Review: Hero’s Saga: Laevatein Tactics (Nintendo DS)

Hero’s Saga: Laevatein Tactics
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Gung Ho
Genre: Tactical RPG
Release Date: 10/16/2009

After a long drought, it’s been a good year for Tactical RPG’s. The third Valkyrie Profile (Covenant of the Plume) ended up being a tactics game and it more than made up for the horror of Valkyrie Profile 2. Atlus released a GOTY candidate in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. Jagged Alliance wasn’t offensive, and the only real stumbling block appeared to be the new Suikoden game. It’s this revitalization that made me interested in this game, even though there was almost no press, screenshots or information available about the game.

I also have a thing for the Norse Gods. What can I say, I love my folklore. VPIII did a great job with using the Norse Gods as a backdrop for their tactical RPG, so I thought this would be a fun comparison, even though I couldn’t think of a single game developer Gung Ho had made before this. But what the hell, right? Part of this job is trying new things and hopefully find a diamond in the rough. Was Hero’s Saga just that…or was this a game that Aksys didn’t publicize for a reason?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Laevatein Tactics is the story of a fantasy Europe. The map is a slightly deformed one of our real continent and the accents characters have will change from region to region. In this game you are playing as fantasy Spain aka Valencia (Like the orange!). You are one of the few independent countries left outside the iron grip of the Imperium Galia (Which I guess is supposed to the Austrian-Hungarian empire). One day your main character, Ernesto is making his way to the border when the undead strike one of their holdings. He is then given a magical weapon known as one of the Vaettir Arms to save the day with. A Vaettir Arms allows one to channel the power of a Norse God…which is confusing to me as why would the Gods of the Scandinavian region care about Spain, which has always been Muslim and Catholic territory? But whatever, it’s a game.

The Imperium finds out that Ernesto has a Vaettir arm supplied by this girl Valerie (Gee, what could SHE be with a name like that…) and the second Valorous War breaks out because the Imperium wants the weapon and because Ernesto is a hot headed dick that strikes first. Whoops.

The plot of the game is fairly generic, with you gathering forces (90% of which have no personality and just join you after battles) and trying to win the war against this larger, more ruthless and somewhat evil nation. The story and characters is rather paint by number and there is no real twists or turns or even any strong character development. It also doesn’t help that the translation has everyone giving their lines in a monotone dull fashion with words of French, German, Spanish and the like thrown in for no real reason save for a half hearted attempt at flavour.

There are two possible endings. The first is what you get when you “beat” the game and the second can only be triggered by calling all the Vaettir Arms. There are over 1000 of these and you get them somewhat randomly making this a grueling task indeed. You can trade over the DS wireless connection, but you try finding anyone you know with a copy of this game.

That’s really it. The story is about as generic as a fantasy SRPG gets. It’s not bad or offensive. It’s just cookie cutter.

Story Rating: Mediocre

2. Graphics

Much like the plot, the graphics for Laevatein Tactics are fairly generic. You have your usual troops classes and everything looks like it could have come from Fire Emblem or any other Fantasy Tactical RPG. One thing I did like was that Clerics do have a Catholic feel to them, which is a nice touch. The other thing is I liked how the Norse (and sometimes Asian) deities would show up on screen when you do your Valhalla Break (more on that later). It’s nothing visually amazing, but it was nice to see.

Background graphics again feel like they have been ripped from Ogre Tactics or other games of this nature. The real problem is that all the maps look and feel the same with little to no variation. There might be some elevation or a different number of keeps on the map, but that’s the only real difference you’ll see. Again, this was pretty generic without any real attempt at innovation or even trying to give us some different map ideas. Covenant of the Plume gave us all sorts of crazy things like swaps and even the old 16-Bit Shining Force games had maps on chessboards or in villages and even on the open seas.

