|Tales of Legendia|
|MtAMinutes to Action||2|
|Buy from Amazon|
As you might expect from someone whose primary consoles went from Genesis to N64 and Gamecube, Japanese RPGs have never been my forte. Though I've played bits and pieces of many, I'm having a hard time thinking of a traditional JRPG cast in the menu-driven, Final Fantasy mold that I've started and finished all by myself. Chrono Trigger may be the only title that comes to mind.
Many of the RPGs from the land of the rising sun that I've completed are better described as Action RPGs (The World Ends With You, Mario & Luigi series). And if I had to name a favorite, it would probably be Tales of Symphonia. This Gamecube exclusive from Namco quickly enamored me with its excellent mix of real time combat and menu-based management. I don't think I'd ever had so much fun in a JRPG: the exciting dodges, blocks, and combos in brawls on the front lines were perfectly complemented by magic, item, and strategy commands for party members through the pause menu. It's the finest marriage of Action and RPG I've come across.
I've only played the two Symphonia-branded titles in the storied Tales series, so I decided it was time to pick up another. I remembered hearing about Tales of Legendia for the PS2 back when it hit shelves for the first time, so I figured I'd pick it up now that I'm in the mood for a fat, juicy adventure. Does it live up to its franchise name, or is this Tale not worth the time?
Minute by Minute
00 - New Game. A small ship in a storm. A boy stands on the deck. A
girl walks up from the cabin. The boy is Senel. He is fighting a sea
monster. He tells the girl, Shirley, to stay below deck.
01 - Senel fends off the sea monster, and regrets that he can't give chase thanks to the boat's busted engine. Shirley offers her help, but Senel asks her to go back into the cabin. The sea is apparently like poison to her.
02 - Another monster appears. It's a battle! I'm controlling Senel on a 2D plane, fighting in real time. Circle blocks and dodges, X throws punches. Triangle brings up the menu. Square does special attacks.
03 - I've defeated the monster! Easy enough, it hardly put up a fight and fell quickly to my kickboxing moves. Senel briefly ponders the monster before Shirley points out something on the horizon.
04 - Anime scene: an enormous wave rocks the boat and sends the two overboard.
05 - Senel and Shirley wash up on the beach. Shirley is unconscious, and apparently not in good shape. A beam of light stretches from the heavens onto a lake nearby.
06 - A monster shows up. Time to fight? Nope, someone else comes in and the monster disappears. Some blonde guy. Then he suddenly exits. Weird. Anyway, Shirley's apparently sick, thanks to the seawater. A second man with glasses and the tightest T-shirt ever shows up, asking if the two are all right.
07 - Senel asks if there is freshwater nearby, and the man says a spring is at the top of the hill. As Senel heads to the spring, the man ponders Senel's boat, an Alliance ship. At the spring, Shirley is lying in the freshwater. The man suspects Senel of drowning her, but apparently freshwater heals her and she can breathe in it. Her hair glows, too. That's not normal. The dude with glasses said so.
08 - Senel is very protective of Shirley, snapping at the bespectacled man for staring at her. The man asks why Senel, an Alliance marine, has come here. Senel reluctantly explains their crash. The other man says that this island contintent is actually a giant ship. Wait, a ship!?
09 - The blonde guy from earlier shows up. He immediately fights me for some reason. Bring it, blondie! The battle is interrupted after we trade some blows: some guy with pink hair, one eye, and no shirt shows up. He calls Shirley "the Merines" and kidnaps her. What a dick.
10 - Apparently the man is a notorious bandit named Moses. The guy with the glasses, introducing himself as Will, offers to take Senel to the bandits' hideout.
11 - I'm in control now, traveling away from the beach (which is called Lumen Spring).
- I'm now at "Falling Water," which is merely a stream and neither a
waterfall nor Fallingwater. A save point is nearby, and I save my
13 - Cutscene: A rotating pig figure...explodes? It's now a chef. A chef who is dancing. "Nice to meet you!" Neither Senel nor Will knows what the hell's going on. Apparently she is the 28th Wonder Baker, Mimi. She teaches us how to make toast. I can bake at bakeries, like the one in town. Okay, then.
14 - I continue along...and get in a random battle? Sigh. Random battles went out of style with level grinding and mapless dungeons. Oh well, I pound my fists into some adorable little chickens.
