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   The Legend of Legacy - Import Review  

A Legacy Worth Living
by Michael Baker

PLATFORM
3DS
BATTLE SYSTEM
5
INTERACTION
4
ORIGINALITY
4
STORY
2
MUSIC & SOUND
4
VISUALS
3
CHALLENGE
Very Hard
LANGUAGE BARRIER
Moderate
COMPLETION TIME
20-40 Hours
OVERALL
4/5
+ Very much a SaGa game
+ Challenging without being impossible
+ Beautiful visual aesthetic
+ Actively rewards exploration
+ Strategic combat
- Very minimal story
Click here for scoring definitions 

   The SaGa series from Square Enix has long been one that I love, and so it feels weird to say that one of my new favorite games of the series was made by a completely different company. The Legend of Legacy comes from FuRyu's development studios, and it has most everything that has come to characterize the SaGa games, both for good and for bad. It's light on story while heavy on atmosphere. It forgoes almost all conventional elements of leveling in favor of a more organic approach to increasing ability. Its art, its music — even the back cover of the game box is an obvious homage to SaGa games of yore.

   Basically, the only thing about this game that is not SaGa is the title.

   In some ways, it even goes farther than its antecedents ever dared. For example, the story is the diametric opposite of character driven, which is incredibly odd for a Japanese RPG. The seven main characters are interesting enough — a wandering spiritualist, a treasure hunter, a buxom alchemist, an intrepid knight, an amnesiac girl, a bounty hunter with delusions of grandeur, and the frog prince of a lost kingdom — but their backgrounds receive only cursory attention in the introduction and ending of the game, and only then if they're chosen as the main character. Within the bulk of the game, their stories are mere justifications for their presence, because the reality is that this legend already has itself a protagonist: the island of Avalon. Much like in Myst or Quintet's Soul Blazer series, the player is presented with the puzzle of an apocalypse after the fact, with a mysterious isle risen from the depths of the sea. As the heroes explore Avalon's inner recesses, they will discover the Singing Stones, with their lurid visions of times long past, and the Whispering Stones, whose quiet words provide tidbits of detail concerning the King of Old, the rise of the New King, and the hubris that sent it all crashing to the bottom of the sea ages ago.

   Exploration really is the name of the game, as the leader of the island's human settlement has put a hefty bounty on any and all information concerning the interior. The town's sole merchant will sell info leading to new spots on the island map, and in return he'll also buy the dungeon maps that the player fills out over the course of the game. Complete sets are worth a lot more than partials, so it's more than worth it to explore as much as possible. The only thing getting in the way are the monsters.

A glimmer of hope. A glimmer of hope.

   And man, are there a lot of monsters. Each area tends to have a decent variety of creatures, some much, much stronger than others, that come at the heroes with many different groupings and attacks. Sometimes, the only thing standing between the party and a total wipeout is the fact that some enemies won't spam the hit-all or elemental breath attacks as often as they could, and so there's a constant sense that everyone's surviving by the skin of their teeth on a regular basis. There is really only one battle tutorial at the very beginning, and it details how a character can use defensive skills to cover and protect the party from damage. This is perhaps the single most useful bit of strategic advice the developers could have imparted to the player, as defensive measures are an integral element of survival in this game. There are six spells that provide specific defenses (plus one that destroys them), and perhaps a dozen weapon skills that can block, deflect, or counter physical attacks. Shields, which for the longest time were an afterthought in the SaGa series, get seven skills (including two offensive). None of this is coincidental; players should expect to make frequent use of the quick save function.

   It does help that hit points restore to max after battle, and that skill points recover normally at the rate of one per round of combat. Running from battle sends everyone back to the entrance to the area, which seems odd but actually comes in handy more often than not. If it's absolutely necessary to retreat, then it's likely everyone will need a rest anyway.

   The thing of it is, while hit points restore after battle, the max they restore to might not be the character's full maximum. Unlike many of its progenitors, The Legend of Legacy does not have life points. Instead, if a character is knocked out, they lose a portion of their total hit point count. The trade-off is that the standard healing options will revive a person easily without the need for a dedicated life spell, but it's not uncommon for everyone to be down a significant percentage of their health after a run through a difficult area. Persistent health damage can also be caused by the various hazards found in each level. Faced with such attrition, the option to run all the way back to the exit makes a lot more sense. With a proper rest, everyone is back in fighting form and ready to push back the limits of the unknown once again.

