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The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion

Platform(s): PSP
Genre: Action
Publisher: Bandai

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PSP Review - 'The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion'

by Agustin on Jan. 1, 2006 @ 12:01 a.m. PST

The Legend of Heroes is a single-player turn-based role-playing game featuring more than 100 unique characters to interact with, over 50 hours of gameplay and a deeply involving story line that unfolds in one of the most beautifully crafted 3D environments

Genre: RPG
Publisher: Bandai
Developer: Falcom
Release Date: November 15, 2005

There's an infamous gaming forum adage – two years old at least, which is an eternity in internet-terms – that has recently been gaining steam. It's the standby defensive phrase of an old forum crow: "BUY A PS2."

The current fad is to rework this phrase to mean different things. "BUY A GCN" is the snarkiest; "BUY MORE PR0N" is the most fun, if the opportunity ever arises. For all 67 non-Japanese fans of the developer Falcom, the proper adage is "BUY A PSP."

Most of the bigger geeks know them from Ys, but they are also responsible for gameplay-focused works like Xanadu and The Legend of Heroes games, all of which premiered on the PC, with a few scattered console ports to back them up. Japanese PC games aren't popular in the U.S., so most non-Japanese players know the Master System, NES, Super Nintendo, PlayStation 2, maybe even TurboGrafx-16 versions of their games … once again, mostly just Ys.

Hardcore gamers love to pretend to be the biggest Falcom fans because of U.S. publishers' seldom desire to localize their games. Looking back at their releases, along with the Legend of Heroes UMD sitting in my PSP, helps me see why these games aren't exactly sought after by U.S. publishers.

Every single one of these games, Legend of Heroes included, is outrageously generic! Every last one!

But, like Dragon Quest before it, there is a certain charm to such an approach. The Legend of Heroes for PSP is an RPG in a boiled-down state, cutting a chunk of the fat off of what could have been yet another bloated, over-produced experience (we already have Final Fantasy X-2 for that, thank you). Instead, we have an intuitive – but not unintelligent – battle system, clean, basic presentation, and a whole lot to explore.

The problems have little to do with what was left out, but more what was left in: inane quests, boring dialogue, a useless digital pet system… these are things best left in 1995, when they could be justified on merit of being new. Now they're dated and more useless than ever.

The bottom line is this: The Legend of Heroes is for die-hard fans of Lunar and other archaic RPGs, less for the post-Final Fantasy VII enthusiasts. That should be obvious enough by looking at the cover art.

Of course, who could resist the value of two games in one? That's right, The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion for the PlayStation Portable is a combination of not one, but two classic, unknown (uncalled for?) Japanese PC console-style RPGs! Throw away that copy of Lunar: Dragon Song you've been slaving away over, because a better dated RPG experience is here!

Playing through Dragon Quest VIII, which is another "ye olde-skool" kind of game, alongside Legend of Heroes has helped illuminate some of the problems with the latter title. While a side-by-side comparison would be unfair, as one is an original title and the other a mashed-together remake, it is hard to fully resist comparisons to Dragon Quest, as we all know that Legend of Heroes and every single other game like it would not exist if not for granddaddy Dragon Quest!

The main point where the two games disagree is in narrative choices. Dragon Quest games are traditionally simplistic and to-the-freakin'-point. Modern RPGs like Final Fantasy X are talkative, preachy, ambling, overly-dramatic. The Legend of Heroes sits in an awkward place between the two. It is traditional, ambling, simplistic, and dramatic. To put it another way: Nobody wants to hear unimportant story points drilled into our brains by simple townsfolk for any length past one hundred words, especially when it involves overwrought plot points like corrupt church leaders and monsters terrorizing little rural towns where heroes are inevitably born!.

Thank you.

Now that I've inadvertently outlined the plot for you, we can move on to gameplay. Dragon Quest VIII contains everything good from its lineage, and adds a few new things for better or worse. It's easy to play, perhaps a little monotonous, but you could hardly fault Level-5 and Enix for creating a game with very little to complain about. The Legend of Heroes does not have the added years of curing that DQ8 does, but it provides a similar "sweet-spot" appeal.

Battles are purely turn-based, a technique that seems to be making a comeback in games like Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and of course, DQ8. Little opportunities for strategy are available, too: players can choose which enemy they are attacking (sorry Dragon Song guys, but not being able to pick which enemy needs to be given a firm bop is not good game design), and combatants are repositioned based on which attacks are used, which gives the game a pre-Grandia feel. And there is a rage meter (or "limit break" meter, as the Final Fantasy VII kids like to say), allowing for special attacks to be performed after enough damage is received in a single battle.

Certain other reviewers have written off The Legend of Heroes as being "inapplicable to the portable form." I challenge this with a single, powerful piece of evidence: the sleep button, you fools! You see, the PSP has the ability to go into a power-saving sleep mode if you slide the power button up and let go within a split second. I've had mine asleep for over a week before and had very little battery drainage. Yes, the long conversations and constant battles might seem against the quick-play portable standards, but reviewers take note: in the real world, we have sleep buttons.

If anything, portability is the biggest factor in justifying a retread of The Legend of Heroes. There just isn't enough going on to give cause for multiple hours of straight gameplay. This is a game best experienced in small chunks of power-leveling between phone calls and croissants. It makes the first half of the game seem less repetitive and its battles less easy. Example: You'll be thankful that the fifth boss you've killed took no time or thought, because the new episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force is just about to premiere. Thanks, Falcom!

Note: The latter half of the game has added difficulty for a more rewarding experience, so keep that sleep function in mind during longer battles!

And it looks just as good as it plays! No, seriously, folks, Legend of Heroes justifies its appearance on the PSP. Don't expect Shin Megami Tensei remake-level production values, because this is Falcom we're talking about, but the entire game has been redone with clean, blocky polygonal graphics which, for better or worse, communicate the generic source material of the series properly enough. Ghosting abounds, but as usual, that has more to do with the refresh rate on the PSP screen than anything, and it's still less severe than any video I've seen of PoPoLoCrOiS.

The generic sound design doesn't help the games' image, however. Updated? …Somewhat. Good? …Never. Basic fantasy RPG MIDI songs and the same collision samples you've been listening to for years, all without the charm of the Dragon Quest series with its strange bleeps and bloops that have kept two generations of obsessive Japanese guys drooling over the series.

The Legend of Heroes is not the only game in town; there's PoPoLoCrOiS available now, and Shin Megami Tensei, Suikoden I and II, Final Fantasy: Crisis Core (if it's an RPG), Valkyrie Profile, and a slew of other remakes and sequels looking to take its niche. Oh, and Ys: Ark of Napishtim is getting the PSP port treatment, this time without the ugly polygonal graphics of the PS2 version. If you're desperate, get this over PoPoLoCrOiS, because that one will just disappoint you. Heroes hasn't stood the test of time, but if you ever thought Lunar was fun after 1996, this game will be a classic in your eyes.

Score: 6.5/10


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