“A love letter to gaming’s past.” Various permutations of that phrase pop up when a developer is purposely trying to create a “retro” style title, said either by the developer itself or us journalists writing about them. In the case of indie studios, “gaming’s past” often seems to refer to one thing: the 8- or 16-bit pixel art aesthetic. Other gaming eras don’t seem to get as much love as the really old-school ones.
Take, for instance, the PS1 RPG. You know, back when everyone was all about pre-rendered background that your much-less detailed character sprites moved around in. Nobody ever seems to want to go back to this style, and it’s understandable why. Modern technical power has made it much easier to render entire environments on the fly.
Indonesian developer Semisoft Studio, though, decided that this era was worth revisiting. With their upcoming game Legrand Legacy, the studio hopes to invoke memories of games such as The Legend of Dragoon, the PS1 Final Fantasy titles, and a bit of influence from Suikoden.
Part of the Indie Megabooth at this year’s PAX, the demo shown was based on the game’s latest build. According to Semisoft founder and CEO Henry Winata, who I had the chance to speak with prior to playing, the game is complete – I could play through it front to back if I wanted to spend the next 30-40 hours at their booth. Tempting as that was, I opted for the normal demo experience, and Winata loaded up a save file that landed me somewhere in the middle of the game.
When the game loaded, I had three options on where to go, each highlighting one of the game’s aspects. In one direction was the cue for a lengthy cutscene, to experience the story of Legrand Legacy. In a second was an (already cleared) dungeon, to check out the basic battle system. The third direction led to the game’s “army battle” system, more of a turn-based strategy style. Having already seen the story cutscene over the shoulder of another player while waiting to play, I opted to check out the two battle systems.
Heading toward the open dungeon first, I was immediately hit with a wave of nostalgia upon entering. The presentation of the environment felt just like I was back in the PS1 era again, but with stronger graphics. The pre-rendered backgrounds, which Winata told me were all hand-drawn, looked beautiful. Making my way through them was like playing Legend of Dragoon or Final Fantasy VII over again, right up to the difficulty of figuring out paths and exits I could navigate on.
Battles are thankfully not random, as you can see enemies wandering on the map. While the battles have also have a nostalgic initial presentation, they’re not really turn-based or run on an ATB-style system. Instead, you input your commands for every character each turn, and all attacks and damage resolve at the same time. This has the effect of making the battles look great, and also speeding them up, which I greatly appreciate in an RPG. Physical attacks include a button-press QTE to increase damage, as well.
After wandering the dungeon for a bit, I decided to go check out the tactical battles. These fights take place on a board game-esque layout, with various spaces connected with lines indicating the paths you can travel. Your characters are represented as miniature figures, and you move them around the board to set up attacks and capture spaces. I did enjoy this part of the game quite a bit, and it offered up a good challenge, but the graphical presentation is just kind of dull here. Compared to the rest of the game (from what I’ve experienced), this portion wasn’t the most attention grabbing.
Overall, Legrand Legacy looks like it’s going to succeed in its aim – being a love letter to classic PS1 RPGs. Even beyond the pure nostalgia factor, the core gameplay systems here are solid and easy to pick up. Really, if my biggest issue is just in the graphical presentation of one aspect of the game, then it’s not really much to complain about. For those who grew up during the western RPG boom, and for fans of this more classic style of presentation, Legrand Legacy is definitely a title to keep an eye on.