Reviewed: December 16, 2005
Released: November 15, 2005
Handheld systems are seldom considered the ideal platform for RPG titles, and it’s only been recently that the newer and more powerful units have been able to even attempt to bring this genre into the hands of today’s gamer on the go. But just because you can do it doesn’t necessarily mean you should. The spontaneous pick-up-and-play nature of handheld gaming doesn’t really lend itself to titles that require lengthy investments of time and concentration.
The PSP hasn’t really seen a good RPG yet. SOE tried with their Untold Legends but that game was more action than RPG. It’s only now that Bandai attempts to bring us an authentic RPG experience in the true nature of the Japanese inspired genre, complete with goofy bobble-head character designs and storybook graphics.
The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion make a valiant attempt to bring the big-boy genre down to the PSP, but this effort seldom manages to rise above the clichéd and repetitive elements that we thought we had outgrown when we put our PS Ones in storage so many years ago. If Bandai was going for a retro trip down memory lane, then they have succeeded, but any modern RPG player will quickly lose interest.
The opening story is setup through a sequence of text screens set against some wonderful music, then you go into game graphics as you follow the adventures of Avin and Eimelle, brother and sister with a “special link” to the god of light and targets of religious fanatics who follow the dark god. One day while taking care of a homeless kitten their temple is invaded, their protectors defeated, and Avin and Eimelle are forced to separate and flee for their lives. It's your job to reunite them and save the world.
The biggest challenge of any RPG is to keep the gamer interested for the long haul. Legend of Heroes is a 30-50 hour game but I found myself losing interest during the opening scripted events, and by the time I actually got to control my tiny character, I found I was looking at about 3-5 hours of boring and repetitive fetch quests before the game really got going.
I think the big problem with the game is the dissemination of massive quantities of information and story, and the fact that you are forced to read it all, grammatical errors included. There are no voices and no speech, which makes for a very last-gen gameplay experience. If I wanted to read this much I’d buy a book.
As you might expect, there are plenty of NPC’s, both relevant and incidental characters, and they all have something to say, even when they start to repeat themselves. Since you are pretty much forced to try talking to everyone to get information and quests, you’ll be pleased to know you can at least accelerate the conversations with frequent tapping of the X button.
Gameplay is pretty standard and features charming anime-style spirtes that have become atypical of Japanese RPG’s. They move around top-down environments presented at a slight angle for that 3D feel. Movement can be hit and miss at times and there were some collision problems when trying to navigate complicated rooms or terrain.
Quests and level grinding are all here in full force and will require some dedication, especially for those looking for quick fixes on the commute to work or during lunch. Thankfully, you can save anywhere, anytime, or just make use of the PSP sleep mode to hop back in where you left off.
One thing I did appreciate was the way wandering monsters were handled. Unlike so many other Japanese RPG’s where you can’t take four steps in any direction without triggering a battle, in Legend of Heroes you can actually see enemy encounters before you trigger them and give them a wide berth. Of course the downside to this is that if you avoid too many encounters you will find yourself not leveling up as fast as the game’s pacing might require.
Combat is surprisingly one of the more enjoyable elements of this game, blending turn-based strategy with emphasis on movement and positioning your party in a free-roaming battlefield. You select your targets and preload your party with a nice assortment of melee, magic, and skill attacks, or simply pause or retreat, then instigate the turn and watch the results.
By removing the grid-structure and movement restrictions players are now forced to focus on fighting particular enemies rather than those whom are merely in range. The guy in your back row can now attack the enemy in their back row. This concept might be good for beginner players but it can make the game way too easy for seasoned gamers.
The Legend of Heroes is a classic trip through some of the best visual elements of RPG history. At times I was reminded of games like Wild Arms, Tales of Symphonia, and Evolution Worlds. There is that unmistakable child-like character design, both in the actual character and the artistic portraits that slide in during conversations, often depicting two or three goofy expressions to hint at the tone of the conversation. Kudos for a nice readable font. If you are going to make me read volumes of text at least it was pleasing to the eyes.
Levels were detailed and colorful and for a game that is this long I was surprised that it didn’t get too visually repetitive. Sure, you see the same house or building and the same objects inside over and over, but there is enough mix to keep it from being painfully repetitive.
Animation is really basic and features sprite-based flipbook animations and pretty basic special effects; nothing state of the art here. I was hoping for some flashier spell effects if nothing else.
Legend of Heroes has some beautiful music that could easily pass for the score on a larger console game or even a fantasy feature film. I was surprised at how much music actually made it into the game, so even when it does start to loop or repeat, you won’t really mind.
Special effects are pretty standard and even a bit old school with buzzes and fizzes for spells and minimal environmental sounds. It’s all serviceable and fits with the retro styling of the gameplay and visuals. The lack of any speech in the game is probably my only real complaint with the sound presentation, but the great music helps fill in the silence.
If you equate value with time spent playing a game then Legend of Heroes is a great bargain, clocking in at a minimum of 30 hours and probably a lot more for many gamers. Given the nature of handheld gamers, when you break this down into 15, 30, or even 60 minute chunks you have a solid month of gaming ahead of you.
But given the game’s plodding nature of storytelling, repetitious wandering, uninspired quests and poor character evolution, you might find the biggest challenge is staying interested enough to finish the game. Sadly, the game is too long to complete as a rental, but you might play as much as you can stand within a single rental period.
If you are an obsessive RPG fan who has been dying to play a portable RPG then you might want to hold off. The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion probably won’t satiate that thirst for adventure, but rather make you hunger for something more substantial or at least more interesting and up to date.
While this is a valiant effort to fill a much-needed gap in portable gaming, there are just too many issues that keep this game from being all that fun or anywhere close to becoming as next-gen as the system you are playing it on.