The development duties for Legendia were helmed by a different internal group as Team Symphonia worked on Tales of the Abyss for the series’ Ten Year Anniversary. They’ve tried to do a few things to punch up the formula with Legendia, especially in terms of its story and fighting system by bringing in members of the Soul Calibur team to help. The result is something that feels a little more different than the usual Tales title with a leading character that uses his fists instead of swords. The last Tales title I had played was on the Gamecube, Tales of Symphonia, which I thought was a lot of fun so I was hoping that Legendia would be just as good.
Tales of Legendia were told on the PS2.
A New Tale
The story revolves around Senel Coolidge and his sister, Shirly Fennes. Right away, you might already be wondering why their last names are different if they’re releated and that is one of the mysteries that will be revealed in the extensive backstory that the RPG will tell. As it starts, both Senel and Shirley are on a ship in the middle of the ocean where we discover that Shirley has a reaction to seawater as we do to toxic waste. After fending off a monster in a brief introduction to Tales’ Linear Motion Battle System (LMBS), a massive land comes rolling out from the mist over the water and nearly capsizes the boat…drenching Shirley in seawater.
Washing ashore, Senel learns from a person that sees the two of them on the beach that the massive island that they are standing on is actually a titanic ship known as the Legacy…the remnant of an ancient civilization from the distant past. He manages to get Shirley to a fresh water spring where she actually begins healing herself, the person that had seen them arrive almost panicking at what he thinks is Senel’s attempt at drowning Shirley. But before Senel can find out more from this uninvited guest, Shirley is kidnapped and the chase is on to save her. He and those that he befriends along the way will soon find that saving Shirley is only the first step in uncovering the ancient secrets of the Legacy and the destiny of that which is called the Merines.
A large cast of characters await him as he goes out on his journey to save Shirley, many of whom will help out by joining up to fight alongside him. The story is full of twists and turns, most of which will have anime fans raising several eyebrows at many of the cliches and other conventions that it makes extensive use of. It’s not exactly anything new, especially after the same themes have already been visited before in Tales of Symphonia and previous installments, but you don’t have to played any of them beforehand to play Legendia. As with its predecessors, it stands well enough alone much like the Final Fantasy does for the most part.
The entire game takes place on the Legacy, an ancient ship so huge that it has an island complete with mountains and forests atop it. People have come from far an wide to explore the Legacy and uncover its secrets, even going so far as founding a town on it called Werites Beacon. The rest of the land is covered over in dungeons that you’ll eventually explore. To get from place to place, Senel will eventually use what are called “Ducts” to instantaneously appear at distant locations. As you explore the Legacy, more locations become available as you activate more ducts. Or, you can hoof your way to your next destination and enjoy some of the scenery. The landscape is filled with forests and plains, although travel can feel somewhat linear with shaped cliffs, mountains, and coastlines providing subtle direction to where you can go.
The first thing you might notice right off the bat are that many of the graphics for the game have a sort of soft shaded look, as if someone pulled a scene out from an animation film and dropped it into 3D Land. The lighting and special effects in the dungeons and towns look pretty good and the overall effect feels as if you’re staring at something straight out of an animation workshop tinkering with CG. Bright colors are used almost everywhere and lend a sort of lighthearted feel to the scenes that also extends into the general gameplay. Everything is seen in a kind of overhead perspective with the exception of the battles. All of the characters and monsters sport a super deformed anime ‘chibi’ look which may or may not be something you’re a fan of.
The story is also handled through the use of short, animated cuts that look fantastic as evidenced by the opening sequence and the introductory video. It’s no surprise that they look as good as they do given that artists from Miyazaki-san’s Studio Ghibli and production talent from Ghost in the Shell’s SAC, Production I.G., were also attached to the project along with a small army from Namco. The character designs were also handled by Nakazawa Kazuto who is known for his work with the animation sequences in Kill Bill, but is also known for his work in anime series such as Samurai Champloo, Bubblegum Crisis 2040, and animation work from Magic Knight Rayearth for the Saturn. The characters stand out pretty well from each other, not only in how they look but also how they act.
In game cinematics using the super-deformed 3D characters are also well done, with everyone miming their actions alongside spoken dialogue or other text onscreen. A staple of in-game cinematics for the Tales series, the heavy influence of anime convention is evidenced here with with emotion bubbles and other signals popping up over the heads of characters to show what they’re thinking as they act onscreen. The animation work does a good job in helping to develop the characters and make them stand out.
