Release Date: February 7, 2006
Buy 'TALES OF LEGENDIA': PlayStation 2
Role playing games, particularly the anime-stylized RPGs from Japan, are not widely known for innovation. Since the days of the first Final Fantasy game, very little has been done to break the mould of routine character leveling, certain characters being branded as "the healer" or "the fighter," and so forth. There have been minor advancements now and then, such as the more reaction-oriented battles of the Paper Mario games or the Tales series, but aside from that, most overwhelming changes have been met with poor sales and mediocre reviews.
Tales of Legendia isn't going to be full of new things, is the point I'm trying to make here.
It's always good to start at the beginning. Or, in the case of RPGs, somewhere smack-dab in the middle. Tales of Legendia goes the obvious route, dropping you right into gorgeous cut scenes and starting its story about three years in. Senel Coolidge and his sister Shirley have been adrift on the open ocean for quite some time now. This is especially bad since Shirley has an odd condition that makes the salt in seawater like poison to her, forcing the girl to spend most of her time below deck. Much like the crew of the S.S. Minnow, Senel and his sister find themselves on the receiving end of an unhappy tidal wave, and end up beached on a remote island with no way to return from whence they came.
Not all is lost, though, as the "island" is really a ship the size of a large continent, complete with townsfolk and fresh water with which to cure Shirley's current bout of ... well, sea-sickness. However, like any good RPG heroine, the minute Shirley recovers, she's whisked off by one mysterious kidnapper, then another, and then another .... Naturally, this leaves poor single-minded Senel on a nearly continuous "rescue the princess my sister" quest. Along the way, he'll ally himself with a slew of quirky, bizarre characters - including random talking otters that serve to fulfill the game's "cute animal mascot" quota - and find that the events which occurred three years ago, the kidnappings of Shirley, and the fate of the world are all, as to be expected, closely intertwined.
I told you from the get-go that Legendia wasn't going to be full of new things.
There are a few new additions that do get brought to the table here and there, however. For one, gone is traditional Tales-series composer, Motoi Sakuraba, replaced with some new blood backed by the New Harmonic Japanese Orchestra. While the music is hardly impressive enough to warrant petitions to bring the Japanese soundtrack stateside, it is most certainly fantastic for the job it does, giving the game a grand, almost cinematic feeling. Most importantly, and a point I think the prior composer missed, it does not sound exactly like every other game in the series. That may be a neutral point, but it still bears telling.
For another, following in the footsteps of the recent Final Fantasy games and the like, every story-related cut scene is voice-acted. This is a bit of a mixed bag, as some characters (young swordswoman Chloe Valens, for instance) are superbly acted, while others are questionable (for instance, why in the heck is Moses Sandor the only person in the world with a Southern drawl?). Naturally, you're going to be hearing the voice work a lot, since voices during battle have been one of the long-standing Tales conventions. In battles is where the voices become most grating, especially in the Obligatory Post-Battle Victory Celebration, where it seems the characters have all of three things to say. If you've played the Tales series enough to know about its horrifically high random encounter rate, you know the problem here.
The best, and at the same time, hardest to reach addition is the concept of "character quests." After the main plot has concluded and the world is saved, the game takes you over each of the characters' lives on a more personal level. It's here where the classic Tales character development really kicks into high gear. In addition, it's only here where you can do the typical end-game tasks such as searching out rare items, fighting endlessly in the game's arena, and so forth. These quests are taken with a bit more of a light-hearted air – after all, the world is saved, and the rest of life seems like a breeze after something like that, right?
For all that's new, we still get a lot of the same-old, same-old, however. Unfortunately, that's where problems start to spring up. Gone are the psuedo-3D battles of Tales of Symphonia, replaced by a polygon-rendered rendition of the linear fighting-game-like battles in the early Tales games. In an effort to keep interest, fighting has taken a turn for the ridiculously flashy, which may not be as benign as it sounds. Often, it's tricky to pick out exactly which character you're controlling, and in addition, the battle controls seem to have gotten a bit more slippery from their fine-tuned state in Symphonia. Naturally, in most RPGs, this would be a minor gripe at best, but in a game with battles that often require constant player input, where every button press counts, it becomes a bit more obvious.
In addition, what's an RPG without huge, sprawling dungeons, or, in this case, labyrinths? Dungeon areas in Legendia are twisting, turning, and needlessly convoluted, full of dead ends and alternate paths. If you're an item collector (like myself), expect to do a lot of getting lost backtracking and a whole lot of fighting more random battles.
On the plus, the game is gorgeous. Tales of Legendia takes even the most simple 3D object and makes it endearing, putting the admittedly simple-looking character models (which do look like they could have been done on a first-gen PS2 game) against beautifully drawn backdrops, causing the whole to be only a few pinpricks short of perfect. The simple style of the characters helps complement the anime feel, though, and that's even before the fully-animated cut scenes.
So what all do we have here? Tales of Legendia is a good game. It misses the mark of being a great game, but it's certainly worthy of the $50 that stores will invariably be asking for it – like they do for all RPGs – for quite some time. If you're an RPG fan looking for something new and different ... stop kidding yourself and go look into the Shadow Hearts series. If you're into the anime-inspired RPGs or are just looking for something with enough character of its own to spread on toast, then take a crack at Tales of Legendia. It may not be everything you or the die-hard Tales fans had hoped for, but it's certainly a worthwhile play.
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