Shaman King: Legacy of the Spirits is the latest in a string of Pokémon knockoffs meant to capitalize on the popularity of an animated cartoon series. It isn't as comprehensive or glamorous as any of Nintendo's Pokémon games, but fans of the show will still probably enjoy it a great deal, since it will let them gather and build their own set of fighting spirits while also experiencing firsthand many of the stories told in the show.
As is so common with these types of games, Shaman King: Legacy of the Spirits is available in two "different" versions: Soaring Hawk and Sprinting Wolf. Although the subtitles are different, both games tell the same story, feature the same characters, and contain the same locations. What distinguishes the two is that each game has its own set of rare spirits. To recruit all 177 spirits, you'll have to trade spirits between the two different versions of the game using a link cable.
The main character is a young man named Yoh, who is a shaman, which means that he has the ability to communicate with the spirits of the dead and to convince those spirits to fight for him in one-on-one battles against other shaman. Yoh befriends a samurai spirit named Amidamaru early in the game, which leads to a rivalry with Tao Len, a fellow shaman, and subsequently to Yoh's quest to become strong enough to enter the Shaman King Tournament, which occurs throughout the game.
It's safe to say that Shaman King (the game and the TV show) is patterned after Nintendo's smash-hit Pokémon franchise. A shaman isn't much different from a Pokémon trainer, the spirits they capture and train are no different from the cute animals collectively referred to as Pokémon, and Yoh's path in this Shaman King game is analogous to Ash's path in the first few Pokémon games--right down to the way the tournament is interwoven throughout the game. One of the methods used to capture wild spirits involves tossing mortuary tablets at them after weakening them in battle, which is exactly how Pokéballs are used in Pokémon.
Similar to the Pokémon games, Shaman King: Legacy of the Spirits lets you capture and train your own batch of spirits while guiding you through a story that's based on events from the TV show. The story portion is nothing special. It mainly involves visiting different areas on the world map, talking to the residents and spirits within those areas, and then fulfilling whatever needs they may have. The tasks they provide don't vary all that much, and the game doesn't really tax you with any hidden secrets or puzzles. The characters you talk to pretty much tell you where to go, whom to talk to, what items to find, and also when new areas have opened up on the world map.
Capturing and using the various spirits in battle is somewhat interesting though. Like in a typical role-playing game, battles are instigated at frequent random intervals in some areas and after speaking to key characters in others. Shamans let their spirits do all of the fighting. Each shaman can bring as many as six different spirits into a battle, and each of those spirits has its own set of fighting techniques as well as strengths or weaknesses in specific types of attacks. Battles go by in a turn-based fashion. During a turn, you can choose to attack using one of the active spirit's attacks, to use an item from the inventory, or to swap the active spirit with another from the battle roster. Successful attacks reduce a spirit's hit points. When a spirit loses all of its hit points, it's removed from battle. The winner of the battle is the shaman that knocks out all of his opponent's spirits.
Spirits earn experience by participating in battles, which raises their spirit level and subsequently gives them more attack power, more hit points, and access to new attack techniques. A level-one spirit usually has only one attack, whereas a level-10 or level-20 spirit will have four or five. Yoh also gains experience points, which contribute to his ability to command stronger spirits and to make new spirits by combining them. Yoh can add spirits to his collection a variety of ways, typically by beating them in battle or by talking to them in one of the game areas, but the most unique method involves combining two spirits together to form a new one. Some rare spirits can be unlocked only through this method. Yoh can only carry a grand total of 20 spirits with him at any given time, which means that frequent use of the combination machine is encouraged.
Aside from encouraging you to discover all 177 spirits through frequent trading and combination, Shaman King: Legacy of the Spirits doesn't go out of its way to keep you occupied. There are a few optional side quests, but only a few. Even if you make sure to complete them all, the entire game can be completed in less than 15 hours. The developers didn't bother to build any minigames or gadgets into the game to draw out the overall length of the quest. It's also particularly disappointing that the link cable mode is limited to trading and doesn't let you battle your friends, which is something that games of this type traditionally do allow.
So too, Shaman King doesn't flex the graphical or audio capabilities of the GBA to the same extent that games like Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, or DemiKids have. The backgrounds are flat and bland, and they don't have any animated features. The characters are the same sort of big-headed 2D sprites that we've been seeing in 16-bit role-playing games for more than a decade now. The portraits used to portray the spirits in the battle view are large, colorful, and highly detailed, but they don't move whatsoever. In fact, the same thing happens no matter what attack is used--the screen flashes and the portrait shakes for a second. The accompanying sound effects are equally plain, mainly a few thuds and pops here and there, but the music should at least please anyone who likes traditional Asian instruments mixed in with peppy rock and techno riffs.
All told, Shaman King: Legacy of the Spirits is aimed squarely toward fans of the TV show who want to relive certain episodes and put together their own collection of spirits. Since it doesn't deliver the same degree of variety or glitz that other similar games have, it isn't recommended for people who are unfamiliar with the TV show or who have already played the best the genre has to offer, namely Pokémon.