What's next? A 'Puff the Magic Dragon' game?
In the evolution of the World, humans followed the dragons. And then came the Winglies. With their strength and power, Winglies came to rule over the puny humans. Eventually, the oppressed and enslaved humans rebelled, bringing about the Great War. The humans allied with the Dragons and in the end were victorious.
11,000 years later, a young man named Dart returns home from his travels only to find his village in flames. Not only were people slaughtered, buildings destroyed, and children orphaned, but his childhood friend, Shanna, has been kidnapped. Dart goes off to rescue her, opening up a larger quest where the fate of the world rests in the balance, etc.
That could make a good story, right? Sure, it's nothing new, but it has some interesting elements. Winglies? Sure, why not. And it's got an interesting commercial, eh? Guy gets his head chopped off. Big laugh.
Well, the commercial is completely in CG. And everything that's on the back of the box - about the staff of 100 people, the years in development - well, in the end it don't count for squat. The truth is that Legend of Dragoon looks nothing like the commercials. All the different elements of Dragoon are just substandard - lame characters, boring story, and unoriginal gameplay. Don't trust the commercials. Don't trust the back of a game box. Instead, trust me to tell you the way it really is.
Legend of Dragoon features the typical characters with the same clichés amplified. The tough brooding guy, the happy, romantic interest, and so on. And that's how they stay, there's very little character development. Of course, worthwhile character development requires the character to at least start out interesting. Their "dialogue" is just so cardboard, so vapid, that it's plain insulting to read. And the story is formed around this dialogue, which says something about the plot.
The combat is a traditional turn-based system with slight changes. There's a heavy emphasis on "Guarding," which provides both defense as well as minor healing. This is an interesting new concept, but it's not very well balanced. When you face weak enemies, you end up guarding repeatedly simply to heal your characters back to full health. And when you face major enemies, your defensive abilities negate whatever you just healed.
Your normal attacks can be followed through with "Attack Additionals." Press the button at the right time to further your attacks and start a combo. There's no cost/risk to using them. Unfortunately, attack additionals are a straight up rip-off of better games. In Vagrant Story, for instance, there is a 'risk' meter that makes you vulnerable to combo overuse. Even then, combos of this nature tend to sink towards rote button tapping. Legend of Dragoon falls prey to this, as the long, drawn out battles lead to boring button tapping exercises.
There are also Dragoon powers, which allow certain characters to sprout wings and use stronger attacks. You can access the Dragoon transformation after you use enough normal attacks. The whole Dragoon thing isn't implemented very well and adds little to the strategy of the game.
Generally speaking, however, Legend of Dragoon offers a good amount of typical role-playing action. Spanning 4 disks, there's a lot in here, even though it's not particularly thrilling.
The progression of the enemies lacks balance. At one moment, you might face someone with brutal, one hit kills and status attacks you haven't even learned how to defend against. Then the next major enemy is a complete pushover. And it goes on like that.
Another example: an enemy made out of fire is heavily damaged by fire weapons, but an attack that's water based does next to nothing. Geeez - even little 3 year olds hocked up on Pokemon know that WATER PUTS OUT FIRE! What kind of thought was put into this? Is there somewhere in the world where fire puts out fire? I'd sure like to see that 8th wonder. People would pay big money for some of that action. When you see oversights of this nature, it shows that little thought was put into designing the game system.
If there's one thing Dragoon does well, it's CGI. There's a ton of video in this game, and it looks really good. Of course, this is more eye candy than anything else.
There's plenty of background animation, like smoke and a flowing lake, but the characters never mesh into their world. The graphics are a composite, overlaying the characters across the background, like in Resident Evil or Final Fantasy. The characters tend to 'float' a bit on the backgrounds, but it's not that big of a deal. While nothing amazing, the overall effect is decent.
The character polygon design is a bit substandard; blocky and lumpy with simplistic animations. It seems like they made an effort to make the characters look tough, but they've ended up more super-deformed than the FF7 clan.
The sound is adequate. The music is pretty bland, but what do you expect? This is a Playstation RPG, not a concerto.
It may be the year of the Dragon, but it sure ain't the year of the Dragoon. You keep playing, waiting for something to change, things to develop, but that never happens. Despite the hype, Legend of Dragoon is a soulless creature, a subpar game held aloft by deceptive marketing. Don't trust it.