UNLIMITED Saga

UNLIMITED Saga

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 6/23/2003 for PS2  

I was a kid once, hell we all were, and one of my favorite activities as a kid was painting with water colors. It was great because you could use a ridiculous amount of water to dilute the paint and spread it across the paper with a minimum amount of effort while making it seem like you worked your butt off. As I grew older I moved into harder and more difficult techniques and while I haven’t been able to grasp the finer intricacies of finger painting I can do a mean stick figure drawing. Where am I going with all this? To be honest I have no idea where I’m going because I have absolutely no sense of direction in this review. Now that I think about it, it’s the same kind of feeling that I get when I play Squaresoft’s latest title, Unlimited Saga. Oh the game’s got unlimited something all right and it ain’t SaGa-ing if you know what I mean.

Oh I’ve got it now, remember the analogy I made earlier about diluting the water colors in order to do more work with less effort? It’s ironic that I would mention that in this review because the game kind of feels like it was once something more until it was diluted to give the appearance that it’s something that it really isn’t. Like Hitler during the Second World War the game tries to be in too many places at the same time but instead of conquering all, it spreads itself thin, leaving an empty shell filled with potential but devoid of substance or matter.

Final Fantasy this isn’t.

In fact, it’s not Legend of Legaia it’s not Kingdom Hearts, it’s not Star Ocean, hell it’s not even Evolution Worlds. It’s more like the bastard child of Ephermal Fantasia and Monopoly. That’s right, it’s a bland, horrifically constructed game where even the most barest facet of the genre, the field map, has been stripped in favor of some lame board game-style of movement that’s neither conventional nor entertaining. Hell even the combat is so random and chance-based that it ruins any chances of strategy or finesse that may have been derived from this game.

Similar to Midway’s underappreciated RPG, Shadow Hearts, combat revolves around a series of revolving rings that must be stopped by a series of timed button presses. While this may make the fights more challenging to some it makes it will more than likely be seen as tedious in the eyes of even the most hardcore of RPG fans. The fact that a player must navigate through an endless parade of menus just to initiate a turn hinders any chances for the gamer to get into the action.

The fun doesn’t stop there though, nearly every aspect of the game is menu driven, lending an extra thick helping of obnoxiousness to the game. Most towns consist of a single-screen where navigation takes place via a series of (you guessed it) menus. Performing even the simplest of tasks has me experiencing flashbacks of my younger where I was forced to do chore after endless chore. Every time I enter a town I feel like it’s sponge bath night at an old folk’s home that I’m volunteering at. I dread it because I know that no man should be subjected to what awaits me. Unlimited SaGa is monotonous and frustrating that I just might crown it as the Windows XP of video games. Seriously, I’m surprised that Squaresoft didn’t opt to include support for a USB mouse, it certainly feels much more natural in this environment. Only thing missing? The elusive blue screen of death but then again, no one’s really cruel enough as to subject someone to such a capital punishment.
Throughout the game’s development cycle I was informed that completing the game could take upwards of 40 hours for each character. Considering that there are seven playable characters the game, in theory, will provide you with over 280 hours of game play. Now that’s pretty damn good and to be honest, that estimate isn’t really too far off. It’s just too bad that you’ll spend the majority of your hours wandering through an endless parade of (you guessed it again) menus. When you’re not being frustrated by the menus you’re being antagonized by the game’s insane difficulty level. I’ve never seen a game be so hard and punishing on the gamer. You won’t receive much sympathy from the game. Forget about tissues, the game’s all about doling out right hooks to the kidneys.

Visually the game is a tale of two cities. In the first city, let’s call it standstill city, the game looks absolutely gorgeous. Everything in the game has an amazingly sense of style and flair that ranks amongst the best of what the PS2 has to offer. Unfortunately sooner or later you’ll have to step into the other realm, animated city. It’s after this point that the game’s visuals lose all sense of style and quality and essentially fizzle down into a glorified slideshow. When characters are set into motion (if one could call it that) they look absolutely atrocious. Animation this horrid hasn’t reared its ugly head since the days of 16-bit gaming. Games like Golden Sun II and Legend of Zelda for the Game Boy Advance feature animation that is light-years ahead of this game. It’s putrid, you could probably count the frames of animation that accompanies each action on one hand.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to find that the game’s saving grace comes in the audio department. Take the musical scores from Final Fantasy X, kick them up a notch and you’ve got the excellent soundtrack that accompanies UNLIMTED Saga. Calling it beautiful would be an understatement. I once had a girlfriend who asked me how a person could be moved by something so lifeless, something that was so inhumane and something that could not have a palatable effect on the human psyche. I wish I had UNLIMITED Saga around for her to listen to, it’s not the pinnacle of orchestration in a video game but it’s pretty damn close. If you decide to pass this one up, make sure to at least check out the soundtrack.

Everything else in this department fares quite well thanks to the inclusion of Dolby Pro Logic II support. It’s an RPG so one shouldn’t expect to be greeted by thunderous blasts or smatterings of random effects. What is here is pretty damn good though and rivals some of the best that the genre has to offer. Too bad the voice acting is your standard poorly translated fodder though. Not exactly Resident Evil level but it’s right within tactical striking distance.

It’s just a shame that the rest of the game doesn’t fare quite as well. It’s not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with the game, it has the core elements needed to build a successful game. The problem is that it doesn’t go beyond incorporating the bare necessities into the grand scheme of things and because of this, the end result is ambitious effort that must be commended but in the end, is one that should be avoided at all costs.
It’s not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with Square’s latest offering, it’s just that there isn’t anything fundamentally right about it either. It’s a game that takes chances but in the end, those chances surmount to nothing more than an excuse for you to wade through another set of menus. If you value your sanity avoid this one at all costs.

Rating: 3.4 Bad

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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