‘SaGa Emerald Beyond’ Mobile Review – A Lot Of Role-Playing Game For A Lot Of Green – TouchArcade


Before venturing too far into this review, I have to apologize for being a little late with it. Without early access to the mobile version, I got to start at the same time as the rest of you, and I didn’t want to review a game like this without doing some thorough examination. I had been greatly anticipating SaGa Emerald Beyond ($49.99), you see. I like the SaGa series more than the average person, and I still think SaGa Scarlet Grace is one of the most enjoyable RPGs in recent history. But the satisfaction in these games tends not to be easily extracted; effort is required, and so here we are. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room first. This is a very expensive game by App Store standards. Indeed, at $49.99 USD this is the exact same price that SaGa Emerald Beyond is selling for on other platforms. From one point of view, this makes perfect sense. It’s a new game, it came out on the same day on mobile that it did elsewhere, and it’s the same game content-wise. Why should it be cheaper? In a way, wanting games to be cheaper on mobile is simply feeding into the image of these platforms being inherently lesser somehow. Thinking of it that way, price parity almost seems like proper acknowledgement that mobile isn’t just a dump.

On the other hand, this is mobile gaming. We’ve seen games cease being updated before, and we’ve seen games pulled before. Heck, The Last Remnant, a SaGa game in all but name, vanished from the App Store ages ago with some vague promises from Square Enix that it would return when it was fixed. Perhaps as you read this sometime in the future, it has returned. But the possibility of games breaking and getting delisted is a more real concern on mobile than it is elsewhere, and one we have to consider. It stings a little when you lose a game you paid five or ten bucks for; losing one you paid fifty for, even temporarily, would be a real test of one’s patience.

Ultimately, you’re going to have to dig deep and answer that question yourself. I want to tell you not to worry, but I can’t. I’ve been covering this beat for over a decade now and I am not naive to its problems. Square Enix is better about this than some publishers, and that’s the only real reassurance I can give you. I won’t blame anyone for the price affecting their decision of whether to buy the game on mobile or not, and I’m sure Square Enix was prepared for such hesitation when it priced the game the way it did. That’s all I’ve got to say about that. The absolute state of things that I have to spend three paragraphs talking about prices in a game review.

I’m of the belief that the SaGa team might have been caught off-guard by the response to SaGa Scarlet Grace. This series is not typically well-received in the West, after all. Indeed, more often than not it is reviled by most of the media and the general audience. Over in Japan it tends to fare better, though it certainly has had its highs and lows with fans and critics there as well. But SaGa Scarlet Grace was different, wasn’t it? I daresay that people kind of… liked it? Look, I’m a SaGa Sicko. I always like these games (not Unlimited). But I’m usually only joined by my fellow SaGa Sickos, and that isn’t what happened with SaGa Scarlet Grace. A lot of people really enjoyed it, a fact made all the more impressive by how clearly modest its budget was.

I think that might be what brought us to SaGa Emerald Beyond, at least broadly speaking. This game feels like it was made on a similarly shoestring budget, but that’s not really too surprising. I think one of the reasons SaGa survives, beyond the series creator Akitoshi Kawazu’s senior position with Square Enix, is that even when it fails it doesn’t leave the publisher holding a big bill. And if a streamlined approach worked last time, why not this time? What’s more unexpected, given the history of the series, is how… safe?… this game is in its basic structure. Relatively speaking, of course.

If SaGa is known for anything, it’s that it’s very uncommon for any two games to be terribly similar to each other. Sure, there are persistent elements. Sparking new skills, the unusual character growth system that sprung out of Final Fantasy II, multiple playable characters, and so on. But those systems are usually fit into new frameworks, a double-edged sword if ever there was one. That’s not what happened here. SaGa Emerald Beyond isn’t exactly like Scarlet Grace, to be sure, and I’ll get into that shortly. But it presents itself an awful lot like it, and I’m not sure why but I feel a bit disappointed by that. It’s like asking your wild friend to surprise you at Baskin-Robbins and getting a scoop of French vanilla. Hey, it’s a good flavor. I love French vanilla. It’s just that I was just expecting Boogers & Caramel Melody or something.

Okay, so. Emerald Beyond. You’ve got your choice of characters, a sum of six in the end. You are going to get a very different experience based on who you pick. You are going to get a different experience based on whether you’ve finished the game with certain characters already. Playing the game again with the same character will often lead to different results. There’s one character whose true ending won’t even open up for you until you’ve fulfilled some very particular conditions (don’t choose Ameya for your first playthrough, trust me). If there is one way this game separates itself from prior games in the series, it’s in this wide variety of potential routes through the game. If you only do one playthrough of this game, you’ve missed most of it. If you only do three playthroughs of this game, you’ve missed most of it.

