Last Wednesday, Sony of Japan finally released the much-hyped Legend of Dragoon to eager Japanese gamers. As Sony's bid for RPG greatness, Legend of Dragoon promised to be an impressive effort. After defeating the PlayStation mod lockout, I anxiously loaded the imported game and quickly met with disappointment.
In an impressively rendered introduction video, we see a village burned to the ground. People flee the lizard-riding attackers, stumbling in the streets. The attackers drag an unconscious girl from the ashes and a general holds a mysterious bauble over her forehead. The bauble focuses the moonlight and reveals a glowing tattoo. "She's the one. Take her away," the general barks.
The game switches into game mode, revealing a lone woman eyeing a storm over a forest. Suddenly a dragon's head stretches out from beneath the canopy of trees. Surprised, the woman jumps into the forest. In the forest, Dart, our hero, is hanging out and minding his own business when he hears a ruckus. Dart investigates and discovers a band of troops moving through the forest. Two of the troops stop to question him but are chased off by the dragon. Dart also runs from the dragon but is saved at the last minute by the mysterious lone woman from before. She tells Dart that the troops seem to be headed toward Seres village… Dart's hometown. But Dart arrives too late - his hometown is little more than cinders and his friends are dead. Just before dying, an old man tells Dart to seek Shena. But who is Shena? Some children refer to her as "sister," but Dart doesn't remember having a sister. As every gamer already knows, Dart rushes off to seek revenge against the Empire and find the mysterious Shena.
Legend of Dragoon's story gets off to a slow, cliched start. The gameplay itself is equally as average, thus far. Like Final Fantasy, enemy encounters are random, and, after a long dissolve, you're thrust into the heat of battle. With only one character and no magic, Legend of Dragoon gets off to a very slow start. Upon attacking, a targeting reticle closes in on the enemy. Tapping the attack button once more when the reticle is fully closed will allow Dart to perform an additional hit and call a move - Double Strike. After leveling up once, Dart learns a second "additional" called volcano. Volcano works the same way, but requires two extra-well-timed taps to execute. The timing takes a lot of getting used to, and until you get it down, battles are a chore. At the start of the game, Legend of Dragoon is, unfortunately, very poorly balanced and frustrating. Dart has a handful of healing potions to use just to make it through several areas, all of which are filled with fairly difficult monsters. There is nowhere to rest or heal, making the beginning very frustrating. The overworld map does not give players full freedom - rather, they are confined to rails, and ugly rails at that. Dragoon's overworld is well below today's gaming standards.
Graphically, Legend of Dragoon isn't as impressive as it probably should've been. Despite the money Sony spent on the impressive CG, the game itself is visually lacking. The real-time models that frolic on the prerendered backgrounds are simple and stiffly animated. Additionally, they suffer from sorting errors and breakup, problems that have disappeared from today's games, for the most part. The world itself lacks personality and stylistic flair. In battles the game's graphics shortcomings become more apparent. The 3D models are heavily jointed and suffer from the same stiff animation they do elsewhere. The number of effects is comparatively lacking, as well. Another sore spot is the lacking musical score. RPG players have come to expect a lot in this department, and, thus far, Legend of Dragoon fails to deliver again. The tunes we've heard are decidedly average and are made from poor instrument samples.
While we've only scratched the surface here, so far we're not too enthused. A story that, so far, seems to borrow from every other game in existence and suffer from poorly balanced gameplay hardly makes for a good first impression. Hopefully things will pick up as more of the game becomes available. Keep an eye out for videogames.com's full import review in the coming weeks.