The music from the opening sequence of the game pretty much sets the tone for what else you will be hearing in Legendia, with the New Japan Philharmonic taking care of the soundtrack. The different pieces set throughout the game are a mix of orchestrated music, classical choir, and some crazy synth work with voices and instruments. Lighthearted music from Werites Beacon is tempered by the martial themes found later alongside the villains, and even a slight Chinese impression is given to one or two pieces later on.
In addition to the music, the sound is also well done in the game with a variety of ambient environmental effects in many of the dungeons. There’s also a lot of voice acting in the game during the “main quest” half of the title during the animated scenes and in the spoken portions of the in-game cuts. Most of it isn’t bad and does a pretty good job in characterizing Senel and his teammates, especially in comments they make before and after battle. For the most part, the voice acting is pretty good with each actor’s voice feeling just right for the parts that they were cast into, although there was the occasional moment where it sounded as if the actor/actress were just reading straight from the script.
Although exploring the Legacy sounds like it can be fun, it wouldn’t be a Tales title without throwing you into action packed combat. The Tales series are well known for the real-time combat system that takes the place of the typical round by round combat found in many other console RPGs. Touted as the “X-LMBS” system in Legendia, several former members from Namco’s Soul Calibur franchise had been brought onboard to beef it up for its latest iteration on the PS2 as mentioned previously.
The combat engine puts the player in a kind of 2D, sidescrolling plane with everyone lined up ready for battle. In some ways, this feels as if it were some kind of RPG version of Final Fight but without the depth of field. Combat moves such as punches or kicks are launched with the “X” button with movement handled with the left analog stick or D-pad. Your party members, depending on how finely tuned you’ve adjusted their behavior, will back you up with sword, spell, or spear as you charge headlong at your foes. If the battle is either too difficult to get a grasp on (something easily done amidst the chaos onscreen) or if you simply don’t like the engine, you can opt to tone down the difficulty a notch. Or if you’re the kind of RPGer that likes to put their party through a continual trial of fire and iron, you can also raise it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t do much to change the set encounter rate which can occasionally get aggressively annoying.
The characters have access to special techniques called “eres” that they can learn and ‘unlock’ the essences of with practice. Each of your characters use technique points whenever they use their eres skills, whether it’s a special combat maneuver or a spell used to fry your foes. Eres are divided into two categories: Iron and Crystal. Iron eres are primarily fighter based skills while Crystal eres comprise the more magical abilities such as healing and spellcasting. Each character has a certain number of eres that they will eventually be focused on learning and as new skills are earned, you can unlock (master) their essence by continually using them in combat. Assigning these moves to your technique button and using it in combination with your directional pad or stick, you can have four such techniques at your fingertips such as special throws, pulverizing punching attacks, or charging knockout blows. Your R2 and L2 buttons can also be assigned to skills, but they have the added advantage of being able to trip skills belonging to other characters. For example, I tied a healing spell from another character to my L2 button which allowed me to tell her to cast it without having to go to a separate command menu to do so.
As you continue to use eres skills, you will eventually master them, unlocking their essence as mentioned before. Sometimes when you unlock an eres skill, mastering it, you get another one. But what this also does is make it available for you to mix and match with other unlocked skills to create entirely new ones. The new skills that you create can be powerful, new attacks against specific enemies…even allowing you to throw some truly huge foes when you find and knock them down in battle. As you master more eres, the collection of skills that you can earn for Senel alone can be pretty impressive allowing you to mix and match what you can to find those special skills. The only downside to this is that if you decide to mix up another series of skills, you lose the one that you’ve put together until you redo it. You also can’t mix up spells to create that Dreamspell that you’ve been pining away for.
For your spellcasters, however, they learn new spells as eres scrolls get added to their repertoire when they level up. However, this doesn’t mean that they can automatically use those spells. In addition to adding a new scroll to their list, they have to also have the necessary eres stones to empower the spells with. Whenever foes are defeated, they may also drop eres stones in addition to everything else they leave behind. Eres stones aren’t consumed when you cast spells, but certain numbers of these are needed to fulfill the requirements for being able to use them. It’s an odd system, but it works reasonably well. It can, however, put you in a confusing position when you have several spells that you need eres stones to activate…but can’t remember where the monsters that you need to take out are. Also, the requirements for certain spells may not be uniform across different characters which is another oddity that you might notice. For example, one character may know Black Hole but another one has it ‘greyed out’ because they’re missing a certain number of eres stones.