Again, I can’t say that Gung Ho did anything bad. It’s more just the minimum to get by and without really mixing anything up. It’s very vanilla.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre

3. Sound

Here’s where things start to get bad. There is only one musical track for battles in THE ENTIRE GAME. It’s not bad but you will get sick of it quickly. REALLY quickly. I’m still shocked that they went this route, but it really does seem to be a low budget no frills game, albeit it selling at full price.

Sound effects are again highly generic, with nothing separating out the sounds of different weapons or attacks. I’m surprised this is the one area Gung Ho decided to skimp on. I mean SRPG’s aren’t known for their graphics in the first place, but many have amazing soundtracks. This was a real disappointment.

Sound Rating: Bad

4. Control and Gameplay

Much like with any SRPG, you’ll be dealing with a grid based map for combat. Each troop can move within a certain amount of squares on their turn and then attack. You can not do the reverse. As well, each weapon has a special ability and each character has a latent ability. For example, an axe might give the character holding it the ability to raise the power of a fort up a full level in a single turn instead of several. That character’s latent ability might be that their Valhalla Break gauge rises faster, or they earn more XP than normal, or that they aren’t affected by negative status powers like poison or paralysis. These last two are really neat additions and the ability to mix and match is kind of fun as well.

All of your characters have access to two or more character classes, although there will be a few rare ones that have access to all classes. Class changes occur just by shifting weapons, although certain characters will naturally be better at one class than others, and it may NOT be their starting class. As well, each character is in tune with a specific element such as Earth, Air, Fire or Water. Equipping an item of the same element will raise character stats higher than a more powerful weapon of an opposing alignment. It’s important to keep all these things in mind when designing your perfect character.

Once you’ve chosen a character’s class, their army will change to the same thing. Yes, that’s right. Each character has an army with them. Remember in SMT: Devil Survivor, how each of your main characters had two demons fighting beside them? Well here, each of your main characters gets an eight man army to fight besides them. In battle both the character and the opponent’s armies will square off. Certain things will come into play like elemental alignments and topography, but also the level of the main character and their troops. Each battle lasts three rounds, and you’ll pick from commands like a balanced attack, a powerful attack with less chance of hitting, a Phalanx which is more defensive but makes up for the lack of attack power by lowering opponent morale and defense which is pure well, defense. After three rounds the battle ends. The goal is to eventually kill the troop leader or have them kill your troop leader. It may take several battles to do this though. I find the best strategy is to attack the troops first and then go after the leader, but other things may work for you. I found I liked the general idea of this type of combat, but as the game went on, it went like a third rate Dragon Force and that the computer was too easy and predictable.

Each battle’s overall goal is to kill all the opponents or just a specific opponent. There’s no real out of the ordinary missions here. At the end of the battle your main characters will get experience based on how many leaders and troops they killed. However, the game at no point tells you how much XP is needed to reach the next level so it all seems kind of random. As well, your characters’ troops will also level up but this happens suddenly and without warning and although it is a nice surprise, it would still have been better to know who needed what to level up so you could plan your kills that way. Instead it’s all kind of a guessing game which takes tactical planning out of a tactical RPG.

There are two other things the game does that are a bit unusual. The first is the inclusion of forts in the battlefield. Possessing one of these forts gives you a 10% increase to your stats within a certain radius. The longer your troop stays in the fort, the larger the radius and the bonus will grow, up to a maximum of 30%. This gives you a bit of an advantage on paper, but really it doesn’t actually seem to do much. I’ve taken on bosses in special keeps that give them a 35% bonus and still wiped the mat with them despite being the same level as them. It’s not as important as the developers wanted it to be, but at least they tried something new.

The other new thing is the Valhalla Break. This move’s gauge is slowly built up by taking damage or dealing attacks out. Once it is full you can unleash it, doing a crazy amount of damage, usually enough to one hit kill a normal enemy commander or take 50% of an boss’ health. However, the turn after you do this move your stats are sharply decreased due to exhaustion. I like this, but it’s too easy to get around. Oh you have a boss? Just have two archers, both with the True Hero latent ability which raises their VB Gauge crazy fast and have them do their ranged Valhalla breaks on the boss. Battle over.

