It's nice to see old game genres make a comeback during this gaming generation. This is especially true of the dungeon crawler, which came back in a big way due to both Torchlight games and Diablo III. Fans of more Japanese-influenced dungeon crawlers also had reason to celebrate, with Cladun games on the PSP and, more recently, on the PC. Having garnered acclaim on its work with the aforementioned portable titles, developer System Prisma decided to take on home consoles with the PSN release of Legasista, a dungeon crawler that fans of action RPGs and minutia will love.
The plot takes on some familiar Japanese RPG trappings. Several centuries have passed, and science is now seen as valuable but dangerous technology that's capable of cursing those who don't understand how to use it. The largest hub of this abandoned technology is the Ivy Tower, which is so dangerous it's been sealed off for decades — that is, until aspiring adventurer Alto clears the path. Science has turned his sister into a crystal, so he's trying to find a way to change her back. He finds what he's seeking: an android that has the power to cure and kill in an instant. However, the android has no recollection of her functions. Desperate to revive his sister, Alto goes on a quest with the android and several other stragglers to scour the tower and find the chips to help the android remember her functions and cure Alto's sister.
The story isn't as interesting as it could be because it follows so many of the Japanese RPG tropes. The caretaker of the rail yard is a young, seemingly emotionless girl who is hiding secrets. The cyborg acts like an innocent child because she's lost her memory. One of the bean sprouts falls in love with the hero at first sight and is jealous of other female companions. All of the other treasure hunters are scoundrels who secretly have hearts of gold, and everyone dresses in outrageous outfits. There's even a female who is so top-heavy that you wonder how she stays upright. Combined with very long cut scenes and predictable twists, the plot is little more than a framework for the game as opposed to something that'll hold the player's attention. It isn't a terrible story, but the few attempts at humor aren't enough to make it memorable, either.
The heart comes from the gameplay, and at first, it plays out exactly as expected. Your hub world, the railyard, lets you strike up conversations with its inhabitants and customize your party before entering a dungeon. After that, your job is to gather loot and find the exit. Most of the loot can't be used immediately, though the few suffer stat damage if damaged during the fight. All of the loot isn't officially yours until you leave the dungeon, so escape is imperative. Combat takes place in real time, but your view of the monsters is artificially hindered by a lack of light. You can obtain lanterns to widen your view, but you'll mainly be aware of monsters when they're close. There are tons of traps on each dungeon floor, and death means that you only gain half of the XP from the current dungeon and lose all of the obtained items.
Early on in the Legasista, you'll notice the changes the developer has made to the classic formula, and most are quite interesting. Even though you'll traverse dungeons as a team, you can only have one character out at a time doing the fighting. You can easily switch between characters with the flick of the right analog stick, and you can utilize the magic spells of each character in your party without switching characters. Energy is also handled differently. While you still have an energy meter, it is buffed by the various equipment you're wearing, giving you a rather large life extension. The catch is that the equipment has its own energy meter, and constant damage causes the items and artifacts to break, rendering them useless and robbing you of their benefits until you can get them repaired. You may be fighting with your bare hands if you let your energy meter get too low.
As you progress, the customization of your character and party opens up in various ways. Level increases give you the standard XP and job points, which can be used to grant bonus abilities. Later, you can change jobs with no penalty, giving you the chance to experiment with other job functions, but depending on the job, you may gain or lose equipment slots. Speaking of equipment, the customization is rather fascinating. The game has no currency system, which seems like it would diminish the value of grabbing loot. In its place, however, is the ability to get special buffs from each item once you discard it and place it on another item of the same category. In a way, this eliminates the constant struggle of any RPG where you're debating whether or not a store-bought item is more beneficial than one in the field. It bolsters the idea of revisiting previous dungeons for the sake of getting more loot, so that can be perceived as either a good or bad thing, depending on your stance toward that gameplay hook.
One of the more interesting customization options is the ability to create new heroes out of thin air. You can create allies with any job and good starting skills, and you can create an almost unlimited supply of these heroes, though they have no effect on the plot. The creation of characters has been done before, but the design process is new, as you can create both the character pieces and weapons using existing templates or drawing parts with the controller. Due to the cumbersome nature of controller drawing, there's also the option to use your PC/Mac/tablet to customize your character designs. The import process takes a few more steps than expected, but the ability to design characters and benefit from designs already created by a growing community makes the process worthwhile. It also gives the title another interesting hook to complement the other formula changes.
