“When the clash of swords echo, the journey chasing the past ends and the journey to know today begins.”
There is this really special feeling that I get when beginning a new PSX JRPG that I know personally, but putting it into words can prove to be troubling. Maybe it’s those gorgeous and blood pumping FMV sequences that tend to occur before the title screen, reflecting epic scenes that throughout the gaming journey you’ll encounter with full context, or the mysterious dialogue that reveals itself to the player, hinting at the overarching theme of the story you’re about to witness. Whatever that feeling is, The Legend of Dragoon captured me almost immediately during that initial bootup. As far as first impressions go, I was exhilarated and ready to dive into this journey that I was sure to enjoy.
LoD was Sony Interactive Entertainment’s answer to a Final Fantasy-esque title, one that attempts to capture that same sense of wonder and magic that Squaresoft’s hit series was praised so much for. I personally felt it succeeded in this, however much of my intrigue in LoD comes from how polarizing the game is among players who often feel like the combat system is too slow or challenging, or that the game either lacks substance or is even a Final Fantasy VII knock off. While certain scenarios throughout the game ring some major FFVII bells, the plot as a whole felt unique in its own right, and the characters especially I found to be much better rounded than most of the casts throughout the Final Fantasy series.
I want to begin first and foremost with the aspect of The Legend of Dragoon that clicked with me within minutes of playing the game, and that is the soundtrack. Composed between two groups of musicians primarily based in New York and Tokyo, the style and tone for the music featured in LoD is quite unlike any game I’ve ever played. It brilliantly captures the otherworldly vibe that I hunger for when playing high fantasy games such as these. Titles like Chrono Cross with its tropical, almost dreamlike aesthetic and Vagrant Story’s dark, atmospheric nature are captured phenomenally through their iconic scores, and dare I say The Legend of Dragoon competes on that same tier. Despite having a noticeably smaller tracklist than the PlayStation’s bigname JRPGs, LoD presents a wide range of foreign/ethnic inspired pieces that hit right in every aspect, from the exciting and groovy battle themes, melodic and soothing town themes, and ominously devoid atmospheric tracks.
Let’s talk about the characters. I seriously liked them all, even Kongol who is that one obligatory party member who has his brief moment in the spotlight and for the remainder of the game is cast aside until some endgame dialogue. Dart is the blonde, spiky haired, sword wielding protagonist who is thrown into an epic journey of revenge and self discovery after his home town is burned down… sounds kind of familiar. Along the way we meet the mysterious and brood Rose, the total bro and epic knight Lavitz, and Dart’s sisterly but also excessively implied love interest, Shana (it’s very forced and overall kind of weird but it gets better after the first disc). There are a few more main party members that join in along the journey who all struggle with past and personal demons that are resolved throughout the course of the game and it’s all done very well I’d say. The balance of character development is better here in LoD than most games of that time period.
The plot for LoD is super good, and it’s backed up with a massive amount of ingame lore. The story starts with Dart’s hometown being destroyed by the evil Serdian emperor Doel’s army, and his childhood friend Shana is taken prisoner. Dart, being the nobel lad he is, rushes head first into the prison fortress of Hellena to rescue her, and during the rescue joins forces with Lavitz, head of the knighthood of Bale. Upon her rescue, Dart finds himself wrapped up into the Serdio War that ravages across the country, and it’s through these events that he awakens the dormant power of the Dragoon. What starts off very focused on a single main objective soon branches off to reveal many mysteries about the world of Endiness and the intentions of the game’s antagonists. Without giving away too much, the story for LoD is up there with the likes of FFVII (afterall it served as the biggest piece of inspiration) and is filled with jaw dropping reveals, bittersweet discoveries, and a rollercoaster of twists and turns.
The combat system in The Legend of Dragoon is awesome, I personally find it to be one of the most fun and addictive battle systems of any turn based game I’ve played. The highlight here is the use of the game’s addition system, which are increasingly complex combos utilizing quick-time events that occur during a character’s attack animation. Nailing the proper button presses during an addition can lead to devastating damage, and each addition can be leveled up to increase damage output. The most similar thing to it is the deathblow mechanic from Xenogears and how more combos can be unlocked through repetition and leveling up, but it has that extra layer of interactivity with the timed button presses. Longer additions can be interrupted by an enemy counterattack, so you have to press a different button in order to continue the addition.
Then we have the Dragoon transformation, an ability that can also be leveled up to increase the amount of magic spells and turns that can be used while in this form. Fully maxed out late game additions have higher damage output and are generally a safer option as opposed to transforming into a Dragoon due to the fact that you cannot use items while in Dragoon form, but damn the battle animations are truly incredible. For the people who don’t like the lengthy summon and attack animations from the Final Fantasy games on PS1, LoD answers this with a menu option to shorten the duration of these sorts of occurrences. I personally loved them so I kept this option off, and that’s another thing I wanted to mention again, the battle animations and additions in this game are fluid as fuck, satisfying, and generally impressive.
As much as I could go further in depth into my review for LoD, I think I’ll save further thoughts for a replay review when the time comes. It hasn’t even been two weeks since I finished the game and my mind is constantly wandering off to the spectacular time I had playing through it. My expectations were met, if not exceeded by pretty much every single aspect LoD had to offer. While I don’t think this title would click with most people the way it did with me, I am truly glad that I had such a sensational time with it. More than ever, The Legend of Dragoon deserves as much recognition as it can get, and I implore any reader of this who has a sliver of interest to do themselves a favor and play this underrated gem.
“Farewell…. People who confront the fate of Soa….”