I was excited to play Legrand Legacy, the debut game of an Indonesian studio called Semisoft Studios. I was excited because this game rings back to the PS1 era of jRPGs like Legend of Dragoon, Final Fantasy 7 and Shadow Hearts, all while having a very high production quality for a first time indie dev studio. As regular readers may know, I love jRPGs, so I wanted to give this game a lot of time and grant it my fullest, most honest opinion.
Now, I feel it’s necessary to start with this. I liked the game a lot. In this article there are going to be some significant criticisms, but they come from a place of love and a hope that the developers of this game do even better with their next game. I have a lot to say about this game, and this is going to be for a very niche audience, so I’m not going to leave anything out. I’ll divide it into two sections: praise and criticism.
First off, Legrand Legacy delivers on the high production quality that’s apparent in its trailers. The game, from start to finish, feels like a professional endeavor from a seasoned studio. It’s a large scale game that doesn’t feel curtailed by its independent roots in the way that a lot of games with Kickstarter origins feel. The graphics are impeccable, the game is glitch free and the sheer amount of content is impressive.
Secondly, it really captures the magic of the PS1 era of jRPGs, and for jRPG aficionados like me, it’s a treat to be able to see how it incorporated its influences. You can tell the developers love this genre as much as I do, and this game would feel right at home in the late PS1/early PS2 era. The QTE infused battle system is straight from Shadow Hearts, the weapon upgrade system is pulled from Final Fantasy 8, the whole thing feels heavily influenced by Legend of Dragoon, and you even have a town full of mini-games that’s reminiscent of the Suikoden series. In fact — once you’ve recruited all the people necessary for the town, you unlock an achievement “Aren’t you glad we didn’t put in 108 of them?” Cheeky.
Other graphics aside, which are all very good, there is some CGI work in this game that is truly mesmerizing. Whenever a new party member is introduced, they’re introduced in CGI ala Final Fantasy 8, and, if this really did come out on PS1, this CGI would have blown everything from that era out of the water. Toward the end of the game — no spoilers — there’s a CGI sequence that may very well be one of the coolest visual spectacles I’ve ever seen in a video game. I don’t want to spoil it, but on the other hand, I really do… I’ll give you a hint: dragon battle.
The art, in general, is a very strong point. The portraits, especially, look amazing, but the environments, 3D models, enemy designs and everything else to do with art is executed exceedingly well.
The environments and towns are varied, and it really does feel like a coherent and epic journey. Each character has a class that evolves over time, and your main character changes costumes with each class evolution, similar to Final Fantasy 1 — I liked that. The town that you ultimately gain control of has a lot of mini-games which are decently fleshed out and fun. Among them is a Suikoden style war game, which you also do within the context of the plot. I love that all of these systems were included, as they really added to the experience.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something that’s mentioned in almost every Steam review. The story is definitely one of the weak points of the game. It’s easy to tell that it has a grandiose vision, and I salute it for the way it tries to incorporate larger than life themes like war and class, but it’s just not done well at all. The execution of the writing is all over the place. Most of the time the dialog is meandering and bland, but it’s also got all the unprofessional hallmarks of fan-fiction amateurishness. Overuse of ellipses, characters with inconsistent personalities, lines that are clearly channeling the voice of the writer rather than what the character might actually say.
The writer of the game has a very specific style that is, simply put, offputting. It’s a style where every character overuses strange and unrealistic insults or has a bizarre, shallow personality that amounts to self-caricature. Aria, for instance, spends the first half of the game calling the main character a “peasant” in literally every line she says. The main character, Finn, is submissive to the point of being unlikable and pathetic; he talks like he’s giving a bad performance as the cuckold in a female domination porn.
Many times throughout the story it takes random and dramatic leaps of tone from ‘young adult adventure’ to ‘more graphic than Game of Thrones’ for, theoretically, shock value. One such time is early on in the game where you’re tasked with a pretty basic escort mission and run into bandits. Pretty boilerplate, really. Until they repeatedly and very directly threaten to violently rape your ingenue companion across several minutes of hamfisted, on the nose dialog. I found myself repeatedly saying, “Jesus Christ, this game goes from 0 to 60, doesn’t it?”
