Review by Fragrant Elephant
"A strong start to the Gagharv Trilogy!!"
The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion is a great RPG. It has a compelling story, strong characters, solid gameplay, and fantastic music. It's the second game in the Gagharv Trilogy, and the fourth game in the overall Legend Series. However, in the US version, it's the first game of the trilogy. The Gagharv Trilogy is about the three lands separated by the giant schism, Gagharv: El Phildin to the west (A Tear of Vermillion), Tirasweel to the east (Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch), and Weltluna to the south (Song of the Ocean). Since I am playing the games out of order (I started with Song of the Ocean, the last game, and will soon play The Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch, the first one in the original trilogy, my take on A Tear of Vermillion is based on my recent experience with Song of the Ocean. This review will occasionally make comparisons between the two games.
A Tear of Vermillion has two main stories, one of which is executed better than the other. The game begins with emotional appealduring an enemy raid, Avin is separated from his beloved sister Eimelle. The enemy continues to hunt Eimelle, making Avin's quest to find her all the more urgent. This is the well-executed story, especially as it involves a likeable main character and a cast of engaging minor characters who are extremely supportive, both in words and in fights. There are a number of themes presented throughout the story, the most striking of which is dutyshown in that Avin must protect Eimelle as her older brother; the Adventurer's Guild must help ordinary citizens; and royals and nobles personally lead attacks against monsters and criminals. Another theme is bondsthe game story is defined by the strong positive ties between Avin and Eimelle, Avine and Mile, Douglas and Lucias, Avin and Rutice, Rutice and Rouca, and so on. In particular, the romance that develops between Avin and Rutice was gratifyingly unexpected and charmingly understated.
However, Avin's story takes place against the backdrop of a world with the generic light-versus-darkness theme, with the equally overused human-will-versus-divine-destiny theme fuelling the key dialogs. This particular aspect of the game is poorly laid out, mostly because the gods Bardus and Octum only have throwaway lines about gods themselves being bound by fate, and the main villain, Lord Bellias, is not fully developed. For comparison, Song of the Ocean has a unique story that posits an advanced magical civilization with a spell system based on sound, and the main characters are troubadours whose adventures are all music-based.
Music is another excellent feature of the Legend of Heroes series. In A Tear of Vermillion, I particularly enjoyed the music that plays while you're traveling the roads, and the melancholy themes that play during dramatic moments are superbly appropriate. The same goes for the grandly swelling music when something exciting happens, such as when you ride on the Planetos (Planetos II in Song of the Ocean). There's also fast-paced music that plays whenever you have to overcome a crisis, like rescuing kidnapped people or fighting off monsters near town entrances. The shrine music is great, and there are several battle themes that get you in the mood for the turn-based fighting.
The best element of A Tear of Vermillion has to be the characters. The game is populated by main and minor characters that are well developed, have good lines, and have better attack animations than those in Song of the Ocean. The contrast becomes especially pronounced during battles. There were several points during A Tear of Vermillion when I was very happy with my team composition; my favorite group consisted of Avin (melee plus attack spells), Rutice (attack spells plus healing), and Lucias (melee plus free healing), but I was equally happy with Avin, Mile, and Douglas; or Avin, Mile, Gawaine, and Rutice. By contrast, Song of the Ocean had me controlling a grandpa, two adolescents, and a dog for longer than I wanted. I never once used Shao, because, as one reviewer pointed out, he looked like he was one cheeseburger away from a heart attack. Similarly, it was gratifying to have a strong, determined fighter as the main protagonist in A Tear of Vermillion; in Song of the Ocean, Forte is usually overshadowed by McBain.
A Tear of Vermillion features clean gameplay. It's easy to figure out how to get from point A to point B, or which NPC to talk to in order to advance through the game. I had to resort to walkthroughs for Song of the Ocean; I finished A Tear of Vermillion completely on my own. Both games have similar mini-quests that must be accomplished to move on (e.g. find Bang Bang the teddy bear), and these are generally fun. The Map feature in both games lets you anticipate which region you'll end up next, and A Tear of Vermillion typically uses exposition to explain to gamers where to proceed.
Both games score about the same for the battle systems. I was already familiar with the battle system by the time I played A Tear of Vermillion, and the main difference is that the Deadly attacks in A Tear of Vermillion don't interrupt enemy movements like the Finishing Moves do in Song of the Ocean. Also, in Song of the Ocean, you can speed up battle movements by hitting the action button. Those are two points in favor of Song of the Ocean. Still, it was easier to handle the black and white magic spell system of El Phildin, as opposed to the Resonance Spells of Weltluna, which I didn't get to use right away. In both games, enemies can be avoided, which can be used to full advantage when you're in an area with lower-level enemies that give minimal experience points. The higher-level enemies are also respectably tough, making you feel that you've earned those points.
A Tear of Vermillion is great when it comes to money and equipment. One of my pet peeves in Song of the Ocean was that the rotating minor characters left the party without returning the equipment in my main inventory. In A Tear of Vermillion, every party member who leaves also leaves behind their stuff, so you could sell those if you're short on cash. In addition, accessories are crucial in A Tear of Vermillion, and it's really fun to weigh the advantages of, say, equipping a melee/magic character with something that will lower attack power but beef up magic attack and defense. A Tear of Vermillion also has TONS of accessories, a lot of which I didn't use. They can be sold, of course.
The graphics are excellent. The character designs are gorgeous, the Spirit spells are impressive, and the water undulations are beautiful. The towns and roads are serviceable and fairly simple to navigate, and the caves are suitably dark and confusing. But the designs of the dungeons (shrines) could have used some more adjusting, as I kept hitting dead ends. The one exception is the Sealed Land, which looked just plain fantastic.
All in all, Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion is fun, moving, and entertaining. If we're going by the US pacing of the series, it's a strong start to the Gagharv Trilogy. Highly recommended for RPG fans.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/10/10
Game Release: The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion (US, 11/15/05)
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