Points: 5
Cover Story: It Came From Outer Space!


Tales of Legendia


Like most legends, you've heard this one before.

In a bizarre case of time-delay synchronicity, the latest chapter in Namco's Tales series (Tales of Legendia) is arriving within a month of the U.S. debut of the game that kicked off the franchise 10 years ago in Japan (Tales of Phantasia). This makes it really easy for us reviewers to compare and contrast the two and see just how much the series has evolved over the past decade.

Turns out the answer is, "Not a lot." Legendia looks a lot better than its predecessors, and the music is spectacular. But beneath the spectacle, the underpinnings are pretty much what Tales fans have already experienced several times over. The battle system, the plot, and the gameplay in general are all comfortably lodged into a well-worn groove that with every episode grows a little deeper...and a little closer to being a rut.

In some areas, Legendia actually feels rougher than its 10-year-old predecessor -- most notably in the battle system, which is almost exactly the same button-mashing extravaganza as in other Tales games, but far more chaotic than usual. The Linear Motion Battle System (LMBS) is the series' most distinct trademark, a dramatic divergence from the usual role-playing battle routine. There's no lining up and taking turns here, no wait meters, just fast-paced real-time commands. Battle parties can feature up to four characters, but players control only the hero (or a designated alternate); the remainder of the party is A.I. driven and fairly intelligent, taking a general strategic command and acting as the computer sees best.

Namco has done a little bit to dress up Legendia's take on the LMBS, such as the ridiculously detailed postbattle ranking system that adds and deducts points from your tally based on how many combos you performed, how much damage you suffered, whether or not you used an approved form of magic, and so on. But very little about the mechanics have changed -- one button performs standard attacks, a second button performs special attacks, holding the D-pad while attacking modifies an action, and at any time you can bring up a menu to tell any character to cast magic or use an item. In fact, Chloe's sword techniques are almost exactly the same as those used by the heroes of Phantasia and 1998's Tales of Destiny.

The biggest difference here is that combat is much messier than in previous Tales. Symphonia had its share of issues; the series' move to 3D made the action a bit harder to keep track of. Legendia, rather than fixing the issues, makes them even worse. Enemy animations (crucial to determining their impending actions) are less distinct; flashy explosions and effects obscure vital details right where the action is thickest. That's particularly troubling since the hero is a close-range fighter; he frequently becomes lost in the pyrotechnics. While combat in previous Tales games was frantic but manageable even in the most intense moments, Legendia can be painfully difficult in the frustrating "this game is so annoying" way.

Unfortunately, battle isn't the only area in which the game's graphics work against it. That's really a shame, because the visuals are an incredible achievement -- a fully 3D world that looks hand painted. Think SaGa Frontier 2 translated into 3D, with rustic locales and high-tech ruins alike rendered in gorgeous watercolors. But much of what makes the visuals work is the fact that the camera is fixed in an overhead angle that recalls old-school 2D RPGs -- which is great for exploration, but really hurts cut-scenes. Fans of dramatic angles and interesting cinematography might as well go home now, because every plot sequence is viewed from the same static perspective, reducing dramatic events to bland puppet shows featuring unattractively designed bobbleheads.

The presentation doesn't do justice at all to the game's script, which is frequently witty and does a great job of breathing an actual personality into most of the cast members. Granted, the plot itself is the stuff of tired clichés that borrows liberally from every other RPG ever made, which in turn borrow heavily from anime classics like Castle in the Sky. Ancient civilization, forgotten races, a young woman who's the key to it all -- hell, there's even a mysterious pendant that turns a deadly fall into a gentle float, as well as a sequence where the villain tries to force the special girl to use her powers to unlock a sealed ancient weapon. If Hayao Miyazaki isn't collecting royalties on Legendia, he's getting ripped off.

Yet within this morass of overly familiar plot devices, Legendia tries to rise above its limitations by twisting conventions. The strongest combatants are female, and the burly man who wields a massive hammer plays the role of intellectual and healer. The party members are slow to warm up to one another, and the hero's impetuous actions frequently alienate his comrades. Since the gameplay is as prepackaged as it comes, Legendia will be of interest primarily for its story...and despite the predictability of the overall narrative, the details are frequently surprising and consistently entertaining.

Legendia seems a sure hit among the series' dedicated fans -- provided they don't feel that familiarity breeds contempt. But for everyone else, this flawed adventure's good looks and occasional moments of cleverness probably won't go far enough to distinguish Namco's latest Tales from the last few.

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Tales of Legendia
Namco Bandai
Namco Bandai
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1UP Editor Score: B+

Average Community Score: B

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