mardias to your heart’s content. This can be a bit overwhelming to new players since Mardias is a massive world. Figuring out where to go, who to talk to, what to do, and getting locked out of certain quests make this a difficult game to recommend to people unfamiliar with SaGa. However, those familiar with it and know what they’re getting into are in for a (mostly) enjoyable ride. Your time in Mardias will be spent traveling from location to location, gathering clues from townspeople to trigger new adventures. Some adventures are simple search and rescue. Others are much more involved, such as altering the ecology of certain monsters or traveling to dreary islands inhabited by the undead. All told, there are close to 70 events available. Completing these will earn you money, jewels, and items.
However, one of the most important things to be aware of Minstrel Song is your Event Ranking. The long and short of it is this: the more you fight, the stronger you get. The stronger you get, the higher your Event Ranking (ER) gets. You are locked out of certain quests when your ER reaches a certain level. This remastered version gives you a good idea of where your ER stands. The reason I mention this is because it’s very, very difficult to complete all the quests in Minstrel Song. This isn’t taking into account specific plot triggers for some events, how certain characters are required for other events, all of the nuances required for the ending events, and the list goes on. This brings me to my second point, and the reason why (I think) it took me so long to complete the game: don’t try to do it all. I was so stressed about completing as many events as possible that I didn’t take the time to enjoy all the things the game does right. If an event looks interesting, then try to complete it. If successful, then great. If not, then move on and figure out something else to do. I encourage others new to the game to go into it with this mindset. I also encourage them to start with Albert since he’s the best for newcomers to the game.
But, no matter who you start with, you’re going to want to spend a lot of time making sure your party is in the best shape before venturing beyond the safety of a city’s walls. My reviews tend to sound like instruction manuals, and Minstrel Song’s case would be no different if I wanted to describe all the features. Which, I want to. It’s fun readying your party with Proficiencies, equipment, and items. It’s fun going to an apothecary to make new healing items or going to a blacksmith to add attributes to your favorite gear. It’s fun going to a mentor and using your hard earned jewels from a quest to boost your team’s abilities with weapons, armor, and Proficiencies. I won’t even get into magic, stances, positioning, and…well…I think you get the point. You’re going to spend a lot of time in menus and wandering from town to town to find the best way to handle the challenges the game throws at you.
This is because Minstrel Song is difficult. Even the early enemies can catch you off guard if you button mash your way through encounters. You’ll see different monster-types wandering about and touching them will start a battle. Battles are turn-based, and move at a zippy rate as both sides exchange blows. The classic glimmer mechanic is in full force in Minstrel Song: using a certain weapon type gives the chance of learning new abilities for that weapon. Many of the maneuvers are shared among weapons. So, if you wanted someone to use both a short sword and katana, then you’d see a few of the same skills fort each. The possibilities are vast. There are so many different types of weapons and schools of magic. There are variations of skills. There are chances for triggering summons or wide-range attacks called Vortexes. Utilizing the tools provided will give your team a solid chance of surviving both regular and boss encounters. If things just aren’t working the way you like, then you can take advantage of the Smoke Pouch to flee. At the end of combat, the party will get a boost to their individual stats, money, jewels, and possibly an item or two.
However, the drops from combat aren’t enough to keep up with the expensive cost of gear. This is why it’s important to complete quests: the money you’re rewarded is usually enough to reward the party member with something nice. The gameplay loop of taking on a quest, fighting through the quest area, and getting rewarded is as fun as it is exciting. For the first time. See, the biggest issue with Minstrel Song is that it takes a lot of effort to gain enough power to see the finale. As a result, a first time through will be about 25 hours. Even with the handy new game plus that lets you carry over a lot of goods, going through the game again with another leading character will take a long time. When I think of something like SaGa Frontier, I think of how fun it is to finish one character’s journey and immediately start anew with another. Don’t get me wrong; Minstrel Song will be fun on consecutive files but it’ll be some time before I head back to Mardias because this game can be a lot. Ultimately, however, I’m thrilled that Minstrel Song is available on modern consoles and that I was able to finish it for a first time. The challenges were tough. The final boss required intense preparation. A guide was often needed to figure out certain quest triggers. And the list goes on. But the fun never stopped. If you’re new to SaGa, then proceed with caution before diving into this. If not, then get ready for an adventure that’s equal parts epic and unique.
Overall, 9/10: Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song Remastered gives you near complete control on saving the world. It can be overwhelming at first, but sticking with it will reward gamers with a sense of accomplishment and of adventure.