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Legend of Dragoon - Staff Review

Sony's Magnum Opus?

By: Jeff Davis


Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 8
   Originality 7
   Plot 8
   Localization 5
   Replay Value 6
   Visuals 9
   Difficulty Hard
   Time to Complete

40-60 Hours

 
Overall
number
Criteria
Legend of Dragoon
   Legend of Dragoon seemed destined to be Sony's magnum opus. Despite the fact that it was their first major foray into the RPG genre, the equation for an RPG epic seemed almost too simple -- borrow some ideas from Final Fantasy, hire an exorbitant amount of programmers and artists, add lots of FMV and span the adventure across 4 CDs. The question that begs asking is, "Does Legend of Dragoon reach the hype that preceded it?" Yes and No. The game makes inroads in some areas while fails in others.

Legend of Dragoon starts....

"When the clash of swords echo,
The journey chasing the past ends and
The journey to know today begins.

One soul seeks another and
Pledges their sworn friendship to another.
One mystery begets the next and The doors of fate are opened.

You are free to sever the chains of fate that bind you...."

   According to the land's legend, the being known as the Divine Tree gave birth to all living things. Races were born under a caste system. Depending on their race and power, they would either dominate or be dominated. Winglies, the flying race conquered all other races. With their immense power they built flying cities and enslaved all other living beings. Eventually, the once apathetic Humans and Dragons would wage a war for freedom against the Winglies. Humans were able to transform into Dragoons, with the magical essences of Dragons. When the dust settled, humans freed themselves from the grip of slavery. A new age began...

Shana
Taken Captive

   Ten thousand years would pass -- past, present and future come to the forefront when the protagonist, Dart tries to settle two scores. His pilgrimage around the world -- in search of the elusive Black Monster, who killed his parents and destroyed his hometown -- deviates as he hears the Serdian empire burns his new village to the ground, and at the same time imprisons his childhood friend Shana. At first blush, the story is standard fare. Rescue the girl and go after the antagonists. Trite and borrowed, perhaps at first, but it conceals a more interesting plot. Its story unfolds in piecemeal, slowly but surely, then finishes in a riveting crescendo.

   Unfortunately, the cast of playable characters border on either standard fare or forgettable, with few exceptions. There's Dart the impetuous hero of the game, fighting for love and revenge. Shana, the frail, yet mysterious girl, who fancies Dart more than the bounds of friendship would allow. Lavitz is the typical true to the end knight who fights for his country. Miru is the poorly concocted comedian in the lot, further reduced by her highly vapid dialogue. Then there's Rose, the cold and almost omniscient dragoon whose motives remain a mystery as she aids Dart and company.


Town Backdrop
Town Backdrop  

   Sony once again commits the cardinal sin of localization, or lack thereof. Evidently they still haven't learned from past mistakes. Legend of Dragoon's translation is the weakest link in the chain. Spelling and grammatical errors are pervasive. Lines like, "When I young, my father..." are common. Couple that with spelling errors when referencing key locations in the game, like "Vally" instead of "Valley," and the game leaves a less than impressive impact. While it doesn't damage the story outright, neither does it help it. While there are rare glimpses of well done dialogue, when compared to the superb localization of Square's Vagrant Story, it's easy to see where Legend of Dragoon fails. Passable translations such as these won't cut it nowadays. One other thing that sticks out is the superfluous use of exclamation points. One could remember a number of lines in the game using "!!" in succession. A few bad jokes further embellish the localization push. But the textual result lacks any specific catering to the American market. It must be noted that Sony did a competent job with the voice acting. Both in the venues of FMV and battle modes the voices don't give the cringing reminders from Star Ocean 2 or Grandia. In that regard they did a fine job, at least. Taken as a whole, however, it is clear more work needs to be done by Sony's American localization team.

   The gameplay is a mixed bag. It introduces a new battle system, dubbed "Additions." During battle sequences you are forced to pull of combination moves, but for whatever reason the developers chose to use only one button (attack button) to manage this. Addition attacks are administered by hitting the attack button as soon as a moving square overlaps the square that targets the enemy. The purpose is two pronged: first to gain more addition levels and learn newer and stronger additions, and second, it is the only viable way to damage an enemy. Admittedly the concept was fun for a couple of hours, until you notice it feels like a less than sophisticated fighting game and in turn forces you to always pay attention so you can pull of an addition. Pressing the attack button alone without trying to pull of the additions will more than likely result in a battle that could last minutes.