The interpersonal banter in what are supposed to be the lighthearted moments of the game is some of the cringiest. One segment that comes to mind is where the characters go to a festival, and they start randomly talking about sex for a long period of time, probably at least 30 minutes. It’s an example of the 0 to 60 phenomenon, the weird insult-laden writing style and the bad surface level dialog all rolled into one, with characters calling each other “virgins” and talking about “doing it”. On top of that, it all feels very immature and high school, as well as uninformed about the topic of sex — mature people don’t talk about sex in these terms. It plays out like that scene in 40 Year Old Virgin where Steve Carrell’s character describes breasts as ‘bags of sand’.
Finally, that brings me to a last note about the story. The people who purport to be experts on subjects in the game don’t appear to be experts, presumably because the writer doesn’t have that kind of expertise. For instance, there’s a character named Azzam who is supposed to be a knowledgeable military tactician, so whenever military tactics comes up in the story, he injects himself to assert his expertise… except that his expertise is so banal and obvious that literally any character in the game could have said the same line without raising an eyebrow. To illustrate through a little hyperbole: “We’re under attack and we’re outnumbered!” “As an expert, let me chime in here. We need to use our assets to our advantage. We’ll fight them and try to not lose people.” Thanks, Azzam.
I like the QTE infusion into turn based RPG gameplay, but by the end of the game, doing the same quick times over and over again for every single move on every single trash mob began to feel tedious. One of the reasons that arts in Legend of Dragoon were so successful was that they continually updated and each character’s were unique, so every couple of hours you were given a new quicktime event to practice; by the time you had mastered it and it was about to become boring, you were given another one.
I did not care for the way characters’ skills were unlocked. When you get a level, you’re given stat points to allocate, and when you reach certain thresholds in multiple stats, you unlock new skills. The two systems fight each other — allocating stat points makes you want to customize your characters, but forcing players to invest in specific stats undermines your sense of agency over the customization process. It also forces you to dump points into seemingly useless stats, like buffing tons of INT to unlock skills on Finn and Aria who are, essentially, a knight and a ranger archetype.
The vast majority of the skills were completely useless and not very creative. Every character has a bread and butter attack skill that you use almost universally with the only exception being the rare instance that the monster is vulnerable to your basic attack but resistant to that character’s element. Damage multipliers on AoE skills are too low for them to be useful, and status inflicting skills are literally useless. Let me stress literally — there is no situation in the game in which they are useful, not a single one. Buff skills don’t last long enough for them to actually make up for wasting a turn to cast them.
Overall the skills are just not creative — each character gets an almost identical array of spells, the only differentiation being that they’re of a different element. Example: Finn gets single target fire attack, multiple target fire attack, and a strength buff; Azzam gets single target electric attack, multiple target electric attack and a vitality buff; Aria gets single target water attack, multiple target water attack, and an intelligence buff. I would have preferred something more along the lines of roles, i.e.: Azzam gets a heal spell and every buff, and a medium strength attack to act as a Paladin; Aria gets multiple damaging attacks that induce stat downs and statuses at a high rate, etc. Seiken Densetsu 3 would have been a good influence here.
One final thought on this, there is one heal spell and it is garbage. Well, technically there are two, but the other one is even less useful to the point of not even being worth mentioning. At any point in the game, the heal spell heals for less than common items bought at shops and it’s only available on one character who is almost always your highest damage dealer, so you have to trade good damage for an underwhelming heal spell. There are no revive spells, no multi-target heals, nothing you would expect from a healer in a game like this.
Some dungeons were ungodly tedious due to excessive monster encounters paired with puzzles and environmental effects. When the dungeon has a puzzle that requires a lot of walking around and backtracking, the monster encounters need to be toned down. The environmental effects in dungeons were not fun and didn’t add flavor, or at the very least, became unfun the more you had to backtrack through the dungeon for quests.
The very first dungeon is a desert zone with whirlpools that need to be avoided. You have to go through the desert many, many times. By your sixth time through this dungeon, running through the extremely narrow paths between the whirlpools is just a chore. There’s a mid-game dungeon where the environmental effect is simply that you can’t run, so you have to slowly… so slowly… walk through each room of this place. Not only that, if you want to do all the quests there, you will be going through this dungeon at least five times, if not more.
