Author Topic: SaGa: Emerald Beyond (Switch) Review  (Read 610 times)

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Offline NWR_Neal

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SaGa: Emerald Beyond (Switch) Review
« on: April 24, 2024, 04:00:00 AM »

A witch, a vampire king, and a singing robot walk into a bar in an RPG and produce a tedious story.

The last decade of SaGa ports and remakes have been illuminating in the west, shining a bright light on a series that has never been at the top of the list of Square Enix’s famed franchises. The last brand new entry in the SaGa series predates the Switch (the Japan-only 2016 Vita release SaGa Scarlet Grace) and now, eight years later, comes SaGa Emerald Beyond - the first brand new SaGa game on Switch after more than a half dozen other re-releases on the system. Unfortunately, the wait might not have been worth it because Emerald Beyond is an uneven, oft boring game buoyed by a solid combat system.

Much like any entry in the series this century, Emerald Beyond features a nonlinear structure where player choice guides you in different directions for each story. You pick between five different characters, ranging from aspiring witch Ameya Aisling to the singing robot Diva No. 5, and then choose between a few different options to explore different worlds leading to an open-ended narrative conclusion that then encourages you to play with a different character or replay one of the characters you have already completed. In my experience, each playthrough took around five hours (give or take), but the deeper I got into each replay, the more bored I became. The playthroughs do build up an overarching story and are filled with enough different areas to visit and things to do that aren’t just identical runs, but the overlap in gameplay and presentation start to blur all the worlds together, turning it into a veritable soup of an RPG quest.

The character variety is wacky, as in addition to the aforementioned teen witch and singing robot, you also have a vampire king, a magical puppeteer, and a pair of rookie cops. To be able to go from vampire battles to cops investigating a murder should be thrilling, but in execution, it’s just bland. A lot of this comes from the flat presentation, both in how the 3D characters are presented in the 2D overworld but also in the dialogue itself. Everything is overwrought and overlong, a far cry from the strong localization in SaGa Scarlet Grace that was one of my favorite aspects of the game. Sadly, the dialogue in Emerald Beyond unfolds with an almost eerily logical precision, lacking the natural hesitations of human conversation. Also would it kill someone to explain to the Western audience what a kugutsu is (for the record they’re easily summed up as demon puppets, which is maybe what they could have been called in game or even just described as in game).

While Emerald Beyond boasts 17 different worlds to explore and plot threads that connect together in the background, the moment-to-moment gameplay in each world is very similar. You enter a new area, press a button to automatically scan for points of interest, pick between one of a few points of interest, sit through slow, long dialogue, and occasionally fight a battle. Rinse and repeat. One time I collected logs found by wandering the overworld. Another time I looked for cats. All of it is just point-to-point wandering around flat areas. Also, every now and then you have to solve a simple tangram puzzle. That’s basically the game.

Some of that setup is similar to how Scarlet Grace operated, but it’s streamlined to the point of obsolescence. Scarlet Grace had towns and blacksmiths to break up the flow. In Emerald Beyond, you just upgrade your weapons through the main menu. This simplifies the process but also makes it so the game is narrow-minded. A lot of my complaints about past SaGa games are that they can be too inscrutable for their own good, but after playing Emerald Beyond, I’m coming to the realization that these games are based on layers of inscrutability. Making it easier to understand alters the alchemy that makes these games fun and interesting.

All that being said, the combat’s enjoyable. The turn-based battles are built off of the bones of Scarlet Grace’s very good combat system with a lot of smart tweaks that make it a little more friendly, but still adequately inscrutable as like past games, there are no experience points and depending on your character’s race, you earn new abilities semi-randomly. As far as the new tweaks, characters can equip two different weapon types now, combos are easier to pull off, and different character types make for a lot more party-building variety. The combat quite frankly saved this game for me.

It’s a shame that SaGa Emerald Beyond doesn’t stick the landing outside of the enjoyable turn-based combat because it’s still a fascinating and distinct series. I wish I was more engaged in the story, because the potential of bouncing between 17 worlds and criss-crossing replayed stories sounds cool. It just doesn’t coalesce into something all that fun. Maybe the SaGa series is something best left to ports and remakes.

Neal Ronaghan
Director, NWR

"Fungah! Foiled again!"