Early last year, Sony released an RPG that would likely have made more of a splash had the world not been waiting for Square's epochal RPG, Final Fantasy VII. Sony's RPG, Wild Arms, featured a lengthy, involved quest with three distinct characters to play as, cool 3D battle scenes, and familiar old-school gameplay that fit like an old glove to the many RPG fans who bought it. While there's no sign of a Wild Arms 2 on the horizon, SCEA has released the next best thing, the Legend of Legaia. Developed by Contrail, an internal development team headed by Wild Arms producer, Takahiro Kaneko, Legend of Legaia bears numerous similarities to its spiritual predecessor, while taking distinct steps further into the genre.
The storyline focuses on a trio of adventurers (Vahn, Noa, and Gala) whose mission is to stop the ever-present danger that threatens the land in the form of a mysterious mist. This mist mutates whatever living being it touches into something entirely more sinister and dangerous. In order to quell this threat, Vahn and company must seek out the numerous Genesis Trees that are scattered throughout the land and revive them. The trees in turn will radiate a magical aura that causes the mist to dissipate.
Like Wild Arms, the trio of playable characters is made up of two males and one female. Unlike Wild Arms, the Legend of Legaia is a fully 3D RPG, completely rendered in polygons. Aesthetics aside, the most significant feature in the game is the battle engine. Instead of the typical menu-based scheme, Legaia focuses on an almost fighting game-style interface. While not exactly Tekken 3, the fight scenes feature large, detailed characters and cool special effects. Think of the battle scenes in Xenogears and you're more than halfway there. You trigger commands and other inputs by using the directional pad to indicate item use, fight, escape, and so on. Assuming you choose to fight, the D-pad then dictates things like high-attack, low-attack, kick, and special attack. While some might wonder why Contrail didn't just make a simple fighting engine, it actually works out very well this way, and it's engaging enough to keep from getting stale. As you progress in the game, you'll learn more powerful attacks called "Super-Arts." You will also need to find something called a "Ra-Seru" for each character. The Ra-Seru is an incorruptible creature that each character wears like a symbiotic companion. Each Ra-Seru acts like a weapon and adds to each character's attack options.
When you're not in battle, you'll be traversing the countryside in search of, among other things, the Genesis Trees. During your travels you will, naturally, have to interact with the various townspeople you meet and occasionally upgrade your inventory (weapons, armor, and so on). The cool part about upgrading your inventory is that you actually see the changes the next time you're in battle. The attention to detail in the game is thoughtful and welcome indeed.
Graphically, the game lookss competent, if not spectacular. Everything is adequately realized, yet a touch on the blocky side. The textures can be grainy, but the graininess is counterbalanced by a substantial amount of gourad-shading, which helps the characters stand out from the backgrounds, which are comparable to the overhead map in Xenogears. The music is the standard fare you find in your average RPG, which is unfortunate, because Legaia is better than your average RPG. While not necessarily poor, the soundtrack definitely takes a backseat to the excellent gameplay.
On the downside, your progress on the overhead map moves kind of slow, and, as a result, you'll find yourself in a lot of random battles as you try to go from here to there. Of course, you can always choose to run away from the fight, but then your levels won't go up as fast. Faster movement on the map and increased level advancement would have helped Legaia a bit. Additionally, the battle engine, around which the game revolves, can also drag the pace down, with all the loading and whatnot. Overall, the game feels a bit sluggish, but this shouldn't be a problem with patient gamers.
Despite the flaws that keep Legaia from being the world beater that it could have been, it still remains an engaging RPG for anyone who likes to play RPGs. After having obtained all three characters, you'll find yourself entertained for hours upon hours. Point blank, this is an ambitious RPG. Unfortunately, with all the RPG attention being paid to Square's Final Fantasy VIII, it seems as if Legaia might get swept under the rug, much in the way Wild Arms was overshadowed by FFVII. That would be a shame if it turned out like that. The Legend of Legaia is a worthwhile way to spend your time.