RETRO REVIEW: Legend of Legaia

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

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Legend of Legaia | oprainfall
Title Legend of Legaia
Developer Contrail
Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date October 29, 1998 (JP)
March 17, 1999 (NA)
May 27, 2000 (EU)
Genre RPG
Platform PlayStation
Age Rating E (ESRB), 3+ (ELSPA), PG (OFLC)

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?

Legend of Legaia | Graphics

Ah, the Sony Playstation… Not exactly a graphical powerhouse.

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.

Legend of Legaia | Armor Difference

Before… and after!

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.

Legend of Legaia | World Travel

The World isn’t all that exciting to look at, and travel is slow.

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.

Legend of Legaia | Battle System

I wonder what this combo does…

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.

More on Page 2

About Former Contributor Nathan Stiles

Former Contributor--A lover of video games and music. When he's not slogging through a game series he's playing his guitar (or enjoying the occasional tabletop RPG). Favorite series include Final Fantasy, Metal Gear and Megaman.

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  • RagunaXL

    LoL was one of those ps1 rpg’s that had a lot of street cred amongst the ‘rpg crowd,’ as well as thousand arms, awesome name drop btw. while it wasn’t an outright tekken-rpg it was one of the games, xenogears, included that was trying to work in some type of fast-paced combo system that I think mmo buffing perfected, think xenoblade. this is an awesome review! and brings back a lot of 16/32 bit gaming memories!

    • Nathan Stiles

      Thank you very much. I’m glad you enjoyed the review. It certainly did have it’s own unique way of doing things… I’m thinking about seeing if I can review Legaia 2 sometime soon as well.

    • Thanatos2k

      Legaia 2 is a pretty underrated game.

    • Nathan Stiles

      I played and completed Legaia 2 YEARS ago (despite not playing the first one) and if my memory serves me correctly, I remember it being quite a bit better than the first in pretty much every way. I still can’t remember the story at all, but the combat was refined, the dungeons were far more interesting, the areas far more varied and colorful and the characters were more defined. It was also a LOT easier (which in my eyes is a bit of a disapointment). I don’t know, it wasn’t a game I ever really planned on going back too, but now that I’ve completed the first I kind of have the urge to replay the 2nd once more.

    • Blackstar

      Legaia 2 was a graphical improvement over the first, but that was about it. With the power of the Playstation 2 they could have done a lot more with it. Instead they built the world like it was a PS1 RPG, which means a lot places felt desolate and empty because there just weren’t enough assets and NPCs around. It didn’t help that Xenosaga came out just a couple of months after Legaia 2, and that came with a far more active looking world to explore, and a ton of voice acting that has carried over into games today.

      Legaia 2 was just outdated when it came out, and that coupled with a very weak story lead to it not really going anywhere. To this day I love the concept of the first Legaia game’s story, the symbiotic Seru and the history of the Mist, the plight of humanity because of their over dependence of Seru in the past, and mankind’s transformation thanks to artificial Seru and trying to play God. On the flip side all I remember about Legaia 2 is that you’re some annoying kid that gets thrown in prison for trying to find some magic stone that gives his village free water.

  • Thanatos2k

    Legend of Legaia was a pretty good game, but it had several large problems.

    1. It was 20 hours too long for its own good. From about 60 to 85% of the way through the game things start to really, REALLY drag as you slog through similarly structured dungeon town dungeon town ad nausem with little of interest in the story to break up the monotony.

    2. The combat system is great – until you’re able to max out your gauge and thus perform each person’s final super art. Then every difficult combat thereafter just becomes defend charge defend charge super art heal repeat and things get really boring. Even at most parts of the game you’re just trying to figure out what the optimal combo you can do with your current bar, and then you do that every fight.

    3. The minigames had poorly balanced prize systems, requiring you to grind ridiculous amounts to get the crucial final rewards. There was too much grinding in general in order to learn and level your magic as well.

