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Legasista (PlayStation 3) artwork

Legasista (PlayStation 3) review

"When you’re not advancing the plot, you’ll spend a lot of your time in random dungeons. Those dungeons are really the heart of the game, much like the Item World is in Nippon Ichi Software’s own Disgaea series. They come in several tiers, and you can choose which one you want right from the start by digging a hole in the hub area that serves as the dungeon entrance. When you’re first starting out, you’ll need to find a 30-floor area with weak foes, but puny adversaries don’t yield many experience points."

Legasista was originally released as a proper retail title in Japan, but a few months later it’s available there and in other regions as a download-only game. That’s a more appropriate means of distribution for a game of this sort, if you ask me. Developed by System Prisma, a studio best known previously for its work on the Cladun games, Legasista is a dungeon crawler with some real issues.

You play as Alto and a selection of friends that you’ll meet or create. His sister Mari has been turned into a crystal and Alto is determined to restore her to her previous form. That effort brings him to a mysterious tower, where he meets a helpful host who he comes to call Mrs. Dungeon. She assists him as he works through the tower in search of a mysterious relic with the power to undo the curse on his sister.

Legasista asset

Almost immediately after venturing into the tower, Alto meets Melize. She appears to be the relic he sought, a living robot that oozes magical power, but she’s not exactly friendly and she tries to destroy him upon sight. Fortunately, her memory is wiped before she can complete the job. By the end of a surprising series of developments, she has become Alto’s unlikely ally. Together, the two companions will climb the tower in search of memory chips that bring back the various abilities Melize has lost. Those restored powers may eventually allow her to save Alto’s sister, if they don’t turn her back into his worst nightmare first.

Legasista’s plot is one of the game’s highlights. The story is doled out in small chunks as you complete various dungeon areas. There’s a lot of spoken dialogue, all of it voiced in Japanese, but the English subtitles are up to NIS America’s high standards. The presentation is familiar, but there’s some interesting mythology at play and each new narrative twist is interesting enough that you’ll probably want to keep playing just to learn more about this unusual world. Anime-inspired fare along these lines has admittedly been crafted many times before, and we can doubtless look forward to seeing a great deal more of it in the future, but at least here there are a few genuine surprises.

When you’re not advancing the plot, you’ll spend a lot of your time in random dungeons. Those dungeons are really the heart of the game, much like the Item World is in Nippon Ichi Software’s own Disgaea series. They come in several tiers, and you can choose which one you want right from the start by digging a hole in the hub area that serves as the dungeon entrance. When you’re first starting out, you’ll need to find a 30-floor area with weak foes, but puny adversaries don’t yield many experience points. As you gain strength, you can check out more advanced environments that consist of as many as 100 floors.

Legasista asset

While the idea of an endless supply of random dungeons is attractive, Legasista manages to mess things up in a number of ways. For starters, you can only exit the dungeon if you find an exit portal or if you reach the end. The number of exit portals available depends on the dungeon difficulty. On the easiest setting, you’ll find numerous portals. Sometimes, you’ll run across them every floor or two. In the more advanced dungeons, however, you’ll encounter them only infrequently. Instead, you only have a choice about how you advance to the next floor. A variety of gates is placed at random (often in a close cluster somewhere on a given floor) and the one you choose determines your experience on any remaining floors during that particular run.

Each gate takes you to a bonus screen. On these screens, you press a button to stop flashing numbers that will determine whether or not your enemies gain levels and also affect the item drop rate. You may also receive rewards, such as a magic meter or HP refill. The exact rewards vary, depending on the gate. Therefore, it pays to look for the Angel Gates, which seldom have any negative impact at all. Or you might hope to find a Rainbow Gate, which can let you skip a handful of floors. However, a number of gates cause significant enemy growth. Pass through a Hell Gate (either purposefully or on accident) and you might go from battling enemies at level 13 on one floor to 233 on the next. Worse, some gates will occasionally turn into hell Hell Gates once you pass through them--if your luck is particularly bad--so there’s potential for disaster all around. This holds true even if you’re in the simplest of dungeons.

When a floor is suddenly populated by powerful enemies, exploring is suddenly a dangerous business. Any enemy might be able to take out your character with one hit, or you might run into a group of smaller foes that are all but invincible and they could surround you. That by itself is frustrating, but you such instances are made worse by the fact that you don’t get to keep any awesome loot that you find if all three of your available characters perish. So you can run into cases where you amass a pile of treasure and you’re frantically searching for an exit portal, but all you can find are more gates that buff your foes even further. It’s frustrating.

