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The Moonlight War novel by S.K.S. Perry

Legend of Legaia (PlayStation) artwork

Legend of Legaia (PlayStation) review

"Legend of Legaia blends old-school RPG elements with an involving and unique battle system and attention to innovative detail, creating a fantastic gaming experience as a result. Despite the many years that have passed, it carries a certain charm that makes me keep coming back for more. There is a reason why Legend of Legaia has such a devoted cult-following, and that is because it really is that damn good."

Legend of Legaia is a 1998 Playstation RPG that was largely ignored by the gaming community upon its release due to the hype being generated at the time for Final Fantasy VIII, the sequel to the critically acclaimed Final Fantasy VII. That is not to say that Legaia was a flop – it generated enough sales to produce a sequel for the PS2 titled Legaia 2: Duel Saga – but it was not the mega-hit that its developers expected it to be. This was an unfortunate fate for a game that I feel deserved much more attention than it received. Blending traditional RPG story elements with a new approach to combat based on 3D fighting games; Legend of Legaia is a fantastic RPG that does much more right than it does wrong.

Legend of Legaia has a pretty cool story, which according to the original script writer, is highly influenced by John Carpenter’s The Thing and Stephen King’s The Mist. Basically, the story says that God made humans after creating everything else in the universe. However, due to the humans being physically weaker than the wild animals they came close to dying out many times. In response to this, God created magical creatures called Seru that were many times stronger than the wild animals. These Seru obeyed humans unconditionally out of instinct, and could be worn by humans to increase their strength and intelligence. Over time, the Seru helped humans create a thriving civilization. However, hundreds of years later a strange mist covered Legaia and caused the Seru to go berserk. The once friendly and obedient Seru became bloodlusted and started to kill humans violently or fuse with them, turning the humans they fused with into savage monsters that would attack humans. Soon civilization collapsed and only a few survived by escaping to the desolate areas of the earth. Ten years later, with the help of special Ra-Seru that are impervious to the Mist’s effects, three teenagers are able to join each other through fate and journey to save humanity from dying out completely.

The story for Legend of Legaia will not win any awards for its complexity, but it has enough twists in it to be engaging. Throughout the game you will be journeying to revive Genesis Trees that strengthen your Ra-Seru as well as destroying Mist Generators that permeate the evil substance throughout the world. Along the way you will travel through time and between dimensions, encounter gigantic evil Seru that suck the souls out of young virgin girls, and beat up a pimp. Seriously. One of the nice aspects of the story is that rather than trying to prevent the bad guys from destroying humanity, the game starts you off in a post-apocalyptic world with the villains having already succeeded years prior. This makes the task ahead much more daunting since so much is working against the heroes from the start, but at the same time the accomplishments of the characters feel much more meaningful as a result. Driving the Mist from Seru-infested places and turning them into habitable places with new sprites that appear really make you feel accomplished and make the world feel so much bigger. Throughout the adventure, much is learned about the origin and history of the Seru and the Mist, as well as the prosperous civilization of Legaia before the Mist showed up and wrecked the party. There are highly religious overtones in the story, and those who are well-versed in Christian mythology will spot them right away. There is a lot of humor to be found, but most of the story is pretty dark and depressing. The surprisingly good localization also helps to communicate the story well, though there are a few errors in translation.

The characters involved have interesting pasts and some have surprisingly good character development. The main character, Vahn, is your archetypal young village hero, and he will end up being accompanied by a 12-year old girl named Noa who was raised by a wolf and most definitely has ADHD, as well as a stern yet awkward monk named Gala who initially hates the other two. They are quite an interesting group of characters, at least two of them anyway, and I found myself growing more and more attached to them as the adventure played out after seeing how their relationship grows over time. Noa’s development is done particularly well. Each main character also wields their own sentient Ra-Seru with its own personality: Vahn has Meta, Noa has Terra, and Gala has Ozma. These Ra-Seru act as the source of knowledge to the party and like guardian angels with special powers, in a sense. The supporting cast is also varied. You have your crafty female thief, your badass old man, your tribe of winglies that distrust humans, and bad guys that love to pose for some reason. The villains are numerous and most of them are very likable due to the coolness of their character designs. The main villain is your elusive puppet master type that only reveals himself far into the game, but his design and sadistic nature more than make up for it. Additionally, the recurring villain, Songi, is entertaining as hell and probably my favorite RPG villain ever. Interaction between characters is great, and the sprite characters in town usually have interesting and multiple things to say, even giving you items at times, so talking to them is usually a benefit.

