Stiles Reviews: Legend of Legaia

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A repost of my first ever semi-professional review. Ah, the memories. Check out what I think about the little known RPG, Legend of Legaia


Though opinions on particular RPGs seem to vary greatly between fans, there seems to be one common thought between them as a whole; the golden era of RPGs was between the SNES and the Sony PlayStation. With gaming culture growing as a whole, a lot of people have gone back and dug up pretty much every RPG from those consoles– analyzing them, reviewing them, really giving people the chance to try and find every game in the genre they may be interested in from that era. Gems like Thousand Arms and Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure that were somewhat obscure when they launched have gained huge cult followings, but, despite this, I haven’t heard anyone really talk about Legend of Legaia. Legend of Legaia was one of those impulse buys I made as a kid after finally realizing my love for the RPG genre. At the time, I read the back of the case and was kind of misled into purchasing it. It claimed to have a ‘New Combat System Based on Fighting Games’ along with an incorrect plot synopsis on the back, but I didn’t realize that until much later. The game did end up having a unique battle system, but it didn’t play quite like the Tekken/Final Fantasy hybrid that I’d been expecting. Instead, I got an RPG that, quite frankly, was a bit too bleak and difficult for my younger self. It gathered dust on my shelf for years until I finally picked it up again a few weeks ago. Is Legend of Legaia truly a hidden gem that I just didn’t have the gaming skills to handle as a child, or was I right to have left it unplayed for all of those years?

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The game’s presentation overall left me with rather mixed feelings. For a PlayStation era RPG, the graphics are rather average. Most areas in the game use the same basic design assets, so, even though you go to numerous locations, there are only really three types of dungeons: the underground dungeons, the castle-like dungeons and the forest-like dungeons. You will have flashes of déjà vu multiple times throughout your adventure. On top of this, the world design is both plain and bleak, but, because of the structure of the story, it’s obvious that it was an intentional, artistic choice. There’s not much color or energy to the world, and the graphics reflect that, so, while the game is rarely fun to look at, it does build to the ambiance and set a tone. In contrast to that, the graphics in battle are not only above average, but highly impressive for its release date. Not only are the characters realistically-proportioned and well-modeled, but the developers took the time to make every weapon and every piece of armor change the appearance of your characters in battle. Though that is a standard feature nowadays, it was very rarely seen at the time.

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More important to me personally than the graphics is the sound design. The soundtrack in Legend of Legaia is more often used to set the tone of each location than to really set the tone of each scene. This creates a different effect than, say, a score like Final Fantasy’s, which is meant to tell the player how to feel. It’s a subtle approach that may not stand out as much for some, but I found it was effective in its own way. On top of that, every single sound effect was properly utilized and well-implemented, especially when it comes to battle. You can feel the force and the strength of every single blow your characters deliver or receive purely because of the sound design choices. Legend of Legaia’s combat system is creative enough on its own to be entertaining, but I truly believe that it’s the sound design that makes each combo feel truly satisfying.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, most of it is the standard, turn-based RPG formula we’ve come to know and love over the years. You wander from town to town, completing fetch quests and wandering through dungeons to progress the plot and save the day. The exploration of Legaia’s world in itself really isn’t anything special, and may honestly fall on the boring side of things at times when being examined on its own merits. The few locations in the game that break the mold by including puzzles or other interactive mini-games (such as fishing, battle arenas and even a built-in fighting game) really make for a fun and memorable time, if you are willing to invest in them. The world map travel is slow, but the map itself isn’t that large to begin with, so it kind of balances itself out. The game also doesn’t hold your hand when it comes to solving its puzzles, and there are times when it will give you information that you have to remember for a couple hours before it becomes useful. I feel Legaia did an outstanding job because I never once felt cheated; I knew that if I didn’t have the answer to a problem the game presented, it was because I wasn’t paying enough attention, not because the game was too vague.

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Easily the most unique thing about Legend of Legaia, however, is its combat. Instead of just choosing the Attack option, and letting your characters go on auto-pilot, you have to discover and combine attacks by putting in directional button commands which each represent a part of the body or a location to attack. This comes into play quite often. For example, flying enemies are unaffected by low hits and short enemies are unaffected by high hits. It becomes even more interesting, however, when the game introduces you to Arts. Arts are special attacks that consume Ability Points, which you gain each time you deal or take damage. In addition to this, you have a command called ‘Spirit’ which is this game’s ‘Defend’ command. Spirit boosts your AP by about 1/3, as well as extending your combo bar, making it so you have to skillfully balance between defending and attacking. It gets a bit more complicated when you gain levels, and are able to input more commands per round, making it so you can actually combine Arts and unleash chains of them. The real fun of the game comes from unlocking all of the Arts, and chaining them together to make your own powerful combos.

