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PSP Review - 'Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch'

by Tim "The Rabbit" Mithee on Aug. 15, 2006 @ 1:47 a.m. PDT

The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch is a PSP exclusive RPG featuring meticulously detailed characters and an epic coming-of-age story introduces two courageous young heroes who must save a magical world in peril.

Genre: RPG
Publisher: Bandai-Namco Games
Developer: Falcom
Release Date: June 2, 2006

Man, what some people put their children through. When I was a wee li'l reviewer-slash-critic, I used to have to walk 48 miles through 16 feet of snow, uphill both ways, with a refrigerator strapped to my back, just to plunk a quarter in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But these kids, here? They have to wander the world from one corner to the other, and in the process solve an ancient mystery and even save existence. I thought there were laws....

Legend of Heroes II is a traditional-in-every-sense RPG from one of the oldest development houses in Japan, Falcom. I'm sure you've probably never heard of them; while they may have produced top-selling games for nearly 25 years in their home turf, in the US and Europe they're significantly less known, usually due to their more simplistic approach and their origins on computers that never existed elsewhere, like the Sharp X68000, the NEC PC98, or the FM Towns. You may have played their greatest international hit, a long-running series called Ys, but otherwise, it's probably passed you all by, until recently.

But let's stick with the game itself, shall we? Okay. LoH2 is the rather action-packed and non-standard adventures of ... two kids. Yes, our world-hopping superheroes are a pair of young 'uns, 14 and 15, who are setting off to take The Pilgrimage, a traditional tour around the continent to see a series of Shrines, see some wonderful visions, and basically grow up a bit. How exactly the parents think a pair of pre-teens are going to manage in the great wilderness is beyond me, but there you have it. So off go Jurio (the swordsman) and Chris (the priestess) on their sort of epic adventure, carrying a bit of money, food, and a Silver Dagger that entitles them to freeload - er, receive the hospitality of the people wherever they go.

It's a different approach to the genre. The heroes are not superpowered, not chosen by the gods or prophesied or any of that; they're just two fairly ordinary kids out to see the world. It's actually quite charming to watch, and it lets the world spring up and characters form around them. In no small part, the entire "quest" is a huge history lesson, complete with a "timeline" that builds itself in the options menu.

That's not to say all you'll do is wander about. It becomes evident fairly quickly that, well, things aren't 100% on the continent of Tirasweel. For some, things are awful, with famine and death and giant monsters laying siege; others are experiencing unexpected bounties and peace. But what ties it all together? The Moonlight Witch, who wandered through nearly the same route as our plucky pair some hundreds of years before. After leaving her cryptic messages about and touring the Shrines, she and all the Witches vanished into history, never to be seen again. Whether or not Jurio and Chris want to deal with problems and concerns of the world is made moot quickly....

Internally, LoH2 screams "portable," and the engine, in all its aspects, is strictly 16-bit. Character sprites are small, unanimated, and often difficult to tell apart from any other (they even use the classic Final Fantasy "jump"); music that is as far from toe-tapping as it could really be, with sound effects that show up, do their job, and then go home; and controls that function without being a nuisance but don't aim to impress.. What reads as a litany of errors is all very well forgivable on the PSP's small scope, in much the same way RPGs on the Game Boy were allowed to look and sound rinky - deliver the punch internally when you can't deliver in the presentation.

You'll find all the systems and menus you're so very used to, especially if you're an old school gamer. Everything you'll ever need to do is handled simply and directly through submenus. Need to put on a sword? Equipment. Check your location? Map. Save? Data. And so on. Combat is the exact same way, with inch-high versions of the characters you have on hand (up to four at a time) going mano-a-thingo with various and sundry creations, mutations, wild beasts, not-so-wild beasts, and so on. Select your combat option from the menu, and watch it happen, with no "real-time" system or "AP points," just ye olde "take a turn" rules. It's actually hard in many ways to critique LoH2's battle system, since it presents absolutely nothing that's never been seen before, and makes no attempts to hide it, instead making combat as easy and straightforward as possible. There are special moves, learned as time passes and levels grow, as well as spells.

I don't come out of my experience without a few worries in my mind, or more questions of why exactly something was done the way it was. An example: Your characters always win one type of currency from monsters. No one uses that, but instead asks you to exchange it. While the exchange rate is to your benefit, it doesn't make much sense to do it that way.

Then there's The Dog. Early in the game, you're given a pet dog that wanders around with you and generally just ... wanders around with you. By feeding him certain foods, he will do one, singular special thing at the beginning of your next fight, depending on what exactly he was fed (spicy food, for instance, gives him gas, and he does a wind-based attack). These are fairly powerful, rather useful, but there's no way to stack or control them - the dog must be fed outside of battle, and always uses his move in the next fight. The dog complains about being hungry, but feeding him seems to waste food. If there's a further point to him, it's certainly not mentioned in the rather skimpy manual: 30 pages long, with 20 of those pages being dedicated to stuff that has little or no impact on play (four pages of PSP information). I understand keeping it light, but the descriptions of the in-game mechanics are so thin it's ridiculous. (The Dog isn't mentioned!) But I digress - that's simply nitpicking, which I won't do.

Legend of Heroes 2 is a fine example of how to approach a handheld RPG. Instead of going for glow and shine and extra chrome, this port (Legend of Heroes is a Windows-based game in Japan, now in its ninth installment) drops beauty and polish for a degree of simplicity and direct gameplay. Players who don't enjoy old-school RPG stylings (Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, Ys, the list just goes on) won't find much to love here. However, a gamer who wants to get a fix of stabbin', stealin', spellin', an' strollin' will find everything he enjoys here, just in a slightly more austere wrapping.

Score: 8.5/10

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