Dragoon Transformation
Amazing Dragoon Transformations  

   There are no spells per se. Magic is only accessible by transforming into a Dragoon. Upon such a transformation you are given two options, a dragoon attack, while nice looking, if not overdrawn, deals only little more damage than an Addition. The other option would be magic. Dragoon magic, like the Final Fantasy Summons are quite awe-inspiring, but after a couple of times, the long wait can get annoying. Enemy magic, on the other hand ranges from simple explosions to seconds long spells that surpasses even those of Dragoon magic, in scope and in sheer wow factor. Indeed, some of the heavy duty enemy spells could arguably be some of the best seen in an RPG.

   Like any RPG, battles will produce damage -- and it seems Sony's intention was to avoid all prudence by introducing a new healing system and at the same time tossing out old conventions that worked. Whenever a character uses the defend action, along with the standard reduction of damage, the character heals about 10% of the total HP. It seems like a novel idea until you realize only few of the Dragoons in the game have any sort of healing magic, resulting in the player needing to use a lot of healing items. Even that sounds doable, until you learn there's a limit of 32 items. Which isn't to say it's a totally bad system, but it obviously should have been tweaked. If there is a bright spot, at least those complaining of easy RPGs nowadays will get a bit more of a challenge.

   Another minor sticking point is the game's linearity. For the most part you are forced to travel on the map according to where the story flows. Aside from the obvious it has another problem. For example in points A, B, C -- if you want to go from point A to C you will have to go through B, and unfortunately B could be a dungeon, and in some cases there could be two dungeons between towns. Needless to say it makes it a menial affair to travel across the map.


Town of Fletz
Fletz at night  

   If Legend of Dragoon reaches a zenith in any category it would unquestionably be in the visual department. According to Louis-Ferdinand Cˇline, "The foreground in a picture is always unattractive...Art demands that the interest of the canvas should be placed in the far distance..." It seems as if the game's artists are on the same wavelength as Cˇline. Legend of Dragoon features some of the most impressive prerendered backdrops to date. Sony's highly imaginative artisans have crafted an incredibly unique world, presented in such lavish scenery that boasts some of the best looking land, water, sky and city scapes. It would be negligent, not to mention the attention to detail involved as even the little things in the game add to the overall charm. For example with volumetric lighting effects, dust particles are used to collide through the light beams, resulting in a realistic, if not aesthetically pleasing streaming effect. In terms of movies, Legend of Dragoon has been highly touted for its amazing FMV. Graphically, at least, the movies are highly elaborate. The only complaint I can lodge against it, is the lack of story telling present, as most of the 30 plus minutes of FMV, is there for show. With the highly fast paced FMV scenes sometimes it's hard to cope with what exactly is going on. And unfortunately the movies never really reach the point of emotional captivation. As for Battle and story sequences they are presented in 3D polygonal modes.

   The graphics aren't without flaws, however. Character models look like they were designed for the Final Fantasy VII era. Dart's hair for example looks like it was modeled with a couple of triangles. Texture maps used for characters are passable, but with all the artisans at work, one would have expected better results. Another major caveat is the horrific looking polygonal map, it almost looks like a 16 bit game trying to do polygons. Design is another flaw that seems innate to the game. In order to avoid confusion the user will often, if not all times, be forced to use pointers in order to see where all the town and dungeon exits/doors are. Qualms aside, on the whole one can't help but commend Sony's work in the graphic field.


Explosion
Special Effects Abound  

   Another high point in the game is the music. Newcomer to the videogame music arena is the soundtrack's composer, Dennis Martin. The album as a whole envelops the listener with a collage of unique and well done songs, though with any soundtrack there are a number of filler tracks. The introductory vocal song, "If you still Believe" is a celtic tinged song and serves as one of the more memorable songs in the game. As a whole the music runs the gamut from techno, rock, classical to fusion. Of note are the emotional piano theme pieces, that are some of the more memorable tunes in the game. To its credit, even when taken out of the game's context the music holds up extremely well.

   Legend of Dragoon truly fits the mold, where its whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Even more important than flashy elements, in the final analysis -- I found the game enjoyable, so much so, that I couldn't put the controller down until the very end (which took me about 45 hours to complete). To its credit, few RPGs as of late have entranced me to this level. The story was good enough to hook me, and in the end it proved to be well worth the price of admission. While Legend of Dragoon didn't exactly become the paragon of RPGs Sony intended, the end result is a "pretty good" game. If traditional RPGs like Wild Arms 2 or Legend of Mana haven't satisfied the gamer's penchant in you, Legend of Dragoon may just be the ticket.




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