I’ve been shirking my game-playing duties recently. This time last year I had six finished games under my belt, and none of them were short. I suppose I thought that the older I got, the more refined my interests would become and with that the more time I would have for them. Well, that is clearly not the case; between planning for the arrival of our baby, writing what is now a trilogy of books, photography, reading (and, of course, work), there has been little time to spare for playing games.
So, despite my backlog of games that seems to be forever growing in size, I thought I’d take a chance on The Legend of Legacy. The game is a continuation of the SaGa series of games in all but name. If you’ve never played (or even heard of) the SaGa games, then just know that they tend to be slightly more experimental takes on the tried and tested JRPG gameplay styles. When Final Fantasy was originally leading players down a relatively straight path to the end boss, The Final Fantasy Legend (or Makai Toushi Sa-Ga, as it was known in its native Japan) provided an almost open world and a certain degree of decision making on the player’s behalf when it came to developing characters. While Final Fantasy continued to enjoy the limelight for major JRPG release, the SaGa series became a more left-field series, with fewer releases and definitely a greater sense of a cult following. They’re all good experiences in their own way (in my experience), though I imagine most players will find Unlimited SaGa something of a tough nut to crack. In a pleasing turn of events, The Legend of Legacy manages to emulate the classic formula of the SaGa games, and only really presents any difficulties once it well and truly has you locked in.
As if to prove just how big a presence this game would become in my gaming time, The Legend of Legacy arrived in a box roughly one foot by two (Creme Egg for scale). After going on my own mini-quest to retrieve the item that clearly wouldn’t fit through a letterbox, I began playing immediately. In the beginning, I had the impression that this might be one of those games that I buy, play five minutes of, then shut away in a cupboard until it becomes worth something (a fate that far too many of my games have met), and all because it looked and felt considerably like Bravely Default, and I’ve already played Bravely Default. But as soon as I found myself exploring the starting location of the Forest Ruins, trees and rocks and mysteries began popping up all around me as I navigated the top screen, all while my map was filled in on the lower: I already had the sense that this would be a game persevered with. My first few battles saw my characters learning a few new skills, improving existing ones, and having their own personal stances and stats improved with pleasing regularity.
You see, The Legend of Legacy is almost perfectly designed for portable play. Even if you only get to play for the duration of a short tea break, the way in which the world is presented means that you are almost always making progress. With so many different attack styles and magics on offer, focusing on one over a short period of time will undoubtedly see them improve. Your hit points are always on a steady rise. It is really quite difficult to play this game without making some sort of headway, and to cap it off you can quick save at any time out of battle or cutscenes.
The Legend of Legacy takes place on a mysterious island known as Avalon, and the character that you pick to begin your quest (from a selection of seven, though you’ll be playing with three of them no matter who you pick) is tasked with exploring the island and uncovering its secrets. You’ll begin with only one area to explore, but that soon expands as you push the boundaries of that location and find pathways to entirely new places that run the usual JRPG locations of forests, deserts, caves, and ancient villages. You can even buy maps to new locations, though expect these to set you back a bit financially. There are also plenty of unique locations that are better left hidden until you discover them yourself. Each area is formed of at least one map, but usually many more. As you explore deeper and deeper, you’ll see your maps creep their way to 100%. None of the individual maps are particularly huge, but the sheer number of them means that for at twenty hours you’ll be contented with a 100% here, and a 100% there. At any point, you can choose to sell your maps for a sum that depends on the level of completion you are offering. I’m not sure why anybody would choose to sell an incomplete map, but it is an option available to you. A word of warning comes when selling maps though! You can only sell a map once, and once done, you might find that the challenge in that area is reduced somewhat. This might seem preferable in the short-term, but if you need a place to beef up your characters late in the game, you’ll curse yourself for selling maps early.
With such a variety of locations available to you, you might wonder which map you should explore first. The Legend of Legacy encourages you to work this out for yourself, which is a refreshing change in games that funnel you along a path, and it also reinforces the sense of exploration as you come across new areas individually without any prompt the game to direct you there beyond the location icon on the world map. Sure enough, you’ll run into one or two areas that sees you kicked out with a sound beating in seconds, but this only made me more determined to see what those maps were hiding.