All of these skills and spells are put to the test in the action packed X-LMBS combat system that the player will be getting a lot of practice with. By controlling Senel or whoever your chosen leader is, you pretty much punch and kick your way through every battle that you will find yourself in. The battles look good especially with the special effects and the chaos of battle onscreen as characters and monsters run left and right in trying to either avoid each other or get into a better position for attack. Fighting can be pretty hectic, the chaos onscreen easily making you lose track of where you are and before you know it, you’re running in the opposite direction or punching air when the effects die down. If you hate mashing your buttons often, you can set the battle to Semi-Automatic which automates some moves (such as sliding past an enemy) or to full Automatic. I preferred Manual, simply because it gave me better control over combat and in surviving the somewhat dodgy AI that I’d have to leave my fate to.
One thing that is new in Legendia’s combat system is the Climax System. Jokes aside, the Climax System works by freezing time around you and your party leaving your foe or foes helpless. A Climax Bar is shown onscreen during battle and as you fight, you slowly fill it up as you inflict damage or get damaged. Once it’s maxed out, you can enter Climax Mode. In Climax Mode, you can pummel your foes without mercy or you can launch a Climax Combo if everyone is conscious. A Climax Combo is a huge, team based attack that inflicts massive damage on your target. It instantly drains the Climax Bar, but the effect can usually help you gain the edge in a particularly brutal boss fight. It’s an interesting technique that won’t feel to be too overused since many of the bosses and even some of their minions will turn into hit point punching bags much later in the game and shrug off a Climax Combo. Sometimes its better just to freeze time to get a breather and get in a few cheap shots before battle starts up all over again.
However, the fighting system had also taken a few steps back from what fans of the Tales series may have gotten used to especially if they had the chance to experience Symphonia on the Gamecube or any of the previous Tales series. Gone are the “Strategy” options for your party that allowed you to assign preset orders to your characters, replaced with abstract meters for each character that you adjust to determine “Defensive” or “Offensive” capabilities or how often they use techniques. The only real strategy that you can give them is in how they choose their targets. Where Symphonia allowed you to set up your characters to focus on such things as protecting each other or in casting certain classes of spells in battle to help save you from dying, now you have to tweak and fiddle with these adjustments leading you into the uncomfortable position of having to rely on the somewhat temperamental AI that runs most of the show.
For example, setting the meter to more “Defensive” stance for a character won’t necessarily translate over to where they exclusively focus on healing spells and buffs for your characters. It will just make your AI controlled team mate more cautious in battle. Even so, adjusting the meter all the way over to “Offensive” won’t necessarily have that character launch one assault after another in succession, either. There were moments when Chloe, one of Senel’s party friends and a top notch knight to boot, would stand stock still in front of monsters for a few seconds after using a technique…not good if you want to keep up a combo maneuver on a monster to prevent it from casting spells or performing devastating moves. I found that if I set healing to shortcut buttons on my controls, it was the only way to really keep my party alive in some of the battles where they’d opt more to cast offensive spells than in keeping someone from bleeding all over the floor.
And while Symphonia and Tales of Destiny II, for example, allowed other players to plug in and help take control of the other characters in your party to help battle your way through the game, this feature is no longer available in Legendia. Fans from Symphonia will also notice that they can no longer switch in between characters during battle. I thought it was unusual that they’d leave such a useful feature out as there were times when I wanted to take command of my healers and spellcasters when things got hairy and the AI wasn’t keeping up. For some reason, no matter how I’d tweak their AI settings, they didn’t seem to have the good sense to run away from monsters when they came near. It would also have been useful in when I wanted to take on healing duties for my party while leaving everyone else to handle the fighting. The only way you can manage this is if you set the character you want to control in the leader slot during party management. Otherwise, it’s time to be a Boorish General and take control with repeated visits to the command menu during battle to make sure everyone does what they’re supposed to.
At the end of battle, you also get a “grade” that your earn…or lose…points by. Grade points are pretty important, at least if you feel like going back through the game again after you finish it. The game tallies these and shows your total at the end at the Grade Shop where you can use them to purchase tweaks and special enhancements when you start a new game with your end game save. So if you’re the type that wants to replay the game just to check out the funky costumes that the characters might be wearing after buying the option with your grade points, be sure to start doing well in combat.