The big selling point for Legend of Legaia upon its release was its innovative battle system. Officially titled the Tactical Arts System (TAS), it can best be described as something of a “turn-based Tekken”. Attack options correspond to parts of the body – Left and Right with the arms and High and Low with the legs. Based upon the type of enemy, certain attacks can miss. For example, if the enemy is low to the ground, High attacks will miss it entirely, whereas if it is a flying enemy, the Low attack will miss it as well. At the same time, an action gauge appears at the bottom of the screen and its length determines how many combinations of commands can be chosen. But your options for attack are more than just a series of random punches and kicks. Specific combinations of commands will result in a particular attack, called an ‘Art’. For example, the combination of High, Low and High results in the Art ‘Somersault’ being executed after the first High and Low kick. Arts can also be linked into each other to take up less space on the action gauge. As an example, if you want to use the Art ‘Somersault’ twice, you can input High, Low, High, Low, High. The linking of combos helps add a bit of depth and strategy in choosing how to attack during turns. Arts also range in degree of power, and can be separated into tiers: Normal Arts, Hyper Arts, Super Arts and Miracle Arts.

Arts cannot be executed unconditionally, however. Arts require Attack Power (AP), with more powerful attacks requiring more of it. An AP gauge at the bottom-right corner of the screen tells you how much AP your character has and can be filled all the way up to 100. As Arts are executed AP decreases and if not enough AP is stored for an Art that is chosen then a combination of single hits will be done without the Art at the end. AP is collected in a few ways – either by being damaged by an enemy or by using the Spirit command. The Spirit command uses up a turn to increase AP, but it also lengthens the action gauge at the bottom of the screen, allowing for more commands to be selected. Additionally, it increases defense against the next attack. Knowing when to use Spirit is essential to boss fights and can be your best friend during battles. Each party member also has different strengths in terms of Arts and magic, so it is imperative that characters use their suggested roles properly. It is welcome to see that nobody is a clone of another.

Battles would not be complete without magic, and Legend of Legaia offers an interesting approach to this as well. Rather than gaining magic through leveling up or by purchasing spell items, magic is used solely through summoning Seru in battle. How does one summon a Seru? By capturing it of course! Each party member’s Ra-Seru can act like a Poke Ball in the sense that after defeating a Seru enemy there is a possibility that it will absorb its powers. After absorption, the Seru spell can be chosen through the menu section that is listed under the name of the character’s Ra-Seru, i.e., Meta, and summoned for a single special attack or ability like the summons in the Final Fantasy series. There is an element of strategy involved in magic as well. Each Seru corresponds to a certain element and certain party members will be better at summoning a particular Seru than others depending on the element of their own Ra-Seru. Additionally, Seru spells can be leveled up through repeated use and can add effects in addition to damage, such as 15% lowered speed or defense on the target. Hidden spells can be found through certain artifacts as well. Capturing all types of Seru and earning the hidden spells grows to be a very fun and addicting process. The Seru are very much like a demented adaptation of Pokémon.

There is a wide variety of accessories, items, armor and weapons to help party members survive the challenges ahead of them. All sorts of accessories can be equipped that boost certain stats, provide resistance against particular elements, increase the amount of money or experience gained after battle, etc. Aside from the standard healing or stat boosting items, many can do useful things like instantly warp you to a town you have already been to, teleport you immediately out of a dungeon, or eliminate random battles entirely. This severely reduces the annoyance of some of Legaia’s flaws, which I will mention later. The fact that a total of 3 accessories can be equipped on each party member adds an entirely new level of depth to battles and figuring out the proper accessories to equip for boss fights is a large part of the fun. Armor is also equipped in threes: head, torso, and leg armor. One great thing is that certain weapons can be equipped by every party member, but because each party member is skilled with a certain type of weapon, equipping someone with a weapon that they are not good with results in the art block increasing in length for the body part the weapon is being used in, meaning fewer attacks can be executed. There is really no need to do this, but it is a nice detail that was included. Characters hold the same weapon slightly different as well and you can actually feel how different their fighting styles are due to this.

