As readers of this website know, I am a firm believer that the Golden Era of Traditional RPGs occurred during the 32-bit epoch, a time that saw the release of many good titles that even today two generations later, can be enjoyed and appreciated by faithful hardcore RPG maniacs and new comers to the genre alike.
Yet I am happy to say that the PS2 era, has not done too bad, near the end of its life cycle the system has seen releases of many great RPG titles, perhaps creating a new golden era that will be engraved in new comers to the RPG genre’s minds for quite some time.
Tales of Legendia, a torch carrier for one of the longest (and most respected) RPG series on the market, is the fifth title in the series, and a successor to GC’s Tales of Symphonia, which was a very good RPG on its own merits.
Because the GC was not a very good seller during its life span, Symphonia did not receive the attention that perhaps the game merited, because of this and several other factors (such as Square/Enix monopoly of the genre) Namco’s Tales of Legendia, did not receive the pre-release hype, and attention that the game probably deserved.
The Tales Series, while not as well known as The Final Fantasies and Dragon Quests of the world, has unlike those series, kept in my view an immaculate sheet of presentations, every time you buy a Tales game, you are investing your money in a guaranteed great RPG, regardless of the fact that the games do not count with a budget rivaling other titles in the genre.
That being said, I am making a pretty big statement when I say that Legendia might be the best title in the series, I definitely can say I enjoyed this game far more than 2003’s Symphonia, and in fact I would rather play this any day over playing FFXII. There I said it, let the hate mail, flow in!
A Near Graphical Disaster
This is not the way I wanted to start the review, but one of the weak spots on this title are the visuals, they are not bad, but they aren’t very good either, Grandia 3, Star Ocean 3, and even poor little Radiata Stories look better, I dare say GC’s Symphonia also looked a tad better. That in my opinion is a shame.
Legendia’s world is not big, in fact Symphonia’s was way bigger, with more cities and sights to see, and explore, yet Legendia, gets by with simple graphics that looked like they belonged on the Dreamcast, rather than on a late gen PS2 game. What makes it more painful is the fact that the Artwork is fantastic, in every single way, from the character design to the design of the locales, the game recaptures the look of Symphonia to perfection, but with a cheaper coat of pain.
There are far worst looking RPGs out there, but a game of this ilk deserves better, the characters look blocky, and squatty, and while the environments look okay the fact that you cannot rotate the camera at will is a disappointment.
The environments while having the same colorful art style of Symphonia, lack in detail, Even older PS2 titles, (like Arc The Lad Twilight Spirits) who weren’t exactly running on a high budget, out shine what is presented here.
Namco could have done better way better, with its prized RPG series, Grandia 3 is not half the game this game is, and yet it looks worlds better. Anyone who has read my works on this web page, knows that I am not a graphics whore, but when games that do not have the pedigree of a legendary series like the Tales series, manage to out shine the game in a technical aspect such as graphics, to me it’s a sign of laziness on the part of the developing team.
The one Visual aspect that the game brings to the table that can rival anything ever done in any other RPG, are the few scarce, FMV scenes which are realized in beautiful anime sequences, it is here where the genius of both the character and game world designer can be appreciated the most.
The Music is very well composed, in fact for some reason (perhaps it comes from the same composer but I am not sure at this point) it sounds eerily similar to that of Skies of Arcadia, which is not a bad a thing, there are also a few vocalized tracks that play in the rolling credits and during some environments.
It’s hard to compete with Final Fantasy games and other Square titles because, Uematsu and Mitsuda are such musical power houses, but I really enjoyed most of the melodies here. The voice acting is top notch, even though I thought Shirley voice acting wasn’t very convincing, and that was a major problem since Shirley is an integral part of the plot, thus she gets a lot of screen time even when compared to the other Characters in your party who also get tremendous amounts of screen time, thanks to the well written dialog, and the numerous plot scenes in game scenes.
The only downside I can find in the sound department is the fact that the Voice acting abruptly ends, after the first ending of the game, I know it sounds confusing but I’ll explain soon.
