First, let me give the obligatory “this game is not for everyone” warning. It is dated, and even if it weren’t, it betrays a lot of JRPG genre conventions (as we understood them in the West). I can’t help but make comparisons to Final Fantasy when talking about this game, because ultimately what we’re working with is Sakaguchi and Kawazu’s development styles. Final Fantasy is very character-focused, whereas SaGa is very world-focused. Characters have stories, but they’re just particular lenses through which to experience the world. In Final Fantasy, you leverage strengths and weaknesses to survive long gauntlet-style battles. In Romancing SaGa, battles are about who can cause more damage to the other side faster. In Final Fantasy, character growth is mostly decided, and at most you are given some choice about specializing in the class the game shoehorns you into. In SaGa, characters have some basic starting attributes that decide what they might be best at, but ultimately how you choose to grow them is up to you. In Final Fantasy, there are multiple tiers of spells that are all variations on attack, support, or heal. In SaGa, spells are oddities and they tend to become more powerful with the skill of the caster; It’s possible that you’ll only use 2 or 3 spells for each character out of the 30 or so spells available. In Final Fantasy, random encounters occur if you make a bad roll on any given step, whereas in SaGa they are visible and dodging them is a big part of the strategy. In Final Fantasy, running away is a risky move. In SaGa, it is easy and frequently smart to do.
There’s a starkly different design philosophy at play here, so if you’re looking for the handholding experience that other JRPGs give you, this is not that game. If you love constantly throwing yourself against a wall to get stronger, this IS for you.