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Legend of Dragoon - Retroview

The Road of Conservatism Can Bring Good Things

By: Phillipe Richer


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 7
   Originality 4
   Plot 8
   Localization 3
   Replay Value 4
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Medium
   Time to Complete

40-50 hours

 
Overall
7
Criteria

Legend of Dragoon
 

   Every RPGamer enthusiast knows the coming-of-age story of RPGs. After the release of FFVII with its flamboyant graphics, engaging plot, and charming characters every big game developer had it in his mind to follow the tune. Sony grasped the occasion and released their own epic game in the year 2000 - Legend of Dragoon. Bragging about how more than 100 people had combined their minds to craft the game, Sony enjoyed good market success and mixed reviews. Some criticized Legend of Dragoon's lack of originality, while others like me simply appreciate the fun battle system and sweeping storyline.

   Legend of Dragoon (LoD) presents one of the most highly detailed and personable back-story and plot in video game history. The legend was born 10 000 years ago, when a bloody uprising sprang between the oppressive "Winged" race and the vulnerable humans. Tired of their status of inferior life-form, humans started a rebellion against their masters in the skies by harnessing the power of Dragons, creating a pack of legendary human warriors known as the "Dragoons". Relentless battles were waged, and finally it was the human race that emerged victorious. That story of old is known by every inhabitant of the planet as "The Dragoon Campaign". From that point on, humans have enjoyed relative harmony among their kind, but the past and the future are about to clash.

   The combat system in LoD is very simplistic; simplistic but highly enjoyable. The three characters forming your party have several options at their disposal; the usual attack, guard, item, and run. Guarding prevents any status abnormalities, reduces damage by half, and more importantly recovers 10% of your health. The item command allows you to use any of 32 items you are currently carrying, while run is pretty self-explanatory. If it was left at that, LoD's battles would have been an insurmountable bore.


Battles are fun, original and far between.
Battles are fun, original and far between.  

   Fortunately, the game introduces the excellent "Addition" system. When you attack, a blue target square will appear over the target and a white square will be seen closing in on the blue one. The idea is to press the X button at the exact moment when the two squares overlap to carry on with the addition. Each addition is made up of a number of attacks, and chaining all of them successfully will cause major damage. This system clearly places much, if not all the emphasis on physical warfare and concentration on your part. Even after performing the same addition 80 times, the possibility of missing your shot is still quite present, making LoD's battles always engaging and entertaining.

   Characters have a number of additions at their disposal and more will be obtained as you successfully perform the ones you've already acquired. Some inflict greater damage while some offer more SP, so you must choose the appropriate addition for each circumstance. Additions also have levels, so while some may seem weak and useless at first, honing your skills may lend greater powers. Note that you must first select which addition you want to perform outside of battle, meaning that once the bells of war sound you only have one move at your disposal.

   Every successful addition hit will provide you with a certain amount of Spirit Point (SP) used to transform into your dragoon self. That's because later in the game, after special plot points, a new "dragoon" command will become available to your party. All of your characters will gain the ability to transform into their dragoon form to inflict greater damage with their new physical attack but also to utilize their dragoon magic. There are very few dragoon magics available, and even fewer restorative spells. Also important is the number of turns you can remain in your dragoon state, as well as the number of spells you can use. These depend on your dragoon level, which increases as you perform successful additions and thus gain SP. In dragoon form, you only have two options: attack or magic. Since you cannot use items or defend to restore your health, a judicious use of your new found powers is necessary.

   The usual EXP is also present and once again affects your personal parameters. A major annoyance with the game is the fact that there is no way to see your dragoon level progress. While it is certain that the SP you acquire in battle to charge your dragoon gauge is also related to your growth, you will simply have to amass as much SP as possible during battle and hope for a promotion at the end of combat. A simple gauge in the menu would have quickly fixed that problem.


You sure are.
You sure are.  

   When you select a target, a colored marker will be displayed above it. Blue, yellow, and red indicates the enemy is at full strength, half strength or near death, respectively. It's simple, efficient and it also eliminates the need for an "analyze" spell. A big factor in battle is the base element of each target. There are six elements in all and the name of the target will be displayed in the corresponding colored box to indicate their alignment. Fire and water as well as wind and earth are opposites while thunder and non-elemental have no weaknesses.

Navigating through the pre-rendered towns and dungeons is made simple by the inclusion of colored indicators, much like FFVII. Navigating through the menus is a little more complicated, however. In most cases, taking a look at your inventory of items or skills doesn't present many problems at all. The status sheet for both additions and personal stats is also very well depicted and comprehensible. But, when the time to shop comes, the yellow-on-yellow color scheme used to indicate equipped items isn't the clearest of all. And as mentioned before, the absence of a dragoon level indicator is a big omission.

