The end of 2010 saw a sharp rise in the number of good RPGs for the iOS. One of those releases, Eternal Legacy, jumped out as a game that bore striking similarities to the games in the Final Fantasy series. This should come as no surprise to anyone who follows Gameloft's releases. The French developer pumps out hordes of games, many of which are portable-ized versions of popular console titles. With only the barest patina of difference, Gameloft has pumped out play-alikes for such games as Uncharted, Halo, and God of War. And now they're tackling Final Fantasy. But instead of being a direct rip-off of the newest offering, Eternal Legacy takes bits and pieces of the last five or six Final Fantasy games and mashes them together into a stew of JRPG-influenced goodness. But is the end result worth it?
Before getting into the specifics of the game, there's one thing that I want to point out. Eternal Legacy comes in two versions: one for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and another that plays just on the iPad. The differences in the two versions are negligible; the iPad version simply is optimized for the larger iPad screen. I've played both versions, but for the purposes of this review, I'll be discussing the iPad version, because iPads are awesome.
Okay, on to the basics. Eternal Legacy begins the way many RPGs do, leaving the player in control of a mildly androgynous-appearing male protagonist who is about to do something stupid. Said protagonist, named Astrian, has infiltrated the city of Algoad under the pretense of battling in an arena, but he is actually part of a rebellion against the oppressive policies of the Algoadian ruling elite. I know. A rebellion. Shocking. As it always does, something goes wrong, and Astrian and his partner Taric are left to flee the scene. During their escape, the two rebels run across Lysty, a young woman being attacked by monsters on the sky-highway-thing for no discernible reason. Whoa. The narrative's getting away from me a little here. At any rate, the heroes rescue Lysty, and continue their escape with their new companion. From here, the characters are thrown into a hastily-built whirlwind of a plot, one that eventually causes the fate of the world to be placed in their unfailingly-capable hands.
I won't delve too much further into the plot, because I don't want to spoil it for anyone who plays it, but I do have one thing to say about it. Eternal Legacy's story is a lazy, convoluted mess. And aside from not making a whole heap of sense, the cutscenes in the game are poorly-written, and seem to have giant gaps in them. At one moment, your characters will be in one place. Then the cutscene will end, and the characters will be in another. Many of the plot beats are pulled straight from previous Final Fantasy games. If you're a veteran of the genre, you'll spot them, and it won't be difficult. Instead of crafting a story and setting first, it appears that the developers just took a few settings, plot set pieces, and lines of dialogue, and stuck them next to each other.
So how about the characters? They could be the saving grace of the game, allowing the player to feel connected to the story, regardless of bizarre plot twists and general disjointedness.
The characters are as bad, if not worse, than the story. Personality is not an option here. Characters are flat, boring, and (if I have to pick a single word to describe them) stupid. They're not just stupid as in "I, your reviewer, hate them," they're also stupid in that they have low-IQs and are bad at life. Astrian literally has no personality. Other characters can be described in one word or less. While they at least have fairly interesting visual designs, any time they decide to say or do anything, feel free to roll your eyes. I did. There's no character growth or development to speak of, and the motivations of the characters don't seem to be grounded in anything. Ever. Oh, and there is one point, late in the game, where one character declares his love for another... one that he's barely spoken to all game. It was one of the few moments in recent history that I laughed out loud, for real, during a game when I was absolutely not supposed to laugh at it. Looking carefully, you can probably pick out which Square-Enix characters the characters the developers drew from in building the party. There's a touch of Cloud and Sephiroth here, a bit of Rikku and Yuna there... you get the picture. In all, the plot, story, and characters are a disappointment.
Is there any reason to play the game at all then? Sure. The gameplay really is not bad. The world is 3-D and filled with monsters for you to stab, punch, or hit with balls of magic. Like many traditional RPGs in this generation, the party encounters roving enemies, and upon touching them, battle begins. Combat is traditional and turn-based, with the added touch of an active-time-battle-like system where you wait for a character's gauge to fill, and then they perform an action. In Eternal Legacy, you have the option of choosing each of your three party members' actions, or you can set a role for all but one of them, such as Healer, Berserker, and the like. This role system is very similar to Final Fantasy XIII's Paradigm system, for those familiar with it. In my opinion, controlling all of the party members' actions directly is a bit of a chore, and due to a unique action queuing system, it is not worth doing. The roles, while defined, never seemed to be too terribly different. I'm not sure that the AI was robust enough to really make choosing roles very worthwhile. While the computer-controlled allies occasionally made stupid choices, they worked well enough that I wasn't tearing my hair out in frustration.
