Legend of Legaia - Staff Retroview  

Sweep the Leg
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Interesting combat options
+ Absorbing scenarios
- Sluggish pacing
- Dated visuals
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   Sony invested a lot of capital in its video game enterprise, and among the numerous titles it bankrolled for the PS1 was something from newly-created developer Contrail. Legend of Legaia is a product of its time, and its visuals in particular are unlikely to garner it fans among gamers with memories that do not go back many years. Flawed it definitely is, but Legend of Legaia has plenty of endearing qualities that help it stand out from the glut of RPGs in the PS1's later years.

   Legaia's world is one in which humans had been using the power of variegated creatures called Seru to accomplish a great number of tasks. A decade prior to the game's beginning, an aptly named weather condition called the Mist appeared that changed the Seru from benevolent to berserk. Humans with small, portable Seru attached to their persons simply went mad inside the Mist and stayed alive in that state, while those without such helpful organisms either fled or were torn to shreds by their new unfriendly neighbors. The game's protagonist, Vahn, lives in a small town whose residents hide behind a large wall when rogue Seru come prowling out of the Mist at night. That plan hits a snag when a crazed being named Zeto has the wall demolished, something that is only countered by Vahn listening to the voice of a special Seru and helping it to revive his town's Genesis Tree. This proves to be exactly what is necessary to push back the Mist, and with the power of his new accomplice Meta, Vahn sets out to roll back the Mist wherever he can, quickly joined in the undertaking by compatriots Noa and Gala.

   Its quest may not be original, but Legaia's scenarios manage to become memorable and intriguing. The locations to which the trio of protagonists travel dealt with the Mist in a variety of ways, and observing the unique locales is absorbing. The overarching narrative often takes its time moving along, but supplies a solid tale that remains engrossing. Legaia's antagonists lack much depth but succeed in getting the player to root for their demise. The protagonists are also a likable group, though not necessarily the brightest minds around. Sony's localization is rather good, conveying the situations effectively.

   Legend of Legaia employs random, turn-based combat. What distinguishes its combat from the pack is the ability to select physical combat strikes individually for each character. Rather than simply attacking, characters need to be told which of four directions to attack. Initially only a few attacks of this sort can be strung together, but defending in battle will lengthen the combo meter, allowing for long strings of strikes. Choosing certain direction combinations will activate special moves, used with gradually-replenishing action points to prevent spamming them constantly. The game is kind enough to provide an in-battle list of all the specials each character has demonstrated so that the move combination need not be remembered. While interesting and fun to do at first, selecting each physical strike becomes cumbersome after some time in battle, making the presence of an Auto function to just send characters out hitting the enemy with whatever the AI selects most appreciated.

What an amazing coincidence that this enormous floating edifice fell into a lake and spawned no waves whatsoever.  If only all disasters ended that uneventfully. What an amazing coincidence that this enormous floating edifice fell into a lake and spawned no waves whatsoever. If only all disasters ended that uneventfully.

   Magic in Legend of Legaia also uses interesting rules. Periodically the characters will come up against clearly identified Seru opponents that can bequeath a spell upon death. This spell will only be learned by the character who actually fells the foe, and the opponents can be very reluctant to give up anything for multiple battles, but frustration is not a common occurrence when most of the spells are inessential. Accessories are available to help convince stubborn Seru to give up their talent for those spells which are critical: mostly the healing ones. Constant use of magic once it is acquired will also improve its potency, giving a good reason to focus on certain abilities.

   Legend of Legaia has a few difficult stretches, the nastiest of which comes when the three characters must fight and win duels, which is followed by a boss that must be defeated inside a strict time limit. Most of the game does not require mastery of the mechanics to proceed, however, and once the player has put character moves into memory simply selecting Auto will unleash sufficiently deadly barrages. This does not mean combat becomes boring, since enemies have a variety of moves and many bosses have something special to consider. By not forcing the player to agonize over the correct move selection for every opponent, the difficulty keeps combat from bogging down any more than its pace already compels.

   In keeping with many games of the time, Legend of Legaia forces the player to view lengthy animations every time magic is used. Unusually, the standard physical attacks also take longer than usual to perform thanks to the multiple strikes that form them. Exacerbating the sluggish pacing is the frequency of small load times for actions in and out of battle, which individually are nothing bothersome but collectively manage to suck up plenty of time from the player. While not intolerable, these factors slow the game's pace and add several hours to a game that can be completed in under forty. At least the inventory is simple and quick to manage, presenting no hiccups to further take up time.

   On the positive end, Legend of Legaia's developers clearly expended effort on its visuals. New equipment makes a pronounced change on the characters in combat, each area is distinct visually, and little details like fog coming out of Vahn's mouth in cold areas are nice to see. The negative side of the visuals is that they are pixelated PS1 polygons without much detail, and the player will sometimes wonder exactly what is being depicted. Though not necessarily ugly, the visuals have not aged well at all.

Despite looking and acting malevolent from the moment he appears, Songi and Gala were once friends.  Gala had very few options. Despite looking and acting malevolent from the moment he appears, Songi and Gala were once friends. Gala had very few options.

   Legaia's audio is a more pleasant experience. Michiru Ohshima composed a good variety of atmospheric tracks that stay interesting throughout the game, with nifty percussion in particular. These tracks aren't particularly memorable on their own, but in the game they serve quite well. The only voice acting occurs during battle, where Sony skimped on localization expenses by keeping the clips in Japanese.

   The PS1 was inundated with enough RPGs by 1999 that Legend of Legaia never became a monster hit, though a sequel was made in the early years of the PS2. The game suffers a bit from age, but exudes a distinct vibe that makes it stand out even today. I can't claim every moment with Legend of Legaia was a great one, but I'm glad to have experienced this interesting title with a lot of ideas that current developers still haven't borrowed. A remake would likely fix most of the issues that afflict it, but the odds of that happening are somewhat lower than those of Bob Dylan recording a rap album.

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