Forget the story. It's all about combat.
That's been a trend in RPGs lately, but never has it been brought into such sharp relief as in MS Saga. Here you command your squad of up to six Mobile Suits (that's Gundam slang for really huge robots) in turn-based combat against progressively stronger and larger foes. Suits that are fully customizable with thirty nine possible "cores" to earn that alone can be upgraded in three different ways. Then you have dozens of legs, arms, shoulder units, accessories, shields, and weapons to equip; all of which have their own stat bonuses / penalties, and show up on the in game model to result in some pretty unique designs. The variety of weapons alone makes most other RPGs feel ill-equipped, coming in the form of swords, lances, axes, pistols, rifles, bazookas, missile launchers, and cannons nearly as large as the robots themselves. Besides different damage ratings, they can have special properties that will overheat enemies or burn them with acid, only to be supplemented by powerful boost attacks.
Pilots have two sets of skills, earning a new one nearly with every level up. Boost skills require Energy gradually built up during combat or using the Charge command, and do everything from raising your attack power, to blocking incoming fire, to sniping an enemy's arm to lower their strength. Techniques are a little more flexible, if not quite as powerful. There's the all important repair skill to patch up damage on and off the battlefield, as well as cure alls for the range of status attacks, or for inflicting them. Aside from firing your weapons off, you can Defend for reduced damage, and Switch active Mobile Suits when you have more than three pilots under your command.
The world map, whose layout should be familiar to anyone who has ever glanced at a globe, is a stark and lonely place. There are only a series of scattered towns and dungeons to discover, sprinkled with random encounters that are unlikely to offer much more than spare experience points. The dungeons vary from angular artificial structures with straight rooms and corridors, and the winding paths of dark caverns or mountain roads. Here you'll find item chests, more random battles, well-placed save points that repair damage, and giant glowing pyramids that represent set enemy encounters.
This is where the game finally shows its teeth, and sinks into you with a group of evil Mobile Suits who make a team effort in using their skills and attacks to drive your group into the ground. If you bring only weak tactics to the floor, like using your strongest attacks and hoping for the best, then count on getting crushed. You need to know exactly what your team is capable of, and even more importantly what tricks your enemies can dish out, if there's any hope of survival. I've lost track of how many battles I've won with only one Mobile Suit left standing, but it's a joy every single time.
The story, however, is neither engaging nor original. You have the end of the world, ancient advanced technology, an evil secret organization, and a orphan with a mysterious destiny. It's nothing you haven't seen before, and that hasn't been done better in other RPGs. The characters are stereotypes with fruity costume designs. If it's not the main character Tristan who can't tuck in his mismatched shirt, or his semi-mentor the French maid dominatrix, it's the butterfly-like Captain Hal, complete with party mask, who looks like a clown compared to his military clad subordinates. The dialogue ranges from bland to cringe-worthy, and loves to insert exclamation points after every other sentence in an attempt to convince you this too predictable plot is exciting. It's not. The generic environments and one-liner NPCs certainly don't help matters.
If you play RPGs for challenging combat that actually makes you think, and occasionally hands you your shiny metal behind, then MS Saga is your game. If you play RPGs for their rich storylines and well developed characters, you should probably give up on videogames entirely. Go out and read a good book instead.