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Legend of Dragoon - Review

Nothing new under the two moons.

By: Jake Alley


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 8
   Interface 4
   Music/Sound 7
   Originality 5
   Plot 3
   Localization 3
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 5
   Difficulty Medium - Hard
   Time to Complete

40-60 hours

 
Overall
5
Criteria

Title Screen
 

   The developers of Legend of Dragoon brag that it was created by a team of one hundred people over a period of three years. While this fact is clearly evident upon looking at the game, it's nothing to brag about. The game looks like a Frankenstein's monster, blending new and old, inspiration and amateurism.

   The most noticeable aspect of Legend of Dragoon is the graphics. Beautiful FMV scenes are scattered throughout the four disc game, but are surprisingly rare. Each disc contains only two or three long and impressive sequences, leaving most scenes to unfold using the standard gameplay graphics. Backgrounds are prerendered, and easy on the eyes. Water is particular striking. Almost everywhere in the game, there is water to be seen, be it the ocean, a small stream, or an underground waterway. In all of these cases, the water is always animated, realistic, and gorgeous. Paradoxically however, the characters themselves are very spartan polygonal models. When compared to such titles as Final Fantasy VIII or Koudelka, Legend of Dragoon's characters look extremely antiquated. Indeed, they look more at home sitting next to those of Wild ARMs and Final Fantasy VII. Even Final Fantasy VII's option of pointing out paths out of an area with large glowing arrows can be found here, and it is quite necessary to navigate some areas.


Purdy FMV
Flimsy looking wings  

   While the graphics are somewhat hit and miss, they do help convey the game's sense of style. Legend of Dragoon's back story revolves around an epic struggle between the heroic Dragoons, and their companions the Dragons, against the oppressive Winglies and their monstrous allies, the Virage. The beings and locations involved in this struggle bear a very concise and unique visual style, as do the elements of the game's internal mythology. When compared to the blandness of the majority of the game, these legendary elements become even more eye catching.

   Strangely enough, while the game's back story and history are extremely interesting and well depicted, the actual plot of the game is nothing more than a long string of clichés. Even the most minor of plot points can always be seen coming hours beforehand by any experienced RPGamer. Even looking at the characters can be all too telling. From the black-clad, silver-haired, powerful and mysterious swordsman to the brave but drab soldier who joins you early on, a mere character design lays bare everything that a character will do and experience, just based on standard RPG conventions. Even worse, the basic facts made clear in the game's back story are constantly contradicted by the events in the game.


8 generic characters
Who would guess the red guy gets the fire magic?  

   A predictable plot would not be so bad in and of itself were it to contain interesting characters. Sadly however, this is not the case here. Each character has a different element of magic. These elements are clearly evident in the personalities and appearances of the characters. The earth character is a stoic hulking warrior, the water character is a young free spirited girl wearing a bikini, and so forth. Each character also has a token trivial goal, which is not really pursued at all, existing instead solely for the sake of giving all nine characters a slightly unique thing to say at each plot point. In fact, only one character receives any real development at all, which offers stark contrast to the one dimensional stereotypes.

   Even the translation of the game is lackluster. While the text is free of many glaring errors, it is also free of any feeling. Every line in the game is delivered in a stilted and formal fashion. Each character also follows more or less the same speech pattern, with the occasional variation in vocabulary seeming extremely out of place. The dialogue is conveyed clearly enough, but the feelings and backgrounds of those who speak it are lost completely.


Water
Still screens don't do the water justice.  

   While the story is nothing but clichés and conventions, Legend of Dragoon's combat is a breath of fresh air. The basic format of the game is fairly standard. When a character's turn comes, they have the standard choices of attacking, defending, using items, and running. New wrinkles however yield interesting strategies. Defending not only reduces damage, but prevents negative status conditions, and restores ten percent of the character's HP. Attacking on the other hand is a matter of skill. Over the course of the game, each character learns a series of new additions, or attack combos. As each blow of attack lands, the player must press the attack button again with precise timing to activate the next blow. Each successful hit yields more damage and spirit points. If every hit is successful, the character will also shout the name of the addition being used, and, after twenty successful uses, the addition will gain a level, yielding more damage and SP.

   SP serves two purposes. Firstly, it acts as experience, raising the character's Dragoon Level. Second, it fills a spirit gauge which allows the character to become a Dragoon. Transforming to a Dragoon is accompanied by an elaborate sequence, which can be disabled from the options menu. After doing so, the only available choices are attacking, which yields only damage in this form, or casting a spell. Since there is no way to defend or use items as a Dragoon, or even an option to revert before the spirit gauge runs back down to empty, transforming is a somewhat risky choice. While all stats are increased in Dragoon form, many later bosses have attacks which kill Dragoons almost instantly. On top of all this, even the simplest of spells have very high MP costs. All in all, Legend of Dragoon is refreshingly challenging, although very precise timing is vital and will turn some players away.


Eyesore
The addition timing "help"  

   While battles provide an interesting challenge, much of the rest of the gameplay seems like a chore. Aside from a festival with a paltry few lackluster mini games, the game follows the mundane and standard formula of cycling through new towns and dungeons, hunting down treasure chests, and character building, without anything to shake things up. This would not be a problem in and of itself were it not for limited inventory. Only thirty-two items can be held at once, with half of those becoming special reusable items by the game's end. This leaves little room for healing and status curing items, not to mention the basically useless damage items that permeate the game. If a character becomes poisoned, curing them tends to involve a long trip back to the nearest town, either for treatment there, or to replenish all to precious magic and items. Even when well prepared, each time a new treasure chest is found, the player must discard something from the all too precious inventory to discover what it is. This grows tiresome quite quickly. Also lacking is a quantitative comparison when changing a character's equipment. Colors are used to denote which stats will be increased or decreased by equipping something, but current values are no where to be seen, resulting in the need to switch back and forth, actually looking at the total stats when finding for example a helmet that increases magic defense, but decreases physical. Granted, this is a minor annoyance, but one which is inexcusable at this point in time.

   While almost everything else about the game seems somewhat piecemeal and clichéd, musically Legend of Dragoon is quite refreshing. While composer Dennis Martin admits in an exclusive RPGamer interview that he had never composed for a game before Legend of Dragoon, this proved to be somewhat beneficial. Some tracks are imparted with a very unique style, not normally found in RPGs, particularly the vocal song played during the games opening and end credits.

   Overall, Legend of Dragoon is a collection of extremes. The graphics are beautiful in some ways, terrible in others. The back story is interesting, but the main plot is nothing but an overly foreshadowed series of clichés. Challenging, but oddly balanced. A play time on the longer side, no real side quests to break things up. Oddly enough however, despite it's flaws, and the fact that it seems like an amalagation of every other RPG in history, Legend of Dragoon is, quite simply, a fun game. For those who have never played an RPG before, or only a handful, this would be an excellent game. For the experienced RPGamer however, although it's enjoyable, it's nothing you haven't seen before.





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