IGN Review of Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch
Some stories grab you from the very beginning and never let go until they're fully told, keeping you on the edge of your seat. Others start slowly, building to a crescendo that is truly epic. Then there are those tales that leave you completely neutral: you're not impressed by the plot, but it's not horrible either. That's kind of the dilemma that The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch falls into. It's not abysmal, but the tame story development and action gives you a bland feeling after a while.
Although entitled Legend of Heroes II, the game is actually the prequel to A Tear of Vermillion which came out last November. The main characters of the story, Chris and Jurio, are two teenagers from the small village of Ragpick preparing to embark on a pilgrimage to five separate shrines around the land of Tirasweel. By placing a sacred dagger on the throne of each shrine, the resulting visions at each temple are supposed to reveal what the adolescent is meant to do with their life, and eventually results in their recognition as an adult by the other members of their village. Unfortunately for Chris and Jurio, their pilgrimage seems to be coinciding with a signs of a mysterious prophecy given by a witch twenty years earlier about the potential end of the world. Eventually, the two kids discover their connection to the prophecy and how they can attempt to change the forecast destruction facing their land.
Broken up into a prologue and chapters, the action of the 30 hour or so title maneuvers you through mountain passes, caves, swamps, and other standard RPG environments. Like most RPGS, you'll talk to numerous people along your adventure, taking on minor tasks and offering your help to everyone you meet. Perhaps offering isn't exactly an accurate term -- you're actually forced to do every task to make the story progress. That's not too surprising considering the genre, but it can be extremely frustrating when you're forced to backtrack two or three times in a town to find the right person or event that you need to continue the plot. This isn't just an every now and then occurrence -- it happens in every single location and it quickly becomes old. Even worse, this constant backtracking can easily get you lost between what you are supposed to do and where you're supposed to go.
The annoyance with NPCs interaction aside, you'll also fight your way through numerous monsters and other odd creatures as you venture through the countryside. Legend of Heroes II doesn't feature random battles; instead, you'll have the opportunity to view when incoming threats are nearing your party and choose to avoid or attack them head on. However, the twist to the battle system is that the monsters will be doing exactly the same thing. Creatures have three states of awareness: They can be oblivious to your presence, which will just result in them wandering around. They can sense that you are stronger than they are and run away from you whenever you get near them. They can also decide that they can take you and run in for an attack.
In battle, every character and monster has a radius that they can move in and perform certain tasks: They can trigger an attack, cast a spell, or use a skill. While Chris happens to be the skilled magician, Jurio will eventually gain the opportunity to summon the elemental spirits of each shrine. Each command will increase a character's power gauge, which can be used to trigger a unique finishing move that easily destroys your enemies. You also have the opportunity to use collected items, wait for monsters to near a specific character so you can readily assault them, or run away.
Unfortunately, there are a number of issues with the battle system that doesn't exactly make combat that compelling. For one, you can simply sidestep practically every single monster that you come across. While it's obvious that you won't strengthen your characters this way, there are a number of times where the amount of minor and insignificant beasts thrown in your way that specifically choose to attack you are much more annoying than necessary.
The turn based fighting is somewhat slow and plodding, and even worse, some of the options are unnecessary. For instance, while skills happen to be much more statistically based, and can be used to render a target unconscious or protect a fellow party member, they are inconsequential compared to simply attacking a creature or casting a spell. Even worse, the finishing moves are just way too powerful and occur much too frequently. When just about every single action bolsters this gauge, it's possible to trigger one of these attacks for at least one or more of your characters during every battle. This could've been balanced by simply spacing out the number of times you could use these attacks, or even restricting the use of them per level so you actually need to use or rely upon the magic or skills that you gain when you gain experience. As it stands now, it's way too skewed.
Finally, you also wind up having a certain advantage that monsters don't have thanks to the addition of your pet dog, cat or rabbit that you gain at the start of the game. It may not seem like it thanks to their size, but your pets can provide significant advantages. If you feed the animal certain foods, the animal can cast offensive spells against monsters in battle or protective spells to aid the party. It can also track down and collect items to supplement your equipment, such as magic or health potions.
However, there are even a couple of issues with the pets. For one, your animal can find so many items that you'll never really need to purchase an item in a town at all. For another, you'll never really know when your animal will use its offensive or defensive abilities in battle, which makes their appearance on the battlefield extremely random. Finally, while you're supposed to keep an eye on the attitude and the hunger status of your pet, the pet will vacillate these two pieces of information so frequently that it's almost impossible to get a clear idea of what you need to do for the animal, and that often leads you to ignore them unless they're bringing you something (most animal owners would consider that abuse).
It's a shame that there are so many hiccups within some of the battle systems, because Legend of Heroes II is an attractive title. Character sprites and environments are detailed and nicely shown with an anime influence, and the few animated cutscenes that have been included in the game, albeit short and generic, are decent. The same can be said about special attacks, such as summoned spirits or some of the finishing attacks. This is coupled with a decent soundtrack, although there's no voiceover to the game, which would've been a nice addition.
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