The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion
The story driving The Legend of Heroes is redundant and similar to many hero-driven stories. It's basically about a young hero who finds himself tipping the balance in the battle between good and evil. At a young age siblings Avin and Eimelle survived their parents. Avin being the caring, good natured, protective brother promises to look out for his younger sister Eimelle till the end of time. However in the opening sequence of the game, the two are separated and Avin swears to one day be reunited with his sister. Years go by and Avin is older, seventeen and now ready to venture into the world and begin the quest for his sister. Joining him is his childhood friend Mile. Along the way, they meet many friends to help in Avin's search, as well as finding his role as a hero in the greater scheme of things.
The big picture entails a plotline where there is a religious war in place and a fine bit of deception. In a way it reminds me of Tales of Symphonia, not nowhere nearly as cleverly crafted. The Church of Bardus (the good guys) is trying to protect the world from Octum's Apostles (the bad guys). Octum's Apostles believe the world is impure and they want to purify the world by killing all of life and re-creating society. Avin is intertwined in this battle between "good" and "evil", but he eventually finds that the world cannot simply be divided into good and evil. There are other hands at play. While Avin just wants to find his sister, he and his friends must strive for the greater good.
In a nutshell, The Legend of Heroes brings gaming enthusiasts a role-playing game worthy of play to the PSP. Sure, the story is a little kiddy and the dialogue is extremely cheesy, but it is tolerable. The game itself will keep you busy for hours.
Comparable to console RPGs, The Legend of Heroes game play is nothing unique. In fact, at times it feels very rudimentary. What gives the game a crude feeling is the general game play--story flow, world navigation, battle system, etc. This is, however, not necessarily a bad thing. There are a lot of great games that flow somewhat linearly and still turn out to be darn good. With that said, I thought The Legends of Heroes was a solid RPG and it is one you should definitely have in your PSP collection.
What I consider to be the biggest drawback to this game is that it is pretty linear. There isn't very much freedom in what you as a player can do, especially when it comes to map exploration. If you try to go somewhere that won't help you advance the story, chances are one of your friendly characters is going to pop up and say something like "we don't have time to go this way, let's go here instead". And the only reason this is useful is to pick up an item or two you didn't stock up on because you have a character in your party you didn't have previously. Or to level up because you just found out the next boss is tougher than you thought.
The story flow also follows a linear path. There are no interesting fun side quests (or even dull ones), just what you are supposed to do at the current moment. You can only go in one direction, forward. The game even helps you in this matter by providing a red exclamation mark over the characters you are supposed to talk with to advance the story. I really didn't care for this because sometimes it felt like I wasn't really playing the game as much as going through the motions.
Also as you follow this linear path, you'll find that your party will consistently change. You will have no more than four characters and no less than one in your party at all times. I've always hated games that do this, but it is tolerable because you pretty much have the same two characters in your party. Still with several different characters joining, leaving, re-joining, leaving again, etc. it can get annoying, especially when you have a unique item equipped on someone who just left your party.
This brings me to the character leveling system. Something I thought was nicely handled in regards was the experience system. Traditionally in RPGs, characters get experience after fighting a battle. After receiving a certain amount of experience, they rise in level to gain new stats, skills, etc. Since characters are always coming and going in your party, one might worry about the level imbalance, i.e. Douglas joins your party in the early stages on the game, disappears and your main characters Avin and Mile acquire several levels while apart. Fortunately experience is weighted. The higher the level of your character, the less experience you get from a battle. This helps to balance out the level discrepancies because lower level characters will rise in level faster, with the hope to catch up with the rest of the party.
The battle system plays out very similar to Lunar: The Silver Star Story. Your party and the monsters/bad guys are spread across a battle field. On the battle field, there is an invisible grid and you characters can only move a certain distance on the grid. When you are issuing your character a command, you get a movement grid which denotes the distance they can travel or the range of effect the attack/spell will cover. Sometimes the battle system feels haphazard because you will issue commands to all of your characters, then the monsters will move out of distance and your entire plan is shot. This, of course, requires you to take a different approach to tactics when issuing out your party's commands for a turn. I thought it was a pain at first, but after several battles developing battle tactics became intuitive.
One minor annoyance I consistently had while in combat (and still do) was the menu navigation. Many RPGs offer the option to switch cursor position from DEFAULT to MEMORY. In DEFAULT, the cursor will always default to the first menu option while MEMORY will always return to the last menu position. The Legend of Heroes offers no such option. It is annoying because you have to reselect each command. This can be very annoying in a turn-based combat engine when you want your characters to repeatedly use magic, attempt to steal an item from the enemy, or cover and defend.
When in battle your characters can use different techniques to defeat your enemies. There are the standard fight option to attack with your character's weapon, which includes swords, axes, whips, ranged weapons, and more. Your characters also come equipped with a variety of specials. Each has a deadly command, when you fight gauge is filled, they can unleash a stronger attack. It's a lot like limit break from Final Fantasy 7, except you can still use regular attacks when you've reached your peak. This becomes important because if handled correctly, you can defeat most story bosses in a few turns. Then you have skills, which can be used at anytime and allow for stealing items, taunting enemies, etc. Magic comes in several forms, black magic for attack, white magic for healing, and spirit magic for summon spells.
Despite the few drawbacks, the game does come off pretty fun. The battle system is isn't intuitive, but it is easy to pick up on. The game is fun enough if you enjoy the traditional approach to RPGs--turn based combat, cheesy dialogue, overly altruistic characters, etc. And since there isn't a lot of complex stuff to think about while playing, you'll be able to get into the game easily. I put a good 30 hours into it and finished more than happy. However the biggest disappointments include the linear game play and the lack of voiceovers. Regardless I think this game is great for RPG fans alike.
The graphics are a high point of this game. I thought The Legend of Heroes was visually represented well. The game looks like it is entirely a 2D game, but it does incorporate plenty of 3D graphics which really add something to the environment detail and lighting effects. The character/monster animations also look grand. In battle there are unique animations for fighting, magic, skills, and deadly movies. Some 2D graphics are used, such as the character portraits and they vividly depict the characters.
This department could have been better. When I first saw the stunning 3D graphics this game has to offer, I was really shocked that the game lacked voiceovers. The addition could have really added to the experience. Along with the game's rather linear storyline, it was my biggest disappointment. What we do get is background music that works as background music. It doesn't really add to the experience or take away from it. It gets repetitive at times, but it's subtle enough that it is easy to ignore.
Since I purchased my PSP gaming unit in May, I haven't really used it much for gaming. Besides movie watching with UMD Videos, I haven't had much cause to use it. Most of the launch games weren't great and what has come out since, hasn't been too good either. I've been patiently waiting for something to grab my attention and The Legend of Heroes has done just that. It is a game that makes owning my PSP worth the high investment. To sum it up, The Legend of Heroes offers PSP gamers one of the first decent role-playing games. While it has its limitations--simplistic game play, linear story, and the audio is a disappointment (no voiceovers, rather plain music and sound effects), it is still an enjoyable game that is easy to get into and visually it looks great. If you are looking for a game to keep you busy, The Legend of Heroes is worth the forty bucks. I recommend you pick it up today. There's about 30 hours of solid gaming here.
* This game requires your PSP's firmware to be at least version 2.00. The UMD disc contains an installer for version 2.00.
** The four screen shots presented in this review come from the Bandai Website.