The 7th Saga
  • Genre:
    • RPG
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Produce
  • Publisher:
    • Enix
  • Released:
    • JP 04/23/1993
    • US 08/03/1993
Score: 65%

This review was published on 04/05/2014.

The 7th Saga is a role-playing game developed by Produce and published by Enix for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It was released in Japan on April 23, 1993, and North America on August 3, 1993. The game is known as Elnard in Japan. Like many RPGs of the time, the game never got released in Europe. They weren't exactly missing much with this one, though. Enix is better known for their Dragon Warrior series, or as it was known in Japan, Dragon Quest. Produce produced quite a few games for Enix, this being one of them. The 7th Saga has a lot in common with Enix's other RPGs, but was far more experimental. For some odd reason, The 7th Saga had a huge increase in difficulty when brought over to North America. The opposite was usually true, but not in this case. The 7th Saga's North American release was so intensely difficult, that the game box itself touted the unforgiving difficulty as a selling point. Upon release, the game garnered average reviews and wasn't exactly successful. It kind of deserved that, because it wasn't very good. The 7th Saga attempted a lot of unique things, for which it should be admired, but it lacks the quality to stand the test of time as a classic.

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Five thousand years ago, in the medieval world of Ticondera, a divine hero by the name of Saro thwarted the evil plans of a dark being named Gorsia using the power of seven mystical runes. Many years after this event took place, the seven runes were scattered across the globe, their whereabouts a mystery. Saro later had a son named Lemele, who also became a hero after defeating the dark demon Gariso. In reward of his noble efforts, Lemele became the supreme ruler of the world. Back in the present, Lemele is now an elderly man of a hundred years, and he is seeking a successor to his throne. King Lemele has searched far and wide for seven candidates to the throne, which he then trained for five years in his palace. He then sends off his seven apprentices on a quest to retrieve the seven runes of power, and the one that collects all seven runes will become the heir to the throne. Each apprentice was given a magical crystal ball to help them find the runes, but that's all the help they get. The plot to 7th Saga is certainly different, because instead of questing to save the world, you're questing to rule it. Not many RPGs have you go on an adventure for purely selfish reasons, so this is a unique premise. There are also some interesting twists later on, though the story never gets to the level of quality seen in games like Final Fantasy.

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You get to decide who the protagonist of The 7th Saga will be by picking one of the seven apprentices. In no particular order, the apprentices are Kamil Dowonna, Valsu Saizer, Esuna Busy, Olvan Jaess, Lejes Rimul, Lux Tizer, and Wilme Pelin. Kamil is a human knight, Valsu is a human priest, Esuna is an elf, Olvan is a dwarf, Lejes is a demon, Lux is a robot, and Wilme is an alien. Each apprentice has his or her own motive for gathering the runes, like Olvan wants to regain his misspent youth, Lux wants to find out about his origins, Valsu wishes to rid the world of evil, and Lejes wants to fill the world with evil. Choosing a protagonist doesn't have much impact on the story, though. The apprentices all have different stats, abilities, spells, equipment, and so on. A huge chunk of the game will be played with only one character, though it's possible to recruit one other apprentice into your party. Because obtaining the runes is a competition, the other apprentices might actively work against you. After a certain point in the game, the other apprentices will start randomly appearing in different towns. Some will agree to team up with you, but some will want to fight you. If an apprentice kills you in battle, they steal all your runes and you have to hunt them down to get them back. There's also a traitor apprentice running about, but his or her identity changes each time a new game is started. All of this adds a lot of depth and replay value to the game.

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On the world map and in dungeons, there is a radar on the top left of the screen that shows the presence of enemies, towns, runes, and other important stuff. Enemies aren't actually seen on the screen itself, but they do appear as dots on the radar. While this might lead you to believe that you can avoid battles, you really can't. The dots move so fast that they'll always get you once they have their sights on you. Battles are initiated whenever you come into contact with these dots, which will be often. Fights in 7th Saga are unique visually, but pretty standard fare game play wise. The game renders the flat battlefields using the Super Nintendo's patented Mode-7, and the action is seen from a behind-the-back perspective of the player characters. The screen and background rotate to face whatever enemy you're currently targeting, which looks pretty cool. Battle sprites are large and well animated, too. As far as how the battles actually work, it's a basic turn-based combat system. You select commands off a list to attack, defend, cast spells, use items, etc. Anyone who has played an RPG before should be familiar with this. One of the only interesting mechanics the battles have going for them is the way in which defending works. Defending not only allows your character to take less damage in battle, but it also boosts the amount of damage they'll do on their next attack. Due to that, the best strategy for physical fighters is to always defend first and attack later, in that order. It's a cool system that makes defending worthwhile, but that's about the only thing that makes fights in 7th Saga interesting.

