Interview: Inside SaGa Emerald Beyond

SaGa franchise creator Akitoshi Kawazu explains the inspirations and vision behind the latest entry in the SaGa franchise!
By Duncan Heaney

SaGa Emerald Beyond is not your typical RPG.

It features multiple protagonists, 17 very different worlds, and a story that changes depending on who you play as, where you go and when you go there and more. Add a supremely satisfying combat system with true strategic depth, and you have a title that’s everything you could hope for out of an RPG.

But how did this come about? What were the design goals for the game, and what challenges did the team face bringing their vision to life? We spoke to SaGa franchise creator Akitoshi Kawazu to find out!

What did you want to achieve with SaGa Emerald Beyond?

I think RPGs like the SaGa games offer a unique enjoyment that you can’t find in open world and real-time action games.

With our last game, SaGa SCARLET GRACE, I think we achieved our goal of creating a pared-back RPG - a game that captured the best elements of the genre and distilled them down to the core essence. But because we were so focused on reaching that minimal form, I felt like we perhaps got rid of some elements that should have remained for a video game.

For SaGa Emerald Beyond, we wanted to make sure to cover all the fundamentals for video games, while keeping it simple to play so that players can experience all the best parts of RPGs - exploring worlds and beating battles!

How did you decide on the structure of the game?

The underlying concept is that there are lots of different worlds even though they may all appear separate from one another, they are connected in all kinds of ways. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on each person’s perspective!

As for what we were trying to achieve… well, Tsunanori Mido’s route was the first one we began work on. If you play through that route around three or four times, I think you’ll understand what we were trying to achieve with the overarching story. To say anymore would be stepping into spoiler territory.

The game’s narrative structure is very free-form - it changes depending on where you go and what you do. How challenging was it to create this level of freedom?

I was always extremely conscious that the story should have a degree of freedom in how it was constructed, so I actually didn’t run into too much difficulty there.

However, there was a monumental amount of work to do to create enough paths and different developments to make sure that players would be able to enjoy multiple playthroughs, and it was quite taxing to see all of that through to the end.

I actually wanted to have eight protagonists and even more worlds, but what made it into the game was the limit to what we could do.

The game has five routes and six protagonists! How difficult was it to ensure they all felt different and distinct?

Each protagonist is individual in their own way, so I didn’t find it terribly difficult to establish their characters. Once their personality is set, they just react naturally to the situations you put them in. And since their characters are so different, their stories didn’t end up playing out the same way.

What was challenging was the sheer volume of work and number of checks involved in creating a story for each of the five routes in all 17 worlds. The more different the storylines are between protagonists, the more work there is involved in the creation! After I’d finished my work, multiple members of the team would work on fleshing that out further, and I’d perform a final check myself at the end.

But of course, having more significant changes between each character is more fun, too!

What did you do to make each of the worlds feel different and unique to the others?

We took a lot of care to differentiate the worlds on a level beyond just their appearance. After all, we know that you can’t make something feel like a different world if all you do is just reskin them - that would make the game experience become stale.

So, the worlds are different in terms of how they look, but also in their culture and philosophy. That’s another of the themes in the game. Some even change how you, as the player, control the game.

What was the inspiration for the game’s battle system?

We built on the timeline battle system from the previous game, SaGa SCARLET GRACE.

However, while it may look similar, the game rules and design philosophies are completely different. SaGa SCARLET GRACE’s combat has some elements that are almost like a puzzle, which is a lot of fun in its own way. But for Emerald Beyond, we aimed for more strategic gameplay in battle.

That also gave us built-in answers for some of the challenges of combat - such as how to stop the battle becoming dull when there’s only one enemy left or how to turn the tables if you’re down to your last party member, for example.

The combat has a lot of depth, but it also doesn’t become overly complex or difficult to grasp. How difficult was it to find that balance?

Players are given the pointer that it’s a good idea to aim for United Attacks.

There are a lot of elements to tie together, such as buffs and debuffs, formations, spells, elemental affinities and so on. But, by letting the player know they should try to create opportunities for United Attacks, they can jump straight in and enjoy battles without worrying too much about everything else.

Giving that straightforward advice means players can explore the rest of the systems as they play, allowing us to add extra complexity without worrying about it becoming overwhelming.

We recently posted our tips and tricks - do you have any personal advice you can give players for battles?

First and foremost, try to get United Attacks. Long combos can lead to Overdrive, turning the battle in your favour.

My next tip is the same idea in reverse. Prevent your opponents from carrying out United Attacks. If you make use of interrupt and pursuit techs on enemies, you should be able to disrupt their United Attacks fairly easily.

Finally, if there are lots of enemies, you may assume you should try and defeat the weakest first - but that’s not a good idea. Every attack costs BP, and this resource is shared across the whole party. That’s true for your opponents as it is for you,

That means that if there are lots of enemies, they have to share BP, and be less likely to use a strong attack. Making sure that enemies don’t have an opportunity to use their most powerful abilities is the secret to a smooth battle!

The SaGa games are famed for their soundtracks and SaGa Emerald Beyond certainly doesn’t disappoint in this regard. What can people expect from the music for this game?

SaGa Emerald Beyond features a wide range of musical genres, from orchestral to dance, to vocal tracks featuring Sarah Àlainn and Ayano Nonomura.

All the tracks were composed by Kenji Ito. Personally, I believe that the soundtrack is one that represents the SaGa franchise as a whole!

Many thanks to Kawazu-san for his insight.

SaGa Emerald Beyond is available now for PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC via Steam, iOS and Android.

If you want to try before you buy, new demos are available now on PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch and Steam. Each platform’s demo lets you experience a different character’s story. PS5 / PS4 uses can play as young hero Tsunanori Mido, Switch players can play as witch-in-training Ameya Aisling and PC players can start the adventure with songstress Diva No. 5!

To learn more about the demo - or should that be demoS - check out the full guide:

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