Reviewed: April 26, 2006
Released: February 7, 2006
Tales of Legendia is the latest installment of the widely popular “Tales of” series of RPGs. While not terribly innovative, Tales games have a wide following, simply because they do what they do, and they do it well: a fantasy based, let’s save the world and be cute as can be while we do it with our endearing and cartoony characters, RPG.
There’s nothing wrong with this. After all, these are the elements that fans of Tales games are looking for. Throw in the signature active battle system, and you’ve got a typical Tales game. So how does Tales of Legendia stack up against all the others that have come before it? Well, in some ways it does well, and in some ways, it falls into the ever-present RPG cliché traps that the genre so desperately needs to break away from.
In Tales of Legendia, the main character is a young marine named Senel Coolidge. Right from the beginning, you will see Senel and his younger sister Shirley on a boat, fighting a giant sea monster. Because of Shirley’s unusual condition where exposure to seawater makes her sick, Shirley falls ill. They land upon an island, which ends up being a giant mysterious ship called the Legacy.
An entire new world resides upon the ship, and for some reason, Shirley’s arrival on the Legacy has everyone buzzing about an ancient prophecy. Since Shirley does possess a number of odd qualities (such as, well, glowing), many believe her to be a figure mentioned in this prophecy, including some bad guys who basically want to use her powers to take over the world.
Sounds pretty typical, right? Well, it is. Tales games have never been innovators in the world of RPG stories, but they do an awful good job of making the clichés a bit more interesting. Still, there haven’t been any huge leaps in originality within the realm of Tales games. While some Tales fans like this perfectly well, others might see it as getting old.
The battle system is pretty much the same as it has been in previous games, almost to a “T.” The battle sequences are totally active, and pretty much consist of a regular attack, a button that triggers a special move, and using various direction on the D-pad along with the special move button to execute other moves.
The viewpoint is side-on, almost like a 2D game. You have your basic physical fighters, your ranged attackers, your offensive casters, your defensive casters…you get the idea. You basically play as one character, and get to control his or her actions. To a certain degree, you can control other characters by setting (before combat) how defensively or offensively they play, how often they execute their special moves, and the distance they stay at from the core of the action on the battlefield.
While you don’t have to always play as Senel, an up-close offensive fighter, many of the other characters are much harder to play as. The action on screen can get pretty confusing since there is so much going on all at once. If you decided to play as Will, who acts as a healer, you would definitely have a hard time keeping track of who needs healing. Even if you do stick with an offensive fighter like Senel, sometimes there is simply too much going on to keep track of what you’re doing, what you’re fighting, and what skills you should be using.
Even with all of this hectic battle stuff, though, Tales of Legendia really isn’t very challenging. All too often, the combat feels like mashing buttons until the victory screen shows up, yet again. It would have been nice if there felt like there was some cohesion to the fighting system, but overall, it’s pretty frantic, and graphically too flashy to really accomplish this. The controls are also a bit slippery, and I found myself accidentally using up TP (MP, more or less) because the controls are not nearly as responsive as they should be.
While Legendia’s battle system is a lot like older Tales games, it still seems to not have perfected a system that the series has had over a decade to perfect. Tales developers have really had quite a few chances to make this battle system sleeker and smoother, but that hasn’t been achieved yet, which is too bad. The fast-paced system could be a lot of fun, if given some fine-tuning. I found myself just getting bored after so many battles, though, and there is a HIGH enemy encounter rate. Even when using a holy bottle, an item that supposedly decreases the chance of random enemy encounters, I couldn’t escape them.
The encounter rate seemed, well, exactly the same. That’s not much fun, especially considering all of the open areas and paths that there are to explore. I would have loved to see what was down them, but couldn’t quite bring myself to wade through endless enemies in monotonous battles to do so. I have a feeling many other players will share my sentiments.
Usually, Tales games have some really nice graphics. Always whimsical with an anime flair, Tales graphics also definitely fit their sweeping fantasy storylines. It’s not that the graphics in Tales of Legendia don’t do this; actually, quite the contrary. It’s the overall raw quality of the graphics that I have a bit of problem with, rather than the design.
The in-game graphics are 3D chibi (old school RPG fans seem to love chibis, as opposed to the more realistic graphics in games such as Final Fantasy), but they lack a certain something. While character designs are as cute as a button, some cel-shading really could have done Legendia’s graphics some good. Without cel-shading, such as Namco did in Tales of Symphonia, the game looks closer to a late and high quality Playstation game, than a late PS2 game.
Granted, some people aren’t big fans of cel-shading, but when a game works with a cartoony graphic design to begin with, it certainly does add something to the overall experience of playing that game. It could have kept Legendia from looking as dated as it does. It could also give a little more personality to the character models, which we don‘t see terribly close-up in the game, except for after battles when every does their little victory song and dance routine.
