Legasista is designed for those who like to go searching for loot. It has enough interesting gameplay mechanics to keep players entertained for a while, but item management could be a lot easier and some of the concepts arenít explained as well as they should be. Also, those searching for a great story should look elsewhere. A brief text introduction greets players and describes how the population of Legasista has abandoned science, fearing it like ancient spells and curses. A young adventurer named Alto heads to the Ivy Tower, a place where science is rumored to exist. While there, he hopes to discover a way to break the curse placed on his sister.
The gameís strange title is probably an abbreviation for ďLegacy of Sisters.Ē Not only is there the bond between Alto and his sister Mari, but Alto also awakens an ancient weapon named Melize. Moments before annihilating him, Melize malfunctions and her memory wipes itself. Hoping she may be the key to breaking Mariís curse, he actually works with Melize to begin restoring her power. She quickly realizes she also has a sister, Karina, so the pair set out to restore their relationships with their siblings.
Unfortunately, the somewhat interesting concept stalls and never really develops. Instead, it falls victim to a series of tropes. The adventurers meet a cast of zany characters who join with little cause for doing so. Rather than exploring their motivations and their histories, most of the dialog comes from female characters pining over Alto. Even an anthropomorphic bean sprout seems convinced she can marry Alto. All the dialog is fully voiced, but with a very large caveat: itís all in Japanese. Thereís no option for English voices, so the majority of Western players will have a decent amount of reading to do.
Legasista is a dungeon crawler and can be viewed as a spiritual successor to another NIS series, Cladun. In fact, many of the monsters, dungeon designs and game mechanics ó like traps on the floor ó come straight from Cladun. In Legasista, players can proceed through the Ivy Tower for the main ďstoryĒ mode. Including the tutorial levels, there are 14 sets of ruins in the Ivy Tower with a median of four dungeons per ruin. Most dungeons are only a single floor and only take a matter of minutes to complete. This type of design feels more suited to a portable series like Cladun, especially when the player is booted to the hub world after each dungeon (at least load times are quick).
For whatever reason, characters feel the need to have extensive conversations about their feelings after every two or three dungeons. Players have to play for a few minutes, then read for a few minutes, then play for a few minutes, then read for a few minutes, and so forth. There is a clear separation between the gameplay and the narrative. Some may appreciate this more classic approach to storytelling, but it feels very antiquated and the narrative sections of the game are undoubtedly its low points.
The gameplay sections of Legasista are much better, elevated by a unique character building system. Cladun veterans can breathe easy as the confusing magic circle has been replaced by a similar but far superior energy frame system. To start, characters are assigned one of six jobs: explorer, war mage, warrior, cryo, pyro, or thief. Characters can switch to another job once they reach level 20, but then they have to reach 20 again with the new job to switch again. The benefit of changing jobs is that each one has certain abilities unlocked by using job points. While half of each jobís abilities are exclusive to that job, the other half will remain in effect regardless of which job that character has. To a degree, jobs also determine the types and amount of equipment characters can use. They do this through an innovative system called ďenergy frames.Ē
Jobs only have one energy frame available at first, but more are unlocked as a character levels his or her job. There are at least six energy frames per job. Energy frames are directly responsible for determining how many HP bars a character has and how many and what kinds of equipment a character can equip. All frames grant access to one or two weapon types and armor. They also allow for equipment that may boost other stats like speed, luck, attack, defense, HP and MP. Mage energy frames can equip items to gain access to spells and thief and some explorer frames can use equipment to gain thief abilities.
Every equipment slot in an energy frame has a mana allowance, and every piece of equipment has a mana cost to equip. Some frames may favor less equipment but grant additional mana, while others may have low mana allowances but allow for flexibility through more equipment slots. Even within each job, however, the frames can differ greatly. Warriors have a frame called Bumble Bee with a focus on speed and knife fighting, yet they also have a frame called Unsinkable that feels more like a tank class.
The frame system even rewrites the rules for damage. During dungeon exploration, the energy frame is always visible at the top of the screen. The durability of each piece of equipment is represented by a tan bar, and any HP slots are filled with green bars. A damage marker starts at the far right of the bar. Whichever slot the marker touches, whether HP or equipment, is the one that will take damage when the character is attacked. HP is vital in the sense that if a character has no HP remaining, he or she will perish. On one hand, itís safer to have equipment take damage as itís not an immediate threat to a character. However, once a piece of equipment breaks, its effects no longer apply to that character, so the character can grow significantly weaker over time, or even lose access to his or her weapon and/or spells. Also, so much more difficult to repair equipment than it is to restore HP. Characters can step on HP traps or use healing items to restore their HP, but methods to restore durability are few and far between.
