Romancing SaGa 3 review for PS Vita, PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Platform: PS Vita
Also on: Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: ArtePiazza
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: Yes

As someone whose old-school RPG experience consists mainly of half-remembered Legend of Zelda sessions decades ago and far too many KEMCO RPGs, playing Romancing SaGa 3 feels kind of like a revelation. Even though I?ve played plenty of games that have descended from those groundbreakers in the late ?80s/early ?90s, this is the first time in many, many years that I?ve actually played the real deal, and I?m surprised by just how much I enjoy it.

To a large extent, this surprise is because of the game?s reputation. It was originally released exclusively in Japan back in 1995, and from people who have played it over the ensuing decades, it?s become known for being kind of opaque and impenetrable even by the standards of the genre.

And I do kind of get that. Right from the get-go, you have eight different characters to choose from, and the game changes a little depending on which one you pick. If you want to get the full story, you need to play through the game eight times, which could easily take in excess of 100 hours. Honestly, it?s a lot, and I?m not even going to pretend that the story here was good enough to make me that invested.

On top of that, the battle system is a little bit different from what you usually see in these kinds of games. Yes, you?re engaging in turn-based battles with your team, but there are little tweaks to the now-standard formula here and there that make a lot less sense to someone playing the game in an era when the genre has pretty much been codified. Whereas now it?s standard to expect all members of your party will level up at something like an equal rate, in Romancing SaGa 3 the individual characters? stats increase depending on how much they contributed to the battle. Battles are also a bit of a crapshoot, since the game — as far as I could tell — never tells you how much HP your opponents have.

While the battles represent a bit of a departure from the norm (or, I guess, from what the norm has become since Romancing SaGa 3 was originally released), once you get into the rhythm of the game, you don?t notice it as much. More importantly, because you have so many characters at your disposal, you can really mix and match your party until it?s exactly what you need.

For the most part, the rest of the game is pretty much what you?d expect. The graphics are every bit as SNES-y as you?d think a 25-year-old game would look, and the music is all chiptunes. That said, I?ve never written this about a game before, but I have to commend Romancing SaGa 3 for its impressively immersive sound effects. I don?t mean that as a backhanded compliment or anything, either — there?s one moment I recall particularly well in which I was wandering through a creepy castle, and I noticed the wind in the background. I?m not going to say that I practically thought I was there, but it?s a sign of how well Romancing SaGa 3 does the little things.

But it?s the big things — like, again, the 8 main characters and the 100+ hour story — that really define Romancing SaGa 3, and on that front, the game is…well, it?s an acquired taste, for sure. But if you?re a fan of JRPGs and you want to see an interesting time capsule from the genre?s evolution, it?s well worth investigating.

Square Enix provided us with a Romancing SaGa 3 PS Vita code for review purposes.

Grade: B+