"The Book of Legends is a good RPG Maker game worthy of Aldorlea's pedigree, but it has the potential to be more. "
The Book of Legends is the second collaboration between Aldorlea Games and newcomer Ensorcelled Games. Their first collaboration was Sylia, and though Sylia was a hit among Aldorlea's core fanbase, I didn't find the game as wonderful as they did. To make a long story short, Sylia had a few neat ideas, but the execution was lacking and it didn't live up to its potential. Therefore, I wasn't initially thrilled to try The Book of Legends even though it promised a more robust experience, including multiple endings. I'm glad I did, though, because it serves as a fine apology for Sylia.
Mama always told me never to judge a book by its cover, but in this context I have to judge the cover. The Book of Legends uses the stock visual assets from the Samurai Pack add-on for RPG Maker VX. The Samurai Pack adds new sprites, tiles, character art, and other sundry visual assets in a medieval Japanese motif, and Aldorlea uses many to their fullest extent. However, nothing here is going to stand out after a while once more developers play with these resources. I've already played RPGM games that use the Samurai Pack, so it was sometimes hard for me to dissociate between different characters in different companies' games using the same portraits. The artwork that accompanies the various endings is quite nice, though. The bottom line is that while the game looks all right, it won't maintain its distinct look for very long because the graphics are all stock.
Now that that's out of the way, we can focus on the real meat of the book. I'm glad I didn't judge this book by its cover because the pages within hold a fun storyline with cool music and decent gameplay. Before the book begins, though, players have to choose either a "Casual" or "RPG" mode. Casual mode slightly lowers the encounter rate, allows partial healing after battles, and auto-saves after every fight as opposed to after every ten fights. Other than the auto-save, saving occurs either at save points or via the protagonist's "Vision of a Dream" skill that fully heals him and saves at the cost of 10 MP. Thus, both the game and the player establish bookmarks throughout the legend. Don't let "Casual" mode fool you, though. It might have certain conveniences, but enemies are far from "nerfed," so battles can still decimate the party if players are careless.
The protagonist, Jordan, is something of an anti-hero and it was fun playing him as such. Sure, I could have made him benevolently spare the life of the thief-girl who mugged him or made him succumb to the amorous, if awkward, advances of the princess, but I opted to play him as a straight-up jackass. Another player might play Jordan differently and that's part of the fun. His dialogue, and the dialogue of the other characters, is filled with personality. Sure the writing and phrasing in the game isn't as perfect as you would see from a native English speaker, but Aldorlea's command of English is improving.
The Book of Legends plays out similarly to a Star Ocean game in that the overall plot, including major boss battles, is scripted while player decisions influence the trajectory from Point A to Point B. For example, accepting one member into the party can lock out another one and some plot points and in-game perks are only accessible with certain party members. There are even moments when a potential recruit only joins the party if one of the existing members is kicked out. For example, the princess only joins the party if you reject the thief girl. Accepting the princess into the party allows access to her royal palace, free stays at her town's inn, and a stipend for supplies. Rejecting her obviously closes out these perks. But, of course, there are other moments in the game when the thief girl is the asset and the princess the liability.
The game has 31 potential party members, including a slew of talking animals, so players have a lot of characters to keep track of. Unfortunately, the stock RPGM XP interface shows its limitations, making it cumbersome to keep tabs on multiple characters' statistics by requiring players to switch them in and out of the four-member active party for purchasing and upgrading equipment as well as other such routine maintenance. RPG Maker's interface is fine for maintaining four characters, but more than that is unwieldy.
The game requires some grinding here and there, but unused characters gain partial EXP from battles. Babysitting is unavoidable, especially when new recruits join at low levels, but partial EXP gain is better than none at all. Whether players view this aspect as good ol' fashioned character building or old-school inconvenience, it is important to maintain decent levels for all characters since there are times when players need to split up the party, especially for some major boss battles.
Speaking of major boss battles, some exhibit direct interplay between story and gameplay wherein character personalities must be taken into account. For example, when facing the demon-god of ego, any characters with big egos in their personalities are completely nullified for the battle and no status recovery measures can renew them. Therefore, players have to choose a party of characters without big egos for that battle. And, yes, despite the egotistical Jordan being the main character, he can be switched out at any time for a character more suited to the situation.
The Book of Legends is a lengthy game that rewards exploration and stopping to smell the roses. A linear speed run would be ultimately unsatisfying. However, even a linear speed run takes a good while since dungeons, particularly those late in the game, touch Phantasy Star II levels of labyrinthine. It's a good idea to explore every nook and cranny in both hostile and non-hostile areas, though, because a recruitable party member might be off the beaten path. Walking speed might be a little slow, but engaging the "travel mode" skill of the horse while it's in the active party speeds things along.
The best part of The Book of Legends is the music. The compositions fit the samurai fantasy theme of the resource packet, but my favorite pieces are the more modern sounding pieces, such as the title theme. The title theme makes me linger at the title screen before resuming my game. The only issue with the music is occasional glitching. Sometimes scrolling through menus makes the currently playing track loop back, which is a little annoying when navigating through multiple menus. In addition, some boss battles include harsh sound effects that repeat themselves and glitch up the music. It was unpleasant hearing harsh "white noisy scratches" repeatedly overshadowing a good boss theme.
The Book of Legends is a good RPG Maker game worthy of Aldorlea's pedigree, but it has the potential to be more. I'm left feeling as if the limitations of RPG Maker prevent the game from realizing its full potential. If The Book of Legends had original graphics and an original interface efficiently designed for effectively maintaining multiple characters, it would be a much better game. I love that developers, such as Aldorlea, attempt to wring as much out of RPG Maker as possible, but I genuinely felt the limitations of the RPG Maker engine with The Book of Legends, and I'd like to see the game's potential fully realized through a more advanced means.