SaGa Emerald Beyond review 1
Screenshot by Siliconera

Review: SaGa Emerald Beyond Feels Like a Saturday Morning Cartoon

Square Enix’s library of games speaks to me in a way unlike almost any other company’s. However, if there is one series in its collection that I didn’t “get,” is SaGa. Despite playing and reviewing most entries in that series, they have never stuck with me. SaGa: Emerald Beyond didn’t win me over on the series, but I had a more enjoyable time with it than other games in the franchise.

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SaGa: Emerald Beyond often feels like a solid, if not occasionally uneven and awkward, Saturday morning cartoon due to its variety, goofy writing, constant action, and lovable characters. At the start of the game, players pick between five different storylines. One path has dual protagonists, making for a total of six playable heroes. Each of these routes offers a vastly different story and path to explore. I enjoyed almost all of these, due to the strong writing and copious amounts of humor. Nearly all of the characters are memorable too, even if the graphics don’t do their stories justice.

Screenshot by Siliconera

What I found so intriguing about each of these paths is how unique they feel when compared to one another. In Ameya the magical girl’s adorably cat-filled storyline, for instance, it is all about exploring and recovering her powers so she can pass the witch exams. This leads to a fairly linear path, for the most part, but there are some choices here and there. In the case of a story like one involving the buddy cop duo of Bonnie and Formina, we get a highly political investigation plot. Then you have characters like Tsunanori Mido, the puppet master, who sets out to find the answer to help his city.

Regardless of which one you choose, all of these tales boil down to each protagonist having the ability to see the Emerald Wave. This road between worlds leads the characters to be able to visit a whopping 17 different worlds along their journey to complete their goals. These worlds aren’t too massive, which is understandable, but they make up for it with their diversity. One world involves a more modern place like Earth, while another is a wasteland-like desert locale. Even wilder locations exist as well, like a planet full of vampires.

Screenshot by Siliconera

These fascinating locations and the characters you meet within them go a long way to lend SaGa: Emerald Beyond a unique identity. This is a JRPG that feels nothing at all like any other game I’ve played, including past entries in the series. It is because of this that it feels like such a novelty like a Saturday morning cartoon. There’s ton of variation to it and pretty speedy pacing, though that also means nothing quite lands as well as it could.

For one, the actual presentation of this game is certainly not for everyone. Most of the exploration involves a pseudo-top-down perspective. However, while the characters look fine in 3D, the buildings are often flat and 2D in some awkward ways. It makes for an intriguing storybook aesthetic, but I feel it is not nearly as detailed or interesting as it could be. What makes it odder are the occasional behind-the-shoulders, third-person moments. These happen rarely and can come up when traversing the Emerald Wave between worlds, but the game looks its best here. It is strange that this point of view exists so infrequently as a result.

But by far the most bizarre part about SaGa Emerald Beyond graphically is how it handles the cutscenes. There are many of these, and they involve still shots of the 3D characters. It looks so strange and unappealing, especially during action sequences. I get the vibe Square Enix’s team trying to go for, but it feels so off and bland due to the lack of animations.

Screenshot by Siliconera

This weird presentation is especially noticeable when compared to the combat. Battles in SaGa Emerald Beyond involve turn-based, 3D fights. These battles are packed with all of the animations and effects I wish existed in the rest of the game. There is a timeline showing when each character will attack and how different skills affect this. Players pick skills based on how many stars they have at the moment. Each turn, players get an extra star to use for more powerful skills. This results in a risk-and-reward system. Do you use all five of your current stars for a powerful attack from a single party member? Do you divide them up so three party members can attack?

There is a lot of strategic potential. However, it all boils down to two basic thoughts: managing available stars and using the most powerful skills. I didn’t often feel like SaGa Emerald Beyond encouraged me to do anything other than use the strongest skill available at the moment. This made me wish there was an auto battle function, unless I overlooked it, since most of the fights are exceptionally simple and easy. Notice I said “most.” Oddly enough, the difficulty will occasionally spike out of nowhere. There were times a random fight — not even a major boss — would feel 10 times more challenging and longer than the last 20 battles combined. Outside of these few moments, though, this game is quite easy and simplistic.

SaGa Emerald Beyond review
Screenshot by Siliconera

I would argue in the days of bloated JRPGs, this is actually a positive. It felt refreshing just going from one obviously marked objective to another, including easily accessible side quests, without much issue outside of the occasional easy puzzle. Even with the many branching paths and choices, the game is a breeze.

This is a positive for those like myself who want a bit of a shorter JRPG. Finishing a single storyline in SaGa Emerald Beyond generally takes less time than most JRPGs. So, if you just want to check out one or two characters’ stories, you’ll have a solid time for 30-40 hours. But if you want to spend 100 hours with this game or more, it is possible. This level of choice and the overall unique style of this game makes it worth a look for JRPG fans, even if it doesn’t land with everyone.

SaGa: Emerald Beyond will release for Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, and PC on April 25, 2024.

7
SaGa: Emerald Beyond

FORGE YOUR OWN TALE The latest standalone entry in the SaGa franchise, SaGa Emerald Beyond, brings together the very best elements of the beloved series to offer each player their own unique gameplay experience. PS5 version reviewed. Review copy provided by company for testing purposes.

SaGa: Emerald Beyond fascinates (for better and for worse) from start to finish. The multiple protagonists, bizarre presentation, and straightforward mechanics make for a rather easy but wholly unique JRPG.

Food for Thought
  • I suggest starting with either the magical girl Ameya or the Bonnie and Formina duo.
  • No traditional XP here; you get a random chance of obtaining a new skill or stat boost after each battle.
  • You can see how strong a foe will be before most battles.

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Author
Cody Perez
Cody is a writer who has been sharing his love for video games and anime since his high school days in 2012. When he isn’t writing about the latest JRPGs and anime series, he can be found in Final Fantasy XIV, occasionally playing some Call of Duty, or lurking on Twitter @SoulcapCody.