Category Archives: SaGa Series

The Rise of SquareSoft (Part 2) – The Golden Age

The first article recounted how a small Japanese games company named Square had gone from being on the verge of closing down, to finding a hit with the original Final Fantasy and continuing to grow in popularity. Squaresoft had originally planned to release Final Fantasy II in English, but these plans were cancelled as they looked towards the new generation of game consoles with the international release of the Super Nintendo.

During the early 1990’s, Final Fantasy evolved with new hardware adding better graphics, a more detailed and featured storyline and more complex soundtracks. Final Fantasy IV, V and VI would be created in Japan but only IV and VI would be localised in North America and they were released as Final Fantasy II and III respectively. A major update to the series was the removal of the purely turn-based battle system and the implementation of the Active-Time-Battle system by game designer Hiroyuki Ito. Envisioning Formula One racing cars passing each, Ito designed the combat system where each character had a speed gauge that determined when they could act in the battle. The revolutionary new system stayed mostly unchanged up until the ninth instalment in the series.

Final Fantasy IV offered one of the most dramatic and compelling narratives seen in a video game at the time and Cecil, the main character was one of the first heroes to be shown with redemption as his motive. Final Fantasy V instead put game play back at the forefront updating the job system used in the third game, leading to an incredible amount of character customisation. This would be the last time the story would be put in the background as Final Fantasy VI featured one of the best RPG tales ever, combined with a large cast of deep and memorable characters. Hironobu Sakaguchi had directed all of the instalments in the series up until the sixth game when he moved to the watchful role of Producer and handed over the directorial duties to Yoshinori Kitase and Hiroyuki Ito. Final Fantasy VI is often regarded as one the best games in the series and featured Nobuo Uematsu’s greatest soundtrack at that point in his career.

“They say that technologically, it’s good to keep going, and each time, we give it our all and expend out skills and energy until we can go no further; this is what I consider to be the “final fantasy”. – Hironobu Sakaguchi

Square was not content with creating just one masterpiece on the Super Nintendo and in 1995 they released Chrono Trigger, which was designed by a “Dream Team” of developers. Sakaguchi combined with Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii and Dragon Ball manga artist Akira Toriyama to create one of the greatest RPGs of all time. Bringing together designers at the top of their field seemed to allow the creativity to flow, as Chrono Trigger revolutionised RPGs. It removed random battles, allowed characters to combine their special abilities into team attacks and featured a time travel narrative that showed the outcome of player’s actions in the past and how they affected the future. Most notably though it was one of the earliest games to have multiple endings (13) and have a new game plus mode. Chrono Trigger also saw the rise of other great designers at Square such as writer Masato Kato and the brilliant composer Yasunori Mitsuda.

Other franchises from Square were also hitting their stride on the Super Nintendo, such as the Seiken Densetsu series which produced the magical action- RPG classic that was released in English as Secret of Mana. Showing its versatility, Square also teamed up with Nintendo to make Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars which had some of the best graphics ever made for the console. SquareSoft was now localising a lot of RPGs for the North American market and even translated and released Capcom’s original Breath of Fire game as well as creating Secret of Evermore themselves. Unfortunately a lot of games were not released outside of Japan during this period and the English speaking world missed out on RPGs such as the fantastic sequel to Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3, as well as the Romancing SaGa games, Live a Life, Bahamut Lagoon and the tactical- RPG Front Mission.

With some of the most creative and best video game designers and composers at their disposal Square were releasing some of the greatest games ever made. Still, RPGs were not the most popular genre at the time and Square’s success outside of Japan was still limited, but with the next generation of video game consoles fast approaching and the arrival of the new Sony PlayStation that was all about to change…

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Filed under Chrono Series, Dragon Quest Series, Editorial, Final Fantasy Series, Mana Series, Music, SaGa Series

The Rise of SquareSoft (Part 1) – Telling a Story

During the 1990s SquareSoft was synonymous with quality RPGs. From Final Fantasy, to the Chrono or Mana series players were exploring magical worlds and experiencing unforgettable stories for over a decade. This series of articles will recount how a small Japanese video game company known as Square rose to become the king of RPGs and create some of the best games ever made.

In the late 1980s Square had produced a few games in different genres for Nintendo’s first home console, but were struggling financially. A young employee by the name of Hironobu Sakaguchi decided that his last game would be an RPG and if it failed he would retire from the games industry and return to university. Inspired by other RPGs of the time such as Dragon Quest from Enix, Final Fantasy was a success for Square and was translated and released in English by its North American branch SquareSoft, leading to a sequel and Sakaguchi becoming the director of the series.

