The Beginning of Leonard's Journey
So, SaGa SCARLET GRACE is the newest entry in my fav turn-based RPG series, SaGa. This is particularly exciting, because the last new entry into the series (other than the casual browser pay-to-win Imperial SaGa) was UNLIMITED:Saga, which was released over 10 years ago. We've also had a handful of ports and remakes since then, like the recent enhanced port of Romancing SaGa 2 for Vita and mobile (the mobile version is available in English for the very first time! And the Vita version is supposed to be coming eventually).
Despite the game being touted as a spiritual successor to the Romancing SaGa trilogy, I feel like there's not much Romancing-ish about this game at all. Though, Kawazu did say that it was primarily the setting that was similar. In that sense... I guess you could say that, since it's just... high fantasy setting like those games. I haven't seen any quirky stuff yet, though, like talking lobsters or lizard pirates.
I've already forgotten the like... overarching story/lore that was promoted through trailers and the official site (and probably the back of the box that I didn't even look at) and it doesn't tell you it when you start a new game. Oops.
Anyway, new game! Already we're presented with something interesting.
Instead of just offering you a character selection screen (this game has four different scenarios to play), we're given this... personality test. A meteor flies around and we answer a variety of questions.
For example, this screenshot poses the suggestion that we have a big match tomorrow (I guess we're to assume we're a member of a sports team or something), but we've been pushing ourselves too hard and now we're unwell. What do we do?
And then you can answer to take medicine and go to the game, or to not risk pushing yourself too hard and rest.
After answering a series of these (and each answer leads to different questions, so it's not always the same), you'll be 'matched' with a character.
I answered honestly and got Leonard. Despite Leonard being one of my favorite names, Leonard is probably my least favorite protagonist in this game from the tiny bit I know about them, and probably one of the least interesting SaGa protagonists of all time. I do like his weird constellation symbol thing (grapes and grains!) but other than that, he's pretty boring.
Now, you don't have to choose the character you're matched with. If you just want to select on your own, you can reject this character and then make the choice for protag yourself. But you don't get that option until after the quiz is over. Or maybe it just makes you take the quiz again?
What's nice about the quiz, though, is that based on your answers, you can actually get stat boosts to your main character based on your choices!
My Leonard ended up with boosted HP and LP, but with a little subtraction in Skill (using the term used in UNLIMITED:Saga here; I think this is often also translated as like "dexterity" and stuff like that).
So, kinda neat. Personally, I enjoy this type of system, but I feel it will get annoying when you have cleared a scenario and want to get another character but keep ending up with Leo or something. Apparently the questions change after you've played through once, too, to make you more likely to get another character or something? IDK. And apparently you're almost always going to get Urpina or Leonard the first time, too.
So, our adventure begins in Marchiam Yaxart. Forgive me for forgetting the name of literally everything because it all sounds like this. Though I assume a marchiam is a type of edge/border territory (going off the Japanese word used) that would be overseen by a marquis. I don't think marchiam is an English word, though.
We're at... a farm (already forgot the name oops) where Leonard works. I actually played this days ago and then just mashed through it just now to take screenshots since I restarted the game after getting the hang of it, so I already forget the details and didn't read it again.
But basically he borrowed some land from this farmer guy, and I assumed restored it a la Harvest Moon, and the guy gave him money in exchange for getting the land back. Or something idk.
So, Leonard is out doing the farmwork and his farm is of course the best like always, and... this girl appears.
I can't even explain how awkward this is, because I think she flew over here or something. And she just starts shouting out broken fragments of sentences, essentially saying to take the Scarlet Shards to "Ai Hanumu" and I don't know if this has an English equivalent or not.
Anyway she keeps making super dramatic writhing poses this whole time, and then just like...
So Leo takes her to the village doctor.
Who is super cool looking and really lavishly dressed for a village doctor. His name is, I assume, supposed to sound like "Doc," and not poison, so I'm going to call him "Doc" and not "Doku." It doesn't really matter because he's completely irrelevant after this scene, anyway. (Which is sad, because I was hoping he'd be a party member...)
The girl doesn't appear to have any illness or anything, but she is having trouble breathing and isn't waking up. Doc and Leo start talking about how she was telling him to take the Scarlet Shards to Ai Hanumu, and shows him (what I assume is) the Scarlet Shard that the girl gave him, and Doc mentions that the Shard Leo was born with has changed shape.
Yes, as in, he was literally born with it. Apparently Leonard came out of his mother's womb holding a rock in his hand. Leo seems like he's never believed that really happened, but Doc is certain, because he's the one who delivered him.
Anyway, suddenly Leo decides he's going to sell the farm back to the owner and rush off to Ai Hanumu, despite having no idea where it is. Because, you know, he has to. The girl said it.