Legasista asset

The story-based dungeons are a different matter. Most of them consist of only one floor, and there are no random side effects even in cases where you have to explore multiple floors. When things do finally get more difficult as you work through the plot, it’s because there are new elements such as timed switches or invincible enemies that slowly float after you and try to kill you before you can flip every switch and open every locked door that lies between you and the exit. However, they wind up feeling routine and the available loot is usually disappointing. If not for the story segments that you can enjoy as you advance through the more standard dungeons, there wouldn’t really be much reason to touch them at all.

Legasista has more to offer than just random dungeons, though. It also features surprisingly complex options where character customization is concerned. Characters can by default equip several pieces of equipment, depending on their current class. There are several classes, and you can only change to a new class once you have advanced to level 20 in the previous class. As you do that, you can switch freely between classes and level them all up, spending ability points that you learn along the way to add mana points and bonus attributes. The mana points are in turn assigned to each available equipment slot, allowing you to place more powerful gear on those slots. In additions to weapons, armor and spells, you can equip charms that improve attack power or defense, or you can sometimes add a shield or bow to the mix. Then when you explore dungeons, you’ll find that each piece of gear has a durability rating. If you take a hit from your front, you’ll lose energy from an HP bar, while hits to the side chip away at your gear and can even disable it until you head back to the level hub. This mechanic means that it’s quite possible to lose access to your weapon, or to quickly burn through all your armor and find yourself left defenseless if enemies gang up on you from the sides. Sometimes, you’ll try to open a treasure chest and find that it is actually a mimic monster that demolishes your defenses in a matter of a second or two.

I apologize for all the technical talk, but Legasista is very much a technical game. I haven’t even touched on the variety of “frames” you can use to affect which equipment a character can wear just within a single class, or the “titles” for equipment that can imbue it with special abilities and affect mana requirements. I also haven’t discussed the various traps that can work against you if you try to move too quickly in a given area, or the custom character creator (which lets you create characters using assets from a flash drive or what have you). The game truly has more complexity than it needs. The result is undeniably a deep game, but that isn’t always as good as it could be.

Legasista asset

If you’re a fan of the dungeon crawler, I do recommend Legasista in spite of the negative issues I noted above. The mountain of complexity does work to produce a memorable and frequently involving game. However, that very real strength is at the same time the game’s biggest weakness. For genre newcomers and the easily frustrated, Legasista will likely come across as just plain bad. There’s more to the game than any negative first impressions indicate, though. You just have to dig for it.

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 26, 2012)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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zigfried posted August 26, 2012:

Argh, I wish developers would stop trying to use random dungeons. That's pretty much a formula for suck, since intricate design and challenging puzzles aren't something you can randomize. It's a crutch that shows the developers don't know how to create a proper game.

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honestgamer posted August 26, 2012:

I'm typically just fine with random dungeons. I think they can work effectively. They're fine in Disgaea, for example (though that's still a bit different). That's why I spent as much time as I did in this review explaining what makes the random dungeons in Legasista less effective. I have put quite a few hours into the game and I still haven't seen the end of a random dungeon. Almost all of the game's trophies are tied to completing random dungeons and I don't even know how it's possible when I can't even get through a 30-dungeon floor without encountering 200+ level enemies.

I ended the review on a positive note, which the game does deserve, but one thing I didn't have time to delve into is how frustrating it is to spend hours leveling up a character in one class, then start fresh with a new class with lower specs. Not all skills carry over from class to class--only about half of them do--so there's a sense of "one step forward, two steps back" at times. And yet I keep playing it...
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zippdementia posted August 26, 2012:

I agree with Zig, though I enjoyed the review and was easily able to follow the points made in it about random dungeons. I always look at the Zelda games as the pinacle of dungeon creation. From the very first game they have been immersive puzzlers carefully designed to create a layered experience by staggering difficult rooms and demanding puzzles with breathing space and the occasional balls-tough run of enemies. It's not something that random dungeons can yet achieve. Even simplistic grinders like The Dark Spire are made excellent because of the keen dungeon design.
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honestgamer posted August 26, 2012:

To add to the many, many things I couldn't fit into the review (it already hit the 1500 mark I try to avoid when possible), let me say that the random design here was fairly... well, it's not as varied as you might suppose. Dungeons are basically just around 15 or 20 rooms put together in a random order, but the segments that make up each random dungeon are easily enough identified. I'm not sure what the coding is like behind the scenes, really, but I've put enough hours into the game to recognize definite elements that crop up a lot. That prevents any of the designs from being awful, but it also prevents any of them from having awesome surprises in the way that the Disgaea games occasionally do.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 26, 2012:

I actually enjoyed the random dungeons more than most of the story missions, which to me were mostly bland. I did, however, enjoy the later levels.

