The Legend of Legacy Review
Not too long ago, someone asked me about the toughest part of being a game reviewer. At first, I couldn't think of one; I get to play video games, my first love, and write, my second love, about how good or bad they are. Sounds perfect, right? After a little more thought, and after spending the past two weeks virtually addicted to Atlus' new RPG Legend of Legacy, a far better answer than "nothing" presented itself - how do you accurately judge a game that you personally love, but also take into account the fact that you know it's a niche title and a good number of gamers will not enjoy it as much you did? It is definitely a balancing act, so keep that in mind as you read this review.
Legend of Legacy tells the tale of... well, not much. A storyline or narrative is all but absent in this RPG. You choose one of a handful of characters and two of the other characters are assigned as your two partners (the other characters can all be recruited in-game and can be swapped out at the main hub's inn). Each has one or two lines of backstory, all of which are RPG tropes. Memory loss? Check? Warrior for God? Check. Revenge for a dead relative? Check. Wandering alchemist? Check. From there, you're dropped into the hub town of Initium, where you meet the town's lord mayor. He drops a hint or two about the world's mysteries before telling you to go explore something. "Explore something" then becomes the game's driving force, and that is pretty much all the story you get until the end. Personally, this didn't really bother me much once I got sucked into the game. If you play RPGs for their story, though, then you'll probably want to pass on this one.
Legend of Legacy's presentation, specifically the graphics and visual style, is one of the reasons I'm head over heels for this one. Everything in game looks like a watercolor painting, bringing to mind comparisons to Bravely Default. What sets this one apart is how the fields you explore are reminiscent of a pop-up book. As you move around the map, new landforms grow from the ground and retreat as you walk away. It's a very cool effect that doesn't lose its luster, even when you've seen it thousands of times. The music is rather good as well, evoking some strong ties to the better Final Fantasy soundtracks (6, 7 and 9). As far as your eyes and ears go, Legend of Legacy is a no-brainer.
If there is no story, the most compelling thing about the game must be the gameplay, right? Right. You have two main goals - fight monsters and create maps. Let's do monsters first. As you explore, you'll see all kinds of enemies on the field. If you touch them, you fight. If not, you can always run, and they do give up eventually. This system is much better than the overused-but-never-good random encounter system. The fights themselves play out like turn-based encounters, and can be very challenging. In fact, the difficulty tends to spike up and down between regular monsters and nearly unkillable boss monsters. This is a shock to the system at first, but careful planning and leveling can get you a victory.
The other wrinkle is the elementals. You'll see little spites everywhere, and these elementals can form a contract with your team during battle, provided you have found the appropriate Singing Stone. The Whispering Stones you'll find work with the matching elemental contract, allowing you to use magic attacks and buffs. Enemies have elemental contracts as well, meaning it is a constant struggle to keep your element of choice the most powerful. It's an unorthodox system but it adds a level of serious strategy to each battle. My only beef with this system is that you need the Singing Stones to use the Whispering Stones, and these can be extremely difficult to find and obtain. It all goes back to the lack of story or direction; prepare to search for hours with no help from the game whatsoever. It's a little frustrating, but it leads to the next point.
Like the Etrian Odyssey games, another main goal is creating maps. It isn't as labor intensive as EO; you walk around areas and the maps fill themselves in. This encourages players to fully explore each area, making finding the Singing Stones slightly easier. The maps aren't just for personal edification, though; you can sell finished maps to a merchant in the hub town. The more complete the map, the higher the price. This also provides a tangible risk/reward system where you map new areas, sell them get paid and do it all again. In a cool touch, areas with maps you've sold begin to be populated by NPCs as well as monsters. If exploration and map creation are things you love as much as I do, you'll fall in love with the system here.
I wanted to touch on leveling and experience before we move on. Legend of Legacy doesn't have a single point of experience in it. Instead, leveling is somewhat random. If you are attacking with a pole arm, for example, eventually you will start to unlock new attacks for that weapon. Your character's preferred weapon will level faster than any others', but it is possible to equip each team member with whatever you want. Guarding, HP, SP (magic) and the rest follow the same pattern. I found that skills and attacks appear and level more when in battle with overpowered enemies you are not strong enough to best. The gains remain intact even if you flee from battle, but it's tough to weigh how long you should stay in a fight vs. dying and losing it all. This might make number-crunchers nuts, but I found the system to be unique and fun. It kept me challenging myself in tougher areas, rather than over-leveling and breezing through.
More than anything else, a design decision I just mentioned is going to turn off a good number of potential players. That decision? When your party dies, you are returned to your last save point. Since you can only save in-town, dying usually means losing lots of map progress and/or levels and attacks gained since. It is amazingly frustrating to lose progress like this, but it actually forces you to be a smarter, more strategic player. Your alternative to dying in battle is a quick retreat, but even this comes at a high price. You are returned alive to the very beginning of the location you were in. Most locations have more than a few different areas, so it can be a very long walk back to where you were. This is most annoying when encountering a boss. The fights are triggered automatically as you approach them, with no on-screen enemy avatar like the weaker foes. Did I mention escape is not an option to retreat in these fights? So, for example, let's say you've filled in two whole maps and you accidentally wander too close to a boss. You WILL NOT be able to finish bosses on your first shot at them, so you are basically defaulted into losing everything you've done since you left Iridium. I get that these old school sensibilities are exactly what the developer was aiming for, but if they were ok with ditching random encounters, why not go the extra mile in modernizing things by letting us save anywhere?
I absolutely loved Legend of Legacy, but I completely recognize it won't be everyone's cup of tea. The Draconian save system, random leveling and no story pretty much disqualify the game from being a blockbuster hit. That's just fine in my book; the folks who seek this one out and let it cast its spell will be addicted by hour two or three. That's what happened to me. I did nothing but play this game on two cross-country flights last week, and, even now, I really can't seem to put it down.
Final Rating: 79% - If you like this kind of game, you'll love this one.