SaGa Emerald Beyond

Review: SaGa Emerald Beyond

If you’re a fan of the SaGa series, you’ve probably noticed Square Enix giving the franchise another good old college try with the number of remasters and the one new entry that has come out recently. Well, one turns into two as the next entry in the series, SaGa Emerald Beyond, is set to launch soon, and I got to experience it as my first game in the series. The entry follows four years after the release of SaGa: Scarlet Grace – Ambitions, an expanded port of the 2016 Japan-only PSVita title, which marked their recommitment to the franchise following its release in the West.

Before the franchise got its second wind, SaGa was a dormant Square Enix series, with Unlimited SaGa being the last new console title for the franchise in North America, which was released back in 2003 during the early years of the PS2, so it’s an understatement to say, “It’s been a while, huh?” While I see myself as a massive fan of many Square Enix JRPG franchises and beyond, SaGa is one series in its more than 30-year history that, for whatever reason, I have never touched until now.

Going into SaGa Emerald Beyond, I went in with fresh eyes, and I came out impressed with its unique approach to gameplay, but at certain moments, it also left me pretty frustrated. Although I don’t think the negatives outweigh the positives, when SaGa Emerald Beyond is cooking, it is a fun game to get into with one of the most unique battle systems I’ve ever seen in a JRPG that pushed me as a player to rethink my approach, especially when things weren’t working out how I wanted them.

SaGa Emerald Beyond x Kingdom Hearts

SaGa Emerald Beyond has players play as six protagonists across five campaigns that, while separate, lead to a unique direction if the player completes all campaigns. In SaGa Emerald Beyond, players explore a whopping seventeen worlds that all exist separately from each other in a very Kingdom Hearts-esque approach. As each story begins, each hero unlocks or has the Emerald Waves ability, which, when you hold down the left face button, highlights all your available objectives as glowing lines in three unique colours — red, which are repeatable optional fights; blue, your primary objectives; and green, which allows players to exit the world to move into the next.


Unlike in Kingdom Hearts, moving on to the next world means you won’t be able to explore a previously visited world again. SaGa: Emerald Beyond is a linear game; the only way to revisit these worlds is in another playthrough. Before the game officially kicks off, after selecting “New Game,” the player can choose which campaign they want to start with. Instead of SaGa Scarlet Grace – Ambitions’ approach of asking questions to determine which character the player personally aligns with for the game to automatically choose your character, SaGa Emerald Beyond cuts through all that and gives players the actual choice.

Players can choose to play as Tsunanori Mido, a young, confident man from the Mido family with a talent for controlling sentient puppets known as Kugutsu to help him in battle. Our hero signs up for the Cathedral Project. The Miyako City government tasks him with going outside the walls of their world and out to other worlds to help collect the energy of elemental spirits to help repair the city’s barrier that has been weakening for some time.

Also, Play as a Robot, a Witch, and a Vampire King

After that are our protagonist duo, Bonnie Blair and Formina Franklyn, a pair of rookie cops of the Capitol City Police Department who are investigating an attempted assassination on the president’s life. After them is one of the game’s non-human playable characters, Diva No. 5, a Songtress-programmed android who lost her voice, body, and mechanical “soul.” She is sent out of her world as she finds herself in a new combat-ready body. Up next is Yuma Izumi, a student who recently moved to Miyako City, but behind that schoolgirl disguise is Ameya Aisling, a witch-in-training tasked with collecting mana, but one day her powers are stolen.

Our witchy heroine must find a secret magic in another world to regain her powers. Last, Siugnas, the vampiric Dismal King, and his six servants journey to reclaim his lost realm and abilities in this anti-hero SaGa Emerald Beyond adventure. For any game, specifically JRPGs, the story is one of the necessary parts to hook players into the game’s world, which they’ll probably spend many hours in, so for that time to be interesting, the bare minimum for the good ones at least.

I don’t know how much the game succeeds in that venture, as I found SaGa Emerald Beyond’s narrative somewhat dull to get through. It is hard to be original nowadays, so if you borrow aspects from other source material, do it well. Although SaGa Emerald Beyond’s Kingdom Hearts-inspired approach felt like a lesser experience, especially with its visual novel presentation, the non-voice-acted dialogue didn’t matter to the player.


Unique Battle System That Makes You Think

While the narrative didn’t hook me in the way I wanted, the gameplay is an entirely different story, with SaGa Emerald Beyond’s battle system carrying a lot of my enjoyment during my time with the game. The first battle will see your protagonist of choice and their four other default party members (or three for Bonnie and Formina) take on monsters. Sounds like any JRPG so far, huh? Instead of going back and forth with the enemy AI in the traditional sense, the game gives players a timeline at the bottom of the screen of every character’s health and attacking order.

None of this is set in stone, as players will have the chance to change the position of their party members’ attacks, but that’s not a guarantee as it all depends on battle speed and what attack you choose in any given turn. A line of filled and blank stars will pop up at the start of each turn; these are your battle points. Better known as BP in the game, they can be redeemed to initiate a character’s attack. Each attack has a certain power level listed, with a weaker attack worth one BP and stronger attacks worth up to five BP.


Players start their turn in SaGa Emerald Beyond with four BP, but in the menus outside of battle, the amount you start with can be changed in the formation menu with many preset formations. For me, I chose “Free for All,” which instead gives five stars at the beginning and a defending buff to party members. As you start a new turn, you’ll get your default BP and an extra BP, which adds up each turn. Moving through the timeline, you can select any party members and choose which attacks you want them to use on whatever enemy in SaGa Emerald Beyond.