A single playthrough can be very short but rarely longer than fifteen hours, but you are assuredly meant to keep on playing it again and again with new characters and new paths. This is something some players will love and others will hate, but it certainly helps the developers get a lot of soup out of a rather small amount of ingredients. It runs rather thin storywise, but I doubt you’re coming to a SaGa game for the story no matter how much text this particular entry likes to throw about. You’ve easily got over a hundred hours of game ahead of you if you want to see the game all the way through to its intended conclusion, and that’s both the value for money you want to see but also a crushing commitment.

It’s fascinating from a design standpoint because on the surface this is a very linear game, penning you into small locations until you fully see them through rather than letting you run about. But it turns out to be very non-linear in a deeper sense, and the way it achieves this is completely bonkers. I respect that, because I’m a SaGa Sicko. Others might be less thrilled, particularly since these repeated playthroughs lead to a lot of recycling that can wear on one’s soul. The story that’s here is well-written and the localizers have again done a bang-up job, but there’s not enough substance in it as a whole to keep one sated on their fifth or sixth run. You really have to be in love with the mechanics to keep sticking it out, or really like connecting thin strands from the stories of different characters.

The battle system is the star of the show again. Structurally it’s a lot like the combat in Scarlet Grace, with a heavy focus on offense and making sure you set up your big moves (called Showstoppers here) while trying to interrupt the enemies in such a way that they can’t bust out their own on you. There’s no healing in battles here, so you really have to plan your moves carefully. Any damage taken is serious business, particularly in boss battles. On the whole, I’d say Emerald Beyond is a lot more lenient in difficulty than Scarlet Grace, but when it starts cooking (and it will) it demands good strategy and serious situational awareness. Of course, there is a bit of the ol’ RNG in here as usual as it pertains to picking up new moves via Sparking and stat increases, but your brain is going to be your most powerful weapon. You’re going to have to fall in deep, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary for SaGa.

Man, I don’t know. I’m sitting here trying to think if Emerald Beyond is an RPG I would recommend to the average person or if it’s just something for SaGa Sickos and I’m torn. Personally speaking, I love this game. I don’t know if I love it quite as much as Scarlet Grace, but that’s one of my favorite RPGs of the past couple decades. Emerald Beyond not quite living up to that is not a knock on it. But I really do love this game. It’s so mysterious. There are so many surprises to find, and small details to pick up. You absolutely have to lose yourself to it in order to find its best qualities, and that is something that is right up my alley. The thing is, I don’t know if that’s up the average player’s alley. I found the repeat playthroughs in Bravely Default brilliant narratively and mechanically, but most people hated them. So I’m having trouble finding my compass here.

Here’s the thing: if you’re a SaGa Sicko, get in. I can’t say where you’ll end up ranking it in the series, but it’s not Unlimited and I think that’s probably enough for you. If you’re not, you have to ask yourself how into digging out opaque mechanics and non-obvious narrative elements you are. If you take SaGa Emerald Beyond at face value, you’re not going to get much out of this. A single playthrough is paltry and it’s just easy enough to wave you through. The story isn’t going to do much for you, either. Just like with the mechanics, you really have to work to get things out of the narrative here. And unlike with the mechanics, I’m not fully sure the effort is worth the reward. But those mechanics! That combat system! It’s all amazing stuff, the kind of meat an RPG fan dreams of when they’re having particularly lovely dreams at night. It’s SaGa, baby. No one else bakes these pies.

Alright, let me try to sort this out. If you’re a total SaGa beginner and don’t want a game to beat you up too much, you’re probably better off going with Minstrel Song. If you don’t mind getting beaten up, Scarlet Grace is still the high-water mark. I like its story better, and I like how it handles its outside-of-combat mechanics more. So I guess what I’m saying is that those who are new to SaGa probably shouldn’t go with Emerald Beyond as their first choice. But once you’ve cut your teeth on SaGa one way or the other, do make sure you play this one. I think it’s better than it’s getting credit for at the moment, and to be fair that is on the game for hiding too much and being too subtle on the whole. This is way up there in the series rankings for me, and that’s after carefully digesting it for a lot longer than optimal traffic dictates I should have.

It’s the most obvious thing in the world to say about a SaGa game at this point, but SaGa Emerald Beyond isn’t going to be for everyone. Setting aside my personal feelings, I can say that it’s probably opaque to a fault, and it’s trying to stretch itself a bit too thin for how much time it wants you to put in. It’s a fantastic little RPG puzzle box in the mechanical sense, and players who come to RPGs for strategic battles will get their fill here. I think even outside of that, there are a lot of neat non-obvious aspects to this game that are waiting to be found by the observant player. In the end Emerald Beyond is another SaGa game that is preaching to the choir, but it’s a choir worth joining if you think you’ve got the patience for it.

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