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Saiyuki: Journey West – An Afterthought

I would venture to guess when most folks think of strategy RPGs on the Playstation, they think of Final Fantasy Tactics. For good reason: the game is solid, and did a lot of carrying to bring that type of gameplay to the forefront of console role playing games. I would also say there’d be some folks that would say something like Tactics Ogre or maybe even Front Mission 3. Long story short, there are a good handful of games in the genre to choose from on the system.

I would also venture to guess not one person would include Saiyuki: Journey West in that pool of games. Not for lack of quality: far from it! The game is a solid strategy RPG, with wonderful visuals, a nice approach to a well known story, and a few interesting mechanics to make combat and developments entertaining. I fear the main reason so many may have skipped on Saiyuki is its release date. It saw release in North America in August 2001, nearly one full year into the North American release of the PlayStation 2, and a few months shy of juggernaut game Final Fantasy X. Why play this old school game when you could just chill for a couple months and play arguably one of the best games on the new, next generation console?

Well, one reason you might want to track a copy of this one down is to honestly experience one of the most surprising and well polished strategy games on the Playstation. This is thanks in large part to the above mentioned visuals. The game has wonderful sprites and character portraits. They brought me into the adventure right away, and I was curious to see which monsters the next battle would bring. I kind of felt like seeing the same chibi-medieval warriors walking in place time and again in games like FF Tactics or Growlanser made the genre seem stale. Seeing flying monsters, traditional Eastern garbed humans, and animal transformations on screen instead of knights and dragons was a nice change.

Saiyuki: Journey West is a loose interpretation of the Chinese story Journey to the West. The game borrows elements like the main protagonist being a monk traveling form China to India on a religious mission, Sun Wukon the Monkey King being a main player, and more. Having not read the story myself, and only going off what I hear from others and in media, it feels like a fairly by-the-books retelling, just in a video game. This amounts to stages presenting the next leg of the journey, introducing a new antagonist or hazard, and then defeating enemies or achieving some in-level goal in order to advance to the next stage. If you’ve played any of the prior mentioned games, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you’ve read Journey to the West, you will presumably also know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve read the story AND played the other games… maybe you don’t need to play Saiyuki?

That is the question though: should you play Saiyuki: Journey West. There are better strategy RPGs out there. I don’t think I’d ever recommend this game over something like Tactics. However if someone said was it a good game, I’d say absolutely. Had it released at an earlier time, I do wonder if it’d be held in the same pedigree as the other pillars of tactical games on the Playstation. There’s also the fact the game is stuck on the Playstation. Unless I am missing something, I don’t know if this game had any re-releases on other consoles. And current 2023/2024 prices show the game as ~$100 used. It is a good game, sure, but not worth that much money.

My time playing Saiyuki: Journey West was surprising. I thought the game was going to be mid at best, and was surprised when there was compelling elements that made the game unique. Also, playing the game nearly 20 years after initial release, it still held up well. For sure worth a look if you have the means to play, and likely an easy pass if you’re not collecting and have played other PS1 strategy RPGs.

Laters,
Jsick

Jsick

I've been writing about video games for years and playing them even longer. You'll find me playing all types of games, old and new. Mega Man III is greater than Mega Man II.