Aside from the traditional (for a Tales title, at least) combat system, the game also brings back one or two more things. The Baking system is back allowing you to discover hidden recipes throughout the world of the Legacy and using them to create foods that you can use to heal up characters, restore technique points after a brutal battle, or bring back characters that are knocked out. Trying to find all of the hidden places where the Magic Chef may have hidden herself can be a quest in and of itself. Senel and his band will also keep a synopsis of current events handy, written completely in character by each one detailing what has happened so far in their own words and helping to keep track of where you will need to go next if you forget.
There are also one or two new things that have been added to the typical Tales formula in Legendia. Puzzle booths are special rooms in dungeons that usually act as a sort of ‘gate’ to the last level. These puzzles will have you walking around as you push and pull blocks to form paths or to provide platforms for you to activate or get to the duct that you’ll need to travel through to get out. The game is forgiving enough in that if you’re having trouble, you can opt to have one of the characters in your group ‘figure it out’ and skip the puzzle. There’s also an arena that’s unlocked in the second half of the game where you can battle monsters for prizes and a customization shop where you can create powerful items provided you’ve got the right ingredients in your inventory.
Before battle starts, your characters may even say something about the monsters that you’ll face, gauging their strength or saying how cute they might be depending on who is in your team. The after-battle commentary also makes a return as your characters may say something about the fight that you had just survived or even interact with each other to cheer on a victory. Mixing and matching different character combinations just to see what your characters might do or say after a battle was something that I found myself playing around with.
Skits are also back. Skits in the Tales world are small interludes that show certain characters’ reactions to things that you may have accomplished or discovered. A small indicator comes up on the screen showing you that a skit is available and you can either watch or ignore it. Many of the skits are short but fun pieces with the characters poking fun at each other or at what may have just happened. For example, a skit was available after I had earned a million gald with Norma, the bubbly valley-girl turned adventurer type, greedily dreaming of what to do with all of that money…until the “old man” of the group, Will, took it upon himself to watch the funds. The lighthearted tone of the entire game is shown off very well in these and other scenes.
It then almost goes without saying that the biggest part of any Tales story is with its characters, and Legendia is no exception. The manual even tells the player that once the main quest is over, there is a second half to the game that centers on the characters themselves and contains the ‘true’ ending to the saga. This second half of the game is easily as long as the first half with the main quest and is full of character scenes and dialogue. However, in some ways, deciding to put all of these stories at the end of the game was not a good thing.
Tales of Woe
Long time fans of the Tales series may feel a sense of deja vu in the way that Legendia shares more than a few familiar elements in the main quest’s storyline with that of Symphonia and, to a lesser extent, its previous incarnations such as Tales of Destiny I and II. While not necessarily bad, I couldn’t help but feel that I had played through some of this before and had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Most of the plot felt pretty predictable, although the characters and their relationships with each other continued to keep things fun and interesting.
But where the previous iterations rolled everything into one epic package, Legendia differentiates itself from its predecessors by literally offering another “half” of the game after you finish the main quest. Called “Character Quests”, these open up after you finish the main quest giving you a series of new quests centered around in finding out more about the characters in your party. New monsters now fill the Legacy, dungeons are stocked with new items, and puzzle booths offer a few new challenges. I was certainly happy for the chance to find out more about these characters, but I wasn’t a fan of how it was done. The second half left me with the distinct feeling that all of the side quests could have been woven into the main campaign but were instead dumped out at the end and a story arc supplied to loosely tie them together. While several previous Tales titles did the same thing with a colossal battle that seemingly ended the game, I didn’t think it was done as well here.
The result was a “tacked on” feel to the second half that I couldn’t shake where it seemed as if the second one had to do with the hand me downs from the first half. A large part of the reason may be because of the small area that Legendia takes place in. I never really got the feeling of exploring a huge and involved world as I did with the previous titles. The entire game takes place on one island. As large as it was, there was really only one huge town on the entire thing and not a whole lot else to really visit outside of a quest.
As mentioned before, the only thing that made it worth continuing were the backstories revealed by the character quests and the entertaining scenes that would follow along with the “true ending”. The character stories revealed with these quests are pretty revealing, revolving around theme of family and in how it effects each one of them. Issues such as betrayal, an estranged parent and his daughter, and even the hate that comes with discrimination are tackled. Even the villains get into the act, each one as vicious as the characters in your party are lighthearted. The character stories are easily the strongest part of the title’s presentation with each member of the team displaying their own personality and hang ups with each other, themselves, and even during the quests.
