Review by Zeustarr

"Awarding your favourite game with less than a perfect score...? That's honesty."

The Legend of Dragoon; A gripping adventure, emotionally moving, adored by a surprisingly large cult following...yet clichéd, error-filled, and poorly received at a turning point in time for RPG's. A double-edged sword indeed, but definitely outweighed by the positive aspects, as you will discover in my completely honest look at this marvellous game. As you probably noticed in the review headline, The Legend of Dragoon became my favourite game not long after it was released in 2000, and it has retained the number one spot ever since.

Story (10/10)
I'm a sucker for a lengthy, original story that manages to keep players wanting more way beyond the first section of the game, a crucial trait where a few RPG's suffer (Star Ocean 3 comes to mind...bitter disappointment after the first disc). It is currently 11 years after the release of LoD, RPG's have taken huge steps with graphics, audio, programming, basically in every aspect due to the splendour of the Next-Gen consoles, however I notice a decline in the quality of RPG's in the story department…supposedly the most important part of the genre.

A fact that I adore is that LoD is lengthy. The storyline is very gripping, which is divided up into 4 Chapters, each taking place in a new “continent” in pursuit of your main mission. You are Dart Flac, a brave and rather humble swordsman, in his quest for reuniting with a loved one, protecting his country from invaders, and entering into the heart of the enemy territory with only a small band of followers. Sounds clichéd? In some areas, yes, LoD has traditional traits found in earlier RPGs (such as the main character being a swordsman, a fragile character with a strange strength, a “save the world” motif) however, the game NEVER tries to emulate a Final Fantasy title or any other series; it is an original title that is more innovative than it appears at first glance. In fact, the storyline I described above was only the first chapter…surprise!

As Dart continues to gain a diverse party, he shows a lot of personal growth, from a “Lone Wolf” to a strong and compassionate leader. I find that the 6 companions that Dart makes on the way through the game are very genuine and each have a good reason to stick around (even though some don't at first). We have some stereotypical characters, such as the loyal knight and the old martial artist, but overall the characters were very well designed with a backstory and a realistic personality, you will grow to have a love for them all, I guarantee it.

One small negative point that I'd like to make is the damage made during translation to the dialogue spoken by characters, the names of towns, and general spelling errors. It's not happening once or twice, it happens a lot and if you're observant like me, you'll pick it up. The problem doesn't really distort the game and its story in any way; it just would have been nice if the editing staff had a second look.

I'm sure you're wondering by now where the “Dragoon” (Dragon Knights) fits into this story. Well I wont spoil it for you, the Dragoons and the ancient Dragon Wars are an integral part of the story which ties the mission together, but because of the many plot twists and possibly giving away spoilers, I'll just leave it up to you to play and discover for yourself. Overall, LoD has an amazing story, long, immersive, awesome allies and foes, twists and surprises…it is the main reason I can play the game over and over and still enjoy it as much as the first time. Without a doubt, 10/10.

Gameplay (8/10)
First off, The Legend of Dragoon has a rather interesting battle system. In my opinion, it's a very love/hate part of the game, I personally see and appreciate the designers tried to be innovative with it, but it doesn't always execute the best and can be rather tough and repetitive depending on your style of fighting. A breath of fresh air from button-mashing the attack option from earlier RPGs, LoD has a “target ring” battle style for attacking enemies. Basically, when you select the Attack command, your character will approach your selected foe and before they strike the first blow, a square ring will zoom-in towards your enemy, you have to time your press of the X button to when the zooming square lines up with the square on the enemies body thus, feeling as you struck the foe in time with your characters swing. Each ally has a range of movesets, striking the enemy up to 10 times, each with different damage stats, difficulty and SP gain (more about that later). Often at your first play of the game, you will miss swings very often, even on the easiest moves. You have to have a good sense of rhythm and a keen eye to succeed in battle. I personally like the Attack system, others may hate it. It's all up to you.

The battle system is also comprised of item usage which is limited to 32 items in total that you can carry, a huge challenge to juggle attack items, healing items, and stat boosters so that you're supported during battle in all aspects. Each enemy and ally has an elemental affinity and thus, a weakness. For example, Dart is a fire elemental, if his sword is enchanted with fire element, he can strike water elemental foes twice as hard…however in LoD the opposite also applies, where the foe can hit him twice as hard too. This is why you must keep a good variety of elements within your three-member battle party to maximise your advantage over your enemies. It's another element seen before in RPGs but it's executed simply and very well, being a huge importance to success in battle. There is also a Defend command that restores 10% of your health and guards against a status effect being used against you the following turn, very effective for long battles, or to restore yourself without having to sacrifice essential items.

Finally, characters are eventually able to use magic through the existence of the Dragoons. Dragon magic is charged up for use by the SP meter, which is filled by attacking enemies normally, or using an SP item. When one or more bars have been charged, you can access the Dragoon magic to unleash upon enemies, or use a powerful physical attack combo. It is a fresh addition to the system, however you only have access to 4 spells for each ally, and at least one of them are usually useless down the track. The battle animations are quite cool and well made though, especially enemy powers and your own spells.