Change The Flow of Battle in Each Turn

Early on in SaGa Emerald Beyond, the tactic focuses on getting rid of just one of the weaker enemies, which will help you later. In the early rounds, selecting a character’s attack worth one BP is best. As players get into later turns, you’ll have more BP to select those more “valuable” and powerful attacks. The attacks you choose will feature a blue line below the character’s icon, and depending on the attack you choose, your character’s position on the timeline may stay where it is or move. However, they default to defend if you don’t have enough BP for every character.

Going back a little, the previously mentioned blue line may extend to the following timeline position, depending on your chosen attack. This is the key to battle because, if within range, you connect them to your fellow party members, letting you activate a “United Attack,” a linked attack that lets them do a massive amount of damage on a targetted enemy. Depending on your luck, the United Attack may repeat, giving your linked party member another opportunity to attack and do massive damage once again.

While a significant advantage in battle, United Attacks are a two-way street, as enemies can use the ability in battle, too. That’s why it’s best to get rid of enemies as fast as possible or position your party members so that they are interrupting enemies from linking their attacks. The overall gameplay package in battle feels much more thought out compared to other more simplified battle systems, making SaGa Emerald Beyond feel like I’m playing chess rather than the usual checkers I’m used to. Players have a lot of choices on what weapons they want their characters to use, including one-handed swords, daggers, axes, two-handed swords, spears, guns, machine guns, and more.


Throughout the game, you’ll pick up new weapons and materials that you can use to enhance your weapons to create something with better attack power and stats; doing so is necessary to make fights easier. Whatever weapon they choose early on in SaGa Emerald Beyond, their expertise using the weapon will level up, making them more efficient and getting more out of their weapons comparatively. If you equip a new weapon for that character, you can equip your new attacks into that character’s loadout to use in battle. Next to your attack loadout is the “Roles” sub-menu, which gives players additional stat boosts and miscellaneous benefits for their characters.

Battles Get BRUTAL


While I knew going into SaGa Emerald Beyond was much more of a challenge learning the series’ reputation, I still wasn’t ready, as my major complaint about the gameplay is that specific battles are way too challenging to get through. Before getting into a fight, the game will let you know the difficulty of an upcoming battle, which includes easy, normal, hard, and brutal. I could handle the first three difficulties pretty well, but I was only struggling with some hard battles.

Once I got to one of the last major battles in one of the campaigns, and it was at brutal difficulty, I almost had a rage-quit moment with the number of times I lost. I felt lost and kept trying repeatedly until my party members’ life points (LP) ran out, forcing me to reload my save slot. No matter how prepared I felt to take on a challenge in SaGa Emerald Beyond, it felt all pointless, like taking on a long task through an impossible approach.


Things only went my way, thanks to what honestly felt like a coin flip that gimmicked to land 90 percent of the time on the side I did not want, so when I won, well, let’s say a lot of expletives were said positively. I would have preferred a set difficulty rather than this wild, inaccessible approach to the game. Especially with a lack of level progression in SaGa Emerald Beyond, which is replaced by randomized stat boosts for party members at the end of every battle, this approach makes it hard to determine if your party is prepared for a boss.

Battle Theme is a Banger

Visually, SaGa Emerald Beyond’s art style looks simple yet good, but it isn’t going to blow your socks off with its 3D models, which the game holds back in motion with its presentation of static characters reacting to the story beats. It feels like SaGa Emerald Beyond is presented as a lesser JRPG product than Square Enix’s other juggernauts with the lack of movement and the limited voice lines in the game.

The latter felt like I only heard actual vocal lines of dialogue during the beginning or end of a campaign, with limited use in the middle but only for certain characters. When there was actual movement and voiced lines in the middle, it felt like it was only during gameplay in battle. I’ll give the game props for the presentation; moving your character across the map from an out-of-view perspective felt like something out of an old-school RPG. One other part of the game that does well is the music.


I’m not one to highlight music because it has to be good to notice, like with the Persona or Final Fantasy games. I genuinely believe that SaGa Emerald Beyond’s composer, Kenji Ito, does a fantastic job arranging many great pieces that only add to the game’s overall package. Sure, you hear the same songs repeatedly, like any game, but at least for me, the music won’t leave you bored. I think the song I liked the most was SaGa Emerald Beyond’s battle theme, and the song’s focus on the violin sounds made it memorable for me whenever it popped up.


SaGa Emerald Beyond is a challenging throwback that hardcore veteran players will feel at home with. Casual fans should probably stay clear of it; with a lack of difficulty settings, gameplay can be a wildcard to recommend as an introductory title with an unpredictable range of easy to brutal fights players will surely deal with. What SaGa Emerald Beyond excels well at is its fantastic soundtrack and its approach to gameplay.

The game’s battle system feels unique to the series, and it was truly a fun time to figure out as I delved deeper into which more strategic players would get a lot more out of it. However, its visual novel presentation makes the narrative and characters’ voices feel less impactful to the overarching adventure.


[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

SaGa Emerald Beyond
Review: SaGa Emerald Beyond
SaGa Emerald Beyond is a challenging throwback that hardcore veteran players will feel right at home with.
Tactical Approach to Gameplay That Will Make Players Think
Old School RPG Feeling
Amazing Soundtrack
Didn't Like
Visual Novel Presentation Impacting Story and limited Amount of Voiced Performance
Brutally Difficult at Times
Lack of level progression