The campaign missions seem to click rather well. The combat is fluid, and even though your moves are limited when compared to other action games, they feel sufficient. The areas and levels of customization are unexpectedly large, but the item customization will draw you into playing through the campaign longer than expected. If there's anything unexpected about this title, it's the length of each dungeon. The numerous tutorial levels can get away with being short since they teach something quickly, but with each subsequent level being short enough to complete in a few minutes, you'll wonder if this was supposed to be a portable game that got a last-minute target platform change. The other element that feels off comes later, when you grow your army of sentient bean sprouts and find new dungeons to explore and loot. It seems like no matter how much cultivation you do or how many sprouts you send out, you'll rarely get anything in return. With the cost-to-benefit ratio being so low, it wouldn't be surprising if you only remember the option when another character reminds you about it.
Eventually, you'll get to a point in Legasista where Rangens are introduced, and this is when the game really opens up, especially once you've finished the 10-hour campaign. The Rangens are another name for the randomly generated dungeons, and it is here where you can power up your party rather quickly and find rare loot. As expected, there are various difficulty levels and a menagerie of monsters for each area. Depending on the difficulty level, you'll traverse between 30 to 100 floors per dungeon, and just like the dungeons in the Ivy Tower, death means only gaining half of the experience and the loss of all items gained in the scenario.
In an effort to make things even more randomized, each level has several different types of exit gates. The various angel, devil, monster and rainbow gates, just to name a few, change parameters, such as item drop percentage, item rarity percentage and monster level in either a positive or negative direction. Depending on the gate, they can also give you health and item damage refills. Going through an angel gate, for example, may drop enemy levels by one and give you a 20% boost in item rarity drops, but hitting the monster gate may force you to face level-300 monsters on the next floor. To make things even more daunting, the gates have a chance of being randomized, so going through a rainbow gate can benefit you, spell disaster, or do nothing at all.
All of this randomization gives Rangens a very chaotic feel, which can either frustrate players or make them happy. It also gives the game plenty of legs, especially for those who love battling and leveling up, since no two experiences are ever the same, even with the same Rangen. About the only thing that might throw off some players is the length of these Rangen experiences. They're certainly much longer than the normal dungeon experiences, and with so few exit points between floors, you can expect to put in a considerable amount of time if you take on any of these Rangens at any difficulty level.
One look at the game's graphics, and you'd be forgiven for mistaking this as a simple port of a PSP or PS Vita game. The title uses a very sharp sprite system, similar to what was seen in fighters like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, to power everything from the characters to the backgrounds. Everything is swathed in bright colors, even the dungeon environments that are supposed to be foreboding. The animations are a bit limited, but that doesn't detract from the quality of the appearance. The particle effects look great, and the use of lighting to artificially obstruct your view is a very nice touch.
One oddity seen here, possibly to make character creation easier on users, is the fact that all of your heroes sport detached limbs, Rayman style. The items that you obtain in each dungeon can be distracting. Every time you pick up an item, the game makes it a point to bring up a larger picture of the item on top of your character. Since the picture isn't transparent, your view of your character is obstructed for a good second or two, something that can be critical if you run over an item just as you're fighting a powerful level-85 creature.
The overall sound fits in with genre expectations. The musical score is as expected, jumping from an epic adventure in one level to a more bouncy theme during the more lighthearted cut scenes. The sound effects are also pretty standard but nice to hear. Although this is a downloadable game, there are voices here, though you only get the Japanese audio track. Considering NIS America's record in this department, it would have been nice to hear the English audio track as well, but fans of Japanese voice actors will be glad that there's a vocal track at all.
Legasista is a surprisingly good dungeon-crawling action RPG. Despite the predictable story, expected anime tropes and overly lengthy cut scenes, the gameplay is solid. The story-related dungeons are short enough that you can take care of a few of them in your spare time without getting overwhelmed, while the random dungeons are perfect for those with more time to kill. The combat system may be simple, but the various energy frames, items, and jobs will be a boon for those who love to manage details. The customization system is simply icing on the cake. For those looking for a big-screen version of Cladun, this is for you. For those looking for more of a throwback RPG, Legasista won't disappoint.
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