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   Hero's Saga: Laevatein Tactics - Staff Review  

Hit Me with Your Rhythm Sword
by Mike Moehnke

Click here for game information
PLATFORM
DS
BATTLE SYSTEM
4
INTERACTION
3
ORIGINALITY
3
STORY
3
MUSIC & SOUND
2
VISUALS
3
CHALLENGE
Moderate
COMPLETION TIME
20-40 Hours
OVERALL
3.0/5
+ Strategically involving battles
+ Ample customization of characters
+ Lots of optional content
- Good characters randomly join -- or don't
- Audio gets monotonous fast
Click here for scoring definitions 

   It may be pure coincidence that Hero's Saga Laevatein Tactics incorporates elements from other strategy RPGs with titles that are difficult to pronounce. Terra Phantastica and the Langrisser games are not well known outside of Japan, but some of the developers at GungHo must have been fans because the combat concepts on display in Laevatein owe something to those games. Hero's Saga is very much its own game, however one that is worthwhile for tactical fans despite a number of minor missteps that keep it from attaining greatness.

   At a glance, little distinguishes Laevatein's battlefields from scores of other tactical games. The player picks from four to seven characters for each encounter who have a turn to move around and attack the enemy before the enemy has a turn to do the same. Experience and money are obtained after every battle, with the level of defeated enemies having an enormous effect upon the received reward. Beyond these traits, however, Laevatein has some unique factors that distinguish it from other games.

   When fighting at melee range, characters and their peon soldiers have more options than simply attacking and hoping for the best. Simply attacking is available, with respectable accuracy and damage output, but using a phalanx or charge can also be done. A phalanx strike minimizes damage while maximizing accuracy and evasion, while charging does the opposite. Strikes are not guaranteed to hit in Laevatein, thus the importance of this selection. If one wishes to defend and minimize damage, that can also be done. Regardless of the choices made, three rounds in each individual combat phase of attack and counterattack will transpire, and then that character is done until the next turn. Having an enemy constantly use a phalanx approach to dodge attacks can be frustrating, but this is a welcome variance to the usual straightforward attacking of tactical titles.

   Greatly affecting the accuracy of attacks is the morale of a unit. Morale ranges from zero to one hundred, and is primarily affected by standing in range of a base. Bases grow stronger if a character is stationed in one, and also heal that character's unit along with boosting the morale of those nearby. Conversely, an enemy base reduces morale until it is taken over so long as characters are within its zone of effect. The need to worry about morale can make battles take a little longer, but is another interesting and worthwhile break from the standard tactical mold.

In a break from the usual ostracizing of colors, blue is bad in this game. In a break from the usual ostracizing of colors, blue is bad in this game.

   Not shown outside of actual combat phases, the peon soldiers every character goes into battle with play a significant role. Once a combat phase begins, the eight troops serving a commander act as an augment to offense and defense. If the opponent has the same number of troops, then the peons simply hit each other. If the opponent has fewer troops, however, extra attacks from the soldiers can strike that character. Killing the commanding character is what will bring victory, but the troops augment their commander's powers and are a source of experience, so they cannot be discounted.

   Instead of the weapons triangle seen in certain other tactical titles, Laevatein has an elemental square. Each element is strong against another and weak against a third while being neutral to the fourth; fire beats earth, water beats fire, lightning beats water, and earth beats lightning. Each weapon has an elemental affinity, so the player can create a well-balanced force. Characters have their own innate elemental affinities, however, and the strongest earth weapon available may be weaker than an unremarkable water weapon depending upon the character. Beyond the elemental affinities, weapons also determine the class of a character. A character's abilities are half innate and half determined by class, making this decision fairly important.

   As every character fights, a bar builds up. Once it is fully charged, that character can unleash a Valhalla Break. Every one of these is an immensely powerful attack that can usually decide a skirmish, but it comes with a cost. It takes an entire turn to recharge after using the Valhalla Break, and during this time the character is greatly weakened. Proper timing of these attacks is vital, and keeping aware of the enemy's readiness to use one is equally essential.

   Since choosing weapons is vital to building a good combat group, the strange method of their acquisition is a liability to the game. Some are indeed available in the shops around the map, but the vast majority must be obtained by fighting enemies and hoping to get good spoils. The weapons dropped after battle are often random, making the quest to build a good armament kit very lengthy. The shop menus are not very well arranged; weapons cannot have their effects viewed on the same screen that enables purchase. The effects of weapons are easy to view and tinker with during the equipment phase, at least.

   The randomness also afflicts the quest to get good characters. Except for the few who join as part of the plot, the army is populated with people who randomly ask to join after battles. The innate talents characters possess can make the game much easier, especially a character who increases experience gain for all combatants. Not getting characters able to use available weapons effectively, or to equip them at all, is an unfortunate effect of this random recruitment.

It It's a code - one ! is small, two !! is moderate, three !!! is massive pain.

   Hero's Saga Laevatein Tactics begins with a story premise that has fueled dozens of other RPGs: that of a brutal empire that is being opposed by stalwart young warriors. The Imperium Gallia was able to conquer most of its neighbors through the use of incredibly powerful weapons known as Vaettir Arms, and a girl named Valerie has just delivered one to Ernesto, the younger prince of Valencia. Valencia survived the Imperium's war as a nation, but possession of just one Vaettir Arm is sufficient to incite fresh attacks. Ernesto's quest to save his nation and punish the Imperium is not the whole of the story, for it turns out the Vaettir Arms are created via a method that antagonizes another segment of the world's populace. This change in focus is most welcome, for it turns a stereotypical tale enlivened only by Aksys's use of Romance-language phrases into something more interesting.

   Tactical games are not known for sporting flashy graphics, and Laevatein continues this trend. Outside of combat animations the game would have been unremarkable on the Super Nintendo, but the combat graphics do make up a bit for that. Every class has a different sprite, each weapon has an attack that looks unique, and the troops visibly change according to their commander's class. The music, unfortunately, suffers from a dearth of quantity. The single battle theme is adequate, but really needed to be supplemented so that it is not heard in every battle with no relief.

   Without stopping for any optional battles, the initial story portion of Laevatein is probably twenty-five to thirty hours in length. An additional portion of the game opens up after the first ending that does have a little additional story, but mostly consists of fighting on old battlegrounds with new enemies in pursuit of every weapon in the game. There are some tough parts in the game, but the simple fact that every character on the player's team needs to be defeated makes the game less challenging than some tactical titles. One battle in which an enemy has the ability to charge every adversary's Valhalla Break to fullness is rather trying, however.

   Hero's Saga Laevatein Tactics is a long way from perfect. The battles are not swift, even by the standards of tactical games. Getting the characters and weapons the player wants is a remarkably random endeavor, also. Despite these flaws, the game as a pure tactical scenario actually manages to rise above more prominent choices on the DS such as the Luminous Arc series, delivering a unique and enjoyable tactical experience that should engross devotees of the genre.

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