From the title alone, you might figure that The Legend of Heroes is a game of epic battles and mighty warriors, though in fact, the young main characters of this story don't become true heroes until many hours into this traditional role-playing game. Developed by well-known Japanese RPG maker Falcom, Legend of Heroes doesn't stray far from either the gameplay or storytelling conventions of other similar games. It's got some problems, ranging from dialogue that sometimes gets completely lost in translation from the original Japanese to an occasionally confusing structure that may leave you wondering what you're supposed to do next. But Legend of Heroes is such a long game, offering dozens of hours of gameplay, and it pays so much attention to its characters, that fans of other Japanese RPGs are going to enjoy having a game of this scale on the go for the PSP.
Early in life, Avin gets separated from his sister, Eimelle, in a surprise attack. Now on the verge of manhood, the orphaned Avin decides he's ready to venture out into the world in search of his only remaining family member. He's joined by a friendly, levelheaded kid named Mile who seems to just want Avin as his friend, and together, the two of them get swept up in an adventure that turns out to be much bigger than a mere rescue mission: A major conflict turns out to be brewing in the world of El Phildin as the followers of its gods of light and darkness prepare to clash. As for Avin and Mile, they'll meet many different companions along the way, and will fight all kinds of different monsters and other villains while gaining experience points, finding better equipment, and learning new skills.
The game is presented from a top-down perspective and its story unfolds using lots of onscreen dialogue, together with some well-drawn portraits of the main characters doing the talking. The story is rather plodding at times, throwing lots of names and occasional history lessons at you, and sending the main characters off on tangential quests fairly often. But over time, all the attention paid to character development becomes endearing, and if nothing else it helps make Legend of Heroes a nice, long game (the back of the box generously promises "over 50 hours" of gameplay). The story takes plenty of predictable twists and turns, but it does have its share of surprises, and it'll keep you going if you can tolerate having to read a lot of dialogue that isn't always particularly good.
The game's top-down perspective doesn't change even when you run into monsters and engage in battle, though the battle screen is a little different than it is when you're just running around in the field--you'll see all four of your party members instead of just the leader. The turn-based combat system is roughly similar to what you'd find in any typical RPG, because you'll get to make your characters attack, cast spells, or use items as they trade hits with their enemies. The overhead perspective does make positioning a bit of a consideration, since you'll need to physically approach far-away enemies to hit them with close-range attacks, and this might cost you an extra turn. Each character also has some unique skills and powerful "deadly" moves, which can be used after you charge up a power meter by using regular attacks or spells. But most of the characters are roughly interchangeable in battle. Avin's your swordsman, who's got some magic for support, while Mile's got a boomerang and healing spells. Other characters specialize in close combat or magic, and success in battle involves keeping everybody healed while blasting your enemies with attacks and magic. The fighting is rather easy for a while, but later in the game, things get a lot tougher. You'll end up having all four party members go into each main battle with their deadly attacks charged up so you can quickly whittle down your opponents, if not defeat them outright.
Thankfully, The Legend of Heroes doesn't throw you into random battles as you run around in the wilderness. Instead you'll see the game's assortment of weird creatures shuffling around on the field, and stronger ones will approach you to attack when you come close, while weaker ones will try to retreat. It's not very difficult to avoid your enemies if you're just trying to get someplace without interruption, and that's definitely a good thing, since the combat in the game isn't paced so quickly that you'll want to fight everything in your way. At the same time, if you avoid too much combat, you'll find yourself woefully underpowered when you come up against some of the game's plot-critical battles, so you'll end up having to fight lots of wandering monsters to gain power.
In between fights, and even in between story sequences, it can be easy to get lost. Like most RPGs, Legend of Heroes is mostly a very linear game, in which you'll need to travel from one place to another in order to trigger the next sequence of story events. While you find a map of the world soon enough, it's not so specific that it tells you where you need to go next, and the story sequences don't often do a great job of it, either. As a result, there are too many times in this game when you'll find yourself wandering around, trying to remember or just figure out what you were supposed to be doing. This can be particularly problematic if you save your progress (you can save anywhere) and come back to the game some hours later. So those 50-plus hours of gameplay do include a lot of time spent figuring out where to go next. Granted, part of the point of role-playing games is to let you explore, but Legend of Heroes definitely could have benefited from some kind of journal system to help keep the pacing of the story from getting derailed.
Apart from the fighting and exploration, The Legend of Heroes doesn't have too many other distinguishing features. One is that you get to have a pet follow you around, and while it's kind of cute to see a puppy following you through a dangerous dungeon, the pet system isn't exactly well developed. Sometimes your pets will give you stuff or help you in battle, and you can feed them different types of food, but there's really not a lot to it. Characters also level up in a strictly linear fashion, so the game automatically makes your characters get stronger and stronger in their given specialties as they gain experience, rather than giving you much of a choice in how they develop.
The Legend of Heroes is a pleasant-looking game, but that's thanks mostly to the anime artwork that appears during dialogue. You'll see the characters make different expressions depending on their moods, but you'll still wish there were more of these drawings, because they're the best aspect of the presentation. The anime portraits are stylistically different from the squat little characters you'll see running around in the field, who can be rather difficult to tell apart. These 2D characters don't look like much, and the 3D environments they'll travel around in aren't that remarkable, either, though they're certainly decent. Combat isn't all that flashy, save for some requisite screen-filling spell effects that are nothing if not colorful. The game's audio is pretty sparse. Some of the menu sounds border on being grating, the music is mostly forgettable, and some of the tracks loop too frequently. This is a game you could safely play with the volume turned down.
The best thing The Legend of Heroes has going for it is sheer size, so if you're seriously into Japanese RPGs, you'll find that you can really sink your teeth into this one, reading dialogue and leveling up to your heart's content. The game doesn't take any serious risks with its gameplay or format, and its storyline, filled with the botched translations that older Japanese RPGs all used to have, feels like a throwback that might make you get all nostalgic. So if you're an RPG fan and you want a conventional RPG to have with you on the go, The Legend of Heroes is for you.