Review by darthjulian
"A good but flawed game"
Back in the days, Legend of Dragoon was proclaimed by Sony to be the Final Fantasy-killer. And the game was immensely hyped by fans and critics, and it was expected to be a new RPG-milestone. Unfortunately, the outcome isn´t exactly on par with RPGs like Final Fantasy or Grandia. Legend of Dragoon is a mixed bag, with some good ideas yet some annoying flaws as well.
What can I say about the gameplay? When you´re not watching some story sequence, you´re doing the two most common things in RPGs: battling monsters or wandering around in some village, forest, dungeon and so on. First, the battle system. I have to admit that it´s interesting...at least at the beginning. You have the typical commands like "attack", "defend", "item" and "flee", while later in the game you´re able to transform into a dragoon. attacking your enemies is quite different in this game, because LoD uses a combo system. Put simply, you have to push the right button at the right time in order to cause more damage on your enemy. This is refreshing at the beginning, but gets tedious soon, and you wish you could just skip the battles. Healing your character is another issue, because of the battle/magic system and the item system. first of all, there´s no magic. Yes, that´s right, no magic. You only have items with magic-abilities and some special attacks with your dragoons, but that´s it. So you can´t heal your characters with magic. Okay, then you´ll have to use healing-items, right? Well, yes, but it doesn´t work so well in theory since your inventory is limited to about 40 items, and each item counts as its own. So you really have to use them carefully, and you´ll have to save them for the boss fights. Another possibility to heal your characters is to defend, which restores a little amount of hitpoints. It could happen that you´re defending for 3 or 4 rounds first in order to heal until you can attack. Not very thoughtful. The level-up system is a chore as well, since it takes a lifetime for a character to level up. Later in the game, you´ll need a really high amount of experience points in order to level up, and this is penetrated by the way your characters are provided with exp. Imagine you get 56 exp. after a battle and you have 3 characters. Now the 56 exp. are divided by 3, so each character only gets a fraction of the (considerably low amount of) exp. So leveling up your characters will take some time, and with the boring battles, it can be a chore. The other aspects next to the battle system are pretty solid, the dungeon designs are mostly okay and sometimes even creative. Walking through towns, talking and shopping is the same as in other RPGs and not worth mentioning.
Hm...this is a mixed bag. First of all, the game consists of prerendered backgrounds and polygonal characters, much like the PSX-Final Fantasies. The backgrounds are really beautifully rendered and nicely designed, rivaling those of Final Fantasy VIII or IX. But the characters somehow don´t fit into these beautiful backgrounds. They just look to blocky and are too poorly textured. They´re sometimes even worse than those of Final Fantasy VII (and that game is 3 years older and was graphically top-notch back then). In any case the interaction between the polygonal characters and the backgrounds is quite bad. Squaresoft showed with Final Fantasy VIII and IX and Chrono Cross how it can be done better. The battle graphics on the other hand are above average and very good, with some nice effects during the dragoon transformations. But what about the FMVs? Well, they are easily as good as those found in Final Fantasy VIII, they´re sometimes even breathtaking (for a game of the year 2000), providing you with some cool action and dramatic moments. But alas, there are only few full motion videos. After the impressive intro, it took some hours until the next cutscene showed up. This is disappointing, considering how many FMVs Square put into Final Fantasy VIII and IX. This is some wasted potential, since the character models and the action in the FMVs are terrific.
Oh my...normally, good music is essential for the mood in a RPG. Unfortunately, the music really does carry the mood from a certain point of view: it´s just plain boring. There´s no single piece of music that truly stands out, it´s mostly just playing in the background without you even noticing. But the battle music is simply awful. There are some throughout the game, and almost every single one sounds terribly cheap and makes the battles an even greater chore than they already are. Only the boss music is passable, but otherwise, the battle music simply sucks. Overall, the music is disappointing, but at least most of the normal tracks don´t really annoy you.
The story is typical RPG-fare. It starts with Dart, the hero, returning to his home village only to witness the destruction of the village by the soldiers of some evil empire and the abduction of his girlfriend Shana. Being your typical, selfless hero, he immediately goes on a mission to rescue Shana from the clutches of the empire. As the plot thickens, Dart realizes the true intentions of Emperor Doel and how he is merely a pawn in a much more complex scheme. Of course, Dart also discovers that he has the power to transform into a dragoon, a legendary knight who can control dragons. Honestly, there are some surprising twists in LoD´s storyline, I admit that. The plot is not as simple as one might think after having completed disc 1. But unfortunately, most of the story consists of cliches like the typical "save the world from some insane, superhuman being" theme. Normally, I can live with that. I´ve played so many RPGs and many of them were filled with cliches, but I still enjoyed them. Because they had at least an interesting narrative and some cool characters to carry the plot, but sadly, LoD lacks both (more on the latter later). The dialogues the story is being told with are sometimes incredibly stupid and irrelevant, and I felt the urge not even to read them anymore after a while. What´s even worse is the fact that the story is painfully slow-paced. It takes so much time for the plot to develop, which is because of some needless quests that really don´t do anything for the story and just serve to make the game seem more complex. In any case, the plot really starts only at the beginning of disc 3, when the true villains are revealed. The first to discs are merely foreshadowing the events, and as I said they are full of needless chapters and stupid dialogue. From disc 3 on, the story is getting better, but it´s still nothing compared to Final Fantasy VII or Chrono Trigger. Not really a bad storyline, but certainly not a great or groundbreaking one.
The characters are simply terrible. They´re both lame and uninteresting, just some stereotypes that happen to be in your party. Except for Dart and Shana, no one in your party really gets any true and deep background story that is being developed throughout the game. Of course, their pasts are revealed and some of their problems are mentioned, but they´re not solved. There are for example some flashbacks that show the tragic past of a certain character and his certain problem, but it´s never mentioned again in the game. Thus I think it´s tough to develop any true relationship to the characters. And as I said, they´re not even outstanding. Dart is your typical spikey-haired RPG-hero, Shana your typical hero´s love interest with a surprising past, Lavitz your typical loyal buddy and so on. The only main characters I found interesting are Rose and Kongol. On the villain side, only Lloyd was at least an interesting character, while Melbu Frahma was really a terribly designed nemesis.
There´s no reason to play through Legend of Dragoon again once you finished it. No cool new game+ or other features worth mentioning.
As you can see, Legend of Dragoon really has some serious flaws that prevent ti from being on par with the big RPGs. But somehow, I kept playing this game, despite its flaws. It´s far from being a bad game, but considering the fact that it was announced as a rival for Final Fantasy, the outcome is less than stellar. I recommend this game to RPG fans who played all the big titles like Final Fantasy, Grandia or Chrono Cross and are searching for a title to kill some time until the next great RPG arrives. And newbies should play Final Fantasy first.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/05/06
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