Few video game genres are as well-traveled as the dungeon crawler. We’ve seen variations from the corest-of-core action RPGs like Diablo III all the way to the platformer-roguelike Spelunky. Legasista, the latest release from ClaDun developers System Prisma, takes the traditional dungeon crawler, adds in a convoluted health and durability system and drops the whole thing into a massive pit titled “random dungeon time sink.” This dungeon crawler is an action RPG, with characters progressing in stats and gaining access to more abilities by moving through, you guessed it, dungeons. All of the equipment and character modification goes on in the hub world, while the dungeons are accessed via a menu system. Movement in the dungeon is free, but all attacks are limited to four-way movement.
Legasista‘s story is a mix of plot devices and tropes that follow the adventures of Alto in his journey to restore his crystallized sister back to human form. To do this, he has to find an ancient and powerful weapon in the old ruins of the “Railyard.” The Railyard is actually a research facility where a mysterious character named Ms. Dungeon resides, though her purpose is, at first, unclear. She spends her time genetically modifying bean sprouts to have faces and posses speech capabilities, while somehow remaining edible. The fallout from this genetic modification combined with the research performed in the facility creates monsters. Alto feels he must fight through the monsters to find the weapon and restore his sister’s humanity, despite warnings that the weapon may destroy the whole world.
This story is absurd and rife with weak devices and convenient occurrences; in fact, in multiple instances characters will say something that makes no sense, then immediately justify it instead of properly informing the player beforehand. Fortunately, while the writing suffers from these explanations, they do let the player actually know what is happening from beginning to end, which isn’t always obvious in JRPGs. That said, all of the “cutscenes” consist merely of character stills (slightly animated) and dialogue boxes narrated in Japanese. This sort of story delivery really hurts the game’s immersion factor. You can skip through the game’s narrative and you won’t be missing much, but the writing does have a good bit of charm and humor to it, especially if you watch Japanese anime or play other Japanese RPGs.
In Legasista, you’ll choose between six different jobs for your characters, and from a myriad of different “energy frames” for those jobs to round out your team. Of the six jobs available, half of them have to do with magic (both offensive and supportive) and the other half have to do with adventuring. While warriors do and take all manner of damage, thieves manipulate traps and doors and raise drop rates; explorers are a hybrid of the two. For a game with such a strange story I’m surprised that the job classes are so garden-variety. It doesn’t detract from the game, but it doesn’t help it stand out in a sea of dungeon crawlers.
While Legasista starts as a solo affair, the available cast eventually grows to six, and up to three characters can descend into a dungeon at once. You can also create your own adventurers if you so choose, though I found the story characters to be adequate. The active character can use support-ready magic from other characters without them being out on the field; ergo a warrior’s supporting members can heal him or boost his attack without having to switch. The active/support mechanic really holds the game together and keeps dungeon progress from stagnating.
Dungeon crawlers aren’t complete without traps and monsters, both of which Legasista gets right. While the traps come in the general poison, elemental, explosive, and healing categories, there are two “types” of trap, providing a bit of depth to an otherwise basic mechanic. One type of trap is simply activated–if you step on a fire arrow trap, a flaming projectile flies at you from the opposite wall. The other type fires a ball (or an egg, really) and can be destroyed prematurely to more effectively use the trap to target enemies. Using the map to cleverly out-think the enemies is thoroughly rewarding.
The monsters also require more patience and wit as the game progresses. Their numbers scale up, of course, though more importantly, dealing with different monsters’ attack styles becomes challenging, but remains simple. One enemy launches out two spinning blades for a prolonged period of time, but he retracts and re-extends his weapons with very little delay. You have to bait the attack and be quick with your riposte. Another enemy creates phantom images of himself as he takes damage and attacks you from behind or the flanks. They’re simple, but combined with perilous trap placement and oversized boss-monsters, the combat turns into a fun kind of chaos.
Legasista has health and durability factors like many games of its kind, but durability doesn’t behave traditionally. In this world, upon returning to the safety of the Railyard, all broken things are fixed, and all wounds are healed. Instead of lasting damage, both durability and health are represented by bars only while in the dungeon. These bars make up the character’s “energy frame,” a combination of their health and all the equipment they are wearing. A damage marker starts at the far right, so any time you take damage the damage-line moves down and affects which ever bar it marks. Usually an energy frame will have a lead HP bar after which all subsequent bars represent equipment durability. It’s fine if your health goes down, and it’s fine if your stuff breaks (though you no longer get the benefits of those items), but if it all breaks you die.
The system works for the most part, but any time an enemy bypasses the lead bar of a frame or hits multiple times so the damage-line rockets to the middle of the screen, your whole plan may fall apart. Normally the line moves pretty systematically and healing can prevent excessive damage, but when the health bar dives and breaks some weak item you have halfway down the line, it could be game over almost instantly. Taking a lot of damage is one thing, but losing armor unexpectedly is supremely infuriating–especially since the “repair” spell has such a low chance of working that it’s useless until quite late in the game. I started to take specific note of enemies who could destroy my equipment quickly and would run past them if possible. Or just yell things at them. Angry things.
Meanwhile, in the peaceful part of the game, the equipment aspect of the energy frame is a very deep and heavily acronym’d system that takes a lot of experimentation to fully understand. Fortunately there are so many frames per job that you have tons of room to get exactly the team you want. That said, since there’s no store, you have to dungeon-dive for all your items; a time-consuming endeavor. Each frame has different slots for various types of equipment, and sometimes you’ll go from just one “add HP” slot to three and won’t have enough “add HP” items. When you do have tons of items, though, comparing them can a bit confusing. There’s hardly a comparison engine to speak of, and the most relevant data is poorly portrayed to the player, making one of the more fun parts of dungeon crawling (the loot) frustrating. The mechanics get even deeper with individual item customization and though they work–in fact they work quite well–players may find themselves overwhelmed at first encounter, reaching for a manual to their downloadable game.
The “Ruin dungeons” in Legasista make up for the game’s story and don’t take too long to complete. If you don’t have much good gear, it can become more difficult, but the main campaign is more of a variety platter of what the game’s random dungeons, or ran-geons, will offer. They lack the meticulous level design and scripting of the main story, but the pure item-finding fun, the continued leveling opportunities, and the chance to fight challenging bosses is thoroughly worth it.
Legasista suffers from its budget, but not in its presentation. There are cheery, vivid colors throughout the game with strange looking monsters, ostentatious (and very Japanese) character designs and the music is really exciting. However, the story taking place in a time-out zone after completing a set of levels, and, being told almost entirely through conversations, will really turn off those who play games for story or theme. Furthermore, the complex and poorly explained energy frame mechanic provides an unnecessary barrier to enjoying this game.
Ignoring the story and figuring out how to properly implement all of Legasista‘s mechanics, will lead to a thoroughly enjoyable dungeon-crawler experience. Taking your team into the dungeons to see if your combination of energy frames works is not only fun, but it definitely helps to decipher this convoluted game. Playing through the story should net you the amount of experience requisite to get a grasp on the game, then taking on the ran-geons with all the loot from the campaign will suck hours and hours out of your life. Players will look back on their initial experience with a bit of a grimace, but the rest of the journey is all fun. Give it time and Legasista transforms from a time sink into a time jacuzzi.
Legasista was developed and published by Nippon Ichi Software. A PlayStation 3 copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.