For some reason, this past week I've been overcome by a sense of longing that I suddenly decided to dust off the PS1 and play one of the most influential games of my childhood: The Legend of Dragoon. It's been more than 10 years since I played this thing. Did it age well? To answer that, I'll split the review into two parts: the first will be how as I remember it, and the second part will focus on how I felt when I played it this time (this will probably focus on nitpicks).
How I Remember It:
The game is pretty much a defining moment in my gaming life. It cemented the fact that I really, really, REALLY love RPG's. Take note that at the time, it was competing with Square's juggernaut: Final Fantasy. Knowing that, it was marketed as a big-budget cinematic experience with emphasis on development time. It differentiated itself from the pack with two things: Fully voice-acted FMV's (it was your reward after a particularly hard boss or long dungeon) and a particularly active combat system. More on those a bit later.
The game starts with an attack in your home village. It was nearly razed to the ground because the invaders needed to capture one girl (talk about overkill!). The next scene shows the main character, Dart, dodging a dragon and entering the village. Some scenes play out and you enter into your first battle. Here you are introduced to the Addition combat system.
This is the main draw of the game. There are random battles, since this is a JRPG after all and it was the year 2000, but the battles themselves require you to play an active part after selecting the command to attack. When you select the attack command, you'll see your character rush towards the target and a blue box will appear on the center of the screen. Another spinning blue box will travel towards the center which denotes the correct time to press the 'X' button. Press it too late or too soon, and you fail the addition, but still do a little damage. If done correctly, the character will yell out the name of the attack! Think of it as Squall (from FF8) requiring to press the R1 trigger when attacking to boost damage. But this becomes more complicated than that. Your early additions require merely one to two button presses, but as you progress, more and more elaborate ones (the most powerful ones require seven presses!) become unlocked and each one has a different rhythm for each character.
As you progress through the game, your characters get "Dragoon Spirits" which will allow them to channel the power of subjugated dragons and transform into a more powerful version of themselves (It grants % bonuses to various stats). When you transform into a Dragoon, you will be limited to two commands: Attack and Magic. When you attack, instead of the traditional additions, the interface will be replaced by a circular meter (resembling a dragon's eye). You build up charges which corresponds to the number of attacks. This is also the only way to cast magic in this game, and each one has a great sequence to show for it. And, once powerful enough, you can even summon the dragons!
The graphics were a bit hit-or-miss, but over all the aesthetics of the game were great, particularly in the dragon designs and the dragoon armors. And while the FMV's were few and far between, what you do get are worth the effort. It was also the first game I know that put a focus on defending in combat. Defending not only restores 10% of your character's HP, it also halves all incoming damage. With such a limited inventory (you can only store 32 items and 255 equipment) and paltry Gold output for each battle, this will be you main form of healing in the early goings.
Over all it was a good game. It was a great RPG, with an emphasis on "Game" because of the battle system. That alone is worth looking into.
How It Was When I Played It Last Week
Ridiculously padded. Scratch that last bit about it having an emphasis on "game". You will experience a whole lot of waiting. When you transform, you will get to see the same animations over and over and over again. Magic attacks are overly designed and overly long. The animations play again and again each time you use it. Thank God that people caught on and when FFIX came, the summon magics only played out the full sequence the first time, and occasionally after that,
You also can't swap out Dart from your combat party. This meant that while Dart becomes obscenely powerful, it also means that if you want to train other characters, you have to do it two at a time. If only you can swap him out, making sure the other characters are on par with the rest of the game would be less time-consuming.
The voice acting in the FMV's seem stilted, with some segments coming of as ridiculously Narm-y. Back then I was enthralled just because the sequences were voice-acted, unlike in Final Fantasy.
The town and talking heads segments are a little irritating because the text speed is SLOOOOOW. And speaking of the text, the translation job, especially in the first disc, is bad (understatement). And the graphics nearly made my eyes bleed and had me question "Did I really get psyched to play this way back then?"
But you know what? I still managed to clock in 45 hours on this one. The Addition combat system is just that addictive!
So try it and play it!
If you want to play it, I suggest doing it on a *wink, wink* because with that, you can skip frames at will, which is essentially a fast-forward button that will let you skip the chaff.
I took a trip down nostalgia lane about a year back, and decided to look up the main theme you hear at the title screen. Apparently there is a longer version, I'll link it here. Was a very good game for it's time.