In the wake of Final Fantasy 7, everyone wanted to grab a piece of the action, and so it was that RPG creators sought to capitalise on whatever it was that was making the public buy the game by copying and pasting them into their own role-playing epics. One such game thus created is the infamous Legend of Dragoon, an RPG that proves oddly addictive when playing it and entirely frustrating in both past and present memory. Replete with problems as nearly every aspect of its gaming system is, it is truly one of the most deserving candidates ever to be given a Dark Side Gaming Rant.
Enter the Dark Side
At the beginning of Legend of Dragoon, you find yourself controlling Dart, a spiky haired hero who is out to avenge an attack on his village and rescue his childhood friend from the nearby Hellena Prison (spiky hair? Childhood friend? Attacked village? Why do I have this feeling of déjà vu?). Thus begins an adventure that sees Dart and his allies discover their destined Dragoon powers and set off on a world-spanning question to defeat a silver, sorry, platinum haired bishie named Lloyd. Just stop me if you’ve heard this before, which you surely will have if you’ve picked up an RPG within the last ten years.
Legend of Dragoon has a rather unique battle system, which is to say that we should all be thankful that its innovations were never featured elsewhere. This is perhaps the only game in existence where a small yellow bird is just as likely to cause game over as a boss, and it is certainly not a game where you should, as I did, think “oh, I don’t need to save” at any point, because if you ever do, you will suffer a crushing game over mere moments later.
In an attempt to spice up the tedium of menu based combat, Legend of Dragoon ‘enhances’ the simple attack command with an Additions system, in which you can perform a combo strike by pressing X or Circle when a square flashes on screen. Yes, it’s a nice idea, but when you have to have perfect timing just to do an attack that does more than negligible damage, it takes the fun out of it somewhat. Worse yet, there is one character (Shana/Miranda), who cannot use Additions at all- why make a system and then create a character who is unable to use it?
Additions or not, battle is always a tedious and protracted affair, even against the most inoffensive looking of enemies. In normal form (I’ll get onto Dragoon transformations in a moment), magic cannot be used, and with space for only 32 items in your inventory, the ability to carry attack and healing items is severely restricted. Instead, the cheapest way to restore HP in battle is with the Guard ability, which replenishes a small amount of HP whist defending. Unfortunately, much of this HP will immediately be removed again on the enemy’s next turn, resulting in a “ten steps forward, nine steps back” situation that ensures most of your time in battle is spent desperately trying to recover some small amount of health.
If you finally manage to do enough damage on an enemy, your SP gauge will fill, enabling your character to transform into a Dragoon and perform powerful attacks and magic. Sounds good, right? Then let me burst your bubble- this aspect of the game is as riddled with problems as the rest of it. In order to get access to Dragoon form in the first place, your character has to have respectable enough attack and defence stats to do the required amount of damage before getting slaughtered- something which is a near impossible for the weaker characters. This basically renders magic-orientated characters useless, and forces your party to be only made up of the strong but not-too-slow attackers.
These aren’t the only issues with Dragoon form, however- the other being that you cannot use items whilst in this state. Typically, the characters with healing spells are the ones who are too weak to ever reach Dragoon form, and so if your health gets low in this state, your only choice is to revert to normal and begin the whole process of attacking and guarding all over again.
The worst part of all this is that, having struggled through such tedious battles, there is barely any reward for having done so. Regular battle gives a pittance in EXP, so much so that it is impossible to use them for levelling up- instead, you have to rely on boss battles for experience, totally negating the idea of levelling up in order to be able to handle a boss you are having difficult with.
Even when you aren’t in battle, getting around in the world of Legend of Dragoon can be a chore. Although most maps aren’t too difficult to navigate in themselves, there are often times when you have to backtrack all the way through a dungeon because the game won’t just let you skip an area you have already completed- for example, the
Characters: Generic Hero Set
The heroes of Legend of Dragoon are all, conveniently enough, destined Dragoons drawn from a hero set so standard you could probably recreate it in RPG Maker with little difficulty (certainly it was recreated almost perfectly in Legaia 2).
- Dart: The hero of the tale, Dart is a Cloud wannabe with unknown parents (set up for a major plot point, of course) who sets out to protect his childhood friend. Unlike most heroes, who just undergo one village burning, Dart has his first home burned down as a child, whilst his second one is attacked at the beginning of the game. From there on, he becomes a sword wielder of decent all-round strength, making him one of the better playable characters.
- Shana: Dart’s childhood friend, Shana has unique, destined and mysterious powers that are important to the plot, but largely useless otherwise. As mentioned above, she cannot use Additions in battle, and so her attack is pathetically weak. I recommend never using her in battle.
- Lavitz: As a knight, Lavitz is a strong spear user with a solid attack, despite having an in-battle voice that sounds like Tom Hanks. Sadly, he gets killed partway through the game, but he is soon replaced by Albert. The timing on some of his Additions is quite hard to master.
- Albert: The King of Serdio, Albert inherits Lavtiz’ stats and Dragoon spirit, and soon becomes one of the members of the “party of necessity”.
- Haschel: An old fist-fighter and mentor type, Haschel is actually Dart’s grandfather, although neither of them knows this at first. He is the weakest of the “party of necessity”, but he makes up for this by being a faster attacker.
- Rose: A swordswoman with a mysterious past, Rose is a swift attacker, but she is sadly too weak to withstand the force of boss battles. She’s the character you want to use, but cannot really find an excuse to.
- Meru: A chirpy and cheerful girl who wields a hammer, Meru’s default costume puts her in serious need of a visit from the Fashion Police, and sadly, like Shana, she is far too weak to survive for more than turn or two in battle.
- Kongol: As an axe-wielding giant, Kongol has the high strength you would expect of him, but he is so slow that he barely ever gets a chance to show it off. For this reason, it is best not to rely on him.
- Miranda: Shana’s replacement later in the game, she is just as useless as the female lead in battle, and seems like something of an afterthought in terms of personality and individuality.
- Lloyd: Although he isn’t the final boss, Lloyd and his minions are recurring antagonists throughout the game. A platinum haired bishie with a Sephiroth-complex, Lloyd wishes to destroy the world and create a new one, something every villain has to try at least once.
In visuals, Legend of Dragoon retains its “FF7a” status, with graphics that fall between those of 7 and 8; concept artwork for the Dragoons is well done, but character models are polygon-deficient, and settings are simplistic and uninspiring (a greenish-brown grassy field sticks in my mind to this day for some reason). Whilst they aren’t particularly lengthy, loading times for battle screens are long enough to induce a sort of cumulative irritation at the continual waiting.
As far as audio goes, the background music is solid enough and even rather catchy in places, whilst in-battle voices are at least unintentionally amusing. What really drags the game down even further, however, is the awful, awful translation, which does not seem to have gone anywhere near a native English speaker. Lines such as “the people of Serdio would all fall down if they heard of this” only attest to the power of a proper localisation.
Although I have to admit that I was addicted to it when I was playing it, even then, Legend of Dragoon was a flawed and frustrating experience that showed only glimmers of potential amidst a sea of problems. They may not be perfect themselves, but even the Final Fantasy games it tries to emulate are superior to this.