Review by GaIcian

"It's rough, ruff."

Introduction
I was skeptical when I heard many reviewers say that The Legend of Dragoon was almost identical to Final Fantasy VII. I thought it was an unfair victim of Final Fantasy VII's popularity. After all, in the years following Final Fantasy VII's release, and even to this day, it is the RPG used to measure all others. Considering that, pretty much any major RPG released thereafter had been summed up to Final Fantasy VII. A major bias had been generated. I needed to prove to myself that The Legend of Dragoon was a truly a victim of the ''Squaresoft fanboy''. So, I started playing it, and guess what? This game is so much like Final Fantasy VII, it's almost laughable at times. Entire scenes, plot twists, and even dialogue have been ripped right out of Final Fantasy VII with minor changes.

Plot
The game opens on a small village called Seles with a long, computer generated cutscene. The peaceful night has been shattered by the crackling of flames and soldiers rushing through the alley ways and streets, burning everything as they come. They capture a young woman named Shana, and a conversation begins between the commander and a dark, hooded figure that wont be understood until much later. You know right away that this young lady must be saved by someone, but who?

Enter Dart. A young mercenary soldier who scours the world of Endiness for the ''Black Monster'', a demon responsible for destroying his home town 18 years ago. His journey leads him into the lair of a dragon. Just when he is about to be killed, he is saved by a mysterious woman called Rose, who tells him that the nearby village of Seles has been wiped out. Seles is the village where Dart grew up after his home town was destroyed, so he immediately rushes there. But it's too late. Seles is utterly destroyed, and he learns that his ''baby sister'', Shana, had been kidnapped. Naturally, as the brash, fiery, vengeful young hero, Dart must venture into enemy territory and rescue her.

From start to finish, The Legend of Dragoon is filled to the brim with every cliché in the sacred tome of RPG clichés. This will give away many of The Legend of Dragoon's key plot points, since they're so predictable. But what makes them even more predictable is the amount of foreshadowing that takes place sometimes hours before events occur. For instance, the character Lavitz.

Lavitz, while not entirely unlikable, is very bland and uninteresting. But he's the first party member that joins you, so you have no choice but to use him. While in Lavitz's home town, Bale, Dart and Lavitz begin to bond. You learn all about Lavitz's past, and you see that Lavitz's mother yearns for him to give her a grandchild. Also, Dart and Lavitz make a promise to eachother to have a couple drinks when the war is over. After hours of one liners and silence from Lavitz, this sudden gush of development makes it fairly apparent that Lavitz doesn't have much longer to live. Of course, it's an unwritten rule that anyone in an RPG that makes a promise is going to die.

In the beginning, The Legend of Dragoon advances at a snail's pace. It takes about fifteen hours for any real plot development to occur. Until then, you're just trudging through dungeon after dungeon, town after town. Each town brings yet another problem that must be solved, and each solution leads to a dungeon, which in turn, leads to another town, and so on. You go from Seles to Hellena Prison to rescue Shana, Hellena to Bale to escape, Bale to Hoax to protect it from Sandoran soldiers, Hoax to Lohan to stop a Dragon from terrorizing Hoax, Lohan to Shirley's Shrine to find a cure for Shana's illness (Final Fantasy IV, anyone?), and there's maybe 15 minutes of actual plot development the whole time.

The plot gets it's first jump start when a shadowy figure named Lloyd appears. You'll know he's going to be the main villain when you see him. Grey hair, narrow eyes, feminine features, black clothes. When character roles can be predicted by mere appearance, you know there's a severe originality problem here. Lloyd is a cold, merciless killer striving to create his own ''utopia'', with a passionate hatred for humans, because he is one of the last descendants of an ancient race that once ruled the world. Sound familiar? I'll bet it does.

