Hot on the heels of 2010′s Cladun: This is an RPG and 2011′s Cladun x2 comes System Prisma’s Legasista. Despite the change in title, there are a lot of similarities to its predecessors, even though things have been modernized a bit on the visual level. When I sat down to discuss the game with NISA at E3, I hadn’t played the Cladun games before, so my perception of what it was going to be shifted among various titles with similar concepts, all of which spoke to my interests. Of course, I like action RPG games in general, but let’s just see how this one turned out, shall we?
The setting for Legasista is decidedly very steam punk, as it takes place in a world that has abandoned science, regarding it as evil and a curse. All knowledge of science was subsequently sealed away in a tower, and human fear and superstition that has built up since then has kept most people away. Enter Alto, who is on a quest to turn his sister back to normal after a cursed relic transformed her into a tiny crystal. His adventure leads him to the tower, where he believes the answers to restoring her humanity lay. Upon arrival, he encounters a machine with the appearance of a young girl that he refers to as Ms. Dungeon, that manages the tower. Through her, he learns of an ancient weapon that may be able to turn his sister Mari back to normal. Ms. Dungeon lends aid in the form of knowledge and access to living bean sprouts that serve as food and a means of exploration. And thus, your adventure begins.
I actually didn’t have much for story expectations going in. Legasista struck me as a game that was going to make the gameplay and dungeon crawling its focus first and foremost, and the plot would be there to merely serve as a purpose behind your adventures. While it is true that the gameplay is the main focus, the story does manage to make you care about what’s going on, albeit in a limited capacity. There is an assortment of characters that you meet along the way, and while they are a bit cliché, they’re still interesting, and their various interactions will keep you invested in what’s going on. The theme of the game seems to be about family bonds and what it means to be human, particularly in regards to the robot characters you meet along the way. You see this a lot in anime and games like the Xenosaga franchise, but again, what’s here is enjoyable and I legitimately liked seeing it play out.
Story/Modes Rating: Enjoyable
While the Cladun games went for a purposefully retro style with their visuals in an attempt to mimic 8-bit games, Legasista decided to go with high definition sprites. If you think that this upgrade means you can no longer customize your characters, well, guess again. There is an extensive character creation mode that arms you with several templates in which to build off of, or you can start from scratch. The in game tools are quite robust, if a bit intimidating, though if designing sprites is a bit easier on a computer, you can do that. If you have PNG images saved to your PS3 hard drive, they can be imported into the game and applied to one of your created characters. You can also export the game’s templates, create a character on your computer, and then import it back in if that’s a bit easier for you. As someone who loves customization, I think this is a great feature.
The characters themselves are very chibi style, with very large heads attached to tiny bodies. The limbs on the characters don’t appear as though they’re attached, so your characters kinda look a bit like Rayman when they are running around. Some may be put off by the character designs, but I find them amusing, as they fit in well within the confines of the environment that they inhabit. The monsters that you face come in varying shapes and sizes, and although you’ll see a bunch of repeats that are palette swapped, you’ll be too busy running from a number of them to care.
I felt that the hub area was well designed, with little details like a garden filled with vegetables (that taste like bean sprouts… don’t ask) and a small living quarters filled with personal assets. When you start exploring dungeons though, you’ll find that each floor you navigate will fit a specific theme, and isn’t visually unique beyond that. It’s to be expected of a game that utilizes randomly generated dungeons to the extent that Legasista does. There is some incredible work done with shadows that you’ll notice during exploration though, so points for that.
Graphics Rating: Enjoyable
I really enjoyed the soundtrack in Legasista. The opening theme song is very well done, and between it and some of the tunes that play while traversing dungeons, I felt they were reminiscent of Wild ARMs. I find this amusing on the grounds that both games share heavily in the steam punk influence. The tracks are quite varied, ranging from dark and eerie to more upbeat, adrenaline inducing songs involving electric guitars. The pattern that I noticed was that each area in the tower seemed to have its own “theme,” along with music to match, though the optional randomized dungeons seem to mix up the tunes as much as its floors.
The cutscenes are fully voice acted, though only the Japanese language track is available. While I personally have a preference for an English dub option where one is available, I can read faster than the characters can talk, so it isn’t a hindrance in my eyes. The characters seem well cast though, as each one was portrayed as I would have imagined they would be. Other sound effects, particularly those heard in combat, are satisfying. I especially enjoyed how certain enemies could make the sounds of shattering porcelain when defeated. Your characters tend to grunt every time they swing their weapons, which can be a nuisance depending on who you’re using, but it’s a minor complaint.