Toward the end of the game there’s an ice dungeon which may go down in history as one of the least enjoyable gaming experiences I’ve had. Narrow corridors, filled with monsters, cliffs you can fall off of, a constant mechanic where you slowly freeze and lose the ability to run, and it’s huge, with three bosses. That was a major slog, and aggressively disrespectful of my time. I want to take an entire letter grade off of my rating, specifically for this dungeon.
Last note on levels, there’s a secret boss that feels necessary to beat because it unlocks (supposedly, I didn’t notice a difference) the true ending to the game. This boss is a Legend of Legaia style OP nightmare that requires you to grind minigames for 5-10 hours in order to craft enough stat boosting potions to max out all your stats and stock up insane amounts of all the best healing items. Not cool, Legrand Legacy.
I don’t know why this bothered me so much, but it did. It bothered me tremendously. There’s putting yourself in the game as a secret Easter Egg ala the hidden developer rooms in Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy 4, and then there’s what happens in this game. The first person you encounter after being able to walk in the game is the director of the game, modeled after the director of the game, who you talk to repeatedly throughout the game, and who ends up being the necessary to defeat secret boss described above, and is actually some kind of self-styled god/philosopher in the world.
You could make yourself an OP secret boss, sure, for fun. I could imagine making a random NPC who happens to be modeled after the director, that’s nice. But all of that? It’s too much. Way too much. I kept imagining, as I encountered this character, the director commanding a 3D modeler to make a statue of his fantasy version of himself. I pictured him requesting the engineers and designers to spend way more time on his boss fight than any other (and they absolutely 100% did put more effort into that fight than any other). I pictured him writing dialog for himself that is mindblowingly self-aggrandizing. It is just some straight up next level narcissism, and it’s not a good look.
I love these types of games, and I love all the games I could clearly see that they looked to for influence. However, with that awareness, I constantly felt like they adapted the second or third best versions of systems. Wanting to put QTE in combat, they took the system from Shadow Hearts instead of Legend of Dragoon. When doing war battles, they used the watered down system from Suikoden 3 instead of the fun system from Suikoden 2. For upgrading weapons, they used the tedious scavenger hunt model from Final Fantasy 8 instead of the rune augmentation from the Suikoden series, and for classes and skills they turned to something linear like Shining Force or the early Fire Emblems, instead of something more customizable, like Seiken Densetsu 3 or the later Fire Emblems.
The second issue with the formula is that, as much as I love PS1 era RPGs, times have changed. This was a special treat that I dedicated 50 hours of my life to, but I can’t do that on a regular basis. The tediousness and disrespect for my time, also present in the PS1 era, needs to be toned down. The game is also too reliant on tropes. Although the nostalgia factor was a treat, it never felt like it broke any new ground and, as a result, reached a level on par with say, a Legend of Legaia, not a real classic like a Suikoden 2 or a Xenogears. The story and the content progression is full of tired tropes — the damsel in distress, the arena town, the mystical forest maze, etc. The characters are shallow archetypes we’ve seen thousands of times. The allegory, a classic component of a jRPG story, was a pretty basic treatise on how war and slavery are bad. As a whole, it was a satisfying amalgamation of great games, but it never felt like it had anything unique or fresh to offer.
I realize that in terms of volume, I had a lot more criticism than praise, but that’s because I’m invested. It may sound like I hated the game, but I actually liked it a lot. I love 90s era jRPGs and this game delivers that experience like few modern games do (very few… none. Not even actual jRPGs). It only takes one sentence to write, but in terms of the scales of enjoyment in my mind, that factor, seeing how much the developers loved the games I grew up on, weighed more than any of those criticisms combined.
I want to play this studio’s next game, because I feel like they could have the potential to deliver a masterpiece if they a) thought harder about progressing the genre with new ideas, b) curated their influences better, and c) hired way better writers. Way better. People who have experience writing and who have read literary classics, philosophy and world mythology, because this is what made games like Xenogears truly great.
Overall, if it was 1998, I’d give this game a C, about the same level as Legend of Legaia, but given it’s 2018 and a game like this hasn’t come out in about 20 years, I give it a B+.