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CONSOLE: PlayStation DEVELOPER: SCEI PUBLISHER: Sony Computer Entertainment
// review by SoyBomb

Be more than just a goon -- be a Dragoon!

In a world where console RPGs flourish like plankton in the ocean, it is often questionable whether we need another one. A designing team at Sony Computer Entertainment must have thought so, and over the course of three years, "The Legend of Dragoon" was developed for the original PlayStation (which was to begin its downward spin soon after the release of this game in favour of the PlayStation 2 monolith). In a world of experience points, healing potions, and magic spells beyond anyone's wildest dreams, what gives "The Legend of Dragoon" an edge over other console RPGs of its time? Let's take a detailed look at the game to see whether it's a wonderful gift to the genre or whether it falls flat as a blank face in the crowd.

The storyline of this game is particularly rich and detailed, if not eventually overwhelming in terms of the excessive mythology and history of the game's world you must keep track of. Because I played this game via a lengthy series of short bursts (due to the fact that I generally do not play games for long periods of time), many little factoids that were once crucial to the plot were easily forgotten and as such, later aspects of the storyline were confusing. This happens sometimes with complicated RPG plotlines, and at that point I simply advise myself to move forward, down the road to the next location in the game, when the game gives me the ability to. I no longer pay attention to the plot, and instead I just fight until there is no more fighting to be had. Such was the case with "The Legend of Dragoon". The plot is, in fact, far too complicated to outline in much detail in this review; however, all you need to know is that the world will eventually need to be saved from total annihilation, and only those who possess an affinity with their own dragon -- the Dragoons -- can save it. There is also a wacky amount of sidestory, illustrated mainly through flashbacks; nice though they may be for good character development, they cause the gameplay to become scornfully jagged at times, slowing the plot and causing me to read even more text than I originally desired. Besides, I have a PlayStation 3, and taking the time to read all this text wastes energy from my controller!

The game's plotline also tends to suffer from a poor translation job. Let's face it: people do NOT talk like the characters in "The Legend of Dragoon". The main characters talk in a strange metaphorical fashion, opting to often employ idioms that likely have a basis within the Japanese script that the translators tried to bring over, fully intact, to the English language. Unfortunately, the translation team likely was not conditioned to general North American culture and did not alter their translations to reflect the general conversational styles of Americans, thus leading to some ultimately mystifying sets of dialogue that make little sense. This game's script is also riddled with clearly visible errors: spelling errors, grammatical oversights, and unusual spacing of sentences between lines can lead to irritation on behalf of the reader. Sometimes a person may also say the same thing twice in a row even though such was not originally intended. I even noted an instance or two where the speaking character's name would appear in yellow (as usual), and then it would be repeated in the next line where normal dialogue should appear. For a game that relies heavily on text, such gaffes should have been proofread prior to the game's release. This displays an overall certain lack of polish; the script certainly didn't help me appreciate the game's finer qualities.

For those who consider this to be "just another RPG in the pile", well... you may be right. This is a turn-based RPG similar to a wide variety of those released on the market at the same time. Attacking, defending, item use, and battle escaping is all there in full form, although defending is slightly different, actually allowing you to regain some HP while guarding, which is a well-implemented feature that other RPGs could learn from. There are also random battles; I personally don't mind this concept, and it is better in "The Legend of Dragoon" because of a cursor above your character's head that indicates when a battle is imminent, turning from blue to yellow and eventually red when the battle is about to begin. Encounter rates are decent in this game, as only on a few occasions did I sigh, desiring to simply move forward rather than stop for a battle.

However, there are a couple of differences between this and, say, the Final Fantasy series that sets this game apart. The main difference lies in the specific battle system used. In a standard RPG, you just try to fight as many battles as you can to build up experience and raise your character's levels so that they become stronger, both in offense and defense. Certainly that can be the case here, but unfortunately, doing so will not significantly raise your total amount of money or experience because general battles don't give you much of anything. It's also important to note that items in this game are cheap enough that you likely will not ever run low on funds, which is an occurrence that I prefer! Yet experience comes only in large doses after boss battles (which happen relatively frequently so you shouldn't be too low on experience points when you get to the grand finale in the game). By the way (and this is a process which I loathe in RPGs), after a battle, your experience points are divvied up between all your party members (although inactive members get half of what the active ones do). Considering that there are seven party members by the end, that's some heavy division there. So in this respect, battling to improve your party is not worth your while.

Yet it is still recommended that you do so! It's not for the sake of experience or pocket money! No, it's to level up your physical attacks (and consequently, your dragoon abilities). I shall explain. As your characters level up, they gain new moves called "Additions". Characters pull off these moves in battle by way of good reflexes -- when a larger spinning square aligns with a smaller square in the middle of the screen, that's when you want to press the X button to solidify a successful hit. Basic moves only require that you do it once, but more advanced moves require a sequence of button presses. Every successful completion of a move adds to a tally, and every time you complete the move 20 times, the move itself is leveled up, increasing its strength, to a maximum of Level 5. Such Additions are also very useful in the building of Dragoon Levels, as every effective strike gives the fighting character some Spirit Points (SP), which I'll refer back to in a moment. Anyway, the key to fighting well is through successful Additions, and by performing them correctly, they can deliver upwards of 400% (or possibly higher) the strength of a regular attack. Additions can always be performed by (most) characters, since one will always be selected. This is certainly a unique aspect of this game that I have yet to see in other RPGs, and I never expected to require such precise reflexes for an RPG.

