Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: February 2006
Namco recently unveiled the localized version of the PS2 Tales title, and Tales of Legendia is shaping up to be a fine game in English. While there is no Japanese language option being offered in the US version, all of the voice acting has been faithfully dubbed into English. The original anime opening sequence from Production IG, of course, is entirely intact, complete with its original song. The localization seems to have gone to great pains to preserve the spirit of the game, which is an absolute must when dealing with a game from the Tales series. With all of the original game's tone and spirit preserved intact, there's just the game itself left to talk about. Fortunately, Tales of Legendia gives gamers lots of look forward to.
The most striking aspect of Tales of Legendia is its active battle system, widely praised by Japanese gamers. Most Tales games have featured a swordsman of some sort as a main character, but Legendia is breaking the mold by telling the story of martial artist Senel Coolidge, who loses his sister after a shipwreck in the mysterious region called Legendia. The plot ultimately follows Senel's attempts to get her back, and the battle system entirely follows logically from Senel's fighting abilities.
In the vein of the early Tales games, it puts all the 3D combatants in a battle on a single, 2D plane. Moving in real-time, Senel can actively attack and defend himself against the enemy in much the same fashion as a 2D fighting game character (and in fact, the Namco rep noted that some technology from Soul Calibur III was used to make Legendia possible). You can use the controller's face buttons to jump, kick, punch, and block, and as you fight, the "Climax" bar will slowly fill up. Hit L1 when the bar is full and you'll enter Climax mode, where the enemy is frozen in place and you're free to perform extremely long, deadly combos. Hit L1 again to exit Climax mode by executing a powerful finishing move. Combat has other ins and outs we barely got to see due to time constraints, such as the ability to dodge behind opponents, and an ability called "range" that lets you attack enemies from a distance.
So what do you do with the other characters you recruit in the game? They basically become AI-controlled allies, a la Star Ocean, helping Senel from the sidelines as he fights. You can give the AI orders through a special sub-menu, dictating how they use their magic, skills, and what kind of attack patterns they follow. There's no special in-game mechanics associated with this, as with Radiata Stories' Volty system; you can completely customize the AI and the characters to your specifications at any time. Certain groups of characters can even perform combination maneuvers in Climax mode, and of course, you can still trigger amusing skits between your party members. In Legendia, these skits are fully voice-acted.
In fact, as with many other Tales games, story and atmosphere is Legendia's strong point. Even in the short time I had to watch the game, I began to get a feel for the different characters and what they brought to the story. Voiced sequences are abundant, and the quality of the voice acting struck us as above average. While some lines sounded a little awkward, for the most part the actors felt as if they were really embodying the characters with their performances. Of particular note was the game's soundtrack, scored by the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra. The pieces had a rich, sweeping feel to them that few other PS2 RPGs can hope to match, and would definitely be fun to listen to for hours on end.
Graphics, although functional, struck us as the title's weak point. The characters have appealing designs, as expressed in their anime-style portrait art, but their 3D, somewhat super-deformed in-game sprites are a bit on the plain and blocky side during story sequences. In-battle characters look quite a bit better, and seeing a fully party of characters fighting multiple enemies at once with all of their spells and skills blazing is honestly amazing to watch. Fights have a fun, almost bouncily chaotic feel to them in spite of how much control you, as player, have over what goes on.
Tales fans will probably be able to forgive the weak 3D graphics in favor of the game's anime footage, also provided by Production IG, which is absolutely beautiful. The budget for the anime sequences seems unusually high for a game, and on top of that the Namco representative assured us that we could expect to see about twenty to twenty-five minutes of footage sprinkled throughout the game. The anime sequences are a hallmark of the Tales line, so it's good to see that this aspect of Legendia hasn't been neglected.
Probably the most unique aspect of Legendia, as Japanese RPGs go, is the way it approaches the flow of the main game. The first half of the game is a proper seven-chapter epic focusing on Senel and his sister Shirley, and players can expect to spend about 25 to 30 hours with this. Finishing the main game unlocks a series of "character quests" that let you directly control some of the game's other characters in storylines based on their adventures in the main game. This is a fantastic addition, as most games that make use of AI-controlled allies never allow the player to have a chance to use the characters directly. On top of that, the character quests tack an extra 30 to 50 hours of gameplay onto the title.
For fans of Japanese RPGs, Tales of Legendia is the title to watch in early 2006. The active battle system has the potential to be a real blast, while the character quests will do a lot to increase the game's replay value. If the localization stays at the level of quality Namco showed us, then they'll probably have another winner on their hands.
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