Reviewed: July 26, 2006
Released: June 20, 2006
Near the end of 2005 I reviewed an RPG called Legend of Heroes. At the time I didnít know it was to be the first of what appears to be a possible series, although if this yearís sequel (actually itís a prequel) is any indication of what to expect, the series might be dead before it gets launched.
The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch is the next installment in this RPG saga for the PSP, and while handheld gaming isnít the traditional home to this genre, the PSP is certainly powerful enough to recreate a compelling role-playing experience if handled correctly.
Moonlight Witch is a coming-of-age tale of two heroes who must combine courage and strength to save their world. Part of the "Gagharv Trilogy" in Japan (so we can likely expect one more installment) this game promises carefully crafted character art, an epic storyline, and the always endearing "pet system" that makes this RPG series unique.
As part of their initiation into adulthood, Jurio and Chris embark on a pilgrimage to five shrines surrounding their village. With the help of their newfound friends, the duo discovers a sinister threat set to destroy their home and surrounding areas. Can Jurio and Chris stop the Raual Wave emanating from Queen Isabella's castle? Will they discover the identity of the mysterious "Moonlight Witch" who predicted it all?
The Legend of Heroes II features an AI that will pick its battles, where weaker enemies may run off if you are too powerful. Also new to the series is the removal of random battles - you can see the enemies on the world map before a fight. Pets are also back, with cats, dogs, and even rabbits.
One of my biggest complaints about the last Legend of Heroes was that it took too long to get going and I had lost interest before all of the opening setup was finished. Moonlight Witch promises a much quicker pace claiming you will be captivated within minutes of starting a new game. Admittedly, the pacing is much faster, but the tale itself left me a bit indifferent. It wasnít that I didnít get the storyÖI just didnít really care.
At its core, Moonlight Witch features all of the standard RPG components weíve come to expect from the genre. This ďepic taleĒ is broken down into various chapters that will take you through various distinct environments, mountains, swamps, caves, cities, and such where you will interact with countless NPCís and fighter even more monsters.
Things start to drag in portions of the gameplay where you are required to help others but your objectives arenít always clear and you end up backtracking back and forth across cities trying to find the next key person to trigger the next portion of the story. Itís all too easy to get confused, lost, or just lose interest in the entire game. Some sort of checklist or waypoint indicator for your next goal would have been invaluable here.
Legend of Heroes II gets one thing right. Theyíve taken out those blind encountersÖyou know, where you walk a few steps and are thrust into a wandering monster battle. Now you get to see those wandering monsters ahead of time and you decide if you want to fight or avoid them entirely. The downside to this is that if you avoid too many of these incidental encounters you wonít level up properly and might find yourself ill-equipped to deal with a milestone boss.
The new battle system has some interesting AI that follow three styles of rules of engagement. Monsters can wander aimlessly around, or they can retreat from your party if they detect you are stronger, or they can charge in for the fight if they thing they have the advantage. Itís an interesting twist for the computer to be simulating the tactics of the human player.
Once in combat things play out much like any other RPG. Characters and monsters have a movement and attack radius allowing them to function only within that zone. You can choose between melee and spell attacks and you can fill up the Deadly Meter to finish off the more powerful monsters with some impressive attacks. This meter fills up way too quickly in my opinion and with no limits on its use, it can throw the game way out of balance.
My biggest complaint with the combat is that there is so much available that most of it doesnít matter. You have all these cool tactics for placing penalties on opponents or rendering them helpless or immobile, but in most cases there is no reason not to simple kill them with standard attacks. Nothing forces you to explore various tactics and there is no real balance to the arsenal.
As if the game werenít already out of balance, you now have pets that can directly affect the outcome of battles. By feeding them certain foods they can cast offensive spells at the enemy or protective spells on your party, although their appearance in battle is a bit unpredictable. They are also useful for fetching items lying around the environments. But again, this is off balance as well and your pet can usually find more items than you will likely need to complete the adventure; so dealing with shopkeepers is no longer necessary nor is spending your money.
In the end, Moonlight Witch is just way too imbalanced, too easy, and just not that interesting to play, but on a positive note, it is better than the first game, and it sure looks pretty.
Colorful 2D sprites and classic anime-style characters inhabit a rich and thriving world with such details as lens flare from the sun, water effects, and beautiful scenery. Spell effects are outstanding and really make use of the power of the PSP.
For an RPG that wants to thrive on story, the movies are relatively short and uninspired. I wasnít expecting Final Fantasy here, but certainly more than what was offered. Moonlight Witch is a definite step up from last yearís game but still a far cry from modern RPG standards.
There is some really great music, especially during the opening, and a few pleasant themes during the adventure and short cutscenes. Sound effects are mainly environmental with the exception of the sounds of combat, which can get pretty impressive with sounds that match the stunning visual effects.
There is no speech to be found in Moonlight Witch, so dust off your reading glasses if you want to follow along with the story or engage in NPC chatter. Again, I donít expect everybody to talk, but at least do voices for the key encounters. Iím pretty sure the UMD can handle a few lines of dialogue.
This 30-hour adventure lost me about 8-10 hours in. I just couldnít push myself to complete the game, which is sad because there is true potential here, but the story just couldnít compel me to keep muddling through the repetitive sequence of talking, fighting, and leveling up.
And for those worrying about tackling a massive RPG on the PSP, youíll be glad to know you can save your game in any non-combat situation, and of course you can always just put your PSP to sleep for quick game sessions without the lengthy load times.
The game manual offers up some nice character bios, history, and even a map of the land, but doesnít go into much detail on many of the important gameplay elements and totally glosses over things like skills and pets, leaving this all up to you to figure out on your own.
The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch is an impressive title for an unimpressive game. After last yearís lackluster effort I was so looking forward to something that would really grab me, but I guess I will continue to seek my RPG refuge on the larger consoles.
Iím not sure if itís translation issues or what, but this franchise needs a much more compelling story if they want me to invest a huge portion of my already-limited portable gaming time on a game of this magnitude. And while theyíre at it, hopefully than can work out some severe balancing issues that really hold this game back from being all that it could be.