Get used to seeing this message. Get used to seeing this message.

   Enemies appear on the field, and each of the different forms the sprites take has its own patterns of movement and pursuit. Sometimes, especially when one is trying to push through a difficult level, the game becomes more one of threat avoidance. Several areas also have hidden enemies in trees, under piles of bones, or beneath the surface of the water. A few even feature obviously overpowered monsters that are best avoided if at all possible (unless one is up for a challenge and probably an early demise). Basically, there are a lot of ways to die in this game, be it through force of numbers, overwhelming strength of attack, or getting caught while stealing eggs from a gryphon's nest. There are also just as many ways to bring pain to one's foes, and here's where Legacy borrows from its roots once more. All attack skills in this game are learned on the fly, and there's little as satisfying as seeing that "Eureka!" animation on the screen, followed by a new attack with which to lay waste to the enemy.

   All skills can be leveled up according to three stances: Attack, Defense, and Support. These levels affect how well the skill works depending on the character's role in the current formation (chosen at the start of each round of combat). Increases in attack skill levels occur in the middle of battle, while increases to a character's personal stance level, hit points, or skill points occur at the end. Mid-battle gains, including newly learned skills, remain intact even if the party runs away, so in the event of a near-total disaster the heroes can come out a little ahead.

   Magic takes a bit more time to set up. There are three elements that the party can use — Water, Wind, and Fire — as well as the chthonic Evil element, which is available only to monsters. Each of the usable elements is tied to a Singing Stone — the sentient, fossilized remnants of Avalon's past that the player discovers over the course of the game. In order to cast magic at all, someone needs to use one of these Singing Stones to create a bond with the elemental spirits. Once the bond is in place, fragments of the Whispering Stones (the storytellers mentioned earlier) can be used to cast a single spell each. Fortunately for equipment management, these spells can be learned permanently via the same "Eureka!" moments that get characters new weapon attacks.

   Early on in the game, the player will receive an item that monitors the local elemental balance, and the strength of the local field effect is very important to battle. Scattered across the island are relics that, when activated, both raise their particular element's strength in the area and give the party that element's power automatically when battles occur nearby. The strength of an element's field has a direct impact on the effectiveness of spells from that element, and even more importantly, they give bonus benefits at the end of each round. Water spirits will heal whichever side they're contracted to, while Wind spirits restore skill points (on top of the usual one point per round). Fire spirits appear to do something, but it's not clear what.

Avalon, Isle of Legend Avalon, Isle of Legend

   Finally, the strength of the Evil element helps determine the overall strength of the monsters the party faces. In battles with a very high elemental Evil level, attacks by the party do less damage to monsters, so sometimes it's actually worthwhile to spend a few rounds just calling the allied elements over and over again to crowd the field effect. Since the balance is fluid and dynamic based on what happens in battle, adjustments can be crucial to winning longer battles. Plus, enemies can create contracts, which means that in some battles the two sides will be constantly stealing elemental spirits (and their bonus effects) in a tug of war. Incidentally, if a character is going to cast a spell, and the enemy steals the element away first, then the spell fails.

   All the character art in this game was done by Tomomi Kobayashi, regular artist of the SaGa series, and the heroes maintain their uniqueness even when translated into bobble-headed 3DS designs. The seven playable characters, as well as a few major NPCs, all have their own body language and profile that's easy to identify, and they look great in action. Avalon itself is beautiful, even if the scenery within an area gets a little repetitive after a while. There's the sense that this really is a realm that has seen a lot of damage and disaster over the ages, from the broken down ruins hidden beneath the vegetation to the colossal decadence of a city of fallen gods. Likewise, Masashi Hamauzu's work on the soundtrack is a wonderful mix of atmospheric tracks that's heavy on the strings, piano, and nature sounds. It fits in perfectly with the surrounding scenery, and sometimes the background theme for an area doubles as its primary battle tune. For a game that puts so much importance into its setting, this is a good combination of looks and sound.

   If you'd told me last summer that my most anticipated title going into 2015 would be a FuRyu game, I'd have laughed. Nothing I'd seen from that company had held my interest for any serious length of time, but with this game it seems like the developers there had it tailored specifically to my personal tastes. It's got challenge, exploration, mystery, setting, strategy to the battle system... about the only thing it's missing is a strong central plot, but it's so well built around its core that I barely missed having a story at all. Thirty-five hours went by rather fast with this one, and that was time well spent.

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