PSP owners who are fans of old-school RPG's have been left out in the cold thus far, but that has finally changed. Published by Bandai, Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion, is a traditional RPG in every sense of the words. This means both good and things. The good: it'll take about 40 hours to beat, the character design is great, and RPG veterans will feel right at home with the gameplay. The bad: the dialog localization is poor, there's a fair amount of backtracking, and the game does nothing new. The good does outweigh the bad, however, and as long you don't buy the game expecting too much, you'll be pleased.
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.
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 by raising your defensive abilities or hurting the opposition. It will even pointing out hidden items as you travel, saving you your hard-earned money by finding basic supplies.
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. After roaming around town, the duo try to continue their journey, but this time, the road is closed due to a dangers gang wreaking havoc. Since "adventurers" are allowed to pass, the duo set about becoming certified adventurers. You'll them team with a seasoned adventurer and minor spoiler… a no-nonsense girl that is actually a princess. This gives you a general sense of the game's story, which is pretty derivative stuff, but still entertaining. The story is divided into three chapters (it picks up in the 3rd), though you'll have seen most of the world before you get through the second chapter, so there's lots of backtracking – one of the game's bigger flaws.
Battles begin 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. The weaker enemies will go out of their way to avoid you, while the stronger ones will try and chase you down. 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 a strong attack capable of doing a lot of damage, not unlike summoning spells in other RPG's (though you don't actually summon anything here). The concept behind the deadly attack is nice, but you can exploit this system by not using your attacks until you come across a battle when you'll need it. This can make some of the boss fights too easy, as you're essentially going into them with "extra ammo" so to speak. Spells also play a large role in combat; you'll have to master black magic (attacks) as well as white magic (healing), but again, there's nothing new here.
The leveling up system is very simple – you get points after every battle, and like most every other RPG, your attributes are raised slightly after each level. The game's difficulty is nicely balanced, so you don't often have to sit around fighting enemies over and over to raise your levels because you can't beat a certain part. Unless you just run from every enemy you see, you should progress through the game just fine.
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. Some of the journeys are rather long, and not being able to save at any time would have made the game much less enjoyable. You simply pause the game, save it, and you can start right back where you left off.
I never thought I'd have to bring this up when reviewing an RPG, but Legend of Heroes actually has some pretty lousy controls. You can control character movement with the d-pad or the analog stick, but neither of them work particularly well. Instead of your character moving one space per input, they move like 1.5 spaces, which makes it tough to enter doors, talk to people, and search for items – basically interact with anything. After awhile you eventually get used to it, but you'll still have frustrating moments where you have to move your guy three times to get him in the right position to speak to someone.
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 weather effects and liberal use of lens flair. Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot of variety to the graphics. Each screen of the overworld looks just like the one before it, and towns, with their cookie-cutter buildings can be a nightmare to navigate. Fortunately the character design fares better. There are over 100 original characters in the game, each one with a unique look that fits the overall theme nicely. The special effects for spells could have used some work as they're pretty uninteresting. It also takes a few seconds for them to load off the disc, which is odd since they're not much more than what you'd find in a 16-bit era RPG.
Like the visuals, Heroes' audio is reminiscent of classic RPG's, which means there's no voice acting, but there's lots and lots of text to read. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for two problems. First off, the translation is simply awful. There are tons of grammatical errors and things that just don't make a whole lot of sense. There are some witty bits of dialog here and there, so it's obvious that a competent translation could have been done, but it simply wasn't. The second issue is that there's just too much reading to do; books in the library, endless banter between characters – it's going to be quite a shock to anyone whose first RPG experience was Final Fantasy VII or later.
The music is pretty standard RPG fare, but a couple of themes are pretty catchy. It's probably a little much to ask for a fully orchestrated score, but the synthesized soundtrack isn't too bad. Sound effects are standard RPG fare and don't stand out in any way.
Legend of Heroes is just good enough to make RPG-craving PSP owners happy. It's an average RPG that stands out because it's the only one available for the system. None of its flaws are great enough that you'll fail to enjoy the game, but given that the developers took so few risks when developing the game, it would have been nice for the game to have been polished to perfection. As long as you don't expect great things – you'll enjoy Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion.