Unlimited Saga

Unlimited Saga
Unlimited Saga cover.jpg
North American cover art
Developer(s) Square Product Development Division 2
Publisher(s)
Director(s) Akitoshi Kawazu
Producer(s) Akitoshi Kawazu
Designer(s) Akitoshi Kawazu
Programmer(s) Takaaki Tonooka
Artist(s) Yusuke Naora
Writer(s) Jyunichi Shinomiya
Miwa Shoda
Akitoshi Kawazu
Composer(s) Masashi Hamauzu
Series SaGa
Platform(s) PlayStation 2
Release
Genre(s) Role-playing
Mode(s) Single-player

Unlimited Saga[a] is a role-playing video game developed and published by Square for the PlayStation 2 as the ninth game in their SaGa series. Originally released in Japan in December 2002, the game was later made available for North American players in June 2003 and in Europe the following October. The game was designed by series veteran Akitoshi Kawazu who is given a byline on the cover of the game's packaging, with music composed by Masashi Hamauzu who had previously provided the soundtrack for the game's predecessor, SaGa Frontier 2. A special limited collector's edition was made available exclusively in Japan and was released alongside the regular edition.

Set in a fantasy world, the game follows the exploits of seven adventurers as they travel the world in search of the Seven Wonders, mysterious artifacts left behind by an ancient civilization that are said to bring about a new golden age of peace and prosperity when found. Taking a departure from previous games in the series, Unlimited Saga is structured more like a board game than a traditional role-playing endeavor, with heavily randomized features such as the roulette-like "Reel System" and hidden traps to hinder a player's progress.

Unlimited Saga was a commercial success, having sold over half a million units worldwide to date. While the game was mostly well received in Japan, it was largely panned by critics in North America and Europe for its unorthodox gameplay and high difficulty.

Gameplay

A battle scene where a player uses the Reel System to attack an enemy.

Players must navigate their characters through a number of environments while completing story-based objectives in order to advance the plot. Players can assume the role of one of seven characters, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and back stories, and become involved in the narrative by interacting with non-player characters and exploring dangerous areas.[5] During the game, players will explore towns which can be used to gather information and purchase goods to aid them on their journey before setting off for the wilds. Unlike previous SaGa series games, rather than freely roaming through dungeons, forests, and other environments, the game is structured like a board game, referred to as the "Map Movement System", where players must move space by space to reach the end. On some spaces, the player may encounter objects such traps or locked doors that can be overcome by using the "Reel System", a device resembling a roulette wheel that may result in a good or bad outcome. While navigating the game board, the player will also encounter enemy monsters that must be defeated in order to advance.

Combat in Unlimited Saga takes place using a turn-based system where the player must input commands for each character individually, which are then carried out in order in accordance with their "speed" statistic. Parties can consist of up to five characters who are recruited either automatically as part of the story, or once a player has completed certain objectives. After selecting a specific attack to use each round, the player must then utilize the Reel System to randomly decide whether the action will take place. Depending on what icon the Reel lands on, an attack may land as intended, deal increased damage, or fail completely. While characters will initially have only a normal attack, they will randomly learn new combat skills based on their equipped weapon by continually attacking enemies, thus adding them to the Reel for a chance to use them in future battles. Any character may equip up to two different kinds of weapons, which have their own set of skills to learn. Players have the option to use multiple Reels instead of just one for a combo attack each round, allowing more than one character to attack an enemy at the same time. By winning battles, characters gain increased statistics that allow them to battle progressively more difficult enemies.

Plot

A god has awoken with the power of the "Seven Wonders of Lore", and has proclaimed a new golden age, and seven heroes set out to find out what this will mean.[6]

Characters

  • Laura – Voiced by: Kelli Cousins – A former pirate who finds herself embroiled in a young prince's troubles.
  • Judy – Voiced by: Hilary Haag – A young witch whose goal is to save her grandfather who is trapped in a mirror.
  • Ventus – Voiced by: Chris Patton – A courier whose goal is to avenge his brother's death. Called Vent in Japanese.
  • Mythe – Voiced by: Vic Mignogna – An inventor searching for a mysterious silver-haired girl.
  • Kurt – Voiced by: James Marshall – A noble who intends to find out the origin of his cursed gauntlet. Called Cash in Japanese.
  • Ruby – Voiced by: Jessica Boone – A fake fortune teller who travels the world visiting various ancient ruins.
  • Armic – Voiced by: Tiffany Grant – A member of the Chapa tribe sent out to find items needed for a rain making ceremony.
  • Basil Galeos – Voiced by: Rob Mungle – One of the main antagonists of the game, and he is lord of the House of Galeos and servant to the Escata Royal Family.
  • Jeanne Maure – Voiced by: Kira Maltezos – A temple knight of the Temple Guards.
  • Maire – Voiced by: Monica Rial – A sister to both Judy and Roy and like the other people in their family is gifted with good magic.
  • Rebecca – Voiced by: Marcie Corder – The daughter of Josef and mother to Judy, Marie and Roy, wife to Thomas.
  • Tiffion – Voiced by: Shelley Calene-Black – She's an ex-Carrier with a mysterious past and unknown link to Ventus' deceased brother Briza

Development

Unlimited SaGa was developed by Square, which handled development for multiple role-playing series including SaGa and Final Fantasy.[7] directed and produced by Akitoshi Kawazu, the creator of the SaGa series. The character designs and art direction were done by Yusuke Naora, who was the art director of Final Fantasy X. For the graphics, Square partnered with Adobe Systems to create "Sketch Motion" during battles. Using programs such as Photoshop and After Effects, hand-drawn 2D designs were combined with 3D models to create a unique hybrid look.[8] As with other games in the series, director Akitoshi Kawazu chose a non-traditional way of designing the game. He stated, "As far as Unlimited Saga is concerned, we said let's tackle the basics of game design once again. We didn't try to emphasize the realistic details, but rather symbolize, and cut out the parts we didn't need. We thought, let's dare to do a 'not express' thing and we calmly [stuck] to that route."[7]

When designing Unlimited Saga, Kawazu wanted to go back to the mechanical roots of the early portable titles, deciding to create a game that focused almost entirely on its battle system. The "Reel" system was based on rolling a dice in a tabletop role-playing game.[9] The board game-like gameplay and progression was intended by Kawazu as an evolution of his work on Wild Card, a role-playing game for the WonderSwan. The decision made Unlimited Saga stand out from the rest of the SaGa franchise, which were traditional role-playing games.[10] The basic narrative structure of seven major threats facing the world was created by Kawazu based on concepts from his early game development career. The supporting character Iskandar was to have been an eighth main character, confronting all the threats and joining the narrative together, but Kawazu scrapped the character and incorporated existing concepts into Ruby's narrative.[9] Kawazu thought up Ventus's narrative after seeing the narrative and gameplay concepts for The Bouncer.[10] Unlimited Saga was originally connected to the setting of the anime series Final Fantasy: Unlimited, but these plans were shelved during production.[11] Kawazu later stating that many of the similarities were coincidental due to his work on both projects.[9]

Music

The music was composed by Masashi Hamauzu, while synthesizer programming was done by Ryo Yamazaki. The two previously collaborated on the soundtrack for SaGa Frontier 2 after the departure of previous series composer Kenji Ito. Because the game uses streaming audio, it was possible for the sound team to use real acoustic instrument sounds in place of a synthesizer.[12] Three pieces, including "March in C", were written for full orchestra. Live recording of ensembles of tracks such as "Feel Uneasy About the Wonders" and "Battle Theme IV" pitted solo instruments against one another to create what Hamauzu considered a Latin sound. The ending vocal piece "Soaring Wings" was written specifically for singer Mio Kashiwabara.[12] Unlimited Saga features five-channel surround sound support from Dolby's Pro Logic II.[13] The game's soundtrack consists of 58 songs spanning two discs. It was released on January 22, 2003.[14]

Release

The game was going to be part of a world tour by Sony Computer Entertainment to promote the next generation of role-playing games, but the tensions between America and Iraq at the time and the consequent risks of a terrorist attack caused them to cancel the trip.[15][16] The game released in Japan on December 19, 2002 by Square.[3] Unlimited Saga: Limited Edition was released in Japan on the same day as the regular version of the game. It included a promotional Unlimited SaGa Maxi Single CD, a three-song CD.[17] A number of books were published by DigiCube, including Unlimited Saga: The First Guide Book for Beginners, a strategy guide; Unlimited Saga Material Collection: Lead to the Destiny, an artbook; and Unlimited Saga: Visual Arts Collection, a book containing CG images.[18][19] Studio Bent Stuff also published a companion book.[20] A set of postcards and posters was released by Square via its DigiCube distribution service.[21]

In North America, the game was published on June 17, 2003 by Square Enix;[2] the company was formed following the 2003 merger of Square and Enix following the completion of Unlimited Saga.[22][23] To promote Unlimited Saga in North America, Square Enix held the "Hall of Valor" contest beginning on the game's release date, June 17, 2003 and ending on July 27, 2003. It consisted of three challenges where players would have to send in answers to difficult questions related to the game. Prizes included products by electronics manufacturer Denon.[24] The European version was released on October 31, 2003 by Atari Europe.[1][4] Unlimited Saga Collector's Edition was released in Europe and included a bonus DVD titled Eternal Calm Final Fantasy X-2: Prologue.[4][25]

Reception

Reception
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 52%[26]
Metacritic 45 / 100[27]
Review scores
Publication Score
Edge 3 / 10[28]
EGM 3.33 / 10[29]
Famitsu 31 / 40[30][31]
Game Informer 6.5/10[32]
GamePro 2.5 / 5[33]
GameSpot 4.3 / 10[34]
GameSpy 28 / 100[35]
IGN 6.6 / 10[36]
OPM (US) 2.0 / 5[37]
Awards
Publication Award
Famitsu Silver Award (2002)[30]
PlayStation Gold Award (2003)[38]

Unlimited Saga entered the Japanese sales charts at number 3 behind Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, selling 196,471 copies, and ended the year with over 270,000 copies sold in Japan.[39][40] By the end of 2003, Unlimited Saga had sold over 438,000 copies in Japan alone.[41] By the end of Square Enix's fiscal year in May 2003, the game had sold 560,000 copies worldwide.[42] For selling over half a million copies, Sony Computer Entertainment awarded the game a Gold Award during the 9th Annual PlayStation Awards on June 29, 2003.[38] Unlimited Saga was scored a 31 out of 40 by Famitsu magazine, earning the publication's Silver Award.[30] Prior to its release, Unlimited Saga was recognized by the Computer Entertainment Supplier's Association in its Game Awards Future category at the organization's annual event.[43]

Unlimited Saga was not well-received outside Japan, receiving mostly low to average scores from critics. Electronic Gaming Monthly simply declared: "This game sucks. Unlimited Saga exemplifies everything that's wrong with RPGs today and throws it all together in one deluxe package for all to avoid like the plague."[29] Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine largely agreed, stating that the game "ruined the SaGa franchise" with its "excruciating difficulty, obtuse mechanics, a stifling lack of freedom, and a brutal mission structure that punishes you as often as it rewards you."[44] GameSpot called it "simply unpleasant to play", calling the gameplay "irksome" and remarking that "[t]he reel system is interesting in theory, but in practice it's just an annoyance".[34] The website would additionally pan the game's "incredibly nonsensical" story and voice acting that ranges from "decent to really bad."[34] IGN applauded the game's music and presentation, calling the game's audio "Unlimited Saga's most valuable asset", but found the rest of the game lacking, stating the "production values, character designs, and personable lead protagonists are a plus, but the clunky interface and lack of acceptable functionality hurt it - and hurt it bad."[36] GamePro found the game generally lacking in quality, but declared its biggest hindrance to be its steep learning curve and non-linear story, finding that "[e]ven basic navigation is difficult in this game—it will take you an hour or two before you have any idea how to get anywhere."[33] RPGamer called Unlimited Saga the "biggest letdown" of 2003 in their annual RPGamer Awards.[45] The game maintains a 52% average score from aggregate review website GameRankings,[26] and an average of 45 out of 100 from Metacritic.[27] GamesRadar called it the 25th Worst Game Of All Time.[46]