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While the combat focuses primarily on the ‘Art’ system and the combinations possible through it, the game also provides magic in the form of summons. You have to defeat enemies by killing them with as little extra damage as possible, so you can essentially absorb their soul, and have the ability to summon them at will. Like a lot of other RPGs, most enemies have an elemental weakness that can be exploited, and having magic of as many elements as possible can be beneficial, especially if you put in the time to level up your spells by using them frequently. Overall, the battle system is rather enjoyable, and, oftentimes, even strategic, but, because of all the inputs you have to make each round, and the discovery of Arts being such a key gameplay element, battles do tend to be a bit slow. Patience is a must, especially when dealing with one of the game’s numerous and difficult boss battles.

Speaking of difficulty, I would not suggest this game for RPG newcomers. I find it rather pointless to try and give a difficulty rating to most RPGs, because, really, all it comes down to is grinding if you get stuck. The same applies here, but using that strategy would require a lot of grinding. In fact, that’s one of the downsides to this game. If you want to stay fully-equipped at each town, and gain all the spells, you will frequently spend time grinding for money and killing the same monsters until you finally get their spell. This pacing was designed in such a way that if you want to continue through without much downtime, you will need to learn the game’s systems, and actually get good at it, which I applaud. It doesn’t so much punish you for having to grind as it does discourage you from taking the easy way out.

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The game’s plot is pretty standard for the most part. In the past, humans in the land of Legaia were granted the gift of Serus from an undefined god. These Seru are creatures that attach themselves to a host human, creating a sort of symbiotic relationship which grants humans increased physical and mental abilities while granting Serus mobility and a reason to live. This all goes terribly wrong, however, when a strange mist begins to cover the world, and causes the Seru and their hosts to go berserk, turning into hideous creatures that kill anything in their path. The mist and these corrupt Serus become so prevalent that humans have to barricade themselves in cities surrounded by giant walls, and their only means of survival is to send out hunting groups to brave the mist and bring back food. It isn’t until the main character’s village is attacked that the people learn the only way to stop the mist from spreading is to bring life back to the mystical Genesis Trees, with the help of mist-immune Seru called Ra-Seru. With this information, and a Ra-Seru of his own, the hero sets out on his quest to save the world from the mist.
This is the tone the game sets and, frankly, I really liked it. Of course, using ‘evil mist’ as a plot device in itself isn’t exactly novel, but they manage to really set a compelling and desperate feel to the world from the very beginning. You feel a sort of sympathy for the world’s inhabitants. On top of that, the source of the mist, the workings of the Seru, and the ‘bad guy’ all remain a mystery for quite some time. Though there was nothing in the plot that really grabbed me and made me feel like I had to keep pressing forward, it was a decent effort, and was interesting enough that I wanted to pay attention and not just skip through the story all together. The strange thing about Legend of Legaia is there really is no central bad guy. The antagonist in this game is the mist, and, though you do discover its origins, and, of course, there is an ending boss, there really isn’t a ‘face’ to the enemy that you learn to hate or want to destroy. Sure, you get a rival who annoys you and tries to manipulate the mist to his own end, but taking him out is a more of side goal to the characters, and not really the central plot. The game covers some rather dark plot elements, so much so that I can’t believe the game got an ‘E’ rating. Overall, I feel that the game’s story is almost more about the people in the villages you save than the main plot itself. It feels fully developed, if nothing else, and I never felt like skipping the plot or dialogue.

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Lastly, I will talk about characters, and, before I even begin to delve into this topic, I need to get something off my chest… I HATE silent protagonists. There is no better way to prove you are a lazy writer than to leave a character a blank slate in this way. I don’t buy into the whole ‘It makes you relate to them’ argument, either. If the character is written well enough, people will relate anyway, even if it’s a different gender, different world or even a different species. Unfortunately, Legend of Legaia’s main Hero, Vahn, is a silent protagonist. The choice to make him silent, and the fact that his entire back story is basically skimmed over, really hurt the game’s storytelling, though, luckily, his cohorts fare a bit better. The game only provides you with three party members: The previously mentioned Vahn, the usual bubbly and naive role is filled by the young woman, Noa, and the just-as-common strong-willed and stubborn fighter is played by a monk named Gala. While they are all based on highly clichéd archetypes, they fill their roles well, and have proper motivation for keeping the plot on track most of the time.
Overall, Legend of Legaia is an interesting and experimental RPG, and one that I actually struggled with a bit to review. I never felt like I was bored, but it was also never a game I really craved playing either. It’s definitely not a bad game, it’s just sort of painfully average with the exception of the battle system. It’s still a game I can recommend to the right kind of gamer. If you are a hardcore fan who has already played his/her fair share of old school RPGs, but wants to try something that has a bit of a different spin to it, I highly suggest you give this game a look. It’s not revolutionary, but it is an interesting bit of RPG history, and worth at least one playthrough. If you are interested, the game will run you about $30 used. It’s a decent length, taking about 45 hours to complete, so I’d say it’s worth it. I think a good analogy would be to compare it to skydiving: At first, the idea is appealing, but, by the time you are in the plane, you may be skeptical. The jump is fulfilling, though painful, at times, and, by the end you will feel that once was enough.

Written by: Nathan Stiles

Originally Posted: March 29, 2014 on http://www.operationrainfall.com

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