Review by gcking317
"A Legendary Disappointment"
After reading numerous positive reviews about Sony's Final Fantasy-killer, I decided to give the game a whirl. While I was expecting to find a beautiful, well planned cinematic experience, what I got was a hastily thrown-together RPG that fails on almost every level.
Since so many people praise the stories in the Final Fantasy series, it seems appropriate to begin a review of Legend of Dragoon by examining its would-be story. The primary problem with Legend of Dragoon's story is that 95% of it has been written before, namely, in Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy V, Final Fantasy IV, and Xenogears, with the majority of the story being ripped directly from Final Fantasy VII. Quite literally, the first 16 hours of Legend of Dragoon are simply an incoherent collection of scenarios that happened in the various Final Fantasies - the dating scene in the Gold Saucer, placing the tiara on Terra, Butz's murder, destroying an evil corporation only to chase the black-caped man, and the list goes on. By the middle of Disc 3 the writer(s) decided to end their book report on the Final Fantasy series and actually write Legend of Dragoon; however, in disc 4 the game reverts to the ever-changing bad guy plot line that happened in Final Fantasy IV (Golbez to Zemus to Zeromus). While the actual story about the Dragon Campaign and the 108th species was extremely interesting, it only accounted for about 5% of the actual narrative time, which left me feeling unfulfilled.
Unfortunately, for those that actually find the story new and original (e.g., those that didn't play Final Fantasy VII), the process of advancing the story could be described as tedious at best. Legend of Dragoon uses an ''Additional'' battle system - basically, instead of simply choosing to attack, a targeting square will center on the enemy, and if you press the attack button at just the right time (the window is about 1/10 sec), your character will attack again. This would seem like a good idea, if it weren't for the fact that in order to do an appreciable amount of damage you need to hit every target every time, and some of the more complicated Additionals have 6, 7, or 8 combo attacks, in sychopated rhythms. Instead of making the initial attack worth 100% damage and the later hits worth an Additonal amount (as the name of the system would imply), each attack is worth an equal amount - if a level 4 Additional is worth 200% damage, then each hit is worth 1/5 of the total damage. That means (quite literally) that level 40+ characters may deal a grand total of 38 damage in an attack! This awful system has the tendency to make battles last an excruciatingly long amount of time, making progression through Legend of Dragoon's ''story'' a long, arduous process.
Sadly, the Additional system is not the only problem with LoD's battle system. In every RPG as long as I can remember, the Speed statistic for your characters was related to the duration of time that would expire between the end of one attack and their next turn. However, Legend of Dragoon takes this logical system and discards it. In some cases (against the later, more difficult bosses), while my party might be able to attack 4 times before the enemy attacked once early in the battle, later (after the enemy has been injured somewhat) my party would not get a single attack while the same enemy would take 2 or 3 in a row. This has the tendency to completely annihilate parties, and worse yet, the behavior is completely illogical and unexpected. Any semblance of strategy in RPGs is lost in Legend of Dragoon, and replaced with hoping that a boss doesn't get the inclination to unleash his Mega Party-Busting attack 3 times before giving you a chance to heal. And speaking of enemy attacks, if you disliked the summons in Final Fantasy VIII avoid Legend of Dragoon like the plague. Bosses frequently are equipped only with attacks that are near-summon-level in length, and with LoD's excruciatingly long battles, you will see these 15-20 second animations many times before the battle ends. Honestly, there is very little positive that I can say about Legend of Dragoon's battles, other than the fact that, eventually, they end. Of course, even after an enormous amount of effort, the average battle is worth such an extremely pilthy amount of gold and experience that you often wonder why you bothered fighting it. With the only items worth purchasing costing 10,000 gold, the 20 gold you get for spending 3 minutes fighting some gelatinous blob of an enemy is practically insulting. Against stronger enemies it can occasionally be more expensive to fight than to not fight.
Now, with the lack of a story and a decent battle system, one would hope that at least the FMVs and backgrounds in Legend of Dragoon lived up to expectations, but they, alas, do not. Half of the FMVs are loving recreations of scrolling bitmaps, set to awful voice acting. Now, even if you have the least bit of knowledge about programming around, you should realize that what Sony could have done would be to render the bitmap and then scroll it in real-time, rather than scrolling it in FMV. Normally this wouldn't be a complaint (CDs are nice and large, and if Sony had the space for FMV, why not?); however, unlike Final Fantasy every CD does not have every town, so you will frequently find yourself swapping CDs once you reach the later discs. Now I ask - if Sony had so much space that they could, quite literally, waste it on FMVs of scrolling bitmaps, why didn't they include every town on every disc? This, admittedly, is a rather minor annoyance; however, with so little positive to say about Legend of Dragoon the fact that something this inane would also be incorrectly done is almost humourous. Additionally, the other half of the FMVs, while technically wonderful, lack artistic merit almost entirely. One of the first things one learns in art class is that every image needs a strong focus - the action can be as frenetic as you want, with tons of quick cuts, so long as a strong focus is present in every shot. Unfortunately, Sony's art directors forgot this, and the proper FMVs (including the ending FMV) are so sloppily put together that you will frequently have no idea what is transpiring - e.g., one big patch of white collides with a big patch of red. The horrific voice-overs only serve to confuse further, since the voices in the FMVs are different from the voices in the battle scenes (which are equally bad, by the way). The towns suffer similar design problems, with tons of identical-looking entrances cluttering 1/20 of the screen area, with the rest of the image devoted to dead space. I got lost navigating several towns, simply because I couldn't remember which green arrow led to which pointless NPC. You would think that if Sony were trying to create an FMV-laden RPG they would at least hire some decent art directors, unfortunately, that didn't happen.
