Saturday, July 16, 2016

Review #337: The Legend of Legacy

 If you are tired of handholding in videogames, this is your game.
 There's something that should be known; The Legend of Legacy is the successor to the old 'SaGa' series of JRPG games, that has spanned quite a few entries throughout the years. It seems like they decided to stick close to their guns, which translates into a game the embraces its Nintendo-hard roots, but without rewarding the players with anything of worth.

 The game's story is that there is none. Yes, this is a JRPG with almost no story at all. At the outset you pick a main character from a selection of seven, while they all have more or less the same stats, they have individual weapon and elemental proficiency, hidden away from the players. Regardless, once you pick your hero, you are treated to a seconds-long introduction of their 'quest', and then you are brought into the land of Avalon alongside two other characters. Every now and then, your three characters will spout lines regarding their individual quest, but they don't matter in the overall scheme of things. There's no character development, and the individual stories are inconsequential to the game, you might even forget that each character has a personal goal. If you play JRPGs for the characters or the story, this is not your game.
 The first thing that you will learn, is that the game will explain as little possible as it can. For instance, each weapon type has a ridiculously long set of attacks, and while you do get 'Attack 31' or 'Attack 20', and maybe a short description that maybe tells you, albeit not clearly, if it will also inflict an status effect or a debuff, you won't be told what's the difference between two attacks with the same attack power, and seemingly, equal properties. You also won't be told how the elemental contracts work, you sorta have to figure it out by yourself. As you play the game, you'll obtain three different 'Singing stones', which are crucial to your success. Equipping a character with these will allow him or her to grant either Water, Wind or Fire 'contracts' to the party, which can be taken away by the enemy, or you can take it away from them by casting it again. Being under a contract provides a ton of benefits, either for your party or the enemy, and the game won't tell you what they are, besides letting you cast the magic associated to the contract. For instance, Water will half water damage and grant you a healing buff per turn. Contracts are VERY important, but the game wants you to figure it out by yourself. And while battles are turn based, turns are a bit random as well, since while speed(The 'support' stat) does play a factor in your turn, luck also takes part in the equation.

 Let me digress for a bit, nowadays people complain all the time about how games handhold players all the time, and it wasn't like that back then, yadda yadda. It's true, to an extent, since some games assume its players are idiots, however, games nowadays are ten times as complex as they were back in the day. Compare Final Fantasy 1's rudimentary mechanics to the ton of different systems that run in THIS game. Heck, even the SNES JRPGs were simpler than any RPG during the PS1 era and after. Plus, players seem to forget that they had Nintendo Power and the Nintendo line to aid them back in the day. There's a difference between handholding and telling you how the game works.
 Back to Legend of Legacy and how it works, it's a mess, but a mess that will appeal to fans of the SaGa games. Y'see, almost everything in this game is random, and I hate it. The first thing that you should know, is that in this game level ups are random, and you level up individual stats. After a fight you may get an HP level up. Or maybe an Attack level up. Using skills in battle have the random chance to 'awaken' new skills for that weapon or magic type. Awakenings are particularly hilarious, 'cause you may try to cast a healing spell, but you might awaken 'Heal poison', so in that turn you will attempt to heal poison instead of healing, and it may get you killed. Does that sound fun to you? Individual skills also level up, but these level up the more that you use them, which actually makes sense. Oh, and the amounts of health and SP that you may get from random level ups is, well, random. Does this sound like any kind of fun to anyone? It's annoying. Particularly because the game expects you to grind. You can get by just by killing any enemy that you come across, but bonus bosses, and the last boss to an extent, expect you to have relatively high stats in order to deal with their randomness. They may or may not cast their best attacks twice or thrice in a row. I mentioned how turns are a bit random, but you can level up your 'support' stat to increase your chances to go first. Although, truthfully, it's better if your characters are slow, since the last boss loves to take the water contract from you, and if the turn ends with the contract in his possession, he'll heal for 999 damage, so let him take the contract, and then use your slow character to take the contract away from him.

 And by the by, this ties into your party. Y'see, you are forced to finish the first dungeon with your starting party, but afterwards you'll be able to recruit the remaining four characters if you find them in the main town. The thing is, why should you alter your party, since, the guys you've been using have already accumulated random power ups to their stats and skills? Why handicap yourself? And while harder enemies have more chances to reward you with your random level ups, these characters are still behind your initial characters, and always will be. Another point of contention are the equipment pieces. The weapons and armor sold at the shop are more often than not crap, if you want anything worth a damn it's either: Pray to the RNG and hope good equipment drops from enemies, or pay for ships to sail for items. What items these ships you hire return with are, you guessed it, RANDOM, and to add insult to injury, you must wait between 1 to 5 hours for the ship to return with the spoils. Does anyone think this is fun? Does anyone think that good equipment being so reliant on luck is fun? What?! And even better, if you decide to buy from the shop, you can't compare the items with your currently equipped ones. Pure genius.
 A lot of people seem to praise this game for its 'strategic battles', but that's a lie, all the 'strategy' you need is to keep the Wind and Water contract on your side, have at least one tank protecting the entire party, and have two DPS characters doing the damage, and swapping healing or protecting duties when needed. To be fair, some of the bonus bosses do require a tiny bit more thought process, since it's better to spam the Wind Contract and keep the Battle Field Green in order to reduce the damage from their strongest attacks. As for normal enemies, you'll also want the Water and Wind contract on your side, as well as a tank protecting the party, until you are strong enough to take them down easily. It's funny, because random encounters can be harder than some bosses, since the RNG can screw you up and have three strong enemies spam their party-wide attacks and cream you on the spot. To be fair, the 'Run Away' function works 100% of the time, but can't be used on bosses or on a few surprise encounters, but it has two penalties: A) All enemies respawn and B) You are taken to the entrance of the dungeon. Where's the strategy if you will always need a tank, always need a healer and always need a DPS? Take Etrians Odyssey, for example, in which you can have fun making different parties, with different strategies to take down different monsters. That's strategic. This is restrictive. And random. There's also different 'formation stances', but stances can only be gained by replaying dungeons you've already cleared(After selling their maps). I don't normally retread old ground, but by the time I found this out, I didn't care, stances be damned. Plus, the NPCs that populate the map each time you re-enter it are random, and the stances they can give you are random. This game is a blast.

