[Review] Tales of Legendia

テイルズ オブ レジェンディア
Opening

Its strange cocktail of likable, well-developed characters, tedious gameplay, a unique setting and a number of baffling design decisions make Tales of Legendia probably one of the most divisive and controversial entries in the series, and while the characters mostly worked for me and made the oft-frustrating journey one ultimately worth soldiering through, I’m also pretty damn sure that I’m never, ever, replaying this game. Because holy shit does it have a boner for recycling all its content and throwing it back into your face.

People often refer to this game as the black sheep of the franchise, and I can definitely see why. From what I understand, it wasn’t developed by either Team Destiny or Team Symphonia, but a completely separate group called MelFes, and the result is something that, despite having certain similarities with other installments in the franchise, is probably best treated as its own thing.

Right off the bat, we have a relatively unconventional setting: the entirety of the game takes place aboard a massive, continent-sized ship called the Legacy (遺跡船 in the original) that gives home to all sorts of varied fantasy landscapes, mysterious ruins and even a few settlements, including a massive town called Werites Beacon, which, by the way, will serve as your primary base of operations. It’s also the only “proper” town in the entire game if you exclude one or two small villages, so if you were hoping for the classic “traveling from town to town” journey formula utilized by every other JRPG under the sun, well, this game is not like that at all. In fact, when you’re not watching a story cutscene, the majority of your play time will be taken up by dungeon crawling and navigating the world map to go from one dungeon to the next. Thankfully, the game is very generous with its fast travel teleport stations, so taking the trip back to town to resupply after a dungeon run is generally a painless affair. But I digress.

Let’s move on: the other interesting thing about Legendia concerns its narrative structure. In short, it’s essentially two games in one: a Main Quest and the individual Character Quests. The first 30 hours largely focus on protagonist Senel Coolidge trying to rescue his (not blood-related) sister Shirley from the clutches of the bad guys who want to use her because she’s super special and is the key to controlling the ship. It’s literally The Quest for Shirley for 30 hours with bits of Senel’s backstory thrown in there for good measure. You also meet a bunch of other playable characters who join you on said quest: they all have their own problems and personal agendas on their mind, but in this first half, these are only mentioned in passing and aren’t given much focus. Why? Because that’s what the second half is for. Basically, you’ll finish the Main Quest after 30 or so hours of adventuring. The bad guys are defeated, everyone’s happy, you watch this cool end credit sequence and listen to a lovely ending song. You feel like you’re done here. Except you’re not. In fact, you’re only at the halfway point because surprise surprise: this game is actually 60 hours long.

Taking place a couple months after the conclusion of the Main Quest, the so-called Character Quest arc takes roughly another 30 hours to complete and is broken up into individual chapters focusing on the backstories of each playable character. There’s also a new threat lurking in the shadows and a true final boss at the very end, but to be perfectly honest, this new storyline isn’t exactly what I’d call riveting. Hell, the second half’s main antagonist is even more generic than the first’s, with the kind of motivation that will no doubt make any seasoned RPG fan roll their eyes and sigh.

It’s also worth noting that the English version of Legendia has kind of a bad reputation for leaving the entire Character Quest arc completely unvoiced, even though it’s actually 100% voiced in the Japanese release. Make no mistake: this second half isn’t just optional post-game content. If anything, it’s where Legendia truly shines. Indeed, the real reason why people enjoy the second half of Legendia is because every single character (minus Senel and Shirley since the Main Quest was already all about them) is given their own individual chapter that focuses on their backstory and personal development. This is where you’ll understand why Character X acted the way they did during the first half, or why Character Y was so dead-set on finding this or that item and so on. There are plenty of emotional moments, flashbacks and a whole bunch of anime cutscenes to boot. Personally, I was already quite fond of the main cast during the first half, but these individual story arcs really made them feel a lot more relatable and human.

Legendia is also a game brimming with an immense amount of individuality and heart. Granted, it won’t necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea and the comedy can certainly be kind of hit-or-miss depending on your tastes. I mean, even I was initially a little weirded out by all the wackiness and the singing otters (I swear I’m not making this shit up) and the Elvis impersonator dude and… uh, everything else. But after a few hours, the game really began to grow on me and I learned to appreciate it for not being all doom and gloom all the time. This is the kind of game that will absolutely make use of every opportunity to sneak a joke or two into a scene, even serious ones, but it rarely feels out of place or forced. The characters have such good chemistry that it just… works. I even ended up liking the chibi character models and their cute animations as they had a certain FFVII-esque charm to them.

So yeah, I found the cast to be pretty enjoyable. My personal favorite was Chloe, who’s not just the best character in Legendia, but is now one of my favorite Tales heroines in general. It also helps that the moment she first opened her mouth, my heart pretty much melted right then and there, as she’s voiced by the amazing Asano Masumi (Imca from Valkyria Chronicles 3, among others) whose soothing, deeply emotive performance made for some extremely memorable scenes, especially during her character quest. Will Raynard was also a refreshing addition to the roster, being a 28-old guy with a young, 9-year-old daughter: their complicated relationship constitutes the backbone of Will’s story arc, which I enjoyed quite a bit. I guess I just have a weakness for anything dealing with parent-child drama. Even the character quest for Norma, who initially comes off as the group’s resident comic relief genki girl, ended up being a very pleasant surprise and made me fundamentally re-evaluate how I view her as a character.

