Hey, look, I give a shit about JRPGs again!
The Legend of Legacy
Available On: Nintendo 3DS
Rated E 10+
Okay, maybe that's a bit of an overstatement. I still care about JRPGs, and have for years at this point. I buy several of the damn things a year, but at this point in time... well, I'm feeling fatigued. The ones put out by Square Enix are usually a major disappointment in some way or another, and the smaller ones are too often focused on heavy T&A for me to really get into. Even the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, which is one of my all-time favorite series, has fallen into a weirdly predictable rut in the past year or so, despite my enjoyment of Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker.
So, color me surprised that The Legend of Legacy, the demo of which is now available on the 3DS eShop, has taken me in as much as it has. Leading up to its release, the whole thing's basically looked like a riff on Bravely Default, but without any of the (admittedly obnoxious) gimmicks that made that game stand out. Without that, wouldn't that, by simple logic, make Grezzo's first foray into a major, original production a derivative, same-y JRPG? A simplistic throwback to old-school titles without soul or heart?
As luck would have it, nothing could be further from the truth. While Bravely Default was an attempted throwback sort of game, it was hampered by way too many annoying and complicated mechanics shoved in for the sake of novelty. With The Legend of Legacy, Grezzo has managed to make a game that not only pays homage to classic titles, but feels like one through-and-through on a mechanical and narrative level. There's a kingdom in trouble, a band of unlikely heroes, a mysterious ancient force... all the pieces are there.
Only, they're arranged in such a charming fashion that it doesn't feel uninspired or derivative or cloying. It genuinely feels, tonally, like something that would have been right at home on a console in the 90's, and I mean that in the best way possible. From the outset, it feels as if you're setting out on an epic quest, and in video game terms, that means it feels like you're about to settle down into a very long game. But unlike a lot of modern games, it's not a feeling of dread, but one of joy; you want to spend more time with these characters, in this world, in this context.
Maybe the characters are the most important part of that statement, because from the outset, you have access to a large roster of diverse characters. There are four men, four women, and a frog prince (nice Chrono Trigger throwback, there,) and all of them have different motivations, backstories, and (apparently) endings to the central narrative. My favorite out of the lot was Garnet, a stoic warrior woman who acts as a sort of holy crusader. That's what I like so much about The Legend of Legacy: I can actually play my favorite character as the protagonist, instead of having to settle into them being relegated to a side role. There's no bland protagonist you're forced to play as, and I think that's great.
None of this would mean jack if the gameplay was boring, though, and luckily it's anything but. In fact, it's one of the more reinvigorating JRPGs in recent memory. Yes, it has a traditional turned-based structure, but it's done in a fun new way. First and foremost, random encounters are out in favor of running into enemies on a map and transitioning to a battle screen, a la the Persona or Tales games. Secondly, when you actually get into the meat of battle, you'll discover that things are a bit different than normal
There is a heavy emphasis placed on where your characters are situated in a battle, which affects how they behave. You can make a character into a shield for the other party members, or a healer who hangs back, or just put all your characters in a straight line and duke it out. Think of it as Final Fantasy XIII's Paradigm system, but in the context of something that actually feels like a role-playing game and not a garbled mess of half-baked ideas. This system is in place instead of a more rigid class structure, and I've got to say, I'm definitely a fan. Having the flexibility to choose how my character behaves is a neat, novel twist, and one that I can't wait to explore in more depth on launch day.
The whole package is tied together by fantastic audio/visual presentation, with some of the best names in the business coming together and converging on this one game. Outside of Masato Kato (Chrono Trigger, which explains the frog) lending his writing chops to the narrative, Tomomi Kobayashi (of the SaGa series) gives everything an adorable aesthetic, and Masashi Hamauzu (Final Fantasy XIII, two SaGa games, and many others) provides some truly excellent music. Wrapped up in a package that's charmingly reminiscent of a pop-up book, as scenery "pops" into view as you explore, everything here looks and sounds great.
One might notice that I don't have a single negative thing to say about The Legend of Legacy, and that's because, insofar, I really don't have any complaints. Keep in mind that I haven't actually played the full title yet, so this vertical slice could very well be a highlight, and the rest of the package a total slog. However, right now, I can firmly say, in full confidence, that The Legend of Legacy looks like it could be well on the way to not only being one of the year's best games, but one of the best role-playing games in quite a while. The lengthy demo is out now, and your data will carry over to the retail release, so be sure to check it out if you're in the mood for some old-school JRPG goodness.