15 - Cutscene: Will and Senel marvel at the fact that all of this land, and the city ahead, is on a giant ship. Will gives a history lesson on the Kingdom of Terises, the people who first lived on this ship, called the Legacy.
16 - Apparently the Kingdom of Terises was led by the Merines, who controlled the Legacy. And some people believe Shirley is a descendant of the Merines because a pillar of light shone on the Legacy when Senel and Shirley showed up, supposedly indicating the Merines' arrival. Senel dismisses it as bull.
17 - The people living on the Legacy actually know very little about it. They hope the Merines (Shirley) can help. There are many who would kidnap Shirley to unravel the enormous boat's secrets. Guess that shirtless, one-eyed, pink-haired bandit is one such person.
18 - Another random battle. Like other Tales games, I can chain standard attacks into special techniques for combos. Speaking of, I learned a new "base Eres" after leveling up. I can set it to a directional input (a la Smash Bros special moves) to trigger it.
19 - Found a treasure chest with an Orange Gel in it. That item restores some of my special attack guage, here called TP. Another random battle, and I've killed more cute little chickadees with my bare hands.
20 - Another
chest: Apple Gel. Restores some health. Looks like there's a save point
here...nope. Nothing happens when I examine it. Oh, I see! It refills my
health and TP. Another battle. More "Peepit Chicks" to kill.
21 - Treasure chest: Orange Gel. At least the scenery looks nice. Waterfalls, streams, grassy fields...and random battles. Ugh. This one's a bear. Its attacks do a lot of damage and stun me briefly if I don't block them.
22 - Looks like we've made it to the city. More like a
village, really. Little sandy, little grassy, lots of fresh
water..."Werites Beacon." Seems like a nice little town.
23 - Senel is weirded out by the lighthouse. I guess it is strange to have a lighthouse on a continent-sized boat with no bodies of water in the vicinity. Will says it lights up on its own every now and then. Nobody knows why or seems to care. Will is needed elsewhere, so he tells Senel to meet him at a fountain in the middle of town.
24 - So, looking for this fountain. I try talking to a few townspeople. They have nothing interesting to say, even the man with the banged-up legs after I barged right into his house. I've found a map of the city. It's vague...doesn't seem to help at all. Hey, I can see my reflection in the water. Neat.
25 - Still looking for this fountain. Some townspeople mention that Will is the town sheriff. Everybody seems fond of Will.
26 - Looks like I've found Will's house. There's a treasure chest behind it with a Holy Bottle inside. That item wards off random battles for a while: I get the feeling I'm going to love Holy Bottles. A person outside Will's house gives me directions to the fountain.
27 - Someone lets me know that fighting isn't allowed in the city, by order of the "very scary man and woman," whatever that means. Found a grocery store/bakery. I don't feel like baking. Sorry, Mimi the 38th Wonder Baker, your teachings have gone to waste.
28 - Found an inn. There's a lounge and bar in the basement, with a piano in the corner. Nothing notable here, other the jazz flute BGM.
29 - And here's the item shop. Healing items, stat boosters...standard RPG stuff. There's a customization shop here, too, but it's not open for business yet.
30 - Somebody mentions the rampant bandit problem. Another wonders if the Merines has truly appeared. I ignore them and check out the weapon and armor shop. Nothing here is much better than the gear I already have equipped.
31 - A signpost notes that bandits have been sighted recently. A nearby couple is arguing in the middle of the street, blocking that path.
32 - And I've found the fountain,
finally. It's abuzz with talkative crowds. A girl with a side-ponytail
approaches Senel and asks if this is his first time in Werites Beacon.
She can tell he's an Alliance Marine and wants to know just how strong
33 - Wait...I think she's actually a boy. And he's annoying. And now he's making everybody think that Senel is some champion fighter who wants to throw down for some money. A bunch of people attempt to take Senel up on that offer. When Senel puts up his dukes, his fingertips start to glow. I guess that's what the boy-girl was waiting for, and it apparently means that Senel is an Iron Eres. Everybody else backs off.
34 - "Hey, what's all the commotion about?" Is that...Elvis? He and some woman, in white suits and cowboy hats, are on the fountain. Apparently they don't like fighting. They're making a huge deal about this. Overly dramatic.
