Final Fantasy VII, Dragon Quest VII, Lunar: Silver Star Complete, Parasite Eve, Star Ocean: The Second Story, Final Fantasy IX, Wild Arms, Final Fantasy Tactics. These are all absolute classic RPGs on the Playstation 1. More specifically, these are the absolute classics on the PS1 I have personally played. There’s also Thousand Arms, Revelations: Persona, Suikoden II, Breath of Fire IV, Alundra, Koudelka, Vandal Hearts, Vagrant Story, and Valkyrie Profile vying for my attention as I don’t even own them. And let’s not forget about the game I left half finished. Pour one out for Final Fantasy VIII, Legend of Dragoon, Chorno Cross, Grandia, Azure Dreams, Front Mission 3, and many others. You could take pretty much any of these games listed above and give a compelling argument why it’s in your favorite RPG of all time list and I’d believe you. The PS1 was just that good for role playing games.
With a back catalog of gaming goodness this gigantic, it’s no wonder some bangers go unplayed. One of the main goals I had in mind when taking on this year-long endeavor to play through some hand-picked backlogged games is to finally pop in and play some of these missed RPGs. Granted, some of the heavy hitters I’d love to play (I’m looking at you Vagrant Story and Alundra) I don’t actually own. So without resorting to emulation my hands were a bit tied on which to choose. But don’t you fret too long because there was still one RPG I knew I was getting too.
Putting Legend of Legaia into the Playstation I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had heard it was “the fighting game RPG”, as it incorporated button inputs in order to perform powerful combination attacks. I could also recall some folks really enjoying the game’s soundtrack. And we can just gloss over the knowledge the game’s sequel wasn’t nearly as well received as this PS1 original. Outside that I didn’t know anything. Considering the pedigree of quality the Playstation has with RPGs in general and how highly some players rank this game in their personal list, my expectations were high.
From the beginning, Legend of Legaia impressed. The dynamic camera angle gave cinematic quality to even the mundane in-game sections of dialogue. Instead of simply being a floating camera sitting stagnant is a corner you would get close up shots of characters faces, panning shots of a beautiful ocean, and multiple viewpoints for the ongoing battles. Did these result in stunning visuals? Absolutely not since this is the PS1 we’re talking about. But it still captured the charm, sadness, struggle, and more of each scene more than just reading a text box of seeing someone slash a sword into nothingness would have. I noticed that from the get-go and appreciated the attention to detail.
What’s an RPG if it doesn’t have worthwhile combat? Thankfully Legaia does pull off something special here. The aforementioned fighting game mechanics are superficial at best: I would never call this a fighting game. I speculate the connection comes from entering high, low, right, or left as an attack input, and delivering a blow to the corresponding zone of the selected enemy. This has a couple neat impacts: for starters, if you link together certain inputs in the right manner, you can perform a combo “Art”, which is a special attack that might deal more damage or deliver a killer final blow. Think of these as magical attacks you’d see in other RPGs (although I don’t think they deliver magical damage), or as super combos from fighting games. This aspect felt the most like a fighting game, as you’d be inputting attack patterns to hopefully cripple the enemy, or better yet find a weakness and exploit it.
Secondly, and I hate to admit how long it took me to discover this, certain enemies have strengths against specific types of attacks. For example, early on there are some apparition enemies that do not have lower limbs: they’re literally just a floating torso with arms. If you happen to attack low, you’ll miss every single time. Why? Well because they don’t have any limbs down there for you to actually hit! Once I found that out, I let out an audible “Ohhhhhh” as I continued to develop my newly improved attack strats. Considering some combo Arts require a specific input to perform (even if every blow doesn’t land), I weighed the pros and cons of each before making my final attack decisions. It was a cool system, and I saw immediately how special it made the combat system from other turn-based RPGs.
Without going into a full-on review, and since I haven’t fully played through the game, I also want to highlight the game’s music. I am not a huge follower of certain composers or musicians and as such cannot really tell you much about the game’s composer Michiru Oshima. But what I do know now is how talented they are. The boss music against Caruban on top of Mt. Rikuroa in particular stands out as both perilous and exciting. I didn’t even mind wiping once during the fight since it meant I could go back in and hear the song again. The musical highlights don’t stop there, as the overworld music and even the general fight tunes were solid beats. I don’t think I often think about music in games unless it happens to be incredibly good. As in like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or Mega Man II or Super Mario 64 good, where it demands you acknowledge its presence enveloping your ears. Legend of Legaia might not be in the upper echelon of music yet, but it had a solid first impression.
Perhaps most telling of my enjoyment for the game came from when the play session was over. I turned off the game, and immediately wanted to play more. I just defeated a boss, I united two of the game’s player characters, I started to get a grip on the overall combat, I had some money and equipment and spells to my name, I had all the things I needed to start my grand PS1 RPG adventure! What better feeling is there than that? We’ve gone over twelve games are part of this backlog streaming project as of this writing, and Legend of Legaia is legitimately the the only game I’ve played so far I want to play again. Maybe it’s leaning on my PS1 RPG nostalgia? After all I would definitely attribute my liking of video games as a whole to games like Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy Tactics. Maybe it’s just a good video game that deserves to be played in its entirety? Or it could be I’m just in the mood right now for a long, old school RPG.
Whatever the reason, I was impressed with Legend of Legaia. I’m regretting I passed on it so long ago when it first released, but I’m equally enthused to be able to play it for the first time some 20 years later.