'Legasista' from Nippon Ichi Software America.
'Legasista' from Nippon Ichi Software America.
Publisher/developer NIS America has a knack for releasing video games that can best be described as... well... different. The mainstream seems not to be something that the company concerns itself with. Legasista, a recently released JRPG for PlayStation 3, certainly continues this tradition with a game reminiscent of the company's ClaDun PSP games. While the ClaDun games were generally well received, PS3 game Legasista doesn't fare quite so well.
The game follows the story of a boy named Alto as he rummages through ancient, yet advanced ruins in search of a legendary device that will turn his sister from her current state as a crystal back into a human. From that beginning plot point, Alto ventures forth into the legendary Ivy Tower along with an android designed to look like a 13-year-old girl and begins his quest. Honestly, that's about where the interesting things end. Over the years, RPGs have garnished a reputation for providing players with a long and (usually) interesting story. Legasista simply doesn't.
What it does do, however, is supply the player with plenty of shallow-designed (and often times whiny) characters -- none of whom are all that likable. In fact, the various key characters are so stereotypical for a JRPG that it's painful. The moe androids are super-powered war machines, older women are so sexualized and top-heavy that it's a wonder they can even walk, and the male main protagonist finds himself in momentarily embarrassing predicaments as a way of providing comedic relief. It's a tired formula that needs a lot more than Legasista provides to support it.
Combat (and gameplay in general) is very reminiscent of the ClaDun games. Dungeons are presented in a top-down fashion with both the player and the enemies free to roam around the grounds. There are no encounters or turn-based mechanics like in most other JRPGs; rather, all of the action is real-time. Combat, however, is a mixed bag of blah. Attacks (both the player's and the enemy's) are methodical and bashing the "X" button is the main strategy. Most of the baddies are underpowered when compared to Alto and his amigos, but they're very dangerous in groups. They're also exceedingly good at surrounding or cornering the player. It's almost as if the game's AI knows what the player's going to do before the player even does, then acts accordingly. Sure, players could choose to go the sneakier route and play as they would a rogue rather than a warrior, but that strategy has even harder to overcome disadvantages. For one, avoiding combat means that the player won't be leveling Alto up at the rate he'll need to be; thus leaving him underpowered when there is no choice but to fight it out.
On top of combat difficulties, healing is just as bad. Those who decide to give this game a go will find Alto and his buds will often enough become afflicted with ailments such as poison or plain low health with little relief in sight. There are healing items and health fountains distributed within the dungeons, but they're few and far between. So, the options Legasista provides the player is to either duke it out with the high possibility of getting a game over due to swarms of enemies or status afflictions; or avoiding as much of the combat as possible, only to get one's butt handed to them on a silver platter when it is time to brandish one's sword. That just won't do.
Something else that just won't do is how the game looks. Taking cues from the ClaDun games, Legasista provides extremely similar, yet updated, graphics. Character models during storyline sequences appear as hand-drawn anime-style individuals, though the line art suggests they may have been done by a 16 year old. The chibi in-dungeon appearance of the characters is no better. NIS probably meant for the characters to have a certain cuteness, but instead they just look overly cartoonish and odd. Alto may be the worst offender of the bunch, appearing as giant head with disembodied limbs flailing nearby. Top it off with the fact that nearly everything looks like it was colored with Crayola markers, and you have "WTF were they thinking" situation.
Even with all of the complaints above, there are two redeeming factors that Legasista has going for it. Firstly, it's audio is actually rather good for how otherwise poor this game is. Its voice work is Japanese-language, which anime/J-import purists will appreciate, but the main attraction here is the soundtrack itself. The music sets the scene better than anything else within this game. One might argue that it's good enough to justify playing the game through, though that claim would be a stretch at best.
The other thing playing in Legasista's favor is character creation. Players have the opportunity to custom-make in-game characters down to seemingly the smallest of details. A few hours into the game, players can begin to hire heroes to assist in the game's brutally difficult mid- and late-game dungeons. These sellswords can be customized not only head-to-toe physically, but also how the act. For those with an artistic touch, custom-made artwork can be imported into the creator and actually used on the characters themselves. This level of user customization within a video game is rather remarkable and it's something that higher-budget RPGs should look at as inspiration for improving their own respective character creation tools.
It's too bad that a product that's released as a game (of any kind) isn't very entertaining at all. Nearly every other RPG released onto the PlayStation 3 is more appealing that Legasista, including NISA's own Atelier and Neptunia games. Even the aforementioned retro-styled ClaDun PlayStation Portable games are better options than this dull and poorly-presented title.
Final Game Guys grade: D
(NISA provided a copy of this game for review.)