35 - Now they're...singing? Wow. Oh my god this may be the worst thing I've ever experienced. I can't even describe it, and wouldn't want to if I could. I don't even want to think about it. Senel is similarly annoyed.
36 - The townspeople warn that this Elvis lookalike, Curtis, hates when his song is interrupted. Guess he's going to fight me now? He and the woman, Isabella, jump Senel "for the sake of reforming this wayward youth." Senel easily fends them off.
37 - Will shows up and demands that Senel explain himself. An annoyed Senel shoves Will aside and heads for the bandits' lair on his own, but Will stops him by zapping him with lightning. Apparently Will is a Crystal Eren, a magic user.
38 - Senel wakes up in a jail cell. An old woman greets him from the other side of the bars. She says Will is a good sheriff, but Will interrupts and claims he is merely a historian.
39 - Senel explains that Shirley is his little sister. Accordingly, the old woman suggests that Senel be let go so he can go save her. Will gives in to his babysitting duties and offers to go with Senel to the bandits' lair. There is someone else there that Will needs to assist there, anyway.
40 - Will joined the party. He retrieves a world map from the old lady, Madame Musette, and the two set off.
41 - Heading through town, trying to find the exit to the Field. The city map is still not helping.
42 - Found a hospital. A hospital is not a city exit.
43 - There we go...I'm on the plains of the world map. Apparently there is a Duct near the city entrance. It's a teleporter, basically. I step out toward the dirt path and am pulled into a random battle. Will casts lightning from afar while I, controlling Senel directly, rush in and lay the smack down.
44 - I've found some sort of pier, "Port-on-Range." I don't think this is where I'm supposed to go. I'll head back out to the Field and try another direction.
45 - Found a Country Cottage. A man inside offers to teach me some of the tricks of the battle system.
- I use the save point after that long explanation and head back out to
the Field. Not really sure where I'm going, just following this dirt
path. It leads to Misty Mountains.
49 - Looks like I'm in the right place. Some kind of vortex is ahead...Will says it's a Chaotic Zone, a small bubble where strong monsters may attack. Treasure lies beyond the zone, though...I head through the tiny bubble and make it through without having to fight anything.
50 - Random battle with some more of those Peepit Chicks. Senel automatically jumps to hit flying enemies. Will and Senel chat plenty during the battle...and after. Will even makes Senel do pushups upon victory. They also have a brief chat about their powers after the battle. Plenty of chatting, here.
51 - Found some Hard Leather in the treasure chest. It is more sturdy than the Soft Leather I have equipped. Found a Spirit Bottle as well, whatever that is.
52 - After another battle, Will levels up and learns a new spell: First Aid.
53 - I've been pulled into a battle inside a Chaotic Zone. OH NO IT'S A BEAR! It knocks me over and goes after Will, interrupting his spells. The duo take it out, but not before it hands out a solid beating to Senel.
54 - More battles. I got some Chicken from a Peepit Chick. I guess I can cook it and eat it?
55 - Found a save point. More battles. I'm getting into the comboing and blocking rhythm of fighting now, pretty fun.
56 - Cutscene: bandits approach a woman on the bridge above. She is wearing a cape and a beret. She cockily draws her sword and cuts the bridge, separating herself from the bandits and landing next to Will and Senel.
57 - She mistakes the duo for bandits. We're fighting! She's pretty tough, but Will's magic keeps her from getting any combos in on me. Will stops the fight before anybody gets hurt and explains our situation.
58 - Senel mocks her impatience, though he's surprised to hear her say that she's here to save Shirley as well. Will hurries the group away as more bandits approach.
59 - The woman must have wandered off on her own during the escape. Will explains that she is Chloe Valens, a knight who must have come here to save Shirley from the bandits before Will and Senel arrived in town.
60 - Will and Senel set off towards the entrance of the Bandits' Lair. More battles. The hour ends.
First Hour Summary
Minutes to Action: 2 to first battle, 11 to full control
What I liked
Battle System: Despite being a sequel, it seems almost like a restrictive and clumsy prototype of the Tales of Symphonia battle engine. It's still fun to mix standard combos with special techniques and chain attacks with allies, though.