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Towns will be your safe havens from being killed repeatedly. They've got all the usual facilities an RPG town would have, like weapon and armor shops, item stores, inns, etc. The equipment shop owners are kind enough to tell you how good each weapon and armor is before you buy it, which is a luxury for some of these old RPGs. Speaking of old RPGs, this is one of those games that require you to visit an inn to save your progress, because sleeping is the best way to remember things. You can also purchase jewels, which is a way to preserve money after death. For some reason, monsters will steal your money when you die, but not your jewels. Yeah, I don't get it, either. The real reason to go to town, though, is to figure out where to go next. The story rarely gives you your next immediate objective, so you have to find out yourself by talking to people in town. 7th Saga is a lot like Dragon Warrior in that respect. It's usually pretty easy to figure out where to go next, though there are a few spots in the game where things aren't as obvious. Locating your next objective generally involves the standard cliche of finding out what's wrong with the town, then solving that problem. Doing so will almost always help you on your quest in some abstract manner. RPGs love good Samaritans, and 7th Saga is no different.

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Menus in 7th Saga work similarly to Dragon Warrior, only a bit more streamlined. You still have to do the annoying thing of selecting the "talk" and "search" commands to talk to people and open treasure chests, respectively. That sort of made sense back in the 8-bit days, but most 16-bit RPGs ditched this system, so I don't know why RPGs like 7th Saga insist on keeping it. It is nice how non-obtrusive the menus are, though. Rather than switching to separate menu screens, all the menu options appear on the same screen that the game play does, letting you still see what's going on. 7th Saga has the classic issue with item names that many RPGs of the time had, in that they tend to make absolutely no sense. This is especially true with armor and weapons. The reason for this is because the translators were trying to shorten the names enough to fit into the limited space they had to work with, resorting to shorthand that is almost impossible to decrypt. Another menu annoyance is that you can't sort your items, automatically or manually. That's kind of inexcusable for an RPG made in 1993. 7th Saga could stand to have more modern conveniences, like, y'know, conveniences that were modern back in the 16-bit days.

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As mentioned before, this game is super freaking hard. Don't be surprised if you die a dozen or so times to the enemies outside the first town, and it only gets harder from there. This game is so unforgiving that you don't even regain your HP upon leveling up. The only way to solve this problem is to grind a lot. 7th Saga was boasted as being a seventy hour epic when it came out, but what they don't tell you is that most of those hours will be spent on grinding. Every time you get to a new area, you'll probably die in a few hits by most of the enemies there, requiring you to grind further. Get to a new area, grind, get to another new area, grind some more... the whole thing quickly becomes formulaic. All the grinding makes progress painstakingly slow. It does help that you keep your level and experience even after dying, but that's the only mercy the game will afford you. The other thing that contributes to the game's astronomical difficulty is when you duel another apprentice. Apprentices level up when you do, so they're the one problem in the game that can't be solved by grinding. The thing is that the other apprentices have a much higher stat growth than you, which means they'll always be able to pulverize you, regardless of your level. This ends up being really unfair, because these guys can kill you in one shot no matter what. Winning fights against apprentices is almost entirely dependent on luck, as you must hope they'll waste turns casting buff and debuff spells, giving you an opportunity to beat them. The story forces a few apprentice confrontations on you, so this fate can't be avoided. All the repetitive grinding mixed in with the unfair apprentice battles results in an incredibly frustrating experience.

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The 7th Saga is not good. It's not entirely bad; the premise is unique, there is decent replay value, and there is a lot of depth to its mechanics. Unfortunately, the good does not outweigh the bad. In addition to the bland graphics and music, the whole game is nothing but a big grind. Maybe if the game didn't have so much grinding, it would actually be halfway decent. As it stands, 7th Saga is a 16-bit RPG with an 8-bit RPG mentality. The game was behind the times right when it came out, because most 16-bit RPGs back then were more advanced than this, more robust, and less tedious. Even diehard fans of The 7th Saga have a hard time justifying its idiosyncrasies. The 7th Saga is a game worth remembering for its inherent uniqueness, but it's not a game worth playing.

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