 Another thing worth mentioning is how the HP system works. After each battle you win, or run away from, your health is fully restored, but your SP will not. If a character 'dies' in battle, he or she will take Red Damage, and if he or she is hit while 'dead', it will incur in more Red Damage. Red Damage affects your maximum health, so once the battle is over, or if you revive them, they'll have a lower health cap. This is mended by resting at the inn, or by using some rare healing items, which can only be used outside of battle. To be honest, I thought the red damage thingie was kinda smart, but on the last dungeons, obstacles on the environments will directly deal red damage to you, which isn't very fun. Once enemies stop granting random level ups at a steady pace, you might want to avoid enemies, but there's so many enemies that it's easy to fall to these red damage traps trying to avoid them. If your entire party dies, or if one character's max HP drops to 0, it's Game Over.
 Oh, the Game Over screen... The most important function in the game, is the Quick Save option, which, apparently, WASN'T FOUND IN THE ORIGINAL JAPANESE RELEASE. This turns this unplayable catastrophe into something playable. Y'see, originally, you could only save at the main town, and dying meant you lost absolutely everything. While the 'Run Away' option is very lenient, you have to remember that the game is FILLED with unexpected boss fights. Wandering too far to a seemingly inconspicuous corner might just trigger a boss fight you aren't ready for. A boss fight you can't run away from. Imagine playing for forty minutes, forty minutes of random level ups, and then losing EVERYTHING because there was no way for you to know that there was a boss fight coming. And the only thing you learnt from all those 40 minutes was 'I shouldn't have gone to that corner'. It wastes your time with absolutely no reward. At least in games like Monster Hunter you gain real experience, you learn how to defeat the enemies. There's no know-how like that to be learned here. And this is where the Quick Save option comes into play, you can save anywhere, while not in a battle, anytime, at no cost whatsoever. Quick save made this unbearable game into a decent one. I made it a habit to save after I got any kind of random level up I cared for, since dying after playing with no level ups meant another chance to get random level ups.

 Another retro-styled issue with the game is how it progresses. Usually, you have to buy a map from the shop, and then you can enter a new area, but later down the line you'll be able to find maps, instead of buying them, by finding exits on previously explored maps. You are incited to explore ever nook and cranny, since you'll chart a map on the lower screen, which can then be sold for money. What makes it 'retro' is that there's more than a couple of times of  'WHAT DO I DO NOW!??!?!' For instance, after getting the Shadow Core, nothing in the game, not even the ever-useful king who repeats 'go explore something!', will tell you that you need to go back to the Ship Graveyard and travel back to where you fought the boss. There's not a single hint guiding you towards this place. I'd rather be spoonfed where to go next than this random, obscure crap.
 Still, despite all my complaining, despite all the baffling random design choices, when the game is at its best, it's a ton of fun. When you are exploring maps for the first time, charting the map, it's fun, the game looks great, and while your mileage may vary on the art decision to have objects, like trees or rocks 'pop up' as you come close to them, the graphics are beautiful, even if a bit underwhelming for what the 3DS can do. The combat too can be fun, once you finally figure out how the contracts work, once you start experimenting with the different attacks, and leveling up your individual attacks, or earning new attacks, can be fun. Can be fun, because when you go for hours on end without gaining new attacks, or getting into the late game without enemy group-wide attacks because the game didn't deem you lucky enough isn't all that fun. The late game is a bit tedious as well, since barring some armored-insectoid bosses in mook clothing, random battles and boss battles can take a bit of time to get through. Some of the boss battles can potentially take up to an hour, an hour of repetitive, unrewarding combat. And hopefully the RNG decides not to screw you over with an Awakening during an action you desperately needed or the boss decides to repeat its best attack.

 In conclusion, The Legend of Legacy is a game that will appeal to a very niche crowd, and that very niche crowd only. It has a very unforgiving first part, when you are figuring out things on your own, a great midpoint, when you finally know what you are doing and battles are fair, and a very tedious endgame where you are trudging through long enemy encounters and somewhat unfair boss fights. Unless you are part of the very small niche that this game appeals to, this game isn't even worth a try.
5.0 out of 10

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