So with two allies controlled by the computer, that leaves the player with one character to control directly. As I mentioned briefly before, there's an action queue, where the player can select up to three actions to happen in sequence, on the character's next three turns. But I have one small piece of advice: do not ever use this queue. Seriously, though. You can't cancel actions out of the queue, meaning that if you queue up attacks three turns ahead of time, then need to heal or do something different, tough cookies! This is a great way to watch your character flail at an enemy while your allies die around you. Your best bet is to queue up just one command at a time, then wait and input commands on the fly. Trust me, you'll thank me later.
Is the game difficult? Hardly. There are one or two irritants that can cause you to die (such as poison and paralyze statuses), but there is nothing that a little good old-fashioned grinding can't solve. But while the battles aren't terribly difficult, they can be long, especially by the last third of the game. An unfortunate occurrence in this game is a damage cap, which is set at 9999 damage points. Despite what you might think from such a large number, this cap is hit relatively quickly. The tougher monsters and bosses in the game have ridiculous amounts of hit points, so wearing them down may, in fact, wear the player down as well. As the game goes on, the most useful skills are the ones that hit multiple times, as even the most powerful single-hit skills become obsolete fairly early on in the game.
The character customization system in Eternal Legacy centers on "Fragments." What exactly they are fragments of, is never explained, but hey, who cares anyways? At this point, I'd rather not have an explanation. Anyhow, Fragments operate much like the materia of Final Fantasy VII – stick them in a slot on weapons or armor, and the character either gets a boost to a skill, an extra ability, or a new magic spell. While the system is simple, if a fragment is un-equipped, that's it. The characters never internalize fragment abilities. There are a few internal abilities for each character, and some of them mimic the abilities of Fragments, but these skills are not terribly numerous. Oh, and there's one other thing – if you lose a character in your party (either during a party split, or if someone leaves the party permanently), say goodbye to their Fragments and other equipment. If they come back later, great, they come back with equipment and Fragments intact. But, if they leave the party forever, and you have been dumb enough to give them your best Fragments, then it sucks to be you. It sucks hard.
One of the things that Eternal Legacy does have going for it is a good sense of exploration and control. The maps the characters traverse are reasonably sized. They are not too big, and not too small. The map system is useful without being too much of a giveaway. And there are hidden alcoves, treasures, and even a secret character to be found as you explore. Not too shabby, even though the total length of the game runs a bit short for a full traditional console JRPG. There's still a good 10-20 hours worth of content, if the player wishes to explore the whole of the world.
Eternal Legacy does have high production values, especially for an iOS title. The graphics, while blocky and choppy at times, are very professional, and pretty high-quality. Some of the blockiness and texture muddles may come from the enlargement to the iPad screen, but on the whole, Eternal Legacy is a pretty game. While there are pop-in and texturing issues, it's a fully-functional 3D world full of detail and color. Settings are predictable, but well-designed. While not quite as stylish as the Final Fantasy titles that Gameloft is trying to emulate, the player can at least tell that the developer is trying.
Sound design in Eternal Legacy for the iPad is truly a double-edged sword. On one hand, the soundtrack is pretty good. Though there are only a limited number of tracks, those that exist are better than just serviceable. The battle theme never grates on the player, and always conveys a sense of danger and excitement, just like the best random battle themes do. The overworld and background themes are soothing, and again, inconspicuous in the best sense of the word. It's not the work of the modern composition masters, but it will certainly do for a portable title.
The other edge of the sword is the voice acting. I can't be any clearer than this: in my opinion, this game contains the absolute worst voice acting of any game that I have ever played. Ever.
Should I go on? Ok, fine, but you asked for it.
The voice actors give no indication that they are professionals. Dialogue is poorly written to begin with, but the inflections and the vocal talents of the VAs are just miserable. Accents are made up on the spot, and vacillate with time (see: Edmund). Characters that are meant to be perky are annoying. Characters that are meant to be solemn are drab. Characters that are meant to be monstrous world-enders simply sound like your dad would if he drank a little too much at the football game. I've played games with poor voice-acting before, and this game easily takes the cake. The two words that best describe the voice work are "unprofessional' and "lame."
At the end of the day, Eternal Legacy is one of those hit-or-miss games. If you're like me, and get really excited when a new Japanese-style RPG comes out for your iOS device, it certainly may be worth your time and money to pick up Eternal Legacy. This game is uneven enough that there is a chance that you might put it down part-way through, never to pick it back up again. On the other hand, maybe you'll enjoy the gameplay enough to make it to the end of the game, where you will be presented with one of the worst endings of any RPG ever developed. Gameloft has a habit of improving on their sequels, and it's not hard to see an Eternal Legacy 2 on the horizon. Perhaps the next Eternal Legacy game will be the Final Fantasy-lite that I hoped this game would be.
This game was played on a first-generation iPad, and the version played was 1.0.0.