Review by Denouement

"Now how can I explain how this game laced"

For an RPG to make its name heard on the Playstation it needed to really work the hype machine. Legend of Dragoon, being one of Sony’s first forays into the RPG market, had heavy advertising support as it debuted, but unfortunately the final product is only an average game. It’s not a rushed or carelessly produced effort; in fact, I give Sony a lot of credit for the amount of work they’ve put toward their first foray into the genre. Yet in their inexperience, Sony has created a game that features on every cliché on the market. This is a formulaic title if there ever was one. Still, with a strong presentation, the formula is really not so bad.

Your hero Dart is the leader of a fairly bland group of characters. His closest companion is the baffling and pugnacious Rose, who by any other name would be just as derivative and generic. Their world’s history is dominated by clashes between three races: the nearly omnipotent dragons, friendly humans, and the fascist oppressor winglies. The only ray of hope for the pitiful humans in fighting the oppressor winglies are dragoons, humans who have access to the special powers of the dragons. Your fighters, naturally, are blessed with the dragoon power. Predictably, greater and more imminent threats will arise throughout the game, and your party will be entrusted to fight them. Along the way, typical random encounters and puzzles will impede your progress.

For normal battle, dealing damage will primarily be dependent on “Additions.” When you attack, symbols will flash onscreen and by pressing the X button at that moment, you’ll perform an additional slash. At first you can only perform one addition with each attack turn, but as you gain experience this amount will grow. The final possible addition tends to be the big damage dealer, so becoming proficient at the necessary timing is of course an essential goal.

When a character is in dragoon form, fighting options increase appreciably. By performing additions, your characters will gain SP, and when 100 SP are accumulated you can make the transformation into the new form. This transformation is certainly among the game’s most impressive visual effects, as a figure is bathed in light and then slowly metamorphoses into a hovering winged creature, almost like an aggressive version of Tinkerbell. The dragoon form, while it only lasts for a limited time, offers much more powerful attacks, both physical and magical. In most tough battles, the challenge will be to stay alive while accumulating SP to transform and deal serious damage. Staying alive is not always easy, because most enemies can take off a good deal of HP, but the healing items are quite powerful, and simply guarding will automatically restore a tenth of the maximum HP. Just as you gain more additions as your experience goes up, you also will remain in Dragoon form for longer periods of time as your characters grow stronger.

As in games like Wild ARMs, the largest part of your experience is gained in boss battles, not in random encounters. This allows you to flow through the story without really worrying about leveling up; the bosses seem pretty well-calibrated in difficulty, so that no fight is too painless or too tough for your party. It’s a battle system that provides some excitement and with which it’s challenging to become confident, but it doesn’t do much after the first ten hours. There’s a good chance you might put the game back into its case at this point, and this will probably be the case for most casual gamers. Diehard RPG fans will most likely be hooked enough to continue. The story is coherent enough to bear the latter half of the game on its own, but the expansive sidequests seen in most RPGs of this size aren’t present. Apparently Sony thought the basic game was good enough alone without the need for the usual minigames and secrets. Coherent enough, good enough: Legend of Dragoon seems to just squeak past inspection in every category.

I mentioned the visually spectacular dragoon-metamorphosis effect, but the in-game graphics offer the player little else. The monster designs are the bright spot. Sony took the high road by avoiding palette swapping, and all the baddies are fairly menacing looking and have pretty fluid animations. Everything else is pretty blocky. Worst, however, is the fact that most of the locations are pretty bland and as you move from area to area they tend to be indistinguishable. You’ll spend a lot of time on roads through sparsely forested areas. In a game that spans four discs -- a huge endeavor to say the least -- it would be nice to see a little variety in the environments. On the other hand, the FMV’s are utterly astonishing, and while they aren’t used as frequently, they are technically on par with those of Final Fantasy VIII.

Oddly, the soundtrack seems to be heavily inspired by soft rock of all things. You get a lot of guitar and snare drum tunes that honestly remind me of Phil Collins. I was going to say that they remind me of Phil Collins in a bad way, but honestly I don’t think any association with Phil Collins is going to be good. The battles pick up the pace, but only by adding a horrific thumping drumbeat that doesn’t match the rest of the music as all. The only real sound effect you’ll get is that when a character pulls off a special move he’ll say the name of it. Unfortunately, his voice is so muffled that it’s tough to tell if they bothered to translate these phrases from Japanese.

Legend of Dragoon can be well-described as Sony’s attempted answer to Square’s Final Fantasy super-franchise. I’m sure that in the board room at Sony the suits predicted a bright future for this series, with many profitable sequels. That expectation is understandable, because this series seems to incorporate all of Final Fantasy’s most distinguishing features: a variety of skills, a world mixing mythology, magic, and sword craft, and stunning FMVs. Unfortunately Sony missed the compelling story and characters and the artistic inspiration that Square seems to have mastered. It was a nice thought to believe that Sony could adopt Squaresoft’s playbook, for surely with their corporate might they could produce an influx of great RPGs. For now, however, what was evidently a lot of work has produced merely an above average title. Sorry to say it, Sony, but for now please leave this genre to Square.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 07/06/03, Updated 07/06/03

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