The other important part of this game (as mentioned in the game's title) is dragoon power. With every character's stats on screen, there is a coloured bar that, when filled by collecting Spirit Points, will allow you to transform into a Dragoon (provided the character has already obtained their respective Dragoon Spirit which they need in order to summon dragon power). As a Dragoon, your defense is greatly increased and you can use magic spells (although whether or not your attack power also increases is arguable). Physical fighting involves a cursor spinning clockwise around a circle, and when it reaches the top, you must press the X button; this is done up to five times, and if done successfully all five times, you get a PERFECT attack, leading to additional damage dealt to the enemy. Any failure to be precise results in, naturally, an attack of less power. As you gain more and more SP over time, the number of turns that your Dragoon powers will last shall increase as well. You begin with the ability to use it for only a single turn, but eventually you can use it for up to five consecutive turns. When all three characters in your main party have absolutely full SP meters, any character can pull off a Dragoon Special, which allows for all characters to summon their Dragoon powers simultaneously, and also for the character who commenced the Special to attack in full force without requiring the use of the aforementioned "spinning cursor in a circle" technique. The Dragoon powers are useful moreso in boss battles where more damage is dealt by the enemy; Dragoon powers can reduce the damage taken. The only downside to Dragoon powers come especially in the later half of the game, where you can use the ability for more turns at a time. You cannot use items when you are in Dragoon form, so healing is often difficult or even impossible. Furthermore, once you are in Dragoon form, you cannot escape its bonds until you have run out your total number of turns (or have been killed, whichever comes first). Choose your timing for Dragoonism wisely!

While battling is the primary component of the game, as is the case with most RPGs, there is still much to be done outside the battlefield. You'll be spending a solid amount of time traveling pedestrian-style from one location to the next (although by the fourth disc, the game is more generous and allows for warping as a safe traffic-free alternative). Unfortunately, it often comes to pass that you will need to wander through the same area several times during the game, which is quite tedious. Talking with townsfolk also proves to be somewhat useful -- they're not as brain-dead as in some games, and can often provide hints for what you should do next. Shopping is also made somewhat simple, with a standard buy/sell menu, plus the ability to see what you are carrying.

For a PlayStation One game (that is, 32-bit and no more), this game looks excellent. It is a wondrous compilation of pre-rendered 3D backgrounds and 3D polygon-based characters combining into one universe, and they seem to fit together well. The only quibble I have with the characters themselves is when you see them up close during in-battle FMV (full-motion video) events. Whoever designed and programmed the noses on the characters should have been ousted from the development team, because those are just wacky-looking appendages that do not match the characters at all. This game is also loaded with special effects. Besides the amazing job the designers did with the visual sequences behind all the various spells that can be cast by both your party and enemies alike (and they are quite varied indeed), there are also shining effects from glowing objects, such as the Dragoon Spirits and by way of certain special attacks, which are equally impressive. I do have a quarrel with this as well, although it may have just been the television sets I was using. Whenever a particularly powerful (visually) action was being performed, there would be strange clouds of red and blue pixelations surrounding the character for some reason. I strongly doubt this was intended, and I am unsure why this has occurred. It's a minor point of order for this well-developed visual powerhouse. There are also a large number of CG movies in the game which add to the atmosphere... sometimes. They seem well-produced (although the mouths don't match the voices, but that's dubbing for you), but are ultimately unnecessary in the grand scheme of storytelling. Although early advertisements for the game lauded the addition of such movies, I believe they serve only a superfluous purpose, as a means of relief from reading excessive amounts of text.

Music and sound are a different affair. The musical score of this game is rather well composed, although whether or not I can remember any tunes from the soundtrack is another story. However, I do recall that there is a wide variety of songs used for the many situations your characters will face, although by the end of the game, the music wears thin. I found myself frequently muting my television and playing some wacky old-school music, which seemed to satisfy me more than hearing reused tunes. As for the sound effects themselves, nothing stands out at all -- it's your basic array of swishes and whips, and very little that makes anyone's eyes or ears pop with glee. The voice acting is in a category all on its own. I am reviewing the North American version of the game, and so I cannot vouch that this is the same for the Japanese counterpart, but the term "vocal talent" has been redefined here. I'm not sure where the talent is, because the in-game voices are brutally overacted (you hear them speak every time you complete one of those Additions). Why do characters need to yell out their move every time? "Hex Hammer!" "Burning RUSH!!!" "Blossom Storm"! (By the way, the last one doesn't match the text on screen, which says "Flower Storm"; this is the case with several Additions, another oversight by the developer). The use of spoken word in the CG movies is ultimately minimal, but eerie at the best of times. They are particularly painful in the ending CG movie, and you may want to guard your ears for the shouts and mindless conversing heard within.

Yet overall, I feel somewhat satisfied with my experience with "The Legend of Dragoon". And yes, this review may seem long, but for a game that I poured 50+ hours into, I'd say it deserves such a lengthy analysis. While this game has not received the mighty accolades of the Final Fantasy games, it should not be ignored completely. Unfortunately, the wacky translation and the requirement of swift reflexes in battle may be a turn-off for many. This game is four discs in length, but may not truly capture your full attention until the third disc (and the fourth disc even feels a little tacked on with extra battles that appear to just add to the game's overall length). RPGers who manage to stick it out for the entire ride will find something special in this game, but many will be turned away by its presentation. "The Legend of Dragoon" is a good effort on Sony's behalf for an RPG (as they likely were not experienced with the genre), and hopefully they learn from their mistakes here for future releases.

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