I liked that Gung Ho tried something new, but they put all of their creativity into this one area and it shows. Even worse, how the hell do you make any type of RPG, but keep the amount of XP you need to level up a secret to all but the game inner workings? That and the randomly leveling up troops put me off, but not enough to not keep playing and enjoying the combat for the first two chapters before that got old as well.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

5. Replayability

As there’s no real story to cling to, you can’t come back for that. As your troops are mostly randomly selected, you COULD feasibly consider replaying to see what you get, but you can class change through the whole thing so why bother? You can fight against friends or trade troops and warriors, but you need a friend with this game in order to do that. That makes this function next to useless. Battles are dry and linear and there are no sub quests or alternate paths and endings I discovered, so that’s out too. You do have the “true” ending you can get by collecting all the VA, but that’s time consuming and dull, so most people won’t even bother with that the first time.

In all, this game is, at best, a one shot play through. There’s no reason to come back to it. It’s fun at first, I can’t deny that, but the few parts that aren’t highly generic to begin with get old fast due to poor A.I. and a lack of any diversity.

Replayability Rating: Bad

6. Balance

You know the A.I. for a game is bad when the developers think the key to making a game harder is just to throw a ton of stupid opponents against you instead of a few. At no point does this game ever get hard. See, with the introduction of forts, you can just stick your character in the castle and they will regain troops and health. Once one is done, have them leave and put someone else in there. The enemy never comes after you in these situations so you can just recharge and continue to slaughter. As well, there are no turn limits. At most your extra gold at the end of each battle is reduced. Boo hoo. This makes the game exceptionally easy to get through, even if you can’t level up until the end of a battle a la first edition Dungeons and Dragons.

The other thing the enemy tries to do to hurt you is have more distance attacks than close up attacks. This actually works against them as distance enemies rarely do much damage, and distance attacks only go two rounds whereas if you engage in melee it goes three rounds and then the distance attackers can’t fight back. The key is just to bum rush the archers and mages and watch them fall amazingly quick. Meanwhile, you can pick off the melee opponents controlled by your computer, especially bosses, because once they are in a fort, they don’t try to leave. Just whittle them down with archers and magic (archers are better) and then take your best warrior and let them get the killing blow if needed.

So not only is the game dull, but the enemies are predictable and will use the same defensive and offensive strategies constantly. This was a real disappointment. The only time you’ll have a chance of losing a main character in combat is if they are four to five levels below your opponent. Even then, you still have a fighting chance.

The game also gives you unlimited extra battles. However each of these locations will cycle through the same two or three battles, with the same exact map for each one. Just the troops will change. Oy.

Again, Gung Ho has kind of coasted through this doing the least amount of work possible to make a game. It’s just too bad they didn’t make a good one.

Balance Rating: Bad

7. Originality

Well, I guess it’s original to not let you know how many XP you need until you level up. Yes, it’s nice to see HOW many experience points you have, but without an quantifier to what your character or their troops need to level up, it’s kind of worthless.

I do like the idea of the combat with all the different troop types, but as the types don’t really matter save melee vs. distance attacking, it’s pretty shallow. It’s also lame that the enemy’s attacks are exceptionally predictable. Are they fresh troops? Then they’ll do a Phalanx if they’re defending and a normal attack if they’re the attacker. EVERY TIME.

Again, aside from the troop against troop combat, this has all been done before. Even that’s been done in games like the aforementioned Dragon Force, which is one of the best RPG’s ever so it pains me to say this game has anything in common with it. Of course Dragon Force also let you have 100 troops and the type of troops actually mattered and your leader could be of a different class from the troops altogether. Whoo! Beast Man with 100 zombies at his command! Not Beast Man from Masters of the Universe. It’s a class in the game. No not this game, Dragon Force. Oy. Now I’m sidetracked.

