"Now, if I wanted to use a bit of tactics, Iíd hit the O along with the directional pad to use one of Senelís special attacks. And if I REALLY wanted to go overboard, Iíd program a magic-userís healing spell to either the L2 or R2 button and personally dictate when they regenerated everyoneís life. And if forcing one character to CONSTANTLY cure everyone didnít make even the toughest boss fights pathetically easy, well, thereís Climax Mode."
Of all the RPGs Iíve played, none have been as tricky to put a score to as Namcoís Tales of Legendia. Itís simply a difficult task to label a game that amazed me in some ways, but bored me out of my mind in others. This was one of those games where Iíd spend much of my playing time listlessly staring at my TV screen -- but couldnít wait to start up another session the next day.
Iím used to games having both positive and negative attributes, but Iím not used to those good and bad points being so pronounced my feelings would constantly swing from love to loathing and back again. Just read on and see for yourself why this PS2 game was such a baffling experience for me.
Tales of Legendia starts out with a pretty run-of-the-mill story concerning some soldier named Senel and his attempts to protect a girl, Shirley, from harm. As you might expect, Shirley is a bit more than what she seems. In fact, sheís rumored to be the Merines -- a fabled priestess of the great god Nerifes. The sea-dwelling followers of Nerifes (known as the Ferines) view her as a deity because sheís destined to become the vessel for their god to exist amongst them.
Seemingly more sinister are the motives a power-hungry general named Vaclav has for obtaining the girl. As the earthly representation of a god, Shirley has a vast amount of latent power within her. If Vaclav can tap into it, his army will be an unstoppable force.
Surprisingly, it doesnít take long for that little piece of the plot to be resolved. Senel and his party quickly dispatch Vaclav, rescue Shirley and get her to the Ferines, so she can perform the rite to become the Merines. But is that really a good idea? After all, these folks might have a grudge against the land-dwelling people whoíve committed vile acts (like trying to make Shirley a weapon) against them. Now you and I might not see any similarities between Senelís team and Vaclav, but many Ferines are of the opinion ALL land people are evil and must be purged. Oh, and they are about to gain the services of a god capable of returning the world to a pure oceanic state. Not good....not good at all.
What keeps the plot rolling is how strong story-telling keeps the characters from becoming bland templates. Sure, Senel is derivative of guys like Cloud and Squall, but he winds up a stronger, more convincing hero than those two as a result of his failings. Itís solely his fault that Vaclav ever gets his hands on Shirley, as after he and three others rescue her early in the game, the two set off alone (right into the villainís clutches) because he doesnít trust his companions. And he is unable to get the divine power necessary to thwart the Ferines until he comes to grips with his stupid, selfish actions and realizes he needs the help of others to have a chance of finding a happy ending. Senelís development isnít an overnight process -- it takes about 30-40 hours of gameplay for him to evolve from an antagonistic prick to a noble character who acts like a hero.
And after this drama is resolved, the gameís still only half over. While the plot for the second half isnít groundbreaking, as it concerns some mystical force spreading black mist that feeds on the negative emotions of others, the way itís handled is simply beautiful. While the first part of the game revolved around Senel, it now fleshes out his companions with each of them having to overcome inner demons in order to prevent the black mist from taking over the world.
For example, the knight Chloeís parents were killed by a burglar when she was a child. Orphaned at a young age, she became a master of the sword with one goal in mind -- REVENGE! This mission briefly ties into the main plot as the object of her misery is a subordinate of Vaclav named Stingle. However, after fighting him, he escapes and apparently vanishes. When Chloe meets him again, he isnít just some one-dimensional lackey. Instead, heís a seemingly regular guy with a very sick daughter. He did a lot of evil things in his life, but it was all to keep her alive while researching a cure for her illness. By the time Chloe figures out heís really Stingle, sheís befriended his daughter. So, whatís she to do? Killing Stingle was the goal she based her life on, but if she does the deed, sheís condemning her new friend to the same miserable life as an orphan she had to endure.
Now, if only there had been a good game to go with all this wonderfully-written dialogue. Simply put, this was one of the most boring, repetitive and mindlessly easy RPGs Iíve ever trudged through. My party was wiped out by enemies about five times and none of those instances mattered because, as soon as the ďgame overĒ screen is displayed, an option to try the fight again pops onto the screen.
And none of these easy fights are particularly fun. By the time Iíd gotten to Vaclav (which is, at most, 25 percent of the way through the whole thing), they were starting to get really boring, so it doesnít take a brain surgeon to figure out I was utterly sick of battling by gameís end. All Iíd have to do to handle most foes with ease was repeatedly tap the X button to attack and wait until they were dead. It didnít take much tweaking of Senelís teammatesí tactics for them to behave somewhat intelligently, so strategy wasnít much of a necessity.
Now, if I wanted to use a bit of tactics, Iíd hit the O along with the directional pad to use one of Senelís special attacks. And if I REALLY wanted to go overboard, Iíd program a magic-userís healing spell to either the L2 or R2 button and personally dictate when they regenerated everyoneís life. And if forcing one character to CONSTANTLY cure everyone didnít make even the toughest boss fights pathetically easy, well, thereís Climax Mode. Fill up a bar towards the bottom of the combat screen by connecting with regular attacks and then tap the L1 button to FREEZE ANY FOE IN PLACE for a good 10-15 seconds and either utterly bash the crap out of them OR immediately unleash a brutal combo attack which removes a full quarter of their life.
Making things even worse is how boring meandering from one fight to the next is. The overworld is nothing more than a vast place leading from one dungeon to the next. And each of those places is little more than a linear collection of corridors that may or may not be temporarily broken up by a block-pushing puzzle room that can be skipped if actually having to think while playing is too taxing. Adding to the misery, during the second half of the game, the game takes Senelís party through each and every one of these places AGAIN! If I thought the Waterways, Mirage Palace and Man-Eating Ruins were tedious enough the first time, I sure as hell cringed when revisiting them.
Just because of how much I liked the story and character development, I have to recommend Tales of Legendia to RPG fans -- even if it is a faint, half-hearted recommendation. Just be warned -- the actual playing of the game is a frustratingly tedious experience with very little going for it. The dungeons and battling are boring, repetitive and non-challenging, which did blunt the enjoyment I got from the story. Still, the tale told is a memorable one, even if the rest of the game didnít come close to living up to it.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (January 31, 2008)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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