Complicating this item management further is the rate the damage marker moves. Some enemiesí attacks seem to push it to the left faster than othersí, meaning the way equipment is damage may not be sequential. Placing a strong, durable item in the lead frame wonít always prevent the later equipment from destruction. At least Legasista allows players to take multiple characters with them. Cladun limited players to exploring with one character at a time and relegate others to cheering the lead from town. In Legasista, players can take up to three characters along and switch at any time. Healing traps will work for anyone in the party (not just the active character), so itís helpful to switch whenever someoneís injured. Support characters can even cast certain spells and abilities from the sidelines to help the active one. Item and spell use can be tedious and detract from the experience. R2 cycles through consumable items, and L2 cycles through spells and abilities. R1 uses the current item and L1 uses the selected ability.
Since a party can carry roughly 10 consumable items and items can only be cycled in one way, it can be tedious to switch to the desired item. Even worse, this has to be done in real time and any time players receive a new item, that item becomes the selected consumable. Itís similar for spells, except the triangle button will also cycle through the characters to select their abilities. Itís every bit as tedious as it sounds.
Generally, itís better to withdraw from battle to manage and select the correct abilities and items. Changing the active character, however, will switch the selected ability list to the new active characterís, even if he or she has no abilities to use. Whatís more, switching characters is done by moving the right analog stick up and down. This feels unintuitive and awkward.
While the controls are generally sound, a major flaw is that defending and running are performed with the same button. Blocking can only be performed when the character has a shield equipped. Itís useful because it improves his or her defense and instantly moves the damage marker to the shield frame. Since itís performed with the same button as running, though, characters cannot run while using a shield. Also, like any other piece of equipment, shields can break. If this happens while holding circle, the character will switch to running which actually halves his or her defense. Itís easy to go from a nice defense boost to being super vulnerable in no time at all. Without paying attention, this can mean lots of broken equipment or even a deceased party member.
There is an element system in Legasista, but it feels very underdeveloped and itís never clearly explained. Spells are either based in fire, ice, or lightning. Characters and enemies can sometimes have resistances to certain elements, but the game never tells players about type effectiveness. For the most part, itís never really an issue and it makes sense to just attack with whatever does the most damage.
The fairly short Ivy Tower levels make the system even easier to ignore. It only takes about 20 hours to complete the main story, which seems long considering the droll story, but seems somewhat short for an action RPG based around loot ó especially considering the gameís price of $29.99. However, those who are truly into dungeon crawling could stay content for hundreds of hours.
In Legasista, the meat of the experience comes from ďran-geonsĒ: randomly generated dungeons. Theyíre broken into four tiers of increasing difficulty starting with 30-floor ďbabyĒ dungeons and increasing to 100-floor monstrosities with tougher starting enemies and more expansive floors. Theyíre good sources of both experience and loot. Thereís a risk/reward system in place in the sense that a deceased party will drop all of the loot it picked up and receive only a fraction of the experience it actually earned. For descending through floors, the gate system from the Cladun games returns. Each floor will have at least two gates that have various effects when a character enters them. They usually raise the monstersí levels and raise or lower loot drop rates. They can also perform a number of other functions like restoring HP or MP, granting experience, warping the party ahead a few floors, or adding special rules to the dungeon. There are also gates to return the party to the hub world and lock in those loot pickups. The exit gates wonít appear on every level, though, so sometimes it can be tough to decide whether or not to press on and try for some better loot.
Itís impossible to view item stats from within dungeons unless using a specific thief skill, so thereís really no immediate satisfaction upon picking something up. Itís hard to gauge how powerful an item is upon finding one because the loot naming system doesnít follow the traditional prefix-suffix system found in most loot-centered series like Diablo and Borderlands. Furthermore, harder ran-geons start dropping unidentified equipment which require yet another thief skill before even equipping them. Of course, all equipment is usable once it makes it safely back to the hub, but itís a pain to sort through. Thereís no easy way to view and compare item stats at a glance, so I often just chose to auto-equip the strongest gear.
The ran-geons, like the Ivy Tower dungeons, look sharp and have vivid colors, granting the look of a console game instead of a PSP title like Cladun. Even so, ran-geon tile patterns and enemies progress in a set order, so thereís always the summer-like jungle levels, followed by the swampy area, followed by the mushroom forest, followed by the mines, etc. For something thatís supposed to be random, the pattern becomes predictable after just a few ran-geons. Even within the different aesthetics and varied layouts, you can expect a thin corridor level filled with squids in the swampy area and a level with large, spiraling corridors and charging wild boars in the mushroom forest set of levels.
Regardless, the game can still be very fun, especially when playing around with different energy frame and equipment combinations. Even though the loot lacks character, and it can be a pain to manage all of it, loot is still loot and Legasista is fairly compelling in its delivery of it. Serious dungeon crawler fans should be able to get into Legasista fairly easily, though the moderate price may be too high for casual dungeoneers, especially those more interested in a story than grinding for gear.