The “Golden Age,” a term referring to a period of time where something (history, media, anything really) was at its greatest. The term is often used hyperbolically nowadays, especially in pop culture mediums. Often, it can be a case of being blinded by nostalgia – people that grew up with a certain kind of video game, for example, look back on it fondly and glamorize it to the point that they believe nothing modern can live up to it.
Many claim the Golden Age of the JRPG (at least in the west) ranges somewhere in the PlayStation 1 and 2 eras – right around the time the popularity of the genre exploded. For a significant group of gamers, the JRPGs of this era are what they grew up with, and their stylings formed their opinions on what games of the genre should be.
Despite some genre greats created further back in the Super Nintendo era, and numerous great games still being released today, many pine for the days of the PS1 JRPG. With their pre-rendered artwork, turn-based battle systems, and jarring CG movie clips during pivotal story moments, it’s a style that many small and indie studios often attempt to capture for their modern projects.
Hell, I’m a child of this era as well. Like many, my first foray into JRPGs was the PS1’s Final Fantasy VII, with other titles like Chrono Cross and The Legend of Dragoon significantly shaping my gaming tastes early in life. I’d like to believe I’m a little less driven by nostalgia now, preferring to look forward at new innovations and experiments in the genre. However, I do occasionally get the urge to load up the games of yore and reexperience a bit of my childhood.
Luckily, I discovered a game at last year’s PAX West that managed to scratch that itch without requiring me to dust off the old PS1 and dig up my games from storage. A game that hits all of those nostalgic notes, but offers up some modern sensibilities as well.
Developed by Semisoft and published by Another Indie, Legrand Legacy: Tale of the Fatebounds was released on January 24th, 2018, for PC via Steam.
A Story From the Ages
Legrand Legacy follows Finn, a young man and a slave, forced to fight in gladiator battles for the entertainment of the masses. One day after a particularly grueling battle, Finn is purchased by an old man, who promises him his freedom after he guides the man across a dangerous desert. Being styled after classic JRPGs, it doesn’t take long for the story’s scope to expand, with Finn discovering he is one of the “Fatebound” – a group of six people destined to save the land of Legrand from encroaching otherworldly forces.
Really, the plot of Legrand Legacy doesn’t attempt to do anything new. Finn and the companions he gathers scour the world for mystical artifacts that will help them fend off an greater evil. Along the way they meet the various races of Legrand, help them out with their troubles, and find themselves in various trying situations.
That’s not to say, however, that the typical is necessarily bad. Despite being a story I’ve seen many times before, I still had quite a bit of fun exploring this new world and its inhabitants. Really, I’d say the greatest stumbling in the storytelling is the writing of the characters, whose emotions and opinions of each other seem to change at the drop of a hat.
There’s a point where one of your party members discovers something about his past and begins doubting his worth and existance…but immediately recovers and returns to being a wise-cracking jerk about a minute later…in the same cutscene. The characters are entertaining, sure, but their actual characterization can be wildly inconsistent.
Just As You Remember It
Intended as a throwback to classic JRPGs, Legrand Legacy often feels like it was ripped straight out of the PS1 era. Everything from exploration to battle brings on waves of nostalgia, for both better and worse. If you ever had the same frustrations I did with navigating my character through pre-rendered environments back in the Final Fantasy VII-IX days, exploring the world of Legrand will probably unearth these memories.
Actual navigation and exploration is, surprisingly, rather limited. The world map is small, with most destinations located within a few steps of each other. Towns and cities are made up of several separate screens that you select from a menu. Dungeons are often only five or six screens long. To be fair, though, aside from story moments and accessing shops, nothing really happens on these maps.
The main battle system is the highlight of the game, and the most obvious area where the team at Semisoft tried to capture nostalgia in a bottle. Enemy encounters are semi-turn-based – after you input your commands for your party members; first, heals, buffs/debuffs, and items activate; then all physical attacks for both your party and enemies resolve at once; and finally, magic and special skills are resolved. The speed this brings to a normally slower-paced style of battle system is greatly appreciated.
The system also includes a bit of interactivity in your attacks. For every physical attack or special skill, a rotating wheel pops up and tasks you with hitting a specific button to stop an area at a certain point on the wheel. Landing within a highlighted area boosts your attack, while stopping on a much smaller section increases it further. Missing this tap can weaken your strike, or cause you to miss altogether.