Localization
The thing that hurts the storyline of The Legend of Dragoon the most isn't it's horde of drab clichés or agonizingly slow development, it's its utterly pathetic translation. This is one of the worst RPG translations I've ever seen on the Playstation. You'd think that after three years of development and with 100 brains on the development team, localizing the game would've been flawlessly done. Wrong. Every line is blunt, to the point, lacking any detail, and simply drained of any emotion whatsoever. Be it a simple conversation, or last words of a dying friend, the dialogue is absolutely lifeless.

Characters have a hard time supporting the ethics of their personalities at times, because of the bad localization. For instance, although Rose is usually a cold hearted ''bitch'' of few words and no sense of humor, she'll occasionally bust out with a cheesy line like ''You want a knuckle sandwich?!'' And although the characters primarily resort to a ''proper'' manner of speaking, their use of the words ''Hey guys!'' spares none of them, not even the refined and intelligent King of Serdio, Albert. There are also some minor mishaps that can be classified as ''Engrish''. ''South of Serdio'', ''North of Serdio'', and so forth.

Gameplay
For game that took so long to be finished, it's surprising how simple and linear it is. Although there is a map, you're forced to tread on a series of dotted lines between locations, and dotted lines leading to other dungeons are blocked until you fulfill a certain requirement or gather the right information in the town nearest to it. So you're pretty much forced to go where you have to for the majority of the game. The biggest pain in the ass is the fact that you can't pass through dungeons on the world map even if you've already cleared them. So every time you backtrack, you'll have to go back through every dungeon you passed to get there all over again. This is simply a nightmare, especially at the beginning of disc four, when you have to go through three dungeons just to get back to a town, only to go back to the place you came from in the first place. Good lord.

Another annoying quirk in terms of the world map is that whenever you go back to an area where events took place on a previous disk, you have to switch back to that disk. For instance, if you're on disk 3 and you want to return to Serdio, you have to reload disk 2 or 1 in order to return. This is incredibly irritating, especially if you only want to return just to buy an item, and when you go back, you'll have to put the other disk you were on before back in. What's the point?

Exploration is straightforward, and there is little difference from The Legend of Dragoon and most other generic RPGs out there. You walk around on the dungeon screens and get into battles randomly. A nice little feature, however, is that there is an arrow above Dart's head, which changes color depending on the activity of the enemies in the area. When it turns red, it means you're a couple steps away from getting into a fight, which will allow you to double check your characters' health and such one last time.

Some of the towns in The Legend of Dragoon are truly massive, usually more complex than the dungeons, surprisingly enough. But, their purpose is still the same as any other town; to accelerate the plot and to restock items. Which brings us to another curious quirk about the game; the items. You are allowed to carry an extremely sparing maximum of 32 consumable items. This isn't really a problem early on in the game, but becomes a horrible nuisance as you find more and more crucial, reusable items. It gets to the point where opening another chest means you'll have to discard a healing potion or a cure for a negative status, and since you don't know what's in the chest beforehand, you might end up exchanging a good item for one that's long since been obsolete.

Oddly enough, although your item bag can't hold more than 32 usable items, it can hold 255 pieces of equipment, and you probably wont use half that space by the end of the game. Which brings me to yet another curious quirk; equipment. Equipment in this game is extremely cheap. In the average town, you can fully arm your entire party with the latest weapons and armor for less than 1000 gold, since equipment seldom sells for more than two digits worth. However, in some towns, scattered about the helmets and boots for 30 and 40G are items for 5000 and 10000G. Since enemies in The Legend of Dragoon drop a minuscule amount of gold, it's doubtful you'll ever be able to afford those things when they're available, and when you do have that much gold, you'll be far away from the store that sold those items.

Also, enemies tend to give very little experience, as well. You can fight for hours and not gain a single level. It'll be a rare occurrence if you level up fighting normal enemies, but one boss is likely to level up your entire party, sometimes several times in a row. The only way to really level up your characters is by seeking special enemies that are located in various areas of the world map between towns and dungeons. Although these enemies usually have less than 10 HP, their defense is so high that you wont be able to do more than 1 point of damage! Most have the ability to kill you in a single hit, and others usually run away before you can deliver the final blow. Needless to say, this is very annoying, and ultimately pointless.