Another aspect of the graphics that I didn’t really care for, was the way characters gesture and move. When the characters are talking, there is voice acting, and to go along with the dialogue, naturally, there is body movement, just like when real people talk. That’s great, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from a decent title, but it’s the pacing that does more harm then good. Before a character responds to another, all dialogue stops, so the character responding can take several seconds to gesture, instead of gesturing while talking. All in all, it’s frustrating to watch, as the dialogue awkwardly trips up because of unnatural pauses in the conversation, just so a character can shrug. More on that in the sound department.
Still, there are some breathtaking hand drawn cut scenes that are done in the style of a top-notch anime. The only problem, is that there aren’t nearly enough of them. The animation in the cut scenes are quite beautiful, and if you’re a fan of anime, you’re in for a visual treat. It’s just too bad that they aren’t a little more frequently tied to significant scenes that take place throughout the game.
All things considered, the graphics aren’t bad overall. Colors are bright and vibrant, backgrounds are well done, and the 3-D models, while not too terribly imaginative, are at least well put together. There are some instances of character models not entirely fitting the image of their designs personality wise (the “roguish” Moses comes to mind), but that’s also something that is better discussed in the sound department.
Video games and voice acting have always had a bit of a rocky relationship. For every great voice actor out there who is to just be perfect for the characters he plays, there seem to be a half a dozen of really sub-par, and occasionally atrocious voice actors that make you wonder how they got into the business in the first place. Granted, it was Disney that got Lance Bass from N’Sync the coveted role of Sephiroth in Kingdom Hearts (grrr), but I digress. The point is, developers don’t always get it right. But sometimes they do, and occasionally even in the same game. Such is the case with Tales of Legendia.
Characters such as Will and Senel have some really good voice acting. Their characters are reflected well in their voices and inflections. Senel sounds like a cocky teenage kid with a good heart, deep down. Will sounds like an authoritative father figure, but also gentle and kind at times, which is just how Will is. Other characters, such as the cutesy and oh-so-bubbly Norma, got a bit grating to listen to at times (like Rikku from Final Fantasy X), but then again, her character is a bit grating as well. So, I can’t exactly complain (much).
And yet, with such perfectly decent voice acting, Namco throws in some really ridiculous and out of place voices for other characters. The best (worst?) example of this, is the bandit, Moses. Moses is your average bandit. He lives out in the wilderness in some hideout among his fellow bandits, and due to a bit of social isolation and a criminal lifestyle, is crude, blunt, and not all that bright. So the developers decided to give him a stereotypical, slack-jawed yokel Southerner accent.
While this might be okay in some instances, and even provide some comic relief, it really doesn’t reflect his character all that well, especially when it comes to his physical design. He’s darkly tanned, has a wild red mane of hair, a highly stylized eye-patch, tattoos, and a face that says he’s seen a lot, and been through a lot. That doesn’t exactly bring an ignorant red-neck with a ridiculous accent to mind. Nor is said accent fun to listen to. I found myself talking back to my television screen in a mocking tone every time Moses opened his mouth. Finally, I just muted the thing.
As for music, it’s kind of just there. Nothing that great or horrible about it, but a bit forgettable. The music ranges anywhere from “traditional fantasy” music, to J-Pop, to and odd mix of faux jazz. While I can’t quite point my finger at one thing that I had a problem with in the music department, I can say that the fact that an RPG has a lot of forgettable tunes is really quite disappointing. The music should add something to the atmosphere of the world, and therefore, enhance the gameplay. It shouldn’t be just filler, and unfortunately, Tales of Legendia’s music does this a bit too much.
As with any good RPG, value is important. No RPG fan wants to end a game at 20 hours after growing attached to certain characters and the relationships they have with one another. Well, Tales of Legendia really doesn’t disappoint in this area. Even after the world has been saved, there are character quests to play through, which give the player an up-close and personal look at each character’s life story, personality, and so on.
These character quests are triggered in many various sorts of ways, depending where you go, when you go there, and what you do. This takes time, mind you, and with the many twisting and turning paths in dungeons and the bit too high enemy encounter rate, you probably love this game if you go out of your way to find all of these scenes.
Still, such things make for quite a bit of replay value in a game. And since we’re talking about an RPG here, replay means endless play. And if you’re a collector and just have to know what is contained in every single corner of the world, well, you’re in luck. Tales of Legendia is an explorer‘s play land.
Overall, Tales of Legendia isn’t a bad game. It’s predictable, clichéd, and a bit lackluster in many ways, but it’s not flat out bad. It is definitely geared towards Tales fans and the straight-up fantasy RPG fans who just want to save the world again. In that way, it is a modest success. However, if you’re looking to be blown away or see anything innovative, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Tales of Legendia will please its target audience, but it could have been much better.