Collection of Saga: Final Fantasy Legend brings three classic Game Boy RPGs to Switch that have aged surprisingly well, and offers a welcome trip into the SaGa series’ history.
I can vaguely recall playing The Final Fantasy Legend for the first time, some 20 or so years ago. Final Fantasy VII had been my introduction to JRPGs, and since playing it, I’d delved into some of the older games in the series and found plenty of love for their retro charms. So when I learned of a Game Boy Final Fantasy, I had to try it… only to be completely disappointed. Its story was almost non-existent, its player-made characters were hollow, its levelling system didn’t make any sort of sense—it seemed to lack everything I’d learnt to expect from a Final Fantasy game.
Of course, what I didn’t know then was that this Final Fantasy wasn’t really a Final Fantasy at all, but the start of a completely different series, SaGa, that had been given a name change during localisation for the sake of brand recognition. It was also a Game Boy game from 1989, deliberately designed around short play sessions; it was never going to have the grandiose story and detailed, colourful pixel art of even Final Fantasy IV, nor was it meant to.
Fast-forward a couple of decades, and I’m ready to meet The Final Fantasy Legend on its own terms. In the intervening years, I’ve found plenty of love and admiration for the SaGa series and its unique approach to the JRPG genre. I know I’m not alone in this, either—Square Enix has been giving a lot of attention to SaGa of late, and while it’s never going to be as popular as Final Fantasy, it’s found its own niche.
Basically, Collection of SaGa: Final Fantasy Legend couldn’t have come at a better time. SaGa is as popular as it’s ever been, and here’s the opportunity to return to its roots—and appreciate The Final Fantasy Legend for what it is, rather than being disappointed by what it’s not and what it was never trying to be.
The Collection of SaGa brings together the first three games in the series, all originally made for Game Boy: The Final Fantasy Legend (aka Makai Toushi SaGa), Final Fantasy Legend II (SaGa 2: Hihō Densetsu), and Final Fantasy Legend III (SaGa 3: Jikū no Hasha). They’re all the original versions of those games, preserved and emulated perfectly in all their 8-bit, LCD-green glory. All three games have been remade for platforms like WonderSwan Color and Nintendo DS, but this collection wants no part of those; it’s a record of SaGa‘s Game Boy origins, with all the creative design that flourished within those technical limitations.
And despite these games being around 30 years old now, they’ve aged surprisingly well. Yes, the levelling system takes some getting used to, especially if you’re not familiar with later SaGa games, and yes, there’s a lack of in-game information that means you have to rely a bit on trial and error (or an online guide) to find out what items and spells do. But those are minor nuisances in the scheme of things, and in every other regard, the three Final Fantasy Legends are games that will be immediately familiar for anyone who’s ever played a JRPG.
There’s the welcome addition of a high-speed mode that you can toggle on and off at the press of a button and an auto-save when you exit the game (including mid-battle). Beyond that, Collection of SaGa doesn’t have much in the way of the quality-of-life features you often see built into these sorts of releases, simply because it doesn’t need them.
There are some neat features in terms of presentation, including the ability to play vertically using on-screen buttons to simulate playing on a Game Boy. Collection of SaGa also includes both the Japanese and English versions of all three games, selectable from the main menu rather than being tied to your device language—it’s a nice touch, even if you can’t read Japanese, to at least be able to see these games carrying their rightful SaGa name.
For SaGa fans especially, Collection of SaGa is a wonderful chance to see where a lot of the series’ staples came into being. A rudimentary form of SaGa‘s semi-random stat growth and skill acquisition (rather than a more typical experience point-based levelling system) can be seen in Legend and Legend II in particular. Legend III takes a more traditional JRPG approach, but kept a lot of those systems intact in a tweaked form. Likewise, you can see the roots of what would become the Life Point system from Romancing SaGa 2 onwards in The Final Fantasy Legends life hearts, which limit the number of times a character can be revived before they die permanently.
What you won’t find in the Final Fantasy Legend trilogy is the open-ended, ensemble cast narrative structure that Romancing SaGa introduced as a standard piece of the SaGa formula. Instead, each game has its own linear plot, building from the relatively uncomplicated world-saving adventure of The Final Fantasy Legend—mostly broken up into small, manageable episodes to suit short bursts of play on bus rides and the like—through to the deeper, character driven affairs of Legend II and Legend III.
It goes without saying that anyone who likes SaGa, retro games in general, or both will want to check out Collection of SaGa: Final Fantasy Legend. It’s a chance to revisit the SaGa‘s roots and see the origin of so many of the series’ unique ideas, and also just to play some captivating retro JRPGs that really proved how much can be achieved despite—or, perhaps, because of—the Game Boy’s technical limitations. So long as you don’t make the mistake that I made all those years ago of going in expecting something that The Final Fantasy Legend wasn’t trying to be, you’ll find some great adventures here.
Collection of SaGa: Final Fantasy Legend is developed and published by Square Enix. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed).
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.