Video: The character models are reminiscent of those munchkin 16-bit characters from the old days, brought into polygonal form. Sort of like Final Fantasy VII, but not nearly as blocky. The sun, sand, stream, and grass of the town I visited also bring plenty of color without looking oversaturated.
Audio: There's something about the pacing of the voice acting here that seems to click. Certainly above average for the genre. I didn't see the jazzy themes and violin-led symphonic orchestrations coming, but the soundtrack is upbeat and lighthearted thus far. It almost seems out of place somehow, but I'm enjoying it.
Pacing: I started on a marine boat on the stormy seas and then moved to a lush, sunny paradise that is apparently a boat larger than some countries. Somebody got kidnapped, I learned to make toast, and then I got roped into a brawl in the town plaza where things got weird. On the other hand, Tales of Symphonia started you in grade school, snoozing. I prefer the fast approach that Tales of Legendia takes.
What I didn't like
Random battles: One of Tales of Symphonia's many small triumphs was the bucking of random battles entirely. Random battles are one JRPG antique that has not gained any value over time.
That horrible song routine: Humor often gets lost in translation when crossing cultural boundaries. Not only was this song routine unfunny, it was downright painful to watch. I get the feeling the localization team couldn't figure out how to translate the humor for western audiences and decided to be as faithful as possible, removing any sense of rhyme, rhythm, or even coherence to the sequence.
Narrative: A hotheaded, protective teenager. The pure-hearted little sister. The level-headed adult. The charismatic kidnapper (who is probably not that bad). Townspeople with nothing to say. Yep, it's another adventure through JRPG tropes thus far.
Challenge: I've yet to fall in battle, but if I weren't already familiar with the Tales battle rhythm, I'd probably feel a little lost without any real help. Note from beyond the first hour: If you want all the details of combat, you'll have to consult the instruction booklet. Some concepts, like the useful Guardian tactic, aren't covered in-game at all from what I can tell.
Would I keep playing? Sure. I'm not floored, but I'm not bored.
Words from beyond the First Hour: Fifteen hours later, I finished the story that began in my first hour of Tales of Legendia. Ten hours later, the credits rolled. Then I finished all the story elements of the game twenty hours later. Confused? I'm still trying to wrap my head around it, myself. Let me explain.
If I can throw one compliment to the tale in this Tales, it's that the progression feels unique, for better or worse. A typical adventure-RPG begins with a small conflict that builds into something greater before all the world's problems are resolved in one final battle against whatever godlike entity happens to rule that universe. But when the big bad introduced just after the first hour of Legendia was taken out fifteen hours in with no hint of things to come, I actually expected the credits to roll. But along came a second quest to stop a bigger bad, starring the same characters in a situation that came right out of left field. And where most RPGs explore each main character's individual motivations and personal histories while the crusade to save the world is underway, Legendia delays this practice until after the world is safe and sound...for a second time. It serves to keep the overarching tension going through the journey without any distractions, but it also stunts character growth until after the big business is finished, causing a disparity where the adventuring feels almost meaningless while the character development is at its most poignant (if also quite drawn-out with tons of dialog to speed through).
Overall though, Tales of Legendia largely comes across as lazy. The battle system and constant acquisition of new abilities are laudable, but the implementation of other standard JRPG features (towns, dungeons, sidequests) will impress nobody. There is a single town in the game, and it manages to be disorienting in its layout without offering any attractions worth checking out. Half of the dungeons consist of a corridor path towards the end goal with short branches leading to treasure, while the other half throw in unsatisfying puzzle elements that mostly lead to confusion and/or backtracking. Speaking of backtracking, the third story tasks you with revisiting almost every dungeon from the first two, with tougher enemies and new loot in the chests but the same sights and streets. The narrow dungeon design makes many sequences feel like nothing more than a grind when combined with plentiful random battles. Finally, few sidequests and activities are available until after the credits (from the middle story, remember), and they're hardly compelling either.
There are better JRPGs on the PS2. There are better games in the Tales series. And the buzz I've heard is that there are better JRPGs from the Tales series on the PS2. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy many of the 50 hours I sank into Tales of Legendia. If you don't gag when force-fed tired JRPG themes like friendship, interracial conflict, and tragic pasts (everybody's got one!), you might find yourself enjoying the real-time combat and chatty, occasionally charming characters.