You run into monsters mostly on a random battle basis when exploring around your location. A cool little indicator appears above Dart's head showing a blue, yellow or red colour, giving you a heads-up when a battle is approaching. Monsters can be tough at first because of the battle system, but there is a good variety with different tactics needed to be used against them. The downside is that if you are having extreme troubles making it though your location, you may have to level up…the most painful experience system I have ever seen in a game. Exp gain is extremely slow, you will require twenty battles sometimes to gain a level, which is needed in the rare occasion when fighting very hard bosses. The level cap is 60 but you will struggle to make it near 45 even after power-levelling every so often. Fortunately, if you choose to stick it out in every dungeon to gain one more level than you think you need, it will pay off later and bosses wont be a huge headache for you.

The controls for the game are quite simple, triangle to bring up the menu, where you can equip items, discard unwanted gear, select a moveset, check your status, etc. The X button is your tool for interacting with the world, examining things, talking to people, selecting options. You have to be diligent in exploring everything in the town you are in, in order to find the 50 Stardust scattered across the world. The can be found in barrels, behind pictures, on dusty weapons in stores, and much more. Collect a certain number and you can obtain rare items from a certain NPC, a good challenge for you to make the most of the time you are in the beautifully designed towns and locations. You move around your location with the analog stick in a full 3D setting, which is a delight considering the graphics are very well rendered and everything looks and plays smoothly.

Overall, the fact that your magic has to be constantly charged, isn't always effective, the attack movesets are often very hard for beginners, the world map isn't much more than a linear path between locations, and that the battle system can get a little repetitive and painful experience-wise, lets the gameplay down a little, but it shines elsewhere, a solid score of 8 is deserved.

Graphics (9/10)
The graphics of LoD are very well designed and executed, one of the shining points of the game. Following the release of Final Fantasy VII and VIII, 3D graphics and environments are constantly developing and pushing the engine of the PSX, LoD does well for its era.

On Dart's travels around the world, we find ourselves in a variety of environments; medieval towns, futuristic cities, tropical caves, and even a volcano range. Each scenario looks amazing; every backdrop is well rendered, crisp, colourful. It is a joy going wherever the game leads you because of the lovely graphics, you feel a part of the scene – keep your eyes peeled for Prairie, Shirley's Shrine and Lideria, they're absolutely beautiful. LoD's cutscenes follow the same trend, almost lifelike and very lush, applause for the graphic design team. Pity there isn't a great amount of cutscenes for such a lengthy game.

Characters and monsters don't hold the very high standard of the environments and cutscenes, however they are still quite well delivered and don't falter the excellent graphical potential of the game. The characters are well animated, moving smoothly across the landscape, which doesn't experience any choppiness or graphical glitches that I can see by the way. Battle animations run well, monster and character magic/skills are impressive to look at with very little lag. The only minor problem in the graphics department is with characters faces, and the occasional monster model. When a character appears in a scene with a close-up, there face appears flat and unrealistic, especially when speaking and showing a certain emotion. A number of monsters appear rather complacently drawn as well, for example Feyrbrand the dragon. They appear very blocky and just a poor quality animated model, some monsters follow this trend but not all, and doesn't really detract from the game's beauty a great deal. A well-earned 9/10 overall for graphics.

Sound (8/10)
The Legend of Dragoon contains a few memorable tracks that really stick with you for a while after playing. I think it's the first time that I've come across a main battle theme that doesn't get annoying as hell or repetitive, its really a great track that gets you pumped up for the fight ahead. Other great scores include the peaceful Prairie music, cheerful Bale track, and the cool synth theme when fighting one of the few ancient foes you will come across.

Unfortunately, with this review being described as fully-detailed, I am required to write about the voice acting, rated by some the worst that have ever been heard on a game. Luckily, character voice can only be heard in the very rare cutscene, and as they yell out the attack moveset that they complete in battle or the dragoon spell cast. A few grunts and groans (especially Rose's painful one) during transformation can be heard, and they're terrible, all of them. I'm sure random people off the street could have come into Sony and would have done a better job of the voice acting. It's a big letdown in the audio department, considering the music is a standout. Decent 8/10 score.

Replayability (N/A)
LoD isn't a game for those who love a million little objectives and sidequests to do. Really, I can count 4 quests besides the main mission, one being the Stardust hunt. I can't really score LoD in this section because there is no New Game+ option, no difficulty modes, and each sidequest can be done in the first playthough if you discover across it, thus completing the game 100% on your first go. The only way there is replay value is if you're like me, where you enjoy the game in it's entirety so much that you want to play through the 50-odd hours again just to relive the experience. That is the sign of a true classic.

Final Recommendation (9/10)
Overall, LoD is an awesome game, it's graphics, music and storyline really shine through. If you're an RPG fan, especially a traditional one, you will most likely enjoy this game in its entirety. Newcomers to this genre may take a while to adjust, adapt to the story, enjoy the battle system and see how you go, LoD may be the game that turns you into an RPG-lover like yours truly. Definitely buy the game if you can find it, it has become extremely rare, especially here in Australia. The only way you may find it is online through Ebay and such, or if you're fortunate to have a retro games store near you, do check out to see if they have LoD in stock. It may cost you a packet (around $90US+) but I assure you it's worth every cent. If you buy and don't enjoy it, the game will serve as a great collectors item that will grow in value to sell one day, it's a win-win situation. I hoped you enjoyed my first review; please let me know what you think. Have fun!

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/01/11

Game Release: The Legend of Dragoon (US, 06/13/00)

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