IGN Review of Tales of Legendia
It's been a long time coming but after nearly five years of waiting, American PlayStation gamers can finally sit down with a new installment of Namco's fabled "Tales" saga once again. It's actually been somewhat of an excruciating wait too, with 2004's engaging Tales of Symphonia only ported to the U.S. GameCube while related efforts like Tales of Destiny II and Tales of Rebirth have been skipped over entirely. Unsurprisingly, this draught in domestic release has made the "Tales" franchise one of the most highly-requested IPs among dedicated RPG fans... and judging by the emails we received when the latest edition, Tales of Legendia, was finally confirmed for North America, a second chance at the market was long overdue.
Of course, the big question of the moment is, "Was it worth the wait? Has the last half-decade of patience paid off for those of us in search of a rock-ass role-playing experience along the lines of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and the like?" As it happens, that's a tough question to answer and depending on how you like your RPGs, it's both a "yes" and a "no." (Way to take a stance, eh?)
First, let's assume that you enjoy action-oriented battle systems, tons of character interaction, and a healthy dose of simple puzzle solving. If you do, then congratulations -- Tales of Legendia is exactly the RPG you're looking for. In fact, Legendia is definitely one of the most talkative role-players around (but don't worry, it's not even close to matching Xenosaga in terms of lengthy conversation). Between every mission, every sidequest, and even occasional skirmishes, characters are constantly chattering amongst themselves about everything from rare super powers and life goals to their favorite kinds of bread. In other words, if you like deep characterization then Legendia will give it to you in spades.
And yes, the characters themselves are definitely worth getting to know. Though they do fall into every RPG stereotype known to man, there's so much information and color surrounding them that it makes the obvious a lot more bearable. This is particularly true if you hang around to the end and partake in all the post-game sidequests that flesh out each personality's backstory. The only problem is, the intimate knowledge that you'll gain about these characters isn't necessarily supported by a strong driving force -- in other words, the main storyline is pretty bland.
That brings me to the group of gamers who probably won't like Legendia quite so much, and that's the crowd that prefers unique and original storylines, killer AI, and more strategic combat. Of course, it's the primary narrative that's the weakest link in the chain, as it offers very few twists or situations that we haven't seen before. It's a shame really, as the first few moments of the game open rather promisingly with the revelation that an island in which siblings Senel and Shirley have been marooned is actually a gigantic sea vessel. Sadly, that's as unique as it gets for the remainder of the adventure.
But back to what's cool about Tales of Legendia and that would be its diversity of gameplay. Though it isn't on the same level as the two Wild ARMs installments released in the last couple of months, the game does have its own fair share of basic puzzle solving. More importantly, though, Legendia also has a number of cool little mini-games and gameplay mechanics that add a couple of brownie points to the overall experience. The ability to go back and create your own items and equipment when playing through the aforementioned character quests, for instance, brings back memories of Gust's Atelier Iris (while the added "Battle Arena" option has been taken straight out of Final Fantasy VI).
There are a number of other little goodies worth mentioning too. A built-in music player can be enjoyed by talking to the Piano player in Werites Beacon, for example, and given the overall quality of the game's score, that's definitely a good thing (think classic RPG orchestra mixed with the occasional jazzy tune). Recipe hunts, quiz shows, rare monsters, hidden titles, and even special artworks can all be enjoyed as in-game diversions as well, and with the story being as predominately average as it is, that means a lot.
Curiously, it's the battle system that serves as the biggest point of contention in the game despite an impressive background and a fair amount of press. Built by a handful of the Soul Calibur team members, Legendia's combat engine actually resembles a fighting game more than it does a role-player. On a surface level, that makes warfare a heck of a lot of fun. Special maneuvers, super throws, tag team combos, and a host of other likewise attacks can all be pulled off in real-time against whatever gets in your way. Players can even charge up a "Climax Gauge" to stop time for extra damage and issue various AI commands to team members for desired results.
Needless to say, combat can definitely get addicting and it's in that way that Tales of Legendia truly succeeds. If you can sit down and enjoy battles with even the lowliest of monsters, then you've definitely found yourself a solid skirmish system -- and that's exactly what this game does, it makes battling enemies entertaining no matter whom they are... or at least, that's how things start out.
You see, no matter how customizable and personalized you make your characters (be it by assigning titles that affect their stats, manipulating their "Eres" attacks, or whatever), most of it really doesn't matter for the first 40-50% of the game. The entire first half of the experience is therefore incredibly easy and unless you intentionally force yourself to use a variety of different maneuvers, you can just rely on two or three basic attacks to get you through the combat. Luckily, the boss battles themselves are actually pretty elaborate and will require some actual strategy and constitution. But otherwise, it's easy going for the entire first half.
The good news is, that in the last half the game things aren't nearly as painless and your enemies show the aggression and tactics they should have always had. The rather ordinary storyline actually picks up a bit as well and by the time you reach the end of chapter five (of eight) everything comes together just as it's supposed to. In a way, it's almost as if the first four chapters are a different game entirely and tests your willingness to put up with the decent stuff in anticipation of the more impressive things to come. It'll probably also take you that long to get over the fact that there's no multiplayer in Legendia either (which is an option that the game is seemingly made for and considering its battle system and one that past "Tales" games have used to their advantage -- weird omission).
Oh, and while we're on the subject of good news I can't forget to mention Legendia's cool visual style. Sporting a super-deformed look that's unique to the world of kawaii, the game is certainly one of the most colorful experiences around. Likewise, the anime cutscenes that help move the story along are crafted extremely well and the town and dungeon designs are pretty inspired. The translation job deserves a couple of kudos too, and while the voice acting itself is rather stiff at least there's a lot of it.
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