The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean is the third chapter in the series from Namco Bandai and developer Falcom. Remarkably, it's the third lengthy role-playing game in the series to be released within a period of about 14 months. It's great to see the PlayStation Portable library filling up with role-playing games, but unfortunately The Legend of Heroes III suffers from the same underlying problems that made the first two so forgettable. It's a functionally sound game that's easy on the eyes and will take a very long time to finish, but it's completely lacking in depth and character, which makes for a very dull experience.
As the subtitle implies, The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean carries two familiar themes: water and music. You play as a young musician named Forte who enjoys a carefree existence in a seaside town with his family and friends. Forte is mentored by his grandfather, McBain, an accomplished and well-traveled musician. After receiving a package and some information regarding the lost and supposedly magical Water Melody, McBain sets off on one last journey in search of the secret tune. Being the feisty and adventurous youth that he is, Forte decides to go along on the journey, accompanied by his friend Una and McBain's dog, Jan. You set out across the land of Weltluna in search of hidden resonance stones, which are engraved with fragments of the Water Melody. Along the way, you meet new people, battle hundreds of monsters, and discover secret treasures. While the game has the makings of an exciting and epic adventure, it's unfortunately flat and generic. The characters are likable enough, but none of them are the least bit interesting.
The game is functionally sound, at least. Aside from the story and characters, The Legend of Heroes III contains about everything you'd expect from a role-playing game. You move from one town to the next along winding paths fraught with monsters, and you'll do battle, get stronger, and discover treasures. The game is rigidly linear, to the point that you can't leave a town until you've talked to all the right people (handily indicated by red exclamation marks above their heads). Once you've done that, you'll usually have to go explore a dungeon or cave until you've completed your given task. You then go back to town to activate the next task, which is usually just as menial as the first. You'll spend a lot of time running errands for townsfolk just so you can progress through the story. These quests are only tangentially related to the story, and more often than not your only reward for completing these tasks is being able to finally move on. The game advertises 50 hours of gameplay, which is impressive, but that estimate is buffered by the plodding pace of the game.
When you're on the path between towns or exploring a dungeon, you'll see enemies scouting about. Depending on how strong you are, the enemies will either charge you or try to stay out of your way. If you make contact with an enemy, you're drawn into a turn-based battle. You issue commands to as many as four party members and then watch as the turns are executed according to initiative. You can attack; use skills, magic, or items; run away; or switch out your characters if you have five or more people in your party. Much of the time, all you'll have to do is select the attack command over and over until all the enemies are dead. Some enemies will be out of range, requiring you to move closer at the risk of forfeiting a turn. Every time you take a turn, you fill up a power gauge for each character. When a character's power gauge is full, you can press the circle button to perform a finishing move. These moves are unique to each character and usually inflict serious damage on one or more targets, often resulting in an instant kill. A finishing move takes no skill or strategy to use, but it's the closest you'll come to a gratifying moment in what is otherwise a very simplistic battle system.
Your characters earn experience whether they survive the battle or not, and as they do so, they increase in level and grow stronger. You have no control over how your characters develop, though, so there's not much incentive to actively manage your characters. Instead, you can purchase new items that will give your characters small stat boosts and equip resonance stones to let your characters cast special magic spells, but that's the extent of it. You can meet new characters and recruit them into your party, but even changing your roster doesn't have much of an impact on battle. There are also pets in the game, but they don't do much other than find the occasional small treasure and bring it to you.
The Legend of Heroes III looks attractive and colorful, with cute, big-headed characters and fairly detailed backgrounds. The large character portraits that accompany the dialogue sequences are a nice touch, as well. The special effects that accompany magic spells and finishing moves are subdued and often nearly nonexistent, but at least they are kept brief. In certain areas, you'll run into some noticeable slowdown while exploring the map, but fortunately that's kept to a minimum. Load times are thankfully short, as well. The game is about music, and as you might expect, it does have a hearty selection of tunes. Most of them are nice to listen to, although the special tunes that your characters learn and play are unfortunately very quiet compared to the town and battle themes you'll normally hear.
If you played the previous two games in this series, you'll find very little different about The Legend of Heroes III, but you will find more of the same--much more. And if you've played those earlier games, you're also probably inclined to play this one simply for the sake of completing the trilogy, but that isn't necessary. The Legend of Heroes III is an entirely separate story, so it won't shed any light on the events of the previous two games. That leaves you without much reason to play this game unless you have an unnatural affinity for role-playing games in general. With its solid design and appealing look, this could have been a game worth sinking 50 hours into. But without something--anything--to distinguish this game and give it a bit of personality, you'll find it difficult to keep playing that long.