Pretty much everyone thinks he's an idiot, but he goes anyway.
Leo's friend Elizabeth (who is also the farm owner's daughter) shows up and scolds him for being an idiot and wanting to go to Ai Hanumu, which is apparently the name of some popular fairy tale land.
And Liz's posse show up too and everyone is like "Okay, we'll all go together!" because Leo is apparently too stupid to go on his own. He doesn't even know where the neighboring town is.
And that's how the adventure starts. This game seems to be even more obtuse than UNLIMITED:Saga in its narrative. There's more talking but way less sense. But apparently Leo's story is "just like that" so maybe he's the Ruby of this game. (Apparently he has next to no story so you can more freely enjoy the 'free scenario' system, a la Lute or Barbara)
Anyway, Doc told Leo to go to Rowsui Tower, which is the way to the ... next territory over (Kei), where the Imperial Library is supposed to be. The Imperial Library has everything ever so if there's no information about Ai Hanumu there, there's no information about it anywhere.
But the tower is on restricted access and we can't get through. Liz tells Leo that there's a lot of tension in the Empire right now so there's a lot of stuff like this going on. Instead, she suggests, we should use this roundabout mountain path that her father uses to deliver the farm products to the city, which passes through this other marchiam called Megdasse.
This is pretty much what the world map looks like. I want to take this time to note something really important about the game: there are no dungeons or towns. At least, not in the traditional sense. All screens are either world map, battle, talking scene, or menu. Dungeons are essentially a series of cutscenes like the ones above with some choices, or they're simply a series of battles and nothing else. That's it. Towns are simply menus like in UNLIMITED:Saga, but even less to them. There are no places to explore other than the world map.
The world map, though, is very eventful. I haven't gone many places yet, but the places I've been to are full of events and little interactive things. There's no learning your way through cooridors or looking at maps, though, as it's pretty much the shape you'd expect from a world map. Big, open, with little things to go to everywhere.
I was ... really disappointed when I learned the game was going to be like this. I had already preordered it, though, because SaGa, and wasn't planning on giving up on it. I'll have to say I'm pleasantly surprised by how fun the game can be with just a world map and battles. The game is completely focused around the strategic battle system, so if you are wanting to play a grand world-exploring game, this isn't it.
When I originally told my brother about this (when I first learned it), he said "Oh, so it's like Final Fantasy Tactics?" and honestly that completely changed my perspective. While it's a completely different battle system, this game is similar to that kind of thing -- the game revolves completely around series of battles. The world map is a lot more interactive and involved than a game like Tactics, though, but it's still a world map.
Anyway, there are a bunch of shrines like that Macha Shrine in Marchiam Yaxart, but if you try to go to them, Liz scolds you about how you have no reason to go there. There are also a bunch of little caves and stuff where you can initiate battles with petty monsters and bandits and stuff. I did that in my first game, but not this one. I do need to go back because I'm sorely lacking equipment for the party right now.
Anyway, like most SaGa games, the more you battle, the stronger the monsters will become, whether or not your party gets stronger. So it's important to not try to grind, because you also get stronger based on the difficulty of battles.
Most map events that lead to battle will actually have a marker of the difficulty of the battle that ranges from EASY to VERY HARD (with NORMAL and HARD in between). Hards are quite difficult and it's very hard to get through without at least one party member dying. I haven't even seen a Very Hard yet.
When we first arrive on the other side of the mountain path in Marchiam Megdasse, we come across the Nyu Quarters (which is like a little town), these three caves, and this... ground picture. I don't know if there's a more appropriate translation but this region is full of these ground pictures. Soon we will learn there's a lot more to these than just looking neat.
Sorry for the lack of screenshots; I was a bad capper in the beginning lol.
Apparently Leo is too stupid to understand these ground pictures and even after having them explained to him in detail and interacting with them a lot, he still gets confused if you inspect them and Liz has to re-explain it to him. Yes, he's that kind of protag. It's annoying.
Each of the ground pictures represents various demigod things, and the nearby 'quarters' will have stories to tell about them. For example, the first one was home to the plant creature ... I forget its name but it was super weird, and its flower blooms only once every 1,000 years, and only if it receives a droplet of this special water from each of the three caves. It's been a while since I actually played this part so I don't remember exactly. But basically after learning that in the town, you can go to the caves and get the droplets which just happen to be available now, and drop them on the weird plant that appears, and then its flower will bloom. Each cave is a battle event, one EASY, one NORMAL, and one HARD.
By the way, Liz seems to be like ridiculously enthusiastic about these ground pictures. Like she thinks they're so cute and cool and wants to see them. And when you get the droplets she's like "Oh, this droplet waited 1000 years just to see me!" and stuff. And Leo the whole time is like "wtf" and like has no personality at all.
