Nostalgia is a fickle thing. It’s a tough path toward appeal, since success lies not in matching the original experience itself, but rather how that experience feels through rose-tinted glasses. When it’s done well, though, there’s no doubt that it resonates at a level that a totally-new experience just can’t. The Legend of Legacy is certainly an attempt in that vein, coating an old-school game with a veneer that reminds you of the hand-drawn illustrations of children’s books. It reminds you of the past, sometimes at the expense of the present.
Aesthetically, it’s easy to compare The Legend of Legacy to Bravely Default, its peer in the “throwback 3DS RPGs” space. Both aim for a sepia-tinged storybook feel, with chibi characters and quaint environments. Unfortunately, Legacy‘s ambition exceeds its budget. While some areas, like the Seaside Ruins, show just exactly the level of visual world-building to which the team aspired, many others — especially the hub town, Initium — feel less storybook and more storyboard. The textures are bland, blurry and unfinished. Stairs and doors lead to nowhere. Elements and NPCs repeat way more often than they should, and even then, those few elements and NPCs aren’t very well-crafted.
A lot of the game’s charm is wrapped up in its commitment to its “pop-up” look. As you walk around, everything — from the trees and rocks to enemies and buildings — springs into existence as it comes into your field of view. This is certainly a signature look, and makes walking around memorable. Still, it could’ve been used to better effect. As it is, it seems to reinforce just how many repeated elements there are, since it draws your eye and then is just the same tree as the other ten trees on the screen. There’s also nothing from a gameplay perspective that is related here; it’s a rendering trick, nothing more.
The mechanics of The Legend of Legacy also hark back to the golden age of RPGs in a similar way to Bravely Default, but they really don’t overlap that much. While Bravely took inspiration from classic Final Fantasy, Legacy tries to return to the SaGa formula, one that may be less familiar to Western players but certainly has its loyalists. Seeing those mechanics return can be fun, with a “learn by doing” approach to increasing abilities and unlocking attacks. Characters who guard a lot become better at guarding, making the “experience” system actually line up with the word itself. After all, slashing a baddie with a sword shouldn’t logically result in you knowing how to summon lightning from the sky or dodge a charging foe.
Many areas — especially the hub town, Initium — feel less storybook and more storyboard.
It’s how these old mechanics are handled that sets it behind its peer. Much of the success of Bravely Default came from its smart streamlining of game flow and mechanics. It removed tedium by letting you adjust difficulty and battle frequency. There’s not a lot of dungeon delving between interesting battles, and the story’s peppered about so that you have interesting character moments to break up monotony. The Legend of Legacy takes what you might call the opposite approach. It has a specific, plodding, arduous path to traverse, and it doesn’t let you deviate for a second.
There are indeed some who will find this refreshing; it’s punishing like games of old. You’ll lose hours of grinding to a lucky enemy shot wiping out your party. You’ll re-do those hours of grinding and find you’re still not strong enough for the next area. You’ll fight boss battles that are largely wars of attrition, dealing tiny amounts more damage than they can regenerate and hoping for the best rather than finding some clever puzzle-like solution. It’s one of those games, and it doesn’t for a second try to convince you it isn’t.
Character and equipment management is a chore, and The Legend of Legacy does the process no favors. Party members you aren’t using don’t level up at all, and it takes so long to build one up that you’d have to really go out of your way to switch out a fighter and succeed. Good new equipment is incredibly rare, and the shop doesn’t sell anything close to what you should be using in a given dungeon. Your only hope here is to send out trading ships and wait, as sometimes they’ll return with something useful. This can be fun — it’s like a slot machine for weapons — but it’s not exactly great game design.
What’s most frustrating is the magic system, as you’ll collect more than enough interesting options there. The problem? Magic is tied to equipped accessories, so you can only have two at a time, and most of your accessory slots will be filled with healing items or “singing shards” that make casting specific types of magic possible. As a result, you’ll collect dozens of “whispering shards” with abilities on them, but you’ll only really be able to use two or three. This may be for flavor: magic is hard, and it takes a lot to make it happen. But for a game that keeps cracking the whip, it would’ve been a nice concession to make in the name of variety and fun.
A great story can really keep you going in a long JRPG, and The Legend of Legacy… doesn’t have much of one. There are oh-so-sporadic quips here and there, but generally these characters feel more like the caricatures of the Theatrhythm games than true people. They’ll reference the one plot point when you talk to them, which is usually about why that particular person is looking for the powerful Star Graal. It’s frustrating, because you look at a character like Filmia the frog and really want to get attached to such a silly little dude. Instead, he’s a face in a menu and a spear-swinging animation on the battle screen.
There are indeed some who will find The Legend of Legacy refreshing; it’s punishing like games of old.
A bright spot in the writing, though, comes through the narrative descriptions of each area as you enter. These are put together well, and show again that Atlus’ localization team is top-notch. It’s unfortunate that there’s not enough source material for them to shine elsewhere.
There are few games that feel as handcuffed by their budgets as The Legend of Legacy. It’s as if the team planned for a 50-hour RPG, had the money for a 10-hour one and slashed experience growth rates and in-world assets by 80 percent to make that happen. There are flashes of brilliance here, and those who miss the iron fist of early RPGs may find solace in the tedium, but it’s clear that this game could have been so much more.