So then how does everything look? The fighting is great, but is it pleasant to the eyes? Well, graphics in Legend of Legaia are a mixed bag. There are drawn in backgrounds, but most of the environments are in full 3D. Out of battle character sprites are chibi looking, though they are not nearly as funky looking as the sprites in Final Fantasy VII. The drawn in faces are actually pretty detailed and you can see emotions on them. Breathing motions can be seen and in cold environments the breath of a character is shown coming out. Still, everyone is really blocky and some of the backgrounds are pretty drab, though the 3D map’s scope and variety of environments is impressive. Numerous locations ranging from caves, mountains, deserted towns, underground ruins, temples, castles, fields and forests are visited. Heck, you even get to go to a warped hell dimension and what is essentially Legaia’s version of heaven.

The in-battle graphics are a completely different story. As soon as a battle starts, things go from being sprite-like to fully proportional 3D models that are found in fighting games. With the exception of the world map battle background (which admittedly does look rather drab) the backgrounds look amazing. Characters are fully animated and their facial expressions are very detailed – their mouths even move accurately while speaking. Both weapons and armor are shown in battle and as the Ra-Seru level up through Genesis Tree revivals you can see them grow and change form in battle (this is also a gameplay element as party members gain attack power and an additional hit here or there). Due to the great frame rate, party and enemy attacks look awesome. Many of the summon spells and magic attacks are especially great to look at as well. When Arts are performed, a cool after-image effect is produced that makes things look like something from the Matrix and adds to the coolness. I also like the nice touch that when choosing to run away from a battle the characters are actually shown running into the distance until they disappear, and when they run away the burly Gala is shown trailing behind Vahn and Noa who are much faster than him.

The graphics are helped due to the amazing camera work provided. When not interacting with the menu the camera will rotate in a circle to show the full scope of the battlefield and during particular arts the character will pause and the camera will perform a great zoom-in effect. The camera can also be switched to provide a close-up, medium, or far away distance during attacks, allowing you to see more of the battlefield or a more detailed look at the characters and enemies. Obstructions are prevented from the camera as well, due to people and enemies on the field becoming see-through if they are in front of the character attacking or being attacked. Lastly about the graphics, there are FMVs spread throughout the game and they look awesome, but unfortunately they are few and very short – after all, this fits on 1 disc.

The game also offers some pretty unique music for the RPG genre, and for the most part it is pretty good. The songs range from medieval sounding and filled with various wind instruments to dark and eerie melodies to dance music. Many of the songs are filled with a good amount of drum simulation and bass as well. Though the music fits the mood well for the situation, the problem is that the variety of music is limited in comparison to many RPGs. As such, many tracks will be repeated throughout the course of the game, though song repeats are spread far enough apart for this not to be particularly annoying. Music shines the most in battles, and in such a battle-driven game as LOL, this is a good thing. There are seven different tracks for battles, with most of the variety coming with particular plot-driven boss fights. One nice touch is that the world map music will change in a continent that has all the Mist driven from it and it really adds to the feeling that you are making a difference.

Sound effects are even better and exquisitely done. Every monster has its own unique growl or shriek when it attacks, and many even have a different sound effect for when they are getting hit. Elemental attacks sound like they should, and physical attacks all sound particularly damaging. Even the sound effects for the menu sound cool, and every time you equip armor, weapons or accessories you hear the clashing of armor. Voice acting was included as well, and thankfully they left it all in Japanese because the voice actors are all pretty prominent in Japan. The voices fit the characters well and the battle cries and sentences they spout help to make battles feel like something out of a karate movie. Certain bosses also shout their attacks in Japanese and sound great while doing so – some will even add insult to injury by laughing at or taunting you if they block an attack or annihilate your party completely.

After mentioning the bosses it becomes necessary to focus on the challenge this game offers. In many respects, Legend of Legaia is pretty easy. Puzzles are few and far between and random enemies provide only a medium difficulty – though some can be quite hard at certain points of the game and may kill you if you aren’t careful. Many provide unique status effects, including interesting ones like ‘Rot’ that prevent affected limbs from being used. Some also have strange abilities that determine what status affect you receive based on how well you do in the “attack mini-game” as I like to call it. One particular example is an annoying floating elf Seru called Puera that has a tendency to summon cards and shuffle them around, forcing you to choose one and can result in instant death for a party member if the wrong card is chosen. The main challenge lies in the boss fights. Most of them are fairly hard, at least enough to feel like a legitimate boss fight, and a select few are known to be quite rage inducing due to how freakishly hard they hit. Most all of the bosses are relevant to the plot, however, and it is nice that the bad guys provide such a good fight. Many bosses not only hit hard, but also have really high defense and like to block entire combos - Che Delilas I'm looking at you - As bosses are damaged, they start to get up slower and this really adds to the immersion, but before they do they put the Smackdown on your characters and you WILL die if you attempt to attack full out and do not constantly heal.

