|In the age of multi-disk games and gratuitous FMV sequences,
Sony takes RPGs back to their roots in Legend of Legaia. The game fits a sprawling quest
on one disk and manages to incorporate the latest in control and playability while
sticking to a traditional style and storyline. The result is an experience that is as
involving, fast paced and, perhaps most important, long as any of the other major RPGs to
come out in the last year.
The story behind Legend of Legaia is fairly stock: as usual, God gave humanity a blessed existence. To aid them in their toil upon the earth, he created creature/machines called Seru. Using Seru, humanity developed technologically (although curiously remained in a feudal-esque mode of government divided into kingdoms) and lived in harmony. Then, a mysterious mist covered the land. It caused the Seru to develop minds of their own, and they became bent on dominating humanity. Many humans were possessed by Seru and forced to do their bidding. Other humans found safe spots to wait out the terrible plague.
You play Vahn, whose family lives in Rim Elm, protected by a large wall and their geographic proximity from the Mist until the opening minutes of the game. Vahn, who is a young boy (I'm guessing 14-16), sets out to destroy the mist after reviving the Genesis tree in his town (which drives out the mist), and, literally, hooking up with Meta, a Ra-Seru born from the revival of the tree. Ra-Seru are more powerful than ordinary Seru and are immune to the effects of the mist.
Early on in Vahn's adventures, he meets Noa, a young woman with a mysterious past, and Gala, a monk devoted to the Biron martial arts (sort of a Shao Lin thing going on). The three continue from adventure to adventure as they try to discover and destroy the sources of the mist.Several elements combine to make Legend of Legaia so much fun to play. The most significant for me is the way that the story is conveyed in the game. Characters do not speak in drawn out speeches, they simply state information that is useful or not. Rather than listening to every incidental character along the way relate the story of their horrible childhood, you are only forced to read information directly relevant to the members of your party and mission. When important things are said, they are often followed up by a quiz to make sure you were paying attention. If so, you are rewarded; if not, you are reminded.
The control in Legend of Legaia is wonderful. Taking a cue from Xenogears, the combat is programmed by pressing different directions on the control pad or joystick. You try to discover Arts for the characters as you fight monsters. Upon discovering an Art, which are just combinations of up, down, left, right attacks, it is added to a list of moves that you can call up as you are programming the combos during combat. This lends a certain strategic element similar to fighting games that I welcome in an RPG.
While giving so much control during combat, Legend of Legaia takes steps to enhance the gaming experience by making repetitive elements quick. It's great to have so much control during large battles, but when roaming around fighting monsters so you can afford that next level of armor, it gets incredibly tedious to put in each strike of each round of each battle. Fortunately, there is an Auto option available so that beating up monsters and stealing their money goes quickly and relatively painlessly.Lest the fantasy fans get upset, Legaia is not all kicks and punches. Vahn and his pals can learn magic by fighting other Seru. It is actually their Ra-Seru that learn to imitate other Seru they encounter, but it looks like magic, works like magic and the game calls it magic. Each spell summons a different Seru that comes to open up some whoopass on your behalf. These sequences are done with 3D cinematic sequences rendered exactly like the game graphics. They are impressive not in the quality of the rendering, but in the quality of the cinematography and the originality involved.
In general, the graphics are not much of an issue in Legend of Legaia. There are very few FMV sequences, which accounts for the length of the game. The few FMVs that are included are beautifully rendered and impressive. The game is semi-3D, and the game graphics look similar to Xenogears. They are actually not quite as grainy as Xenogears, probably due to the fact that each environment is not fully rendered and you cannot pan around a camera. What really saves Legaia in its graphic presentation is the cinematography and originality.There are also several minigames in Legend of Legaia. You can find places to fish and play a fishing game to earn coins to trade for goods. Eventually Vahn and his crew find themselves saving Sol, an entertainment paradise where you can participate in a dance contest, fighting contest, play slots or a mini fighting game called Baka Fighter. By playing games you win items of great value and use.
Overall, Legend of Legaia is a good purchase. It isn't as snazzy as some of the RPGs that have come before it, but it is just as much fun. The play goes quickly and smoothly. It's shocking to play through so much game, invest 30 or 40 hours, and learn you still have a third of the game left. Legaia is not a complicated play, and I didn't find myself needing hints or a walkthrough at all, but I do recommend checking out Asura's grammatically hilarious, yet truly useful, walkthrough on Cheat Code Central (www.cheatcc.com) so you don't miss out on some of the fun secrets embedded in the game.