Well, if you want to uncover all of Avalon’s secrets, you’re going to have to fight, and fight a lot. The Legend of Legacy plays with JRPG tradition by providing you with a turn-based battle system with a few twists that make it a uniquely enjoyable system. You’ll have three characters in your party (and after playing other JRPGs that give you four or five characters to play with, this did feel restrictive), and unless you’re fighting an oft-beaten foe, you’ll soon discover that each character has to perform very specific functions. My party consisted of mercenary Owen, holy knight Garnet, and frog dude Filmia (and what fan of Chrono Trigger wouldn’t want a frog in their party?). Owen was the resident death-dealer throughout, wielding a huge Buster Sword of a weapon, and a more modest long sword. Garnet was the very definition of a Shield Maiden, blocking hundreds of incoming attacks, and eventually learning to deflect those attacks back at the enemy. Filmia became a Spellsword with a variety of magical attack and defence spells, and was also pretty handy with a spear. Although players are 100% free to mix up how they use their characters (you can equip different characters with different weapons and spell stones and take them in a direction you wish), I stuck to the aforementioned roles for my crew, and was rather pleased with how they looked when the end-game came along. Owen had come to learn not only hugely powerful attacks on one enemy, he was also pretty handy at taking on groups of seven or eight foes alone. Garnet rarely let an attack past her, and Filmia became invaluable for buffing and healing when magical attacks on my group became too much. However, so fixed were my characters in their positions, that if one happened to fall, the battles would tend to go south fast. As you are completely free to build your gang up, it would have been entirely possible for me to have each character learn all of the skills that were spread across my party. However, I didn’t particularly want to spend sixty or so hours to do this…
Although battles tended to be more on the physical side during my playthrough, The Legend of Legacy houses an interesting magic system that relies on the player finding magical shards that offer up a skill (or skills), and utilising them in battle by calling over the requisite elemental to your side of the fight. There are four elementals to be aware of, and very predictably they are fire, water, air, and shadow. Your characters will learn spells in all but the shadow element, which is very useful as there are only three of you… Aside from the spell-providing Whispering Shards, there are three Singing Shards that allow a character to call their requisite elemental over in battle if equipped. If there are any general frustrations to be had in this game, they largely lie with the magic system. Each character has two item slots with which to equip various items and shards. If you want to go down the route of learning spells, then you must use both of those slots to equip a Singing and a Whispering Shard. Even after this, you still have your work cut out. Firstly, you’ll be best off finding a location where the enemies you face don’t prefer use of the elemental you are trying to learn spells from. There is little more annoying than setting your party to cast spells throughout a turn, only to have the bastards standing opposite you steal your elementals to their side, resulting in a crushing failure to cast a spell when it comes to your character’s turn. Things can be improved by learning various stances that will let your chosen character recklessly beat out a spell before the enemy can take their turn, but whatever setup you use, you will still need a sizeable dose of luck when it comes learning spells. Fortunately, once you have learned a spell (achieved through continued use of your Whispering Shard), the spell becomes a permanent part of your repertoire, and you are then free to unequip the Whispering Shard if you wish (in favour of an item or another shard). You will, however, still need to hold onto that Singing Shard if you wish to continue using your learned spells, as they’ll still require you to possess the element in battle if you wish to cast them.
At the beginning of this review, I mentioned that The Legend of Legacy was almost perfectly designed for portable play. If I’ve done things correctly, you’ll likely agree with this until perhaps the twenty-hour mark of your first playthrough. However, The Legend of Legacy did not take me twenty hours to complete. It took me thirty-seven.
At twenty hours, I had filled in all of the maps, located all of the available Whispering Shards, and killed all of the optional bosses. Fair enough, I sold my complete maps without knowing that it would remove higher level enemies from the maps, but the game never explains this to you anyway (I only discovered this from the Japanese wiki!). The last location in the game was open to me, and I eagerly ran along its pathways expecting the boss to a tough but fair battle. Not so. Within one turn I had been wiped out by a devastating area-of-effect attack. Well, this is turn-based game and the attacks are somewhat random. I’ll try again, I thought.
Third turn, same attack, party wiped out.
Okay, I thought, I’ll go and learn some more shield-based spells. Over the next couple of hours, I did just that and made my my way back to the boss again. Turn one, I had all my characters pull the elementals over to my side of the battlefield. Turn two, I had my characters all prepped to cast their shielding spells, and used my “Haste” setup that should have allowed them to go first. What did the boss do? The big attack, right before I could even cast a spell. The third game over. The whole setup felt very much like a boss battle at the beginning of an old anime series called Jungle Wa Itsumo Hale Nochi Guu (click the link and skip to 2:13 to see what I mean).
I’m all for tough battles in my JRPGs, but being wiped out repeatedly before I could even get a hit in seemed more than a little unfair. Still, I did my due diligence and scoured the land for foes that would see me level up enough to take this guy on. However, given that I had had no trouble throughout the game until this point, it felt especially bad as I no longer had any new areas to have fun in while I developed my team. Eventually, I went back and slaughtered the git – he barely even got a hit off on my – but as this is a JRPG, I was under no impressions that this guy was the real final boss. Without wanting to spoil the game too much, there was something after that treated me in much the same way as the previous guy had. More levelling.
All told, I spent nearly as much time grinding to fight the end boss as I did fighting to get to it in the first place. It was annoying, but not hateful. I’ve played so many JRPGs where this kind of thing happens that I pretty much accepted it as par for the course. If you’re not the type that relishes these difficulty spikes, then I would have to say that you would be better off looking elsewhere for your role-playing fun.
Personally, I don’t believe that this bump ruined the game. It added challenge that perhaps could have been better distributed throughout the game, but when I actually managed to defeat the final challenge of the game, the sense of satisfaction was incredible. For fans of post-game content, you’ll not find much in the way of new stuff here, but instead the game asks that you play the game again with a different character as your main. Subsequent playthroughs are bolstered by increased drop rates and better items, so you will see your playthroughs hitting completion in shorter and shorter times. There is a special surprise for those that finish the game with all seven characters, but that isn’t a challenge I think I can deal with right now. The story, often shared focus with battle systems in JRPGs, is much of an aside in The Legend of Legacy. Your chosen character will have a scene at the beginning and end of their run, and a few choice lines here and there at major battles, but completing the game with each character really does amount to completing the same game seven times, with perhaps a variation on battle setup.
The Legend of Legacy is a fun game, marred by an uneven challenge. For fans of the SaGa series, it is a nice return to the types of games you might have played back in day, but much as the SaGa series sat on the sidelines while the heavy hitters put out release after release on the SNES, PS1 and PS2, this contemporary saga feels like it may go the same way. After seeing it through once, the game holds a special place in my heart for being the first game finished in 2016, and for rekindling a love for the more old-school style of JRPG. But for many others, in a year when Bravely Second and Fire Emblem Fates are released, who wouldn’t go for the heavy hitters first?