Romancing Saga 2 is a love letter to meritocracies

Think about the kinds of people you imagine ruling over kingdoms and empires in games. Certainly, we encounter situations where elected officials act as mayors of small communities. Occasionally, our players end up in charge, thanks to divine providence or supernatural abilities. But the majority of our monarchies are headed up by people fortunate enough to be born into power, especially in older JRPGs. Knowing that makes Romancing Saga 2 feel more unique and refreshing, even in this day and age, as it’s a huge proponent of meritocracies.

Certainly, Romancing Saga 2 begins by adhering to the status quo. King Leon is the head of the Varennes Empire. His eldest son, Victor, is the heir to the throne. However, when the Seven Heroes return as villains bent on taking over the world, King Leon and Prince Victor are killed. Prince Gerard, his other son, becomes the new leader and begins a new system of Imperial Succession. It’s a brilliant means of taking the player through multiple generations and encouraging them to make wise decisions, while also hinting that we should probably pick the best and most capable person to lead a kingdom.

In short, here’s how Imperial Succession works. Time passes in Romancing Saga 2, just as it does in real life. (Though much more quickly, since this is a video game.) Your kingdom briefly begins with King Leon, before Prince Gerard becomes the new ruler. Various tasks will fall to the current leader, which can expand the Varennes Empire’s influence and scope. Should your current ruler fall in battle too many times or grow too old, he or she will die. You’ll then be able to choose the next person in line for the thrown from a group of four individuals.

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These are all people who may or may not have made an impact on your adventures up to that point. You may have had them in your party, fighting at your side in battle. They might have been encountered on your exploits, Sometimes, they might even be absolute strangers. The one thing they all have in common is that they’ll give you the opportunity to make the empire stronger. Though they’re occasionally ordinary people, ones who aren’t even from Avalon or have royal blood, these men and women are all capable enough to become the next leader of the land.

You’re encouraged to diversify in Romancing Saga 2. During Imperial Succession, skills and techniques of the current emperor or empress are passed down to the next. While you start with the skills Gerard learned from his father, it’s best to keep experimenting with new people from different lines. A mage will learn spells that a soldier or mercenary would not. Rangers will provide techniques involving bows. Your ruler needs to be the strongest he or she could possibly be to prove a match for the Seven Heroes. You could never do that by sticking with a line of soldiers. You have to think outside of the box and consider other people who might be unexpected, but better for the greater good.

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In fact, you’re even encouraged to look outside of the city for new leaders. Bringing in people who aren’t Avalonian is the only way to acquire new Battle Formations. When people from other lands come into power, they can talk to the head of the troops to share their knowledge and offer up new formations, with their own special abilities, for everyday purposes. More knowledge, information that could possibly help your kingdom thrive and survive, can only be gained from opening up your mind and choosing the best person for the job.

It’s almost like Romancing Saga 2 is trying to teach us a moral lesson as we play. We’re experiencing a meritocracy in action. The people who deserve to be in power, not because of their birthrights, but because of their abilities, brains, strengths and talents, are the ones we are able to choose from each generation. We get to look through candidates, each of which could absolutely make this in-game world a better place, and decide which one we find most fit. Everyone and anyone could be the next ruler, and we even get to see some of them work toward that goal.

Not only is Romancing Saga 2 entertaining, plotting out these tactical moves, it’s enlightening. People learn by doing. By encouraging players to examine every candidate and evaluate them based on what they’ve done and what they’re capable of, not their parentage, we see a thriving kingdom where those most deserving are in control. We see the value of a meritocracy, where people earn their roles rather than have them handed to them, and perhaps open our minds in the process.

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