Your skill with this system becomes important a few chapters in. When casting a spell or special skill, enemies can interrupt you unless you land the wheel in the ideal location. Some enemies can also dodge just about every physical attack unless you spin the wheel correctly as well. While I didn’t have much trouble with this in front of my PC monitor, streaming the game through a Steam Link introduced a slight delay which was enough to make these pickier fights incredibly difficult.
The battle system also includes a basic weakness system, with foes being weak to various elemental attacks and physical attack types. While I found taking advantage of these to be useful in the early game, by around the midpoint, most of my party members were strong enough to brute force just about every enemy thrown at me.
Really, that is the story for the entire game. The early chapters can be surprisingly difficult, especially since I did not gain access to an immediate healing skill until the halfway point of the game. I had to scrounge for cash (which is difficult, as enemies do not drop money – only various crafting items that you can sell in cities) to keep a massive stock of healing items on hand, as that was the only way to recover outside of save points.
By around Chapter 4 – the halfway point – I had access to every character, and all of them were had leveled up enough and learned enough skills to crush just about everything in their path. Boss battles still proved to be a challenge, but trash encounters would fly by easily…unless I missed too many attacks in a row, which could quickly throw a battle out of my favor. Luckily, this didn’t happen too often.
As a couple of wrap-up points, Legrand Legacy includes a very basic crafting system. Collect enough of certain items, and bring them to a blacksmith or alchemist in town to “craft” an item – essentially just buying said item with crafting tools instead of money. It doesn’t hurt the game, but it’s not really notable either.
Finally, the game also includes a turn-based strategy style battle system, which shows up once in a while. These fights involve moving statues representing your party around a series of connected nodes to wipe out enemy units. With an overly-complicated strength/weakness system and an overall bland presentation, these fights were easily the lowlight of the game. There’s not many of them, at least.
Enhancing the Past
I truly have to commend Legrand Legacy on its visual presentation, as it’s the strongest aspect of both the game in general and its nostalgia factor (for those seeking that). The design of the worlds feels like the team took a classic PS1 JRPG and updated it with HD graphics. The various environment often feel like you’re exploring a painting, and a few of the places you find yourself in are truly beautiful.
The game makes use of Live2D for its character portraits in conversations, which initially seemed like an odd choice. Until now, I hadn’t heard of anyone using Live2D outside of things like webcam effects. While a bit unusual at first, I grew to like this style of presenting the characters. The subtle animations of them during story moments feels much more natural than the eerie breathing animations many dialogue-heavy games slap on their character sprites recently.
Also, if you were a fan of the awkwardly animated and out-of-place CG cutscenes of JRPGs past, you’re definitely gonna love this game! Semisoft created a number of CG cutscenes for character introductions and major story moments, and I have to say, for an indie studio, these are surprisingly well made. They typically don’t last more than a few seconds at a time, and can be jarring compared to the art style of the rest of the game, but…hey, it’s another track for the nostalgia train to ride on!
Just as with the visual presentation, Semisoft nails the classic feeling in its audio as well. The soundtrack goes for a sweeping orchestral style, often staying on the more subdued side of the spectrum, with pounding drums punctuating the more intense battle tracks. Capping it all off is a stunning theme track sung by Emi Evans, who recently contributed to the soundtrack of NieR: Automata.
Really, this soundtrack has set the bar for me personally in 2018 – it’s going to be the game to beat.
For the Modern Connoisseur
Overall, as both a modernization of and throwback to classic JRPGs, Legrand Legacy smashes it out of the park. Sure, the story is a bit generic, the characters somewhat inconsistent, and the turn-based strategy fights are dull and feel tacked on. Taking the package as a whole, with its beautiful presentation and entertaining battle system, really helps to redeem those stumbles.
Not only is this game wonderful for those in a nostalgic mood, it stands solidly on its own outside of its pedigree. Even more impressive is that this game is the first by an indie studio out of Indonesia, originating on Kickstarter. If this is what Semisoft can do with their first title, I’m really excited to see where they go in the future.
Fans of JRPGs, classic and modern, would be doing themselves a disservice in passing on this title. It has a few noticeable quirks and stumbles, but Legrand Legacy is an excellent way to kick off one of my favorite gaming genres in 2018.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Semisoft for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.