If you're a big fan of mini-games or optional side-quests, The Legend of Dragoon is not the game for you. There is a ''Golden Saucer''-like location fairly early in the game where all but one of the mini-games in the game can be played. They're all pretty simple and boring, ranging from a ''What's different about this room?'' to ''Pass through the gauntlet''. You'll need to buy tickets to play these games, but your only rewards will be even more tickets unless you have the skill to pass the insanely difficult gauntlet. Much later on, there's a mini-game that involves chopping vegetables. Yes, it's as boring as it sounds.

The Legend of Dragoon also sports three optional side-quests, and all three are pointed out during crucial dialogue sequences, so they're fairly obvious. Two of them involve separate mini-dungeons that are parts of larger dungeons, and the earliest these are available is on disc 3. The largest and most rewarding side-quest in the game is the Stardust quest, which is hardly a ''side-quest''. There are 50 Stardusts located in various towns and a select few dungeons in Endiness, and not a single one of them requires you to go out of your way to get it. As long as you explore every odd looking object or background element in towns and run around pressing the ''X'' button all the time, you shouldn't have much trouble finding all of them.

Battle Engine
Although The Legend of Dragoon shares much in common with Final Fantasy VII, the battle engines are about as different as they can get, and thank god for that. The Legend of Dragoon's redeeming factor is in the highly enjoyable battle system. Combat takes place in the traditional turn-based style, and when it's your characters' turn, a list of generic commands pops up, which includes Attack, Guard, Item, Escape, and later on, your Dragoon Transformation and Full Dragoon Transformation abilities.

When you attack, your character performs their ''Addition'' by rushing up to the enemy and attacking. A blue and white box appears in the center of the screen. Another blue and white box closes in on the first and you must hit the ''X'' button when they are aligned, right when the first blow lands. Timing is very precise, and there can be 1 to 7 consecutive timed presses required to complete the attack. The additions are a fun, fresh breath of air in comparison to the more simple and boring ''select a command and watch an animation'' tango of Final Fantasy.

When you complete the Addition, the character will shout the name of the attack and it will be recorded in your Additions log in your menu. When you successfully complete an Addition 20 times, it will level up, and the amount of incurred SP gain or inflicted damage will increase for that Addition. As you level up, you'll get more powerful additions, but also, the number of hits will increase as well, thus making each consecutive addition harder to pull off. But with enough practice, it becomes second nature. However, some enemies have the ability to counter additions by attempting to break it at a certain point. When this happens, a red shield will appear in front of the enemy and you must press ''O'' instead of ''X''.

The only downside to this engine is that the player may become too dependent on the blue and white boxes rather than the landing of the strikes. You can't always depend on the boxes. A lot of backgrounds in The Legend of Dragoon are blue and white. In areas like Kashua Glacier or Fort Magrad, it's difficult to see the boxes, thus throwing off your timing. Also, the box for the next attack wont appear until you've pressed the button for the previous attack. Basically, this means that in Additions with hits in rapid succession, you're screwed, since by the time you can see the box for the next attack, it's already too late.

Another unique aspect of the game is Guarding. Guarding actually serves a purpose in The Legend of Dragoon. Guarding not only doubles your defense, but increases your resistance to status effects and recovers 10% of your maximum HP. This is a great feature, since you can fully restore your party by fighting a minor enemy battle before a major boss fight, without consuming your precious and extremely limited stock of curative items.

No character in the game has the innate ability to use Magic. Magic spells are performed by using consumable items, which means you'll probably never, ever use magic in this game. Magic spells are marginally more expensive than most pieces of equipment, but appear quite frequently in chests and are commonly dropped by enemies. Unfortunately, no spell in the game is worth sacrificing precious space for curative items, since they hardly ever do more damage than a standard addition.

If you ever do use a spell, there are some interesting twists. When you use a weaker spell item, you can power it up by mashing on the ''X'' button. Anyone who's dealt with boosting the Guardian Forces in Final Fantasy VIII should recognize this. You can actually do some fairly decent damage and lengthen the animation of the spell for a cooler effect the more you press the button. If you have a semi-auto controller, it might even be worth your while to sacrifice a few curative items for spells.