Oh yeah, when we first arrived in this area, Leo pulled one of the Shards from his pocket, and it made a shooting star appear. It landed in the eastern part of this territory.
Anyway, after blooming the flower, some weird butterflies come out and start following us. When we inspect the ground picture now, it starts glowing red, and the butterflies flee off to the eastern edge where the shooting star fell, and a new ground picture (of a butterfly!) appears. When we inspect the glowing ground picture, we can fight the plant guardian from the town's stories.
Basically the rest of the area is doing little things like this -- the western place where the marquis dwells has a bird picture. The bird apparently like... drills holes into people's heads when they sleep or something. I forget exactly but it was really morbid like that. It like eats their souls? And if the picture is erased, it will summon the bird? And then this monster starts erasing it, so you fight it, then it glows, then you fight the bird... something like that XD There's a dragon picture that's partially obscured by a lake, and you have to find the key to the floodgate and drain the lake (which you do knowing that it will cause a lot of problems for the people of the village nearby who will then have no access to water... and you do it just because Liz wants to see the stupid picture LOL).
Anyway, after we glow all four of them and fight the monsters that come from them, the final butterfly picture starts glowing, and that's where I am now. I actually got a bit past this in my first game, but I'm taking it slower this time. Again, sorry for the lack of detail; I made this post quite a while after playing.
So, let's look at the party and talk a bit more about battles, since most of the game is battles or running around a map doing things between battles.
We start with a party of Leonard (our hero), Elizabeth (who we already know), Gerome (one of Liz's green-haired workers or whatever that we met earlier), Cecilia (who literally had no introduction in any way whatsoever and is just IN THE PARTY), and Gabriel, who we also saw when we met Gerome, and who is infinitely more attractive than Gerome.
But it's not just Cecilia...
We have two other members (Caspar and Guinevere) who aren't in the active party that are just there with no explanation whatsoever! This is even more bizarre than UNLIMITED:Saga, in which they at least said something before joining the party for no reason. These people just appeared in the party. I didn't even realize they were there until going to the menu! And I was surprised!
Anyway, we have reserve members because you're intended to swap characters out as you play for two main reasons: Firstly, there are more weapon types than there are party slots, so depending on the situation, you're going to want different characters in the party. And secondly, characters outside the party during battles recover LP.
LP reaching zero is not a death sentence in this game -- instead of the character being removed from the party entirely, they're not debilitated for quite some time. And LP-dead character must rest MANY battles before they can even be in the active party again. Later you can pay to have characters restored, though.
Characters have a set of base stats -- your typical STR, DEX, INT, etc. kind of thing. These are static and only change based on equipment.
Then characters have skill levels with every type of weapon and element. These will raise at random after battle if the character uses that type of weapon/element. So if you use a bow, you have a chance of your bow skill raising at the end of the battle. Max HP also raises this way.
Here's Caspar raising his max HP. If you haven't guessed, I really love him already, despite the fact that he's a complete rando that just happens to be in the party and I have no idea why.
And then you have your resistances to three physical types and three elemental types, which is also determined solely by your equipment. There are three because the elemental skills are more like the five schools of magic (Metal, Water, etc.), but the resistance is referring to properties of attacks (cold, hot, and shock).
All of this is pretty much the same as Romancing SaGa 3, minus waza points and jutsu points.
The battle system is the core of the game, and it's very fun. Before each turn, you get allotted battle points (BP) that you can use to spend across your party for the turn. Each art costs a different mount of BP, and any character that does not act will instead defend for that turn.
Like games of the past, arts are divided into weapon arts (waza) and magic arts (jutsu), and you learn each through different means. And like always, there's no generic "attack" command, but rather every character comes knowing the lowest-level art for each weapon.
Weapon arts are glimmered like always, though glimmering and what arts are available to you at any given moment are a little different now.
Now, you glimmer a weapon art after you use the one you selected (instead of it being replaced). This means you won't glimmer on the turn you defeat an enemy party, but it means every time you glimmer, you get essentially two actions at once, which is pretty cool.
Also, each individual weapon has a restricted set of arts available to it. At first, I thought you wouldn't be able to use an art from a weapon's set if you didn't have a weapon with that set equipped, but rather they are glimmer sets. So for example, you can only glimmer Spiral Charge if you're holding a spear with Spiral Charge in its glimmer set, but once you've glimmered Spiral Charge, that character can use it with any spear equipped.
You also only can equip one weapon at a time, which is a fairly unheard of thing in this series. You can't change equipment mid-battle, either. I've heard that characters can dual-wield later in the game, though. And martial arts are only available to unequipped characters (though since there are no differing weapons, I think the entire glimmer set of arts is available all the time in this case).
