As the PSP's software library rounds into form with a smattering of titles from every genre, there's still a gaping hole that has yet to be filled – there are no real RPG's. Sure, Untold Legends might have been enough to tide over some people, but people longing for a long, story-driven, old-school RPG have been left out in the cold. Finally on November 15th, relief is on the horizon in the form of Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion, a traditional RPG published by Bandai, which promises 50 hours of gameplay. After spending some time with the game, it looks it will fit the bill quite nicely for RPG-starved PSP owners.
Legend of Heroes is actually the second game in the Japanese series Gagharv Trilogy, which is developed by Nihon Falcom, best known for the Ys series. The first game apparently showed some promise, but had some technical issues, so we're getting the second game first. Even though it's part of a trilogy, A Tear of Vermillion's story stands completely on its own. The game tells the tale of a young man named Avin, who lost both his parents at a young age. He and his sister Eimelle were later separated when in the panic following an attempted kidnapping; the two were forced to flea in separate directions. Avin is raised in a good home by a kind sage, but never forgets his sister. After the sage passes away, Avin, along with his friend Mile and pet (in my case, a rabbit) set off to find out Eimelle.
Avin and Mile are young (17 and 18 years old), so Mile's parents aren't too keen on the two leaving the village to head off to the capital, especially since there's a monster terrorizing the countryside. To prove they can handle themselves, the two get the man guarding the town's exit to leave his post by enticing him with french fries, and set off to slay the beast. After they return with the creature's claw as proof of their kill, the duo receive the town's blessing to visit the capital and hopefully reunite Avin with his sister.
Battles are started when you walk up to a monster whose roaming around. A visual indicator gives you an idea of how strong your foe is, so you know what you're getting into. Combat is turn-based, but there's also some movement factored in as well. Avin begins with a sword, so his range isn't terribly far, but Mile uses a boomerang, which allows him to attack from a distance. Should you try and attack something that's out of your range, you'll simply wander closer, do nothing, and leave yourself vulnerable to an attack. As you win battles, you'll fill a meter that when full allows you to unleash a "deadly" attack – which is in fact, deadly. Spells also play a large role in combat; you'll have to master black magic (attacks) as well as white magic (healing).
You'll need to take care of your pet on your journey, but don't worry, it's not as tedious as you might think. You just need to occasionally feed and praise it to keep it happy. Your pet will reward your care by actually helping out in battle occasionally (it raised my defense a couple of times) and even pointing out hidden items. Of course traditional RPG elements like leveling up, purchasing supplies at stores, and reading lots and lots of text are present as well.
Thankfully, the developers have seen fit to allow you to save at any time, which despite what some companies seem to think, is a must for a handheld game.
Legend of Heroes has an old school visual style mixed with a little modern flair. The old school feel comes from the action being viewed from an almost isometric perspective, and the characters being colorful 2D sprites. The backgrounds, however, are fully polygonal, and the game does make use of the PSP's power with little touches like some nice looking moving water, cool weapon effects and liberal use of lens flair. There are over 100 original characters in the game, each one with a unique look that fits the game's overall theme nicely.
Like the visuals, Heroes' audio is reminiscent of classic RPG's, which means there's no voice acting. This may disappoint gamers whose first RPG experience was Final Fantasy VII, but the story appears to be engaging enough that it will keep your attention without dialog. The music is pretty standard RPG fare, but a couple of themes were pretty catchy.
Legend of Heroes isn't going to be a big system seller, but it's going to make a lot of RPG-craving PSP owners happy. Since it's easy to pick up and play, and you can save anywhere, it's enjoyable in short spurts; but its deep story and huge world also make it suitable for extended gaming sessions as well. We'll have a full review of the game when it comes out next week.