If anything, Legend of Dragoon presents something almost never seen in a Japanese RPG - an American composer. This Dennis Martin combined his musical talents with Takeo Miratsu to bring forth an acceptable soundtrack. The game's vocal theme "If You Still Believe" is a good song compared to other video game theme and certainly suits the game's atmosphere quite well. It may sound high-pitched at first, but it will definitely stick to you. Most compositions found in the game are suitable, though not many of them are truly excellent. Among the best are the forest theme, the boat composition and the various orchestrated FMV tracks. It might not be the best soundtrack to listen to by itself, but it's good when combined with the game's environments.

There are also some voice-acting sequences during FMVs and battles. The acting is quite good for its day and age. During battle, characters will shout the name of the spell or addition they're about to perform in a very expressive way. Some voice-acting parts are kind of bland but most of them carry the appropriate mood. Sound effects are also quite good, especially when it comes to the many spectacular dragoon magics.


The few FMVs in LoD are all beautiful.
The few FMVs in LoD are all beautiful.  

Aside from the addition system, the whole of LoD is mostly constructed of recycled elements from past RPGs. The setting, the pacing, and most of all the characters are quite reminiscent to things you may have seen in previous games. At the end of the first disc (four total), when Dart exclaimed that he would pursue the silver-haired antagonist named Lloyd, I got such a big FFVII flashback I almost past out. However, when the story starts to pick up and the plot points start to stack up, you'll quickly realized that the story wasn't treated as an afterthought.

In fact, LoD presents one of the most complex and entertaining story-line I've ever had the joy to witness. The story starts out with a very clichéd event, when Dart's childhood village is attacked by the vicious Empire and his friend Shana is taken captive. For the first five hours, the pace of the story and the events are quite predictable. However, many elements of foreshadowing will be laid-out to bring up more confusion and to keep you going forward. The plot is nothing very drastic, but the back-story and the story itself are filled with legends, and dramatic components. The characters themselves lack charisma due to the poor translation job, but they'll quickly grow on you nonetheless. Added to the package are the expectations and revelations attached to the old story of the Dragoon Campaign, a story very well depicted through spoken cut-scenes, flashbacks, and possibly the best FMVs ever. My witnessing of the five minute long FMV near the end of the second disc is one of the best moment of my life. Honest. All the elements, including the Moon Child, the Tree of Life, the 108 races, the Winged civilization, the Dragoon Campaign, the Dragons, the Black Monster and much more are all unraveled in a magnificent fashion in time to produce one of the most satisfying and tear-jerking ending ever.

The localization is by far the game's low point, and it single-handedly succeeds in sucking away much of the game's potential. Many typos can be found throughout the game, the most noticeable being conflicting location spelling and disparate addition name. Some additions have a different name in the menus, in battle and in their spoken dialogue. Aside from those points, you'll find many of the most bland and colorless dialogues in any game since the first Dragon Quest. Characters hardly exhibit any emotion, sentences are hard to understand, and the vocabulary used seems to have been chosen for a 4th grade level.

Legend of Dragoon offers a lengthy and mildly challenging quest. During your 40-50 gameplay hours, you may very well encounter some difficulty with several boss battles. The bulk of the challenge comes from the reflex-intensive battle system, but also from the strategy behind the limited item inventory. Healing items and attack items will conflict for space in your tool bag, and if you ever get too greedy and forget to carry sufficient healing and status restorative items you may get yourself into a huge bind.

There are a couple incentives behind completing the game a second time, such as finding every piece of stardust and completing one or two special quests, but if you do replay the game it will most likely be due to your enjoyment of the battles and the storyline. Trying hard to acquire every addition and every dragoon magic are also good reasons behind a replay. I have played the game a second time after nearly two years of rest and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time.

The polygons used to create allies and foes alike aren't very complex. People look a little better than they did in FFVII, but the polygon count is far too low to be impressive. During certain cut-scenes, more detailed character models will be used for better interpretation. The most impressive aspect of the visuals aside from the gorgeous FMVs, are the mouthwatering pre-rendered backgrounds. Every location in LoD is as enchanting and engrossing as it could be and towns in particular succeed in bringing forth your highest wishes of escapism. Almost each city has a certain theme to it, such as the flower city and the water city, and I was completely dazzled every time I entered a new location. The water effects are the most amazing I've ever seen and could even compete with today's technology. The visuals are absolutely amazing throughout, and the surroundings are always engulfing.

No, LoD is not revolutionary in any way. Some elements are direct steals from other games, and the plot takes some time to really start up. However, when all is said and done, playing LoD is simply an incredibly enjoyable experience. The story alone makes the game worth completing, but the fun battles and the stunning visuals will make every instance worth playing. And believe me, LoD is well worth playing.





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