Legend of Legaia is a game that I went into with some skepticism, mostly due to my love-hate relationship with JRPG games. My opinions of JRPG games tend to be extreme, bordering between mouth-frothing psychosis that makes me want to burn down an orphanage and the kind of fanatical love that also turns into violence when people don’t share my opinion. Basically, the genre makes me hurt people.
Legaia registers closer to fanatical love than anything, though that’s qualified by a number of flaws in the game that hold it back from being the incredible experience it could be. These flaws mar the otherwise exceptional game and drag many sections down into the depths of “meh.” Of course, it’s a truly beautiful thing when Legend of Legaia hits its stride and frees itself from those flaws, and those moments are capable of standing next to JRPG greats like Chrono Trigger, Grandia, and Final Fantasy 4. The problem is getting to those moments.
That’s to say that the game really doesn’t put its best foot forward. Your first impression will be that this is your average predictable JRPG when it isn’t, and the pacing is set up in a way that doesn’t really help. Predictable games of the genre can usually be summed up as, “x evil is threatening us, so find y number of ____ and defeat the evil for us so that we can continue to be stupid, ignorant villagers who are allergic to preparing for disaster and forever in need of being saved from things.” That’s contrary to the better games of the genre that are set up in less predictable ways, usually focused more on the characters and their journey than collecting however many whatevers (usually crystals). Thing is, Legend of Legaia is both. It starts out very much like the former, appearing as though the entire game will be spent running from village to town to other village saving everyone, and there’s certainly an element of that throughout, but there’s so much happening between the characters and so many unexpectedly brilliant moments later on that those moments completely eclipse the more predictable side of the game.
The story lends to that misconception, as well, starting out deceptively simple. In the past there were beings known as Seru who randomly appeared, and, when combined with humans, granted them powers. Strength, flight, that kind of thing. Eventually a strange mist appeared that drove the Seru to attack people and turned those wearing them into monsters. In order to save the world, the main characters have to reawaken the “Genesis Trees,” powerful trees that can dispel the mist. Luckily, they’re joined with special Seru called Ra-Seru who are unaffected by the mist. The story behind the mist appearing is more complicated than it first appears, however, and the overall story becomes surprisingly dark (for a JRPG) as you learn more about the history and characters involved. It’s not what I expected given the more lighthearted tone of the earlier portions of the game, but it’s an undeniably refreshing change that works to Legaia’s benefit. It’s also led to many moments where I exclaimed out loud, “Whoa, that was awesome.”
It may seem at first like you’ll be doing nothing but running around looking for trees, and admittedly, it feels like that for the first two or three of them, but the game soon kicks into gear and you’ll find that the remaining ones are in places where you’ll be anyway. Before long, finding them stops feeling like a chore and you’ll be able to focus entirely on the direction the story is headed.
One of the biggest flaws of the game is that your movement on the overworld map is too slow. It’s almost agonizingly slow, in fact, and this is compounded by the fact that the encounter rate is a bit too high throughout the game. Until you find an item that decreases the encounter rate, it feels like you’ll be hit with a few too many encounters. Not enough to lead to a ragequit, but just enough to occasionally bore a hole in your sanity. Granted, combat is better and more interesting than in most games, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not irritating to be disrupted every few steps. This problem is allayed fairly early in the game, however, by “Doors of Wind,” buy-able items that allow you to teleport to previously-visited areas. There are also “Doors of Light” that allow you to escape from dungeons and their equally atrocious encounter rate (though many of the areas you have to run through are actually small enough for this to not be that big of a problem), so it’s at least a manageable problem.
Legend of Legaia sports some of the most interesting combat to be found on the Playstation. It’s a statement every bit as true as it is bold; rather than just choosing your attack, you actually get to input left/right/up/down combos for each character, some of which lead to special attacks. You can learn new special attacks from characters throughout the world or just stumble on a bunch of them by trying out different combinations, but using these special attacks requires AP. The “Spirit” command restores some AP and allows you to use more attacks on your next turn, but renders you unable to attack on that turn (it also increases your defense for that turn, functioning a bit like a “defend” command). In addition to those things, you sometimes absorb enemy Seru monsters, and you can then call on those enemies to attack on your behalf, which costs MP points. MP points function pretty much the same as in every other RPG, but calling on Seru is unique in that they level up and become stronger the more you use them. Combat in Legaia is second only to Grandia in terms of uniqueness and entertainment value, though it does offer less in terms of managing statistics and such than a game like Final Fantasy 8. Its depth lies more in finding effective combos than micromanaging a number of stats—though there are stats to manage—and the lack of a million different numbers makes the whole thing easily graspable.
The character art seems to have two sides to it that reflects the two different tones in the game: You have the lighter art style out of combat, full of colors and simplistic, almost cartoon-y character models, while the darker, more realistic art is reserved for combat. Inside of combat, the characters suddenly appear more realistically-proportioned, and they look more likely to rip someone’s heart out with their bare hands than to act like they do outside of combat. The areas you’ll be running through are a bit more consistent, coming across as bleak or cheery both inside and outside of combat depending on what’s happening in that area. Places ravaged by mist tend to look darker and are covered in white, while places full of happy-go-lucky villagers who aren’t currently begging you to be their salvation tend to be full of vivid colors.
My opinion on the music is mixed. On one hand, I don’t remember any tracks but one. On the other hand, that one track is so good that I have a save near a point where the music pops up just so I can go back and listen to it occasionally. Whenever Cara, an enigmatic character for a fair portion of the game, shows up, a somber kind of song plays that suits her character perfectly. Other than that, the music struck me as mostly forgettable, but I never once thought, “Wow, that’s an annoying song,” so it at least won’t be a negative.
Overall, this game is worthwhile for anyone who likes JRPGs, especially if they’re capable of getting past a deceptively sluggish beginning. It may not be perfect, and its flaws may hold it back from the kind of consistent greatness that other PS1 games achieve, but when it does everything right it blows the majority of those games out of the water. As such, I highly recommend Legend of Legaia to anyone who can appreciate a good JRPG.
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