Sound Rating: Great
Despite how simplistic it may look on the surface, Legasista actually has quite a bit a depth in regards to character building and strategy. You are allowed to bring three characters into dungeons with you that can be switched on the fly, with the right analog stick, as the situation calls for it. Since there are several classes that can be chosen, as well as the ability to customize the abilities of those classes, you’ll want to bring characters who complement each other well or can otherwise deal with whatever dangers you know you’ll be facing. Control-wise, it’s still a pretty standard action RPG setup. You can jump over things with X, slash with circle, and dash around with square. Meanwhile, the shoulder buttons cycle through, and activate, any items and skills you may have.
Aside from the enemies, the dungeons have a number of traps for you to watch out for. There are healing traps that recharge your health, but mostly you’ll encounter plates that set off earthquakes, projectiles, or even spawn enemies. Each time you step on one, there’s a chance that it will break, making it go away for good, though much of the strategy revolves around getting your enemies to succumb to the traps. It’s not uncommon to be fleeing from a monster only to trip up a bomb trap and watch it blow up your pursuer. Sometimes it’s the only way to take down tougher enemies if your gear is broken and you can’t inflict damage any other way.
Each of your characters get two health bars, as well as a durability rating for every piece of equipment they have on them. Generally, your first bar of health is the first to deplete, until a Danger meter finds its way to your armor, which will start shattering as you continue to take damage. When this happens, you lose the benefits of that item, and if you let the monsters demolish your weapons, good luck trying to fight back effectively. Returning to the rail yard (the central hub) will replenish all of your equipment, and is also the only means of getting to keep any loot that you find. Items that you equip are not only limited by your current class and the frame you have equipped (which is like a specialization), but how much mana you have available for a particular equipment slot. Mana is gained from leveling up, as with other statistics, and is what ultimately determines what items you can wear.
Some items have titles, and from there, sub-titles. These titles add additional stats that weren’t already inherent to that weapon, though the primary benefit comes from when you dispose of items. There are no vendors in Legasista, so if you have loot that you no longer want, you just have to throw it away. When you do, items with titles are retained and can be used on other items with less desirable titles. For example, have a magic bonus on a piece of armor for your melee character? You can switch it out with a title that adds an attack bonus or something with additional HP, or any other stat that may be more beneficial to you.
Also in the rail yard, you can change your characters’ classes if they are at least level 20, and they will maintain some of the skills that they learned from whatever class you pulled them from. What’s nice about this is you can work on building up a new class, but still return to the old one and maintain whatever level it had before you switched. The JP you gain is what affords you new abilities, such as extra speed or a chance to automatically heal under certain circumstances.
Bean sprouts, aside from being consumed for health and providing tutorials, can be sent on expeditions in your stead. Yes, there are walking and talking bean sprouts in this game. Depending on the ability of the sprouts that you send out, they may come back with unlockable music or dungeons to explore, or they may die out and not come back at all. If you lose them all, new ones grow all the time, so they’re quite dispensable. They even admit to living just to die or become food, it’s actually quite… sad.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Great
If your primary goal is just to clear the story, you’re looking at about ten to fifteen hours of play, depending on how much time you spend grinding or searching for loot. There are a number of random dungeons that you can access, referred to as Ran-geons, that should keep you plenty busy. With ran-geons, each floor is randomly generated and contains a number of possible exits that you can take out of each floor. Each one that you pass through has different effects. The angel gates will boost your drop rate on items and the likelihood that they’ll contain titles, while hell gates and demon gates do the opposite, as well as dramatically increase the level of the enemies you face. There are a number of other gates that will warp you past floors, raise the levels of gates and their effectiveness, or impose “rules” upon you for the rest of the dungeon. These ran-geons are 100 floors deep too, so count on maxing out your characters before conquering some of the more difficult ones.
While there is quite a bit for one person to do, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how awesome multiplayer functionality would’ve been with this game. Legasista strikes me as the kind of title that would lend itself well to having people play together, whether it be online or in local play. It could’ve even been set up where, instead of three characters, each player only had one and had to stick together to survive. Even an option to swap created characters in-game would’ve been a welcome addition.