I think my biggest complaint was the lack of a shop, or at least some way to more easily obtain certain items. I spent three fucking days trying to get a worthwhile piece of armor. In most of my excursions into any dungeon during those three days, I didn't land a single piece. Not even something crappy like leather armor or a sports uniform.
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honestgamer posted August 26, 2012:

I'm constantly making runs into dungeons in search of better weapons and armor. I only rarely ever find any. I'll get lots of boots and shields and dirks and such, but they're almost always weaker than whatever I have. I think an in-game store would have removed the main incentive the developers were able to provide players to go into the dungeons, so I would imagine that was a conscious choice. Still, I feel your pain.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted August 26, 2012:

I think the best thing they could have possibly done is balance out the drop rate on certain items, especially armor. That way you aren't leaving a dungeon with fifteen different tomes and tablets that you're just going to discard.
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overdrive posted August 27, 2012:

I definitely agree with Zig on this. I think I only can truly enjoy random dungeons if they're done like in Lufia 2...where the random dungeon is optional and the main reward is just bragging rights (I mean, you do get the best equipment in the game there, but if you need the best equipment in the game to beat Lufia 2, you might have problems...).

Like, Persona 3 is one of those games it seems most everyone loves. I'm in this stretch where I get through a month or two of game-time and then have to put it down for a few months because constant grinding in boring randomly-generated dungeons gets old after a while. I guess in this game, the "puzzles" are figuring out how to fight monsters and deal with their weaknesses and resistances....but still, you're just doing the same floor over and over and over again with different graphics every 30-some floors or so. With almost every enemy being recycled ones with more HP and different strengths/weaknesses. Just seems they created this big sim game with a save-the-world quest...and then added the most generic dungeon ever for you to spend 100 hours grinding characters...strange...makes me think I should have picked SMT: Nocturne to make a legit run at finishing instead.
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zippdementia posted August 27, 2012:

Great example with the persona series, OD! I've had the same experience with each title in the series. I took a six-month break halfway through Persona 1 (the longest I've ever breaked and come back to a game) simply because I got worn out on the dungeons. Persona 4 I've now taken a three year break from... or maybe I should say I just stopped playing it one day. And 4 was infinitely more varied than 3.

It takes me back, in my mind, to the progression of the original RPG: Dungeons and Dragons. When that game came out, it was meant as a game, not a roleplaying experience. All the focus was on traversing dungeons. In my mind, that's still the purest form of the "game"; when there was actually a win-lose scenario. Role playing "games" aren't really games. They are assisted story telling tools, and their success or failure depends not on a condition of a mission but on the interaction between the GM and the PCs.

One of the reasons the progression from dungeon game to role playing game occurred was because the favored dungeons amongst players became those with character: usually involving a lot of traps, story elements, puzzles, and rooms that tied together either in purpose or through theme. Eventually that dungeon building grew into world building and by the time of AD&D we had the basics of what we know think of as the standard RPG.

For me, the same kind of scenario applies to a video game. As early as Zelda, gamers asserted through their buying decisions that they were more drawn to the kind of game where the dungeons had character, and the more story a game had, the more this became pronounced. In other words, the point of having a dungeon in most modern RPGs is not to provide an arena for the fighting system to take place, but to provide a tangential story told in the form of the dungeon's design, inhabitants, and the "experience" offered by that dungeon.

I could point to many many examples of this done well and done poorly, but briefly just to cover three:

1) Ocarina of Time: each dungeon represents an integral part of the history of Hyrule and a unique part of that land. To this day, that game probably has my favorite dungeons of all time. The variance in them is incredible and after each one you feel like you understand Hyrule a little bit more.

2) Metal Gear Solid: MGS is really a dungeon series, whether the dungeon is a Russian jungle or a frozen nuclear disposal facility. MGS1 is a game which takes place entirely within the corridors of a dungeon—even the outdoor areas are confined—and each room is a puzzle asking you to solve it in order to pass. And again, each room has its own personality and is tied in some way to the story of what's going on. It was one of the more brilliant uses of the dungeon concept.

3) Final Fantasy XIII: here's an example which, to me, shows that dungeons are not about how pretty they look but about how well they are designed. FFXIII is one long dungeon with no paths, no puzzles, no decisions, and monster fights set up for you in a straight line. It's not much better than the random dungeons of Persona because it doesn't involve the player in the dungeons: it becomes monotonous. It is essentially a pre-planned walk through an art gallery and if you get tired of the art (or aren't interested in it to begin with) you aren't going to enjoy the stroll.

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