A Tales of two Tales
Stupid as that heading might look, it tells the truth, Symphonia, ended at 39 hours of play, and Legendia, if you only play the main tale ends at 33. Yet in doing this you would truly miss half the game. What I mean by this is that Legendia, pulls a Wild Arms on you by rolling the credits way, before its time.
You will finish the main plot in give it or take 25-35 hours depending on how quickly you run through the game, not that there will be any side diversions, in fact during that 33 hour stretch that it took me to reach the first ending of the game, it was weird for me as I played to realize that Legendia was a pretty bare bones RPG, especially when Symphonia had offered many sidequests and diversions.
Instead of procrastinating with stupid side quests as most run of the mill RPGs do, Legendia goes right to the point, the game finally does justice to the series ‘Tales’ moniker. Legendia tells a tale, that’s it’s first and foremost priority, and to the credit of the writers what the game lacks in visuals and in sidequests, it makes for in brilliant storytelling and character development.
Legendia’s plot isn’t the most original, nor the most convoluted, in fact most of it is fairly predictable if you play RPGs as often as I do, but where Legendia separates itself from the rest of the series and 99% of all RPGs out there, is on the way it focuses on the main party of characters, each with a unique individual personality, every character has their own way of speaking and of addressing each other. The characters quite simply steal the show here, more so than in any other RPG that I have ever played.
FFVII had an unforgettable cast, but they had a monstrous brilliantly conceived plot backing them up, Legendia’s lively crew doesn’t have that great of a story surrounding them, they have a decent if a bit clichéd plot backing them, one that tosses a few twists and turns here there but one that never manages to accomplish something special. What the crew has in droves, is a sense of humor and brilliant script writing backing them up.
Radiata Stories is the only recent game that comes to mind, when I talk about funny and witty dialog and yet Radiata Stories, has nothing on Legendia on that department. It is safe for me to say that Legendia is the RPG that has given me the most laughing at loud moments in my history as a gamer.
The tale is full of short in game scenes in which the characters talk and talk, in other games skits like this are usually problematic, boring and bothersome, but this is not the case in here, in fact it was the one aspect of the game that kept me playing and marching forward towards the game’s inevitable conclusion.
The game story starts fairly simple with Senel and Shirley, your typical run of the mill RPG heroes. Senel was a depressed quiet type jerk, whose only worry in the world was the well being of Shirley, who was the typical Mysterious quiet and shy girl, who is being chased by the typical Evil Empire because she is important to the fate of the World.
Upon encountering Will, it really becomes apparent Shirley’s epic destiny, not only because Will alludes to her being one of the Ferines, but because she gets kidnapped…twice…in a span of a few minutes, with crazy bandit Moses beating both Senel and a Mysterious winged persona who appears out nowhere in the ‘take Shirley away’ Sweepstakes.
From here on Senel and Will embark on a quest to rescue Shirley, they will be later joined by Chloe a mysterious Knight, Norma a crazy wild treasure hunter (My favorite character in the game), Jay a know it all who at first is annoying but truly earns his stripes once “The Stupid Bandit” Moses joins the party, and finally by Grune, a super hot, dumb as can be woman, who keeps the humor parade rolling.
The story is a light hearted one, true to the other Tales games, while the situation and the villains are serious; the amazing cast of characters keeps it funny and interesting. In other words the story strikes a perfect balance, it doesn’t ever feel as depressing as let’s say Final Fantasy VII but it never gets as carefree as A Thousand Arms.
The one outstanding weakness in the game’s story aside from having a clichéd plot is the boring and generic cast of Villains. Never in the game is there a villain the steals the show, perhaps Stingle, would have been a great character to develop more, but the writers didn’t, so instead we were left with a mediocre main villain for the first 3rd of the game, and decent one for the second and a totally obscure one for the last.
