It's funny, there are a bunch of other games I've gotten further in that I could be writing about but this one is just so... odd.
Now, as a preface, I've never played the SaGa games. I enjoyed the Legend of Legacy demo but not enough to play through a game on the 3DS. Going in, I have come to understand that with the SaGa games, they are trying to make something more like a tabletop roleplaying game, but still computerised. Having gotten through an hour and a half or so of this, I can see how that's coming together.
Firstly, you pick your hero. Actually, you answer a bunch of questions and are presented a hero, a suggestion which you can then ignore and choose one of the others. There are four; I picked Taria the ambitious potter who one day finds that her stuff's all coming out crooked so it's time for a long trip. By the way there's a phoenix outside????
You walk around the world map, and there are certain areas you can go to trigger events. A town usually has an event and always seems to have a blacksmith.
A fight soon ensues, after recruiting a band of hunters. A battle party is five characters; action is determined by a timeline which you can read beforehand and then assign people to do attacks, which cost stars. You start with a fixed number based on your formation (the default has 4) and then get one extra per turn. I love the battle system so far. It's got a really fun, tactical, puzzly feel to it as you try and knock enemies around the timeline and defeat them at the right moment to cause a chain attack. There was a lot of consternation at the loading times within battles, but actually I haven't felt any stress from it so far. Basically, you choose your team's attacks, it loads for between 5 and 10 seconds, and then it plays out the sequence in a series of snappy but impactful animations. It's very clear, easy to read and importantly when you get things right it is just flashy enough.
Behind all this is a wonderful soundtrack. The game is low budget but that didn't stop Kenji Ito from getting a lot of live instruments in and it sounds fantastic. No voices, but the writing in the text is sharp enough to keep things going so far. That extends to the tips screens too: instead of tutorialising, the game simply flashes up "new tip" when something new happens and you can trot off to the menus later to check it if it didn't make sense (it turns out poison does damage over multiple turns!)
So far, it really feels like they've taken a big RPG and instead of spending lots of money on all the bits inbetween, they got a few kids, a Unity licence and let the old guys just write and write and write. From what I understand the four characters have extremely different routes through the story and even in the first hour I've seen points where I can diverge; I accidentally opened a sluice gate and got an important looking monster killed. If only I could understand what it was saying - I bet there's someone out there who knows. With 70+ recruitable NPCs I wouldn't be surprised if I could bring someone back later, or maybe another of the playable characters will know, changing the dynamic of that area.
It remains to be seen whether I'll continue all the way through as annoyingly it has no Vita TV support. But as a game for a commute it seems ideal - the combination of the accelerated game pace, the large numbers of events and the heavily tactical battle system make it ideal for times when you can give all your attention to your handheld without distraction. Headphones help but watch out if you're listening over Bluetooth - you can't even open the settings menu while it's running because of RAM usage so make sure you save!