Anyway, it’s like Gung Ho didn’t even TRY to do anything beyond the absolute minimum needed to make a SRPG, and even then they made third rate copies of games from two or three generations ago. The combat is a neat idea, but without any A.I. to back it up, the game is so generic it hurts.

Originality Rating: Poor

8. Addictiveness

The funny thing is that I was enjoying this game for the first chapter. I liked the use of accents and a fictional Europe. I liked that each troop had their own little legion to command because really, these games usually have a character max between four and twelve characters and is that really going to be the size of a conquering army? However as time went on, I realized how little the elemental alignment really mattered, how little the forts matter save for regeneration purposes, how it felt like there was only one track of music for the entire game, and how stupid the computer controlled opponents were. At about that point (Halfway through Chapter Two), my enthusiasm for the game tanked. I kept hoping we’d get some interesting maps or puzzles or challenging opponents…but no. A thousand times no.

I think we all know how a game that just does the same thing over and over again from beginning to end can kill the enjoyment of it dead. Hero’s Saga is a perfect example of how to do nearly everything wrong. Not wrong to the point where it is god awful, but wrong to where you KNOW the developers could have made this a better game, and possibly even a good game if they had tried. It has moments of brilliance, but never any of greatness.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

Look, I love SRPG’s. I’m pretty forgiving towards SRPG’s. I mean, I enjoyed Onimusha Tactics for god’s sake. I even enjoyed this game for what it was for a time. I love seeing people do new things with combat. I loved Phantom Brave for the gridless combat and Devil Survivor for its unique take on the genre.

That doesn’t means I’m stupid enough to think that too many people will like this game unless they have a need to devour every SRPG ever made.

There are so many better choices for you in this genre on the DS, several of which came out just this year. With only one musical track, the same basic maps for battles, little to no variety in the game and a lack of any real challenge, this game is best left to the hardcore zealots of the genre, if that.

Appeal Factor: Bad

10. Miscellaneous

So let’s see. We have a game that is extremely easy to beat if you are even halfway decent at tactics game. You have an interesting and somewhat fun way to spruce up the engine for tactical combat, but then the class of your troops never matter. Combat gives you a few options for attacks and defending, but the computer almost always sticks to the same two leaving you to choose the same two to properly counter. It’s way too easy to refresh troops and hit points and instead of giving you a challenge, the computer throws quantity instead of quality at you. You have an option for trading or playing against another person, but the odds of finding someone else with this game is slim to none.

The biggest insult is that this decidedly sub-par game is being sold at full price instead of at a budget MSRP. You can definitely see the influence of old Quest games like Ogre Tactics on this game, but only in the same way Shadow the Hedgehog, the moody evil hedgehog with guns, was spawned by Sonic the Hedgehog a fun and charming brightly coloured happy fast paced 16-bit platformer.

Here’s the thing: Laevatein Tactics isn’t an awful game. It’s merely a below average one. It’s too shallow compared to most other SRPG’s, the characters are one dimensional and it’s boring. I’m not sure who Gung Ho was building this game for but it’s too easy and dull for most tactics fans and it’s too one-dimensional and slow for anyone else. There’s potential here, especially with the battle system, but at the end of the day, this game is better left ignored or forgotten.

Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre

The Scores
Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Bad
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Bad
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Mediocre

Short Attention Span Summary
There’s not much one can say about Hero’s Saga: Laevatein Tactics. Thankfully there’s not much one can say that’s too negative about the game either. Gung Ho and Aksys have simply given us a largely forgettable tactical RPG whose biggest crime is being painfully generic. The game does give us a pretty interesting way of doing combat, but due to the lack of difficulty and the painfully dumb A.I. you’ll be facing, it quickly goes from being fun to boring once you realize the trick to steamrolling through this game. If you’re really in need of a good SRPG, go with Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor or Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume and leave this on the shelf until it gets put on the budget rack.



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