The reward in finding out more about the characters themselves was the only thing that kept the gameplay from feeling too stale. Even though I had spent far more time with Dragon Quest VIII, I never felt that it was just giving me busy work in order to keep me playing. The plot was fun, the world was rich in adventure and in what there was to see, do, and explore, and there was always the feeling that I was moving forward with every accomplishment. In Legendia’s second half, it was hard to feel this way when I was sent back to basically redo the dungeons I had already fought my way through.
This was made even worse in some cases where you had to again need to fight through droves of monsters to get to the end of a dungeon only to be made to walk all the way back out for what is essentially the second time that you’ve been there. I’m surprised that the prices for Holy Bottles (aids that lower the encounter rate for monsters) didn’t start to rise because of how many I’d go through. In one dungeon, I knew that there was another way out if I continued on only to find a landslide had taken that option away. Another had me watch an in-game cinematic as everyone talked about what had happened, and I was expecting the game to just take me out of the dungeon and put me in town for the next scene. It didn’t happen, probably as a courtesy in case you may have missed something this time through.
As mentioned before, there’s a lot of voice acting in the game during the first half…until you get to the second half. None of the dialogue text from your characters in the second half of the game was voiced aside from that in the animated cuts, the skits, and in battle. I could probably see why, though, as the number of lines in the dialogue that follows could have bankrolled the next installment in voice acting fees alone.
Still, this disparity in the presentation only strengthened the impression that the Character Quests felt as if they were tacked onto the end. If you hate having to slog through and read dialogue as it comes up and are just itching to keep going, some RPGers may find the Character Quest part of Legendia to be a test of patience. On the plus side, each quest has its own animated scene to top each off, especially for the ending of the game, that do help to make them more rewarding.
This ‘extended tour’ also meant that I spent more time with the X-LMBS system as well as a few other aspects of the gameplay where some of their issues became more obvious. Suddenly, bags of hit points that were loosely called “monsters” were thrown about like confetti in the second half of the game making many of these battles feel very repetitive. These were critters that could make a few of Final Fantasy’s bosses green with HP envy…and I’m just talking about the cannon fodder.
This late in the game, my characters were so powerful that fighting these monsters and in watching my combos go into the stratosphere was more of an exercise in patience than in strategy. There really was no strategy, other than timing your button mashes and techniques to coincide with the rogue AI that sometimes decided to do what you were hoping they would do. Blowing through 9999hps of damage in one flurry of attacks became so commonplace that I was longer in awe of watching it happen.
Knocking down monsters and being able to throw them also felt more like a gimmick than as something that was useful in combat. Sure, it’s great to throw monsters into each other or toss around giant creatures like they were beach balls, but in the end, it really didn’t do much. The damage for a one shot attack was pretty decent but it didn’t compare to what you could already do if you were able to juggle your foes in a corner. And if you knock a beastie onto the ground, you can’t kneel down and pummel it while it’s lying there, you can only throw it. Unless you have a certain throw skill enabled or mixed together from your eres, all you can do is just stand around while waiting for certain monsters to get back up.
Until the Next Tale
I still had fun with Legendia, although most of it was because of the characters and the events that unfolded around them. From Norma’s habit of nicknaming everyone the party finds, to Grune’s all too convenient loss of memory, to Will’s fist knocking sense into the heads of his own team mates, Legendia continues to carry on the Tales tradition of entertaining players with its characters. The unfortunate thing is that the gameplay can quickly get repetitive in the second half of the title making it a struggle to get to the real meat of these particular tales. Some RPG players may also find the game’s heavily linear approach to gameplay, the anime-esque dialogue and characterizations, and button mashing action combat engine to be something they might not find themselves wishing to spend hours upon hours with. The seventy hours of gameplay promised on the back of the game box wasn’t just another dose of marketing spiel in my case, especially if you’re the type that just has to find everything and explore everywhere.
That said, fans of the Tales series may be the ones to get the most out of this one. Legendia does offer more of what the franchise has consistently delivered despite taking a step back from the larger worlds and strategic combat options that were introduced in previous installments. If you can put up with its nuances, though, Legendia isn’t a bad action RPG and is a decent addition to the Tales series. But a lot of patience will still be needed to appreciate what it brings to the table.
– World 1-1