Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: January 23, 2007
The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean is a PSP-exclusive remake of The Legend of Heroes V, which was released for the PC all the way back in 1999. It has been preceded on the PSP by The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion and The Legend of Heroes II: The Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch. While it may seem odd to re-release such an old series of titles in this age of flashy, 3-D fare like Final Fantasy: Crisis Core, the first two titles have met with moderate success in sating the almost unquenchable thirst for Japanese-style RPGs on portable platforms.
It is indeed fortunate that such a demand exists for this sort of inoffensive, by-the-numbers fare because Legend of Heroes III does nothing to bowl over or even particularly engage anybody who has ever played a 2-D RPG before. The revelation that the title is nine years old (a fact only uncovered through some dutiful research after having completed the game) met with no surprise from me, and to be frank actually made me feel a little better about being so unimpressed by it.
The unfortunate truth is that Legend of Heroes III is not even particularly noteworthy compared to other RPGs released at the time of its creation. The graphics are serviceable (read: boring and generic), with the usual anime-style drawings representing the characters during the painfully dull conversations. Special attacks and spell effects are almost shamefully basic, and do little to spice up the excruciatingly boring combat beyond making you wait for an attack to finish (because flat, uninspiring combat needs to take longer). There are no CG cut scenes to speak of, beyond some clichéd intermissions between chapters, consisting of scrolling text over sliding, static backgrounds. The enemies that your hardy adventurers will encounter in the game are incredible … if you have a fetish for differently colored blobs, hedgehogs and wolves. I know for sure that when I signed up for the Oversized Sword and Emo-Whine Technical Academy, I just could not wait to test my combat prowess against … blobs. No, really.
The story line is massively derivative, and I will not waste your valuable time by lurching through it here. Suffice it to say that you need to collect a lot of things before the big, bad enemy gets to them first. There is almost no excuse for including such a tired and uninteresting plot as in Legend of Heroes III unless one is making a knock-off game on the cheap in order to sell copies to the undiscerning public while keeping costs low. After enduring about 30 hours of this snoozefest, I can only assume that this was in fact the aim of the developers. There is hardly even the barest sniff of anything I'd classify as "enjoyment" to be had while playing this title. The back of the game case optimistically promises 50 hours of "adventure," and as a captive audience, I can only thank the heavens for small favors.
The running theme of Legend of Heroes III is music, with the main characters being a traveling troupe of bards. This seems to have resulted in possibly the only semi-noteworthy feature of the game, which is the soundtrack. The music is clear, pleasant and even soothing in parts. However, it rapidly becomes apparent that although of a decent quality, there is very little variety in the musical score, and the same handful of tunes is recycled over and over and over throughout the whole tedious experience. The sound effects are stock standard (sword hits, twangs and punches) and do nothing to induce a dreamlike, ecstatic sense of oneness with the cosmos in all of its infinite permutations. Mainly they just put you to sleep.
Of course, any RPG with shoddy graphics, uninspiring sonics or a tedious plot may still be lifted above its peers by having an interesting, engaging combat system with a wide variety of skills, magical attacks and strategies. The combat in Legend of Heroes III consists mainly of spamming the primary, vanilla attack command until your foes are defeated. The magic system is criminally underdeveloped, and some of the more innovative, dazzling spells included "Fire," "Darkness" and "Wind." It doesn't get any more exciting than this, folks! (A little tip to get you started: "Water" does more damage against "Fire"-type enemies. Imagine!)
There is the option to swap different characters in and out of combat, and I must admit that I spent more time than necessary trying to decide whether to use the Anime Sword Boy with Red Hair or the Anime Sword Boy with Blue Hair. At first, I was careful to monitor which-haired Anime Boy I used in each combat scenario in the hopes that there might be some kind of dating simulation hidden in the game wherein hair color could be changed with great abandon, but it just turned out that I was delirious after having eaten a three-day-old tuna sandwich. Yes, food poisoning is more fun than this game.
It's undeniable that there is a subculture of gamers who love this kind of thing, and these people will continue to buy games like Legend of Heroes III. For any sane person, Legend of Heroes III will inevitably be a kind of gently escalating session of torture. To illustrate, imagine that you are chained to a wall in a tastefully dull room. There's a great song playing on a tape deck in the corner, but it seems to be one of those cassette singles set on "repeat." A smiling, averagely built man jogs into the room with his arms stretched out airplane style, making "whoosh" noises with his mouth. You're confused, but don't feel under any particular threat. Suddenly a compartment opens in the floor, and a boxing glove darts out and punches you in the groin. This happens roughly three times an hour on average. This goes on for 30 hours.
The thing about reviewing games is that the hardest titles to review are not, as one may think, the terribly awful ones. The terribly awful ones are easy to review for the same reason great games are: There are a lot of things to discuss, whether positive or negative. The hardest titles to review by far are the painfully average: uninspired movie tie-ins, shoddy first-person shooters and other assorted shovelware. Legend of Heroes III is almost the perfect example of "painfully average." It is almost hypnotic in its blandness. A bad game can be discarded easily enough, and a good one enjoyed, but Legend of Heroes III is like a lettuce sandwich.
If you're one of the people who played through and enjoyed the first two titles in the series, then nothing I say will convince you not to play and enjoy the third, The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean. This review is more for those who enjoy RPGs and have cast an idle eye over Legend of Heroes III at their local game store and wondered if it was worth their time. Let me save you the trouble: Legend of Heroes III starts slowly, doesn't build to anything worth writing about, and doesn't even have challenging combat or an interesting plot. Keep well away, as Legend of Heroes III wasn't even a good game in 1999.