- Seven unique characters, each with different strengths and weaknesses
- Can meet the six characters you don’t pick and work with/kill/get betrayed by them in interesting ways
- You can be a ROBOT
- Graphics look decent for an early SNES RPG
- Can see where random encounters will happen on the world map, which was a cool feature
- Music has some decent tracks, and there is a lot of it
- Multiple characters increase replayability
- Absurd difficulty requires a large amount of level grinding
- Companion/character battles level to match you, making them always really difficult
- Most of the music is fairly unmemorable
- Game’s control (Dragon Quest/Warrior field menus) seems dated
- Fairly linear, and the story on a broad scale doesn’t really do a whole lot
Enix (now merged as Square-Enix) had a fairly dominant presence in the JRPG world in both the NES and SNES days, particularly due to the insane popularity of the Dragon Quest games. But on the side, Enix both developed and published some pretty interesting JRPGs, especially on the SNES. One of the first released for the system (published for Enix, developed by Produce) is The 7th Saga, which if I could sum it up in a phrase would probably be: “Overly Difficult.”
I don’t have nostalgia for this game; I came upon it later in my game collecting days, but I do have great affinity for both JRPGs and Enix as a whole. I was surprised to find out, when doing research for this review, how polarizing opinions for this game are. Some people absolutely adore it, while others find it to be mediocre at best. Where do I sit? Well…read on to find out.
The plot is simple: a king hires a group of seven heroes to find seven Runes (oddly paralleling the plot of the first Final Fantasy; just swap “orbs/crystals” with “runes”), and you are one of those heroes. You can select from a surprisingly diverse group of characters, from staples – such as average knight, powerful dwarf, and female wizard – to some oddballs like an alien or a robot. Each not only has unique stats but also unique gear they can use, making each playthrough different.
You fight solo for a good chunk of the game, but in a fun twist the six remaining heroes go out into the world and strive to do the task as well. As you find them along the way, some may join you while others (depending on if you have any Runes) may attack. Killing them removes them from the game permanently, which is also pretty cool. And, in a crazy plot twist, one of them always takes over a village and you have to go clean it up. On top of all this, once a character joins you, he may betray you if he decides he can overpower you, so you have to be careful when leveling your companions. Of course, there are some heroes who will never betray you (and never take over the city), but it is fun to see how the game shifts every time you play it depending on both which character you have and how you interact with the companions when you find them.
Aside from that, the JRPG elements are pretty basic. You wander a world map (where, in a cool twist on the random encounter, shows you an enemy “radar” letting you know where random encounters are relative to you), fight enemies, and gain money and XP. Spells are acquired through leveling (again, fairly standard), meaning if you pick a relatively magic-less hero like the Robot you’ll basically be just attacking for the bulk of the game. Not super engaging.
The problems with the stripped-down RPG system is exacerbated by the game’s absurd difficulty. The 7th Saga is well known for being hard, and I can confirm: the game is pretty dang tough. Even early random encounters can kill you if you aren’t careful about when you return to town, making the first hour or so just safe grinding near the starting town, popping back in for an inn heal before going out for more grinding. It’s pretty damn tedious.
The game’s fun certainly improves once you get a companion, assuming you can encounter one that doesn’t want to murder you. Again, the potential twist that they may or may not betray you keeps you on your toes, and also allows you to better balance out your party. Parties never get larger than two, however, and while having a healer or mage makes things a bit smoother, it doesn’t stop the incessant grind.
One of the biggest difficulties can’t be grinded out of: if a fellow hero decides to betray you (either as a betrayal or just when you find him/her in a town), their level is raised to match yours, making the fight always absurdly difficult. Which would be fun if the game had a more complex battle system, but if you’re the Robot (who has next to no magic), even these fights delve into frustrating tedium pretty quickly.
Graphically, this game is a mixed bag. Like early SNES games, it looks a lot like a NES game “upgraded” to the greater color pallet of the SNES, but without much else. Towns look blocky, character sprites look…ok but not great (and lack a lot of animation frames), and basically all the field graphics are “passable” at best.
The battles themselves are actually pretty flashy. When you get into a random encounter, the screen pans down to where you are in a crazy display of Mode-7 prowess, and battles happen in that perspective (only to zoom back out when finished). It’s a surprisingly cool effect, and (this maybe just me) I never got really tired of it. It was just quick enough to not bother me, and kept looking impressive even after the five hundredth time. I know it’s probably just a graphic gimmick, but I liked it.
Music is all over the place, with all of it sounding very…SNES Enix-y. I usually like their stuff (and how it differs from other JRPGs of the time with it’s medieval sound), but while it’s all serviceable it isn’t super interesting. I must give props to having different towns have different songs, however. There is just a ton of music variety in this game, which keeps things fresh. It’s just a pity none of it is really very memorable.
Hope you like this song; you’re gonna hear it a LOT.
As I mentioned at the start of my review, The 7th Saga is surprisingly polarizing. And while I really applaud the nuances and unique things added to the game (particularly the inclusion of the other heroes and how they interweave into the story depending on how you interact with them/who you pick at the start), it doesn’t stop the minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour tasks from being less tedious. If it didn’t have such a crazy difficulty that required incessant level grinding I’d probably have been able to spend more time doing what I enjoyed in the game (exploring towns, finding companions, etc.) and less time dying or fighting enemies. I enjoy a challenging JRPG (hell, most are too easy i t seems), but the challenge has to also include some sort of strategy or technique aside from just “grind more levels.” Unfortunately, The 7th Saga doesn’t do anything particularly unique with its battle and leveling systems, meaning it’s just fundamentally basic.
All in all, The 7th Saga is still a decent JRPG for the SNES, and worth looking into if you’ve really run out of options for 16-bit genre entries. It isn’t broken or anything, it’s just…basic. And hard. Really hard. Have I mentioned this game is hard?