Players are not always forced to fight battles or continue with the story in some pre-set path, which is nice if you want a break. The world map lets you travel wherever you wish and you are sometimes even rewarded with hidden cutscenes or secret treasure for visiting areas that are restricted at that point. As far as sidequests go, the game is somewhat lacking. The sidequests mainly involve finding hidden summon spells, and one very difficult super boss can be fought by revisiting a specific area - an awesome reward is given for defeating it making it worth your while. Though there could have been more variety in sidequests, what is offered is definitely fun for wasting time. Most of the time-wasting is actually spent on mini-games, because this game offers a lot of them for distraction. There is a fun fishing mini-game where points can be exchanged for prizes, and slot machines can be played in certain areas that net big coin prizes, too. An area called Sol Tower has an arena called the Muscle Dome where random enemies and bosses can be fought in separate rounds. It also holds an arcade game called Baka Fighter where palette-swapped party members fight enemies in a rock-paper-scissors styled fight. Additionally, there is also a dance mini-game in the Sol Fever Disco that has a mini story event included the first time you play it.

Though there are many great things about Legend of Legaia, there are flaws in certain areas. Some might find the battle system a bit too involving since they take a long time to get through as Arts and summons cannot be skipped. The Auto command helps a bit, but battles are still long. All party members also start off at LV1. This becomes problematic when Gala is first recruited as enemies are so much stronger in comparison that he becomes dead weight for a good while. Also, due to how long it takes to level up, getting the final summon spell (which requires all party members to get to level 99) is an enormous challenge. Another drawback is that Vahn, the main character, is a silent protagonist. He can speak in battle and in certain situations when a prompt comes on screen, but after choosing the response you do not actually see him say it, the characters just automatically respond to the answer chosen. Because there are only three party members and one of them is a serious guy, it does not help to have a mute that has no personality outside of battle. Fortunately, Noa counterbalances this with her ADHD and hilarious interactions with Gala and others, but I would have been much more satisfied had Vahn had some semblance of a personality. Although I did not mind it, the world map does tend to bother some people due to the very slow walking speed and the vastness of the map. And due to how far areas are from each other, this results in more random battles having to be fought before reaching a destination. Money is also an issue for a while because equipment is so expensive. However, due to the availability of items and accessories that remedy most of these gameplay faults, as well as NPCs that outright tell you how to exploit mini-games for money, you do not have to deal with most of these flaws for the whole game.

Legend of Legaia blends old-school RPG elements with an involving and unique battle system and attention to innovative detail, creating a fantastic gaming experience as a result. Despite the many years that have passed, it carries a certain charm that makes me keep coming back for more. There is a reason why Legend of Legaia has such a devoted cult-following, and that is because it really is that damn good.

Rating: 9/10

Sise-Neg's avatar
Community review by Sise-Neg (February 18, 2012)

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threetimes posted February 18, 2012:

I really enjoyed reading your review. You accurately describe all the features of this fantastic game, although splitting up the review into sections limits the flow. In fact you reminded me of things I'd forgotten about, like the running away! I think you undersell the music. Legaia has some of the most beautiful tracks of any game. Also, I sigh a bit when someone references an excellent PS1 RPG's lack of sales to Final Fantasy's dominance of the market.

I'll never forget the first time I played this game, starting off in Rim Elm and thinking how basic the graphics were and how restricted the world. And then... all hell breaks loose and the game explodes into action. And how shocked I was at discovering Noa's family situation.

Just a bit of monk music. ;)
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Sise-Neg posted February 19, 2012:

Thanks for reading! You're right about the breaking into sections messing with the flow - I guess it's an old habit of mine from the gamefaqs reviews, so I took out the section headers and tried to make it flow better.

As far as music goes, I definitely do enjoy the music in it. When someone says the tracks are not memorable I really don't understand because I find them really catchy. And I think LOL has my favorite world map music in any RPG. The only issue I have is that the number of tracks is limited, at least that's what it seems, since there are a lot of repeats of songs.

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