The ''heart'' of the battle system, and most of the game itself, revolves around the Dragoons. Unfortunately, much like the mecha of Xenogears, your powered up forms limit your commands. To maintain the form of a Dragoon, you must acquire SP by using Additions. The gauge under the character's life bar shows how much SP they have. When they've acquired at least one level stock of SP, they can transform. Each SP stock lasts one round, and a fully leveled Dragoon can have up to five stocks.

As a Dragoon, you can only use two commands; Dragoon Addition and Magic. Dragoon Additions are even more basic than your standard Additions. Rather than pressing the button during timed blows, you watch a sphere rotate around a circular emblem at increasing speed. When the sphere reaches the top of the emblem, you must press the ''X'' button. This is easier said than done. If you're off just a little, the charging sequence will stop and your character will perform an only semi-complete Dragoon Addition.

Magic is more useful for most characters than the Dragoon Additions. They're your basic command-triggered animation sequences with no button-pressing quirks or powering up phases. They simply do a lot of damage. Of course, like any full-blooded RPG, they use up MP, and as a Dragoon, your MP are scarce and rapidly consumed.

The most major drawback to the Dragoons are the dead-ends they present. Foremost, you cannot revert back to your normal form after turning into a Dragoon until you're either killed or your SP stocks are spent. Some enemies in the game use attacks that are specifically designed to kill Dragoons, so if you're taking a lot of damage in Dragoon form, you'll have to ride it out until you die or you run out of SP. The second major flaw of the Dragoon is that they cannot heal themselves with curative items. They have no access to the inventory. The only way they can be healed is by another character or by one of three curative Dragoon Magic spells in the game.

The most useless command in the game is by far, the Full Transformation. When all of your characters have fully maxed out their SP gauges, you can use the Full Transformation command to make all of them transform at the same time, and your characters and the enemy will be transported to the caster's ''dimension'', so to speak. In this dimension, the corresponding Dragoon will not have to use timed presses to use their Dragoon Addition, as it will always be completed.

The problems the Full Transformation presents far outweigh the few good aspects. First, if all three of your characters are Dragoons, none of them will be able to heal themselves unless they have a healing spell. It would be much more tactful to transform two characters and leave one in normal form in order to heal the Dragoons when they become weak. Also, later on in the game, more and more enemies seem to be prejudice against Dragoons, and sometimes even totally immune to Dragoon Additions and Magic, so by using the Full Transformation, your enemy may be devastating and possibly even invincible.

Graphics
This is something I'll never understand. One of the greatest mysteries of our time. People think this game has groundbreaking, revolutionary graphics. Even people who dislike it feel that it's a great visual experience. Obviously, there are more delusional people out there than I thought, because this game's visuals are a few notches above pure shit.

First and foremost, you will notice the supposedly abundant amount of FMV cutscenes. These are actually few and far between, and are about on the same level as Final Fantasy VII, in some areas better, and in others, worse. The texture of them is far too ''fluid'', and anything not organic appears anatomically incorrect, especially human characters. The use of the FMV raises some questions as well. In boring dialogue sequences of little importance, like the explanation of the back story or the story of the Divine Tree, FMVs will just pop up, where crucial scenes like the death of Lavitz and even the final confrontation with Lloyd and Melbu Frahma, are left in their shabby, pitiful polygonal form.

And that brings us to the polygons. Remember the blocky lego characters from Final Fantasy VII? This game's renders are barely a notch above those. While the field-map characters are at least not super deformed, they are just as blocky and just as plagued with breakup and mesh. The in battle renders, however, are simply atrocious. Final Fantasy VII, for it's time, had amazing polygonal renders in battle. This game can't even begin to compare to those. Some enemies looks downright laughable. Their movements are jittery and they have no textures at all. Simply horrible. Quite possibly, the worst looking game of it's time.

The graphics aren't TOTAL shit, though. The backgrounds are actually quite nice. Pre-rendered of course, and painstakingly detailed. Some are simply breathtaking, especially the ones later on in the game, like the technological metropolis which eerily rests in a bubble beneath the sea. Also, and it's been said before by many, water looks gorgeous in this game, almost as if it were real. Had they spent half as much time on the polygonal renders, this game would've looked absolutely splendid. Instead, it's not even halfway decent.

Design
The Legend of Dragoon presents characters who's personalities have the potential to make them original, but they all turn out completely generic. Your main character, Dart, looks like every main character, ever. Period. Other characters hardly ever look original. You have the obligatory, overly compassionate, physically helpless heroine who wears all white. A rebellious prince who's seen very little of the world and is rather curious about things of remote interest. A wise old man skilled in martial arts. The ever boring strong, silent guy who talks in primative, third-person dialect. The extremely hyper, scantily clad young girl, and so on. Everything maintains a constant, generic feel. The only character that was designed with originality in mind was Rose. She looks dark, cold, and you can see millennia of hardships by looking into her eyes.

As I've said before, the enemy designs are atrocious. If they aren't totally generic, they're so far-fetched and fruity, they can't spawn anything more than a chuckle or a pointed finger, perhaps even a grimace of disgust. The worst are the dragons, one of the key aspects of the game. They are far too.. out there. The Divine Dragon is the only thing remotely close to resembling a dragon. The rest either look like space ships or giant insects. It's utterly appalling.

However, there is one area of The Legend of Dragoon that was designed with grace, beauty, and spender; the dungeons. The dungeons start off fairly generic, but they become much more beautiful and unique as you delve further into the game. They range from a colorful cavern of coral-encrusted bones to a valley of floating rocks strung together by filmy energy that corrupts gravity. Breathtaking originality makes the dungeons a sight to behold.

Sound
The sound in The Legend of Dragoon, unlike most of it's other features, leaves nothing to be desired. Hit sounds and spell effects hit their whimsical and sometimes chaotic marks perfectly, and the effect when you've completed an Addition sounds really nice. Also, a surprise, are the character voices. They're actually well acted and show persistence. Some characters even growl and grunt authentically, making them seem more alive. It's sad that the voices make the characters more lively than their personalities do. Even the small amount of voice acted dialogue sequences are decent compared to most.

Music
While The Legend of Dragoon doesn't present what I would call a great soundtrack, it presents a good one that can be called simply ''unique''. The soundtrack has a one-of-a-kind feel to it, and I can't think of anything that sounds quite like it. There's definitely a sort of Celtic quality to it, that seems to be mixed with subtle Middle-Eastern satir and occasionally Caribbean percussion. I was surprised to find that the main composer of the game was a New York native named Dennis Martin. Not only was he American, but this was also his first sound track for a video game, which he openly admits in his interview with Rocketbaby.

The music in The Legend of Dragoon, while not epic or entirely memorable, is enjoyable, and it's exotic feel works well with the dungeons. Unfortunately, there isn't a large abundance of themes, so you'll be hearing a lot of them over and over again in various places. Despite this, I must give Dennis Martin credit. He did a splendid job for a first-timer.

Overall
The Legend of Dragoon is a clichéd, sometimes boring game almost redeemed by a highly enjoyable and addictive battle engine. Its high profile and Sony's good marketing schemes have given it mass popularity. But it is truly just a generic, slightly above average game that tries too hard to be an epic masterpiece. Had it not been for it's brand name, it would've surely slipped through the cracks of time, forgotten like so many others. While certainly not one the best games of the year, The Legend of Dragoon is at least worth a look, if not a play-through, only once.

Scores
Plot *** (9/15)
Localization ** (4/10)
Gameplay *** (12/20)
Battle Engine **** (16/20)
Graphics ** (2/5)
Design ** (4/10)
Sound ***** (5/5)
Music *** (9/15)
Overall *** (61/100)


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 06/17/03, Updated 10/02/03


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