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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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