“I don’t have what it takes to make an action game. I think I’m better at telling a story.” – Hironobu Sakaguchi

The first three games in the Final Fantasy series were developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but only the original was released outside of Japan at the time. These games established many of the foundations the series would continue for over a decade including turn-based combat, a job system for the characters, a world map and dungeons to explore. The second game featured a more involved story and an experimental leveling system, while the third returned to the style of the original but allowed characters to change their job throughout the game. The key staff members of the early instalments were Sakaguchi as creator, artist Yoshitaka Amano, Nobuo Uematsu and game designer Akitoshi Kawazu. Each new Final Fantasy game was an indirect sequel, presenting a brand new world and characters, that let the series evolve and grow as technology progressed.

While the early Final Fantasy games were proving very popular, Square also starting creating other RPG franchises around this time, such as the Seiken Densetsu (later known as the Mana series in English) and SaGa series on Nintendo’s first handheld console the Game Boy. Seiken Densetsu featured an action-based battle system similar to Nintendo’s own The Legend of Zelda, while Akitoshi Kawazu’s SaGa series expanded on elements he had incorporated into Final Fantasy II. Both were marketed as Final Fantasy spin-offs in North America and Europe to increase sales, but as SquareSoft’s popularity grew both series would use their original Japanese names in later instalments.

With the Final Fantasy series as their main franchise, as well as many other talented designers working on establishing their own series, Square had built a solid foundation that enabled them to transition into the next generation of video game consoles with the release of the Super Nintendo and to what many fans refer to as their golden age…

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Filed under Dragon Quest Series, Editorial, Final Fantasy Series, Mana Series, SaGa Series

Top 5 RPG Composers

The musical scores of RPG’s do so much more than just provide some pleasant background tunes. Some tracks give life to the fantasy worlds, while others provide personality to the game’s characters and some of the best pieces leave players with their fondest RPG memories. Many composers are as legendary as the games their soundtracks appear in and here are my top 5 RPG composers:

1. -Nobuo Uematsu –

Uematsu found fame scoring the magical soundtracks of the Final Fantasy Series. Uematsu’s strength lies in his ability to convey emotion, through his music, in a variety of scenes and situations. His most memorable compositions usually include character themes and battle music. He consistently pushed the limits of RPG music throughout the years and has delivered some of the most recognised tracks in video game history.

Best works: Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX

2. -Yasunori Mitsuda-

As a young composer at SquareSoft, Mitsuda was given the responsibility of providing the soundtrack to Chrono Trigger. After producing one of the best RPG scores of its time, he went on to establish himself as one of the greats of the genre. His celtic and jazz inspired music tends to define the world of the game it appears in and makes every location both unique and exciting. Mitsuda’s soundtracks leave a lasting impression both on the game and on the player.

Best works: Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Xenogears, Xenosaga: Episode 1

3. -Yoko Shimomura –

After starting her career with SquareSoft before going freelance, Shimomura has provided lots of different melodies to many RPG series. Her style lends itself perfectly to grandiose main themes and adds a sense of fun and adventure to any RPG her music appears in. Shimomura has provided plenty of diversity in her soundtracks, ranging from traditional compositions such as the Kingdom Hearts series to more experimental ones found in the Parasite Eve series.

Best works: Legend of Mana, Kingdom Hearts, Parasite Eve, Radiant Historia

4. -Hitoshi Sakimoto-

Sakimoto’s style is complex and translates differently to each of his soundtracks. Able to provide great ambiance in his musical compositions, his scores convey mystery and intrigue to perfectly accompany the narrative of the RPG, such as his score for Vagrant Story. His more recent orchestral soundtracks found in the likes of Final Fantasy XII, have taken this style to a grander scale and the outcome has been magnificent.

Best works: Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII, Valkyria Chronicles

5. -Masashi Hamauzu –

Used to working with other composers on many soundtracks Hamauzu developed his own style working on the SaGa series. Hamauzu was the sole composer for Final Fantasy XIII and he produced his finest work. His beautiful soundtracks add enchanting melodies to their respective games, but when the need arises he creates epic musical pieces to compliment the expanding nature of RPG video game development.

Best works: SaGa Frontier 2, Unlimited Saga, Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy XIII

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Filed under Chrono Series, Final Fantasy Series, Kingdom Hearts Series, Music, Parasite Eve Series, SaGa Series, Top 5 Lists, Vagrant Story, Xenogears