8.0

Legend of Legaia review
for old hags...

Summary:

I didn't expect much from Legend of Legaia, save for its above-average difficulty, when I pulled it out of the discount shelf at my local K-Mart. Several dozen hours later I asked myself if my opinion of the game changed, and the answer was a great thunderous ''YES!!''. It isn't without reason that Legend of Legaia was named the third-best RPG of 1999. This game is most certainly a classic.

Now, before you run out to buy it (as if any of you actually listens to what I say...), let me warn you: this is a very slow, leisurely, even tedious game. Don't tell me that I didn't warn you.

What's this? ''REALISM''?!

The first thing that will impress you about the game is its interesting turn-based battle engine. For starters, there is no attack command on the menu. Depending on each character's speed, you can order them to perform a varying number of kicks/punches during his or her turn. As the character's level grows, you can input more and more commands per turn. What's even more interesting is that specific sequences of moves unlock special combination moves, each character having an amazing arsenal of them. Furthermore, if two combos share their first and last moves, you can link them further, giving you a possibility of performing more than one combo per turn. These combos, ''Arts'', as the game calls them, are either discovered through experimentation or, alternatively, through a variety of teachers and tutorial manuscripts.

It's the little things that counts. Whenever you equip your party with new weapons and armor, you can see them wearing what you gave them in the battlefield. Whenever a character attacks, he runs up to his target, and, after performing the combination, actually stays there. The camera follows each of the characters in combat to give you a better view.

All magic here is summoning. Depending on your luck, whenever you fight an enchanted creature (denoted so by a symbol representing its element before its name) you have a chance (about 25%) to absorb its powers for use in combat. And although the spells take quite some time from start to finish, they aren't as overblown as those in Legend of Dragoon. That one certainly takes the cake.

At the risk of being booed, I will compare Legend of Legaia to Legend of Dragoon. The former, in my opinion, is a better version of the latter, in all ways save for the graphics. There is the innovative (''innovative'' in the case of LoD) battle system, the forgettable music, and the time-wasting spells.

Know your limits.

Legend of Legaia certainly does. To save the player countless headaches of equipping and re-equipping dozen after dozen of flat, faceless characters, Legend of Legaia only offers three, that are permanently in your party. There aren't too many magic spells in the game (although any character may gain them), but they're all unique and equally useful.

The story surprised me with its subtlety, namely because the game doesn't try to flaunt it at every opportunity. We see only as much as is necessary to move the story forward, which makes the pedestrian plot much easier to swallow.

The plot itself? A hideous mist enveloped the land ten years ago, and the magical creatures assisting humanity went mad and turned to monsters. It's your job (whose else?) to revive the numerous Genesis Trees strewn across the land in order to push the mist back.

While the story itself is by no means groundbreaking, several pieces of the plot (like a castle whose inhabitants caged themselves before giving into the mist in hope that someone, someday will revive them) are very effective. The trio of characters are interesting in themselves. The first character to join you is a Mowgli-style girl, eager to know as much as possible about the world (she flaps her arms wildly when she is excited about something). The second is a warrior monk who hates the bunch of you because you use magic that disgusts him so much. Then there is your main character, as usual dumb-struck, but you can provide his responses in conversation, making him at least somewhat interesting.

Legend of Legaia - noun, ''lots and lots of jaggy polygons.''

No prerendered backgrounds here! It's all polygonal and it's all jaggy! The characters look like blocks on a string. On the other hand, they are realistically proportioned and animate well (in battle), and the polygon treatment does wonders for the overworld.

And finally, on to the small things. Instantly forgettable music...the need for endless experimentation in battle...and yes, the bosses are indeed hard to beat here. The game is HARD, in the exact sense of the word. For a single disc, it is amazingly long.

You'll enjoy Legend of Legaia if:

?you're an ''old-school gamer'', whatever that might mean;

?you are weary of tired, same-old, same-old battle engines;

?you aren't afraid to take your time with your RPGs.

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