As a side note, Legendia’s skits are so rare you’ll probably forget they even exist because they pop up like every 5 hours or so. In some Tales games, they can provide a good deal of characterization and comedy; here, they feel like a mere afterthought. And the ones that do occur are as short as they are unsatisfying, seemingly cobbled together in a hurry just to meet some kind of quota because this is a Tales game and Tales games apparently must have skits. Or something. To me this felt like a missed opportunity: for a game that places such a large emphasis on character development, it really could’ve given skits a bit more substance.

Okay, so I think we’ve pretty much established that Legendia has a really charming, light-hearted atmosphere and a strong cast of likable characters. So why is this game so disliked, then? Well… mostly because everything else about it ranges from mediocre to outright dreadful.

Having just one main town to instead focus on dungeon crawling is… fine. It’s like, whatever. I don’t care. But the dungeons themselves are just so goddamn tedious and the encounter rate is obscenely high. I mean, I’ll give the dungeons some credit as a few of them sport some pretty cool architecture. But the way they’re designed leaves a lot to be desired. You basically just run from point A to point B through long-ass empty pathways with nothing but awkwardly-placed treasure chests to break the monotony. Actually, there’s one more thing: at certain points, you’ll come across these huge, bubble-like zones, usually placed right before valuable treasure chests. If you step into these bubbles, you’ll very likely be attacked by a powerful monster, although it’s not 100% guaranteed. It’s a bit of a gamble, but the basic idea is that if you want all the best loot, you’ll have to take that risk. Needless to say, I wasn’t a huge fan of this design choice: the random encounter rate is already high enough to make dungeon runs really frustrating without Holy Bottles, and these danger zones don’t exactly help matters, either. Oh, and in almost every dungeon you’ll also be occasionally teleported off to a separate room to solve a boring puzzle, but even the game realizes how pointless this is because it straight-up gives you the option to press a button and completely skip the entire thing with no penalties.

Oh, but we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet: the fact that you have to complete every dungeon in the game twice. Earlier in the review, I praised the second half of the game for providing each character with ample amounts of development, which is nice. What’s less nice is that every single character-centric chapter consists of your party revisiting dungeons they’ve already been to in the first half. Sure, the treasure chests are new, but other than that, it’s the exact same dungeon, except with stronger enemies. Like, what the fuck. And no, not even the Main Quest’s insanely long and tedious final dungeon is exempt from this. You gotta clear that shit twice, too. But wait, there’s more! Dungeons aren’t the only things Legendia recycles. Bosses get in on the action, too: the grand finale of the entire game is literally an hour-long boss rush where all you do is go from room to room and fight one boss after another. Like, at least a dozen of them. And they have an obnoxious amount of HP as well, just to make things even more painful. By the end of it all I was about ready to blow my fucking brains out.

The other major thing that really hurts the game is the battle system. The controls feel clunky and somewhat unresponsive, and in a lot of battles the entire fight can boil down to simply spamming your regular attacks. You do of course learn Artes like in any other Tales game, but other than having really cool animations, I rarely felt like they were all that useful. In fact, I had the distinct feeling that simply mashing your regular attack would overall yield a better and more consistent DPS, which is sort of hilarious if you think about it. Enemies, and especially bosses, also seemed to have entirely too much HP, and even with properly geared characters (I even crafted some of the best weapons from the customization shop), a lot of the boss fights still felt like I was chipping away at a rock wall with a butter knife. What’s worse, your party members often act like complete dumbfucks: you’d analyze an enemy and learn which elements it’s resistant to, yet your mage would still continue to bombard it with spells of that very element like a total idiot. “Oh look, this monster is literally made of ice, so let me keep using my ice spells on it hurr durr.” Sure, you can just disable the offending spell to prevent the mage from using it, but c’mon. You shouldn’t have to babysit the AI like that. Honestly, if you want my opinion, just do yourself a favor and turn the combat difficulty down to the easiest setting and play through the entire game like that. I did and I don’t regret it one bit.

Anyway, let’s get back to something more positive, namely the soundtrack and how awesome it is, which can very easily be explained by pointing out that it was composed by Go Shiina, aka That Guy Who Composed the Only Good Tracks on Zestiria’s OST. No but seriously, the music in Legendia is really good and adds a lot to the overall mood of the game. Go Shiina is just a crazy talented guy. I was also super impressed with the ending song (“My Tales” by Donna Burke and Gab Desmond) and the opening (“Tao” by Do As Infinity) is easily one of the most beautiful Tales OPs in my opinion.

Despite everything I’ve said in this review, I gotta say I still enjoyed (most of) my time with Legendia. It was a genuine test of endurance at times, but I’m still glad I stuck with it. With that said, the tedious battle system, the boring dungeons with their high encounter rate, plus the fact you have to revisit most of said dungeons in the second half really hold the game back. All in all, I can most certainly see why this game is regarded the way it is. Would I go out of my way to recommend it to others? Well, uh… I dunno? It depends. Let me put it this way: how much you like the characters will essentially make or break this game for you, I think. Depending on what kind of person you are, Legendia’s flaws may prove to be a total deal-breaker, but if you can latch onto the characters like I did and just roll with all the quirky comedy the game throws at you, you’ll probably enjoy it.

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