Magic arts are learned through a new system called "flux," in which after finishing battles, you can absorb the elemental energy of the area into your staff (magic arts are now always channeled through a staff, and there are hardly any staff weapon arts -- instead the character has only access to their magic arts when wielding a staff). Basically the energy you absorb can lead to learning new magic arts. I haven't really explored this too much, so I can't say more about right now.
One interesting thing to note about selecting your actions for the turn is that you can also see what actions the enemies have queued for that turn (including their BP cost, which you can use as a rough estimate of their strength, if it's an enemy ability you haven't seen before). I don't have a screenshot of it right now because I originally was not planning on writing all this out and just suddenly decided to lol. But basically you can see what's coming before making your choices for the turn.
Once you decide all your actions, you can start the turn, and actions will be carried out from left to right on the "timeline" of actions at the bottom of the screen (you see this timeline as well as the changes caused by your selected arts while you're selecting your actions). Basically the timeline is just a turn order, and it can be manipulated by using weapon arts that slow or speed up the characters. Also, characters will get a slight boost to their action speed every turn they defend (this seems to be true for enemies, too). So the turn order is ever-changing.
If, during a turn, an actor is removed from the battle (as in, someone gets killed), then the timeline will obviously move together to fill in the hole that was left by that battle participant. When this happens, if it causes two members of the same side (as in, two enemies or two party members) to 'touch' on the timeline where the hole was, it will initiate a special attack called Rengeki (and I have no idea how to appropriately translate this, but we'll just call it SPECIAL ATTACK, or Rengeki, I guess, lol).
Rengeki creates a combo in which the two characters who 'touched' as well as all of the same-team characters touching those characters on the timeline join together to beat up on an opponent. These can be pretty powerful, but they can also be terrifying if they happen against you. So if there are, for example, three enemies in a row on the timeline, and you defeat the center one, the two enemies surrounding that one on the timeline will connect and it will cause them to get a Rengeki against your party. So you have to be careful about who you are targeting.
But likewise, if you have something like ally - enemy - ally - ally on the timeline and defeat the enemy, the allies will come together and connect, and all three allies will get a bonus attack on en enemy (the target seems to be chosen at random, which is annoying).
Of course, it's not just when you defeat enemies -- Rengeki can occur when the enemy kills a party member, too.
Manipulating turn order, using buffs and debuffs, and carefully choosing targets are the cornerstones of battle, and it makes for an addictive and exciting strategy game.
Battles will also have some bonus conditions that, if satisfied, will give you materials. Spending materials at the blacksmith seems to be the main method of obtaining better equipment. I've found various accessories scattered around, but only weapons and armor seem to have upgrades available at the blacksmith. There seems to be a blacksmith in every town, and some have affinity with certain types of materials that essentially functions as a discount.
During battle, sometimes the gods will favor you, and you'll get a 'Grace,' which can have varying effects, like healing or buffing all your characters, or debuffing enemies, etc. These seem much more common than the ones in Minstrel Song. I've seen it dozens of times already. And there seem to be many different ones.
During load screens, you'll often get descriptions of enemy weaknesses (usually of the enemies you just fought). After seeing these, they'll go into a menu where you can review them, which is pretty cool.
Speaking of, though, there's a lot of loading. There's a loading screen between every battle. There's a loading thing at the beginning of every turn. The game loves loading. They're not that long, but it's still... way longer than it should be.
Anyway, let's get back to what I was doing. When I finally lit up all the ground pictures, I went to the final one, the butterfly, which finally lit up after defeating the monsters at all the others. This is where the shooting star fell, too.
Here, the boss is a big spider thing made of metal. Pretty cool looking. The bonus condition is to not have anyone in the party die. I've tried three times now and always at least one person dies. I haven't upgraded a single piece of equipment, nor have I really explored any of the optional caves and stuff, so I think I'm going to go explore the caves and look for more accessories, and upgrade a bit of my stuff, and then try again.
I've already beaten it though, but I keep reloading because I really want the materials lol. When you defeat it, you find yet another Scarlet Shard. This whole ground picture thing seems optional (you can move on without completing it, at least, because I did that in my first file), but the Scarlet Shards seem essential to Leo's "story." So IDK. Maybe this is actually required, but you can just move on to do whatever you want anyway.
I also want to lastly mention one thing: the battle scene is so ugly! Look at the screenshots of battle above, and compare to the last two entries in the series:
We went from beautiful battle scenes to... almost NOTHING in the battle scene??? Maybe this is just how it looks in the "plains" area... and maybe it looks better in other areas but... this is pretty bad. At least put a tree in there or something...
And these are where my first impressions end. Time to go train to squish a metal spider...