For those who complain about linearity in RPGs, you should also avoid LoD since it is, quite literally, impossible to travel on anything but a line. The world map is beatifully partitioned into various regions, and the only way to travel between two of them is to walk on the dotted line connecting them. This, unfortunately, means that to travel between 2 cities, you will need to walk between every random battle area in between them. Rather than making traveling through the Evergreen Forest a one-time ''story-building'' event, you can enjoy its foliage every time you want to pass between the two cities it divides. This basically merges the worst of the Final Fantasy worlds with the worst of the Zelda worlds, creating an all-to-annoying navigation experience. Sony should have removed the overworld map entirely, and allow saving anywhere in the region screens. This would have cleverly killed several navigation problems with relatively no effort.
And for one final, enormous gripe, Legend of Dragoon's translation absolutely sucks. At times it reads as if Babelfish translated it from Japanese and nobody looked at it afterwards. Awkward constructions are used constantly, and the characters speak with all the drama of a receptionist asking you to sit in the waiting room for the dentist. Several items are referred to by multiple names (the Dragon Campaign (a story-critical event) is also referred to as the Dragoon Campaign, Haschel's Additional Flurry of Styx is also called Ferry of Styx, Dart's Additional Crush Dance is spoken Crash Dance, etc.). To add insult to injury, spelling mistakes (Legislacion rather than Legislation) are littered throughout the text. It seems as if not only did no one play the English version of the game, no one ran it through a spell-checker, either. We English speakers deserve a little more respect than what Sony has provided us. Square saw the light, and has provided us with the best localizations ever (Vagrant Story, Legend of Mana) - Sony, however, has provided us with the worst ever (far worse than either Final Fantasy Tactics or Final Fantasy VII).
And that leaves everything else about Legend of Dragoon - the music, graphics, and characters to discuss. The characters are extremely cliche, amalgums of every RPG mainstay in the genre (Dart as The Hero(TM), Rose as The Mystery Woman(TM), Albert as The King(TM), etc.) - which wouldn't be so bad if they didn't sound like their lines were written by 5th graders and spoken with all the drama of a hemerrhoid commercial. The graphics are a mixed bag. The lighting effects and some of the texturing are very nice; however, the animation is terrible. Polygons break and seam all the time, and the attack animations seem to have about 3 keyframes devoted to them. Final Fantasy VII had better animation - Legend of Dragoon doesn't even begin to approach the motion-captured goodness of Final Fantasy VIII. The music ranges from abysmal (the battle music) to decent (the town music), which makes it the high point of the game by default.
Legend of Dragoon is the type of game I would expect if a bunch of 5th graders decided to make their own RPG after spending a week playing through every Final Fantasy. It is full of cliches, blatantly ripped scenarios, and identical elements - only done much poorer. The sloppiness of the battle system and translation are entirely inexcusable for a game given this much attention, money, and effort. Even if someone enjoyed all the tedium that Legend of Dragoon offers, a perfect score shouldn't be awarded due to the absolutely horrifying translation. Legend of Dragoon could have been an excellent game - I did find the minimal story about the Drago(o)n Campaign and the 108th Species very interesting, and the Additional system could have worked with a little tweaking (after all, Squall's Renzokuken system was very similar in concept, and actually enjoyable).
In the future, Sony should consider hiring a few less artists and a few more designers, directors, and play testers. Legend of Dragoon is the only game where I have cheated to win, simply because I couldn't stand playing it any more, and didn't want to chalk up 45 hours of my life as totally wasted. For those who want to spend $35, you can do much better than this atrocious game (e.g., balloons, bubbles, bubble wrap, etc.). For those wishing to kill 45 hours of their life, almost any activity (exercise, reading, watching soap operas, talking on the phone, or beating your head against the wall) is more enjoyable. And if, after all that, you still want to play this game, go play Final Fantasy IV, V, VI, and VII again. You really aren't missing that much.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 07/17/00, Updated 07/17/00
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