Game Review #456: SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: Frankie W.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 12.2.2019
Buy SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
A SaGa With More Than 3 Entries
SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions is a port of a vita game, part of Square’s long-running SaGa series—the 12th entry in the series, as a matter of a fact—and it is the first original console title since 2002, when we saw the release of the not-so-well-received Unlimited SaGa on PS2. SaGa Frontier 1 and 2 are some of my favorite jRPG’s, and I love Romancing SaGa 3 enough to have a translated cart of it that will play on an American Super Nintendo.
Needless to say, I am familiar with the series, and was super excited to give this one a try, since I never even knew this one sneaked out previously, since I wasn’t much for the PlayStation Vita (Sorry #VitaIsland!). I was delighted to get the chance to officially review a game from a series with games I LOVE, and this one has a lot of good in it! You can really feel it was a handheld game in some spots, but I still think this is a worthy addition to many people’s library. Let's talk a little more about WHY!
4 Heros, 1 World
The SaGa series has a few mainstays that are still showing strong in this entry: multiple character stories (This one having 4 main characters with different stories), the battle system, and the method to learning new techniques and raising stats. After battle, your characters will have individual stats or weapon skills raise depending on the traits exhibited in battle. If you are taking lots of damage, your HP will raise! Used greatswords extensively? Then your skill with greatswords can go up, unlocking more advanced weapon skills, and possibly new roles!
Speaking of weapon skills, the common theme is that, upon using one, you can spark a new technique—shown by a lightbulb appearing above your character's head—and they use a new move during that turn, which is then added to your skills! What this battle system has a big focus on in this entry would be manipulation and proper placement of character actions on the Timeline, which is a character turn order, including enemies displayed on the bottom of the screen.
Furthermore, resource management and risk assessment plays a HUGE role in coming out on top in battles, because SaGa Scarlet Grace, does NOT pull any punches when it comes to difficulty. I found myself often struggling to come out with multiple characters alive—or anything beyond the skin of my teeth—if the game dictates a combat situation as “hard.” This makes the combat rewarding, if not occasionally making you feel like you are fighting an uphill battle. Let's break this down a little further…
BP, Roles, Positions, Oh My!
The main resource you will be managing here is an ever-increasing resource called Behavior Points. Gone are separate things like Weapon Points for physical attacks, and JP for magic. Now, BP determines every single action available to your party, as a whole, not individually. Your starting BP is determined by your formation, as well as how your BP increases and where it maxes out. Will you try to finish battles quickly by starting with a high amount of BP but a lower max, or will you go for the long haul and start out low, but capitalize on multiple enemies by using a formation that increases max BP with every enemy you kill, rather than the reliable every turn increase?
Different battles will call for different Formations, and it's up to you to figure that out! You can use moves to change where enemies and allies fall on the timeline, and by manipulating this in smart ways, you can trigger a United Attack. A United Attack happens when someone has been defeated, and removing them from the timeline connects characters on the same side together, and they attack together! This has the additional effect of lowering BP requirements next turn for people who participated, which can lead to combinations of high BP moves that wouldn’t normally be possible!
This battle system is complex and exciting, and will have you mulling over your next move more often than not; and it makes the game feel a little more chess like, being less forgiving and more strategic. You unlock roles that you can equip, with passive effects to each character in your 5-person battle party, and different combinations of stats and skill levels, making exploring different weapons rewarding for characters.
Another stat is LP, or Life Points. When your character runs out of HP (Please don’t tell me I need to explain that mainstay!), they will become incapacitated and lose an LP point. If their LP runs out, they will be unable to participate in battle for some time! Thankfully, this game wants you use other characters rather than the same 5, and your LP will recover by 1 every two encounters if a character is not actively fighting in an encounter.
Missing the Usuals
Okay, now that's the awesome, deep and engaging battle system. Let's get into… the rest of it. Stories are told over still images that change between lines sometimes, as well as occasionally adding some voice acting here and there. I’ve played through a good bit of two characters’ stories so far, and honestly was not SUPER into the story, or the world. The game is very nonlinear; you can follow the story or just go off on your own—another trait shared by many SaGa games—but with the combat being so hard, it's a little difficult to go off the beaten path.
There is no dungeon crawling, just going from encounter to story event, to encounter to story event on the world map, and occasionally visiting a town to make better equipment or unlock a little side quest. In battle, you have 3-D models that don’t look terrible, but man, the backgrounds and battle areas do NOT look good in the least. Ugly and flat, without much of anything to look at. I’m not someone who can’t deal with that, but I remember SaGa Frontier having some really interesting environments and beautiful backgrounds that just feel… missed in this entry. The battle theme is killer and full of energy, and you can tell the SaGa guy is working on the music again, but there aren’t quite as many stand-out tracks as I'd like there to be.
Saga Scarlet Grace: Ambitions will be best appreciated by a fan of the series, or a gamer looking for a challenge from the jRPG genre. While the battle system and visual designs of characters are absolutely excellent, the lack of actual explorable dungeons, topped with ugly battle arenas and characters who fall flat was noticeable. What this game does well, it does GREAT, but the other aspects seem to fall behind, and stand out a little bit. This is a good game, but not a complete package. I am thoroughly enjoying this title, but I can see where some people would be turned off by it! Is it for you? I Hope this review helped you decide! I give SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions a 7/10 as an overall above average experience, with a few parts that hold it back from achieving true glory—but at least it isn’t Unlimited SaGa!
Buy SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes.