Review by Halron2
"In this game you fight... the BLACK MONSTER! Scary, huh?"
After the enormous success of Final Fantasy VII, it was obvious the RPG genre would receive a lot more attention from the game developing companies. Sony quickly announced the release of Legend of Dragoon, an RPG that should ‘compete’ against the Final Fantasy games. The game would have 3D graphics, pre-rendered backgrounds, wonderful visual effects and everything else that people were talking about Final Fantasy VII. Of course, Sony didn’t have the experience or resources to make a game great enough to stand a chance against Square’s most successful gaming series. However, if Legend of Dragoon is indeed a pretty much faulted game, it still manages to offer some fun for the players who try it out.
Sony’s main mistake was trying to emulate Square’s hit. The worst thing about this game is that everyone was playing it not because it was a great game, but because it had incredible graphics and a huge marketing campaign behind it. It’s sad, but true, that many more ‘innocent’ players were impressed by the game’s technical qualities and praised it as an essential game when it actually wasn’t. Even if the game did become quite successful (in commercial terms), mainly because everyone wanted to play it and see what the hype was all about, the developers couldn’t fool most players, who could see most of the game’s faults. Of course, the game will always suffer from comparisons to Final Fantasy games, unjustly, of course. Why would every traditional RPG have to be compared to Final Fantasy?
In Legend of Dragoon you play the role of Dart, a young swordsman. When the story starts, he is returning to his village, when he finds out it’s been attacked by soldiers and his childhood friend and, obviously, love interest, Shana has been kidnapped. He then sets out on a journey to rescue her. Of course, he will be caught in a massive struggle that is much bigger than he imagined, bringing back to life the dragoons (it’s pretty obvious from the start that your characters are the dragoons here), heroes of other times. Also, Dart will have the chance to chase his dream of defeating the ‘black monster’ (could anyone possibly imagine a worse name for an enemy?), who killed his parents when he was still a small child. You’ll also meet many friends who will join you in your quest and pursue objectives of their own.
The story of the game isn’t exactly bad. The only problem is that everything in here has been seen before. Every character and situation has appeared somewhere before, in other games. To be honest there actually are some interesting plot twists and subjects in hand, but, overall it’s basically old news. Some characters are interesting and can attract players to the game. Basically, the dialogue in this game is pretty basic, silly and corny, but it does create a solid characterization for the characters. In a way, story-wise, Legend of Dragoon is pretty old-school and unpretentious. It’s based upon an innocent story-telling and sense of humor, and this actually gives the game a positive quality. If, in a sense, the game loses in depth, it’s refreshing when compared to games of the same time.
The story takes place in a strange world: while, in the beginning, the world of Legend of Dragoon is a typical fantasy setting, it starts to get interesting while you advance in the game. Not only you find out the existence of other races, but you get to visit their weird and highly advanced homes. Of course, there are also remains from ancient races and ages to be visited, just like in any other RPG. The overall design of the setting is good and keeps interesting and innovating for the most part of the game. Also, exploring in Legend of Dragoon isn’t entirely free: in the world map you can only travel through pre-established ‘roads’, which makes the game more linear and tied than most RPGs. The system works pretty well, though, and the only bad point is that, when you go back to some areas, you have to switch back discs (the game is four CDs long).
In terms of gameplay, the game is a straightforward kind of traditional RPG. You travel around the world, meet new companions, fight monsters, level your characters up and so on. The only aspect of the gameplay that has any originality is the combat system. First, there’s the addition system, which works like this: when you attack a monster, you may perform an addition, which is like a combo. To link the blows in the series, the player must press the action button with the right timing. By using the additions, the combos level up and become more powerful. Also, as the characters themselves go up in level they gain new and more powerful additions to use. It’s hard to explain why, but the addition system is basically what makes Legend of Dragoon an above average game: some of them are somewhat tricky to learn (although in time even the hardest 7-hit combos will be a breeze to pull off) and such details as the characters shouting the addition’s name as they hit the enemy do add a lot of personality to the game. It’s pretty exciting when you get the hang of it.
The combat system also offers other innovations as well. Defending in the game isn’t a wasted action, like in so many other games, it’s essential: when you defend, your character’s defense is increased for the turn, he recovers 10% of his HP and he can’t be affected by status changes. The importance of this is increased by the fact that magic practically doesn't exist in the game: the only way to use magic is by turning into a dragoon. However, the characters don’t remain as dragoons longer than four turns (depending on the level of dragoon he is) and MPs are pretty much limited. To make things harder, the characters can carry a very limited amount of items in this game, meaning you should really save them for when you are really in need.
Even with these traits, Legend of Dragoon is still far from being a hard game in any sense. It’s pretty obvious what you have to do next all the time and the battles are, for the most part, pretty easy. It’s true that some bosses are somewhat cheap, like the last boss, who can confuse all of your characters at the same time if they’re not defending. But, in most cases, it’s just a problem of figuring out their action patterns and preparing for it. I’ve seen people complaining about the additions being too complicated to perform, with a hard timing to get into, but it’s not all that hard. And learning the additions is pretty much half of this game’s fun anyway. Of course, if anybody is having any problems they can always level up: the characters, their additions and their dragoon level can be increased.
The graphics of Legend of Dragoon is pretty much what made many players go for it in the first place. All characters and monsters are done in 3D, with a quality that would be somewhere between Final Fantasy VII and VIII. Like in Final Fantasy VIII, the characters look very realistic, but they don’t attain the same level of detail as in the Square hit. Backgrounds are pre-rendered and really well done. The designs, overall, are pretty good, ranging from decent to impressive. One thing that will please most players is the designs of the characters as dragoons, which are great for the most part. The dragons themselves, on the other hand, are pretty weird, in the bad sense. Also, the visual concept of the setting must be praised, specially towards the end, when the characters visit some really weird-looking environments. But the thing to really write home about are the FMVs. People had been impressed by Final Fantasy VII and VIII, but Legend of Dragoon’s are arguably better. Some of them are really unbelievable on first sight, like the opening sequence and the ending. However, in spite of all the quality, we get to see very little of these sequences, which is quite a disappointment, when all the game’s marketing campaign was made on this ‘graphical prowess’ thing. The game looks good, but it doesn’t justify the hype.
In terms of sound, the game is quite strange. First of all, the music is really different from what we’re accustomed to in videogame RPGs: the style found here isn’t epic, glorious and bombastic orchestral pieces. Legend of Dragoon’s soundtrack consists basically of electronic ‘techno’ music, sounding much more ‘modern’ than most RPG soundtracks we know. We have the use, for example, of electric guitar samples in some tracks. There are some more traditional pieces to be found, but they’re not the rule here. Also, the compositional style is quite different from what we’re used to, so the music in the game becomes quite strange for most players. For this reason, it has been criticized as much as people could. However, it’s definitely not a bad soundtrack and, even if the songs aren’t even in quality, there are some interesting tracks and ideas to be praised. The battle themes, in the most part, are excellent and really different from what we’ve seen before. And there are other examples. In the end, we have a good, however strange, soundtrack. Also, we have voice acting in Legend of Dragoon. In the FMVs and storytelling bits, the acting is really terrible. Why can’t one RPG have decent voice acting, at least in English?
Overall, Legend of Dragoon is obviously less than we were made to believe it was: so much hype was made about the game that it was impossible to meet. Furthermore, it isn’t really such a great game, falling in most of the common mistakes of RPGs. However, it’s far from being bad and offers a good deal of interesting elements and concepts to entertain most players for its duration. And, for a game that was clearly made to capitalize on the success of a specific game and genre, Legend of Dragoon, for its own merit, manages to stand as a little more than just another money making blockbuster.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 09/14/03
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