The fact that there was no strong Villain throughout the entire campaign, and yet I kept playing and playing engrossed completely in the story, serves to underline, the brilliance of the party characters. Senel might begin the story as the typical ‘Cloud prototype’ hero, but eventually grows from that into a fine leader, Cloud was no fine leader, he was a depressed anti social bastard right up to the end of the game and beyond, it is who he was, and he was loved for it. Senel isn’t as dark and as moody as Cloud, unlike Cloud who has a mirage of emotional and Psychological problems haunting him, Senel has few, and because it he grows into a natural leader, while he always keeps and serious edge, he also was the creator of many of my “Laughing at loud” moments.
Shirley the weakest character and apparently Senel’s main love interest, doesn’t do much to make the dialog scenes between the characters interesting unless Norma is involved. Norma is the funniest and most endearing character in the whole thing, and she keeps things funny. In short I could make short papers describing every character’s personality.
What you get here is a clichéd boring plot, backed by an amazing cast of characters, which is disappointing to a degree, but at the same time I rather have it this way than the flip side which would be a game like the Granstream Saga.
After the game ends at the 30 hour mark, you are left, with some loose ends, and if you are like me, you will be left with a burning desire to spend more time around the characters. Namco must have known this would happen as immediately after the credits roll a new Quest dubbed “Character Quest” opens up allowing you to tie some of the loose ends, left by the characters and giving you 30 extra hours of plot (which strangely enough has a cooler concept than that of the main plot) to allow you to complete some mini quests and the arena game.
In the end all that I can say is that I enjoyed this tale more than many other stories that might have been less clichéd and more original, because the character development present in this game is unmatched. The lack of a strong villain however will hurt the game’s final tally on this area.
Plays like a CHAMP
Gameplay wise few RPGs posses the polish of this game’s battle system, on their systems, in fact I dare say this is a every bit as good as Star Ocean’s but much easier to get into and do well, in fact, the game’s battle system reminds me more of Radiata Stories , because it’s simple fast and enjoyable.
The difficulty can be tweaked but the default difficulty is fairly easy and simple, there was never a time during play where I had to spend the customary long hours of leveling up that I had to endure in let’s say Star Ocean 3. Legendia has a quick pace, it starts fast, and keeps that pace throughout the game, as it wants the player to be focused with the story and the story alone, and while it throws a great number of random battles they are usually quick, in fact ending in less than 30 seconds for the most part.
The game can last, if you finish both quests, up to 80 hours. That being said, there are some side quests here and there, but not as much as a game of this magnitude should have, and I was a bit disappointed about this sad fact because, I wanted to spend more time with the game.
The world map of Legendia is huge, but it feels linear maybe too linear, since it never opens up the way that Symphonia did. You never get to fly around the world instead you have to walk it on foot or use the more practical way of transportation which to travel through teleporting hubs, which takes away some of the magic from exploring the world map.
A Cult Classic?
Tales of Legendia has all the ingredients, to become a cult classic, its legendary yet not mainstream brand, is bound to attract RPG enthusiasts, and its artistic visual style, will attract anime fans as well. The great translation and comic dialog will make it a favorite amongst the hardcore RPG crowd, but the game will likely never receive the mainstream attention that maybe it might deserve. A great buy for RPG fans and new comers alike.
Gameplay: 9.0- Long quest, but very linear. Battles are a cinch, and are fun since they happen in real time, and in an action oriented system. The game has a few worthwhile side quests and should clock in at 80 hours if both stories are finished.
Graphics: 7.5-Colorful graphics, backed by blocky squatty characters, a generic looking RPG in terms of technical aspects, artistically fantastic though.
Music: 8.5-The music is very well done, and the voice acting is top notch.
Story: 8.5-Cliched story, the Villains suck, and yet the game gets an 8.5 in the category? I must sound like a broken record saying this but character development can make or break a game. In Legendia’s case it make the game, as the game features some of the best character development you will find in an RPG.
Addictiveness: 7.0-Not many sidequest, but the two endings will keep most players hooked for almost 80 hours considering the price of admission (probably Less than 20 bucks used at Gamestop), you get more than your money’s worth here.
Overall: 8.5-The game gets a tremendous score based on the strength of its characters and funny dialog, a fantastic buy for anyone who enjoys RPGs.
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