Tales of Legendia - Staff Retroview  

Shining Blue
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
60-80 Hours
+ Fantastic soundtrack.
+ Great story with memorable characters.
- Boring level design.
- Terrible AI.
- No voice acting for second half of the game.
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   Hot on the tale (get it?) of the wildly successful Tales of Symphonia, Namco was quick to bring the redundantly titled Tales of Legendia overseas. Retrospectively, it's hard to say if this was a good or bad move on their part, as Tales of Legendia is easily the most divisive game in the series amongst Tales fans. Bearing very little resemblance to Symphonia or indeed any other Tales title, Legendia stands apart as the most unique game in the series. Simultaneously, it's also burdened by several design flaws and one of the most infamous localization snafus in recent history. But whether you love the game or hate it, Tales of Legendia happily does its own thing, and for that, at least, I'm glad to have played it.

   Tales of Legendia begins aboard a ship, where a young marine named Senel is traveling with his sister, Shirley. In the midst of a storm, the two soon find themselves washed up aboard the Legacy, a titanic, island-sized ship from a long-dead civilization. There, Shirley is recognized as the Merines, a descendant of the Legacy's masters said to be capable of controlling the ship by will alone, and is quickly targeted by several ruthless individuals who desire her power, leading Senel and several residents of the ship to rescue her.

   Unlike other Tales titles, Legendia's story is broken up into individual chapters, seven in total, along with a series of "character quests" which take place after the main story. As a result, Legendia is really three separate stories strung together, separated by brief periods of calm in which several weeks pass uneventfully. The first part deals with Shirley's kidnapping, while the second part focuses on Shirley's role as the Merines. The final part, the character quests, focuses on a mysterious black mist that starts appearing on the Legacy. Each part is mostly self-contained, though characters and subplots carry over and resolve themselves over the course of all three. Overall, the story is structured very well, and ends up being the primary focus and driving force of the game. Of particular note is the fact that each character is thoroughly explored, particularly during the character quests. Each one has a detailed history and strong motivation to be on board the Legacy, and the character quests really help to flesh them out, leading to some of the best moments in the entire series. At the same time, the game has no problem is being overly cheesy or silly, but luckily it does a good job of keeping it separate.

   Of course, what stands out the most about Legendia's story is its unique setting and imaginative world. Unlike other Tales games, or indeed most JRPGs, Tales of Legendia takes place entirely within the confines of the Legacy. While the politics of the rest of the world all end up affecting the events that transpire, the ship is the stage on which they take place. Further, an interesting history of conflict between the "people of the land" and the "people of the water" takes a major role, along with a religion dedicated to worshiping the sea.

The big-headed character models may turn some people off. The big-headed character models may turn some people off.

   Where Tales of Legendia stumbles is in its gameplay, though once again, Namco needs to be given credit for at least trying something different with the series. Combat returns to a linear plane as it was in the older titles, but it's been modified to resemble a fighting game — unsurprising when you consider that Legendia's development team included members of Namco's Soul Calibur team. Unfortunately, this change doesn't go over entirely well. Most notably, the command memory in the game is ridiculously long lived. If you press a button to activate a skill, the game remembers it, but won't activate it until any other commands in the queue have been completed. This can result in characters using skills two times in a row, even if you only intended for the attack to be used once. Couple this with some shockingly lengthy attack animations, and it can become quite irritating. On the plus side, Legendia does offer some interesting new combat abilities. In particular is Senel's unique ability to pick enemies up and throw them once they've been knocked down, which makes knock-down attacks all the more important.

   Although the combat system is adequate and still fairly fun, it's impossible to deny its flaws. Ally AI is also quite stupid, and players may find themselves having to micromanage spell and skill use in order to be successful. Unfortunately, nothing can be done for allies' incredible inability to run away from foes, particularly the spell-casters.

   Other issues arise outside of combat, during character development. Spell-casters learn their spells by obtaining "sculptures" from enemies. Each spell in their arsenal requires a certain number of sculptures of a certain type of enemy in order to become usable. But enemies drop sculptures randomly (though killing them quickly can improve your odds), and long stretches of time can go by without seeing a particular enemy type. This forces you to sit on unusable spells until much later in the game, when they might not be useful anymore. As a secondary problem, this also leads to a large amount of palette-swapping, as there are less than forty enemy species in the game.

   Physical attackers have a similar problem, although nowhere near as significant. They are able to combine their attacks to create new ones that have particularly strong effects against particular types of enemies. While this is great in principle, in practice in turns out to be less helpful, as new compound attacks can't be created during battle, and it's usually impossible to know what enemy you'll be facing before the fight begins.

Battles once again take place on a single plane. Battles once again take place on a single plane.

   Legendia also suffers from long, boring level designs and an inexplicable return to random encounters, neither of which help to engage the player. The character quests are also frustratingly tedious due to the fact that they have you revisit all the dungeons you went to in the first half of the game. Despite having a few solid ideas, much of Legendia's gameplay simply falls flat. None of these issues irreparably mar the game, but the entire title is filled with lost potential, which is a real shame.

   There is one area that Tales of Legendia truly excels at, however, and that's its audio. Not only is the voicework top notch, but the soundtrack is absolutely amazing. Composed by the criminally underused Go Shiina, Legendia's soundtrack is unique, memorable, and a perfect fit for the game's marine setting. A clear maritime influence is present in many of the tracks, and strings and low brass feature prominently. The soundtrack also makes good use of choral vocals and synthesized elements, providing plenty of variety. It is easily one of, if not the best RPG soundtrack I've ever heard, and the game is worth playing simply to hear its music in context. Simultaneously, Legendia is also home to one of the strangest and most unfortunate localization blunders imaginable. During the localization process, when Namco was looking at voiced segments they could cut to save a bit on costs, they foolishly chose to remove the voicework for the character quests, not realizing at the time that those character quests represented a full half of the game's story.

   Legendia's visuals are something of a mixed bag. The art direction is superb, and the character designs are memorable and a nice step away from the Tales series norm, but the character models are designed in a rather peculiar way, almost like three-dimensional versions of the sprites you'd see in 2D RPGs. The texturing is also very flat, like they'd been colored in with pastels. On the plus side, the environments are gorgeous, and the anime sequences are fantastic. The pastel-texturing and squat character models can be a tad off-putting, but in general, Legendia is fairly attractive, and the engine holds up quite well to HD upscaling on a PlayStation 3.

   Tales of Legendia is the black sheep of the Tales family. It's oft-derided for its faults, but sadly it's rarely recognized for the things it does well. The story is well-written, the characters are memorable, and the soundtrack is phenomenal. Had the gameplay been given an overhaul, it could potentially have been the best game in the series, but unfortunately, its innumerable design flaws hold it back from greatness. Despite these problems, Legendia still offers enough to make it a worthwhile play.

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