Replayability Rating: Great
While actually controlling the game is simple, learning all of its nuances both in and out of battle is a bit of a daunting task. So much so, in fact, that the first dungeon in the game is dedicated to teaching it to you, and even if you don’t learn it all, you can still make do progressing through the dungeons required for completing the story, as new gimmicks are introduced at a fine enough pace that you don’t become overwhelmed… or at least you can until you reach the last story dungeon in the game. I don’t know if it was from lack of preparation or what, but I had to spend a few hours in a ran-geon just doing nothing but grinding levels in order to make a dent in the enemies I found there. I have no problem with a little level grinding in an RPG, but I expected something a bit more gradual. To be able to get through the rest of the game with the levels I had, and then suddenly be expected to gain twenty levels just to see the conclusion, was a bit much.
Outside of the story dungeons, the ran-geons provide a suitable level of challenge given the circumstances. Each one tells you what to expect in terms of difficulty, and they are actually a lot of fun to traverse, despite how unsuccessful I was in many cases. Having the gates influence how difficult the following floor would be made things very dynamic, especially given that even the ones available to you were randomized. You may have no options BUT to increase the enemy levels and wind up fighting foes that are in the hundreds. Fortunately, having all of your characters slain in battle isn’t the end of the world. You lose all of the loot that you picked up while in that dungeon as well as half of your experience, but it could be far worse. If you continuously throw yourself at a dungeon trying to get through it, it’s comforting to know that you won’t walk away empty handed if you continue to fail.
Balance Rating: Enjoyable
Legasista can be considered a spiritual successor to the Cladun games, and as such, is the third outing for this style of adventure. That said, it’s the first time I’ve played anything like this on the PlayStation 3, since most titles of this nature have to be dug up on the PC. 3D Dot Game Heroes fits the retro action RPG niche to a degree, though that game was more Zelda in its foundation and is more puzzle focused. At the very least, given the amount of customization granted and how much strategy goes into just setting your party up for adventure, there aren’t many games out there quite like it.
Originality Rating: Above Average
Legasista is definitely one of those “short burst” type of games, where it’s more fun to play in small increments. It certainly lends itself well to this, as each floor in a dungeon can be cleared in five to ten minutes, and most areas of the story dungeon only have one floor to them. When you start traversing ran-geons, you have to commit more time to them just on the principle of their sheer length, but once you perish halfway through one of those, it’s hard to get motivated to go back in. While you are in a dungeon though, you’re very invested in what’s going on, and it’s tough to break away even to visit the bathroom.
Addictiveness Rating: Decent
I think Legasista is a game that a lot of people would like if they were just coerced into giving it a try. Cladun x2 just showed up on Steam recently, which I think is a step in the right direction, as System Prisma’s titles aesthetically look a lot like indie titles that you can find on the service. A demo might serve the title well, in order to coerce gamers on the fence to take the plunge. As it stands, this might be a tough sell for people outside of NISA’s core audience, as enjoyable as I think it will be for most. Opening up a site for people to share their character creations would be a big hit though.
Appeal Rating: Mediocre
The $29.99 price point might put off some people, as it’s a bit higher than most titles that you’d find on the PSN service. However, it’s important to consider that Legasista was released as a retail disk copy in Japan. Were it to release in North America like that, you’d likely be paying the full $50-$60 just to cover the manufacturing and distribution cost. So when you look at it from the perspective that you’re getting this title digitally at half of what you’d pay for something similar at retail, it’s actually a pretty good deal. It’s a bit unfortunate for collectors and those without reliable internet connections, but it’s a game that would likely not have gotten a release at all if not for this format, so I’m glad I had an opportunity to check out this game without having to import it and learn Japanese.
Miscellaneous Rating: Great
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Final Score: Good Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
While Legasista might not be for everybody, it’s a fun title that invites loads of customization, including the ability to import images to use as sprites for your character. It’s a 2D action RPG with a story just interesting enough to keep you engaged, and lots of dungeons, both randomized and non, to explore. The options that you have at your disposal can be a bit daunting at first, but after a crash course in the tutorial, you’ll be dodging traps and snatching loot in no time. It’s a bit pricey for a normal PSN title, but considering this was full retail title in Japan, the $29.99 price tag is a steal. A cooperative mode would’ve made for a nice bow on this otherwise enjoyable package, it still stands as an entertaining romp through monster infested areas. Fans of the genre will be delighted.