    Also one bizarre thing is sometime late in the game you end up in this dream world thing, and both the visual effect on the screen and the music playing in the background is copied from Alundra. I have never been able to explain this. Legend of Legaia and Alundra were made by different developers and Alundra was even made first. How the heck did that happen?

    • Nathan Stiles

      Thank you very much for the comment, I love discussions like this, and
      as I continue to review I welcome these sort of discussion, even if it
      goes against my own opinion. I agree with pretty much all the points you
      mentioned actually, except that it’s too long. It’s a pretty short game
      as it is, and though it drags a bit I felt most of that was because of
      grinding. I had no idea about the Alundra thing though, that’s really
      interesting. Perhaps it’s the same composer and they somehow kept the
      rights to their own music? Also is it the EXACT same song or does it
      just sound similar? There are only so many notes a musician can play and
      only so many variations on the order you can create. The fact that
      there are billions of people on earth means that it is not at all
      impossible to believe that two people could have the same ideas. (Not
      likely, but just something I’d like to point out)

    • Thanatos2k

      No, it’s the same music track. And the visual graphic on the screen being the EXACT same “blurry edge” effect that Alundra uses while you’re inside a dream sealed the deal. It’s so odd.

    • Nathan Stiles

      Interesting? Maybe they bought the rights to the song? I feel like I’ve heard this same story about an Alundra song and another RPG as well. Maybe it’s an inside joke by just one programmer who has rights to the song?

    • Sven Labie

      I know that the theme for Cara in LoL originally appeared in Alundra.

      Someone in debug mode found another mystery sound that never was used in the game, it appears to have been used in Alundra
      However there also is an “unknown sound” on the disc of LoL, which appears to have been used on Alundra for a boss fight

      Also found in the debug mode is the Wild Arms battle theme

      There is no clarification as of why this happened since Contrail, the company that produced LoL has a lack of good information. However the fact that they produced Wild Arms 3 and distributed Alundra 2 points out that there are unknown connections.

  • Sven Labie

    As a long term Legaia fan i want to thank you for this excellent review

    • Nathan Stiles

      Thank you very much. I’m glad you liked it and appreciate the comment.

  • madmofo145

    Oh Legaia, a game I enjoyed but always made me kind of sad. I think it actually had the potential to be a great game, but some story elements bugged me, the whole secret magic you could only get at level 99 was silly, and most importantly the magic system as a whole was just terrible. Magic cost way too much to use for the potential damage output, and I could just never get it to be a useful system, which coupled with the randomness of acquiring the enemy magic made it mostly ignored.

    It just felt like with some better play testing a couple small changes ( percent chance of acquiring magic, mp cost or adding some mp regain after each battle, making the secret magic side quest related instead of level related) could have dramatically improved the overall experiance.

    • Nathan Stiles

      I agree with most of that….though magic costing a lot was purposeful. The game supposed to be based around the arts system, not around it’s magic system. It was built so that you couldn’t purely rely on casting powerful spells.

    • madmofo145

      Kind of, magic was a big system though, one that required killing a lot of badguys, and then using it a lot to level up, but it was all for naught as outside of healing it just wasn’t useful. It just felt like a waste to have this whole mythology about how important the seru were, create this complicated system, then make it so that it never gained any real use in battle.

    • Blackstar

      You have to remember the main characters were partnered with Ra-Seru, which boosted their abilities far beyond what a normal human could achieve. As such, magic became increasingly weaker as you progress in the game because your Ra-Seru became that much stronger. The power of your summons wasn’t determined by the power of your Ra-Seru, but your normal combat abilites were.

      Later on in the game you get items that reduce the cost to use magic, or items that either restore MP after every turn in battle, or restore it as you move around on the map outside of battle. This made grinding more tolerable as you could use AoE Seru summons to decimate packs of monsters at a time, and cycle magic usage between your 3 party members so none of them ever completely ran out.