The road to hell is paved with good intentions and games like Legend of Legaia. As odd as this may sound coming from me, it is a capably designed game in virtually every respect. Perhaps meditating on this fact will help you endure the mind-numbing tedium that results from playing.
Released in early 1999, a year that saw the peak of the PlayStation's glory and also heralded the appearance of RPGs like Suikoden II and Star Ocean: The Second Story, LoL suffers from a profound lack of creative 'oomph'. It fails as entertainment in every way it succeeds technically. Why explore the intricacies of the combat system if there are only two instances where you can put your skills to use? Who cares whether the story is epic and profound when you're forced to endure hours of ludicrous cookie-cutter dialog from every NPC ("I'm Gi Delilas, expert at fatal blows at a killing point on my opponent's body!")? The advance concepts die on the screen.
The game's first "world" is a good example. It contains three places you can visit: a village, a castle, and a monastery, plus assorted dungeons. In case you were wondering, the second has four, with another three in the last. These are not filled with hundreds of unique characters. Legaia is very much a game where towns are just places to buy a new suit of armor before embarking on the next fetch quest. Its uniformly ugly villagers are stamped from perhaps a dozen templates. How is it possible to spend thirty of forty hours playing a game like this? All the developers had to do was crank up the difficulty and make everything really expensive.
Although "difficulty" is perhaps a misnomer. Any possible challenge is a matter of Diminishing Survival Margins. Once you realize that his character can only survive 1-2 blows from a boss enemy, and begin to heal obsessively, you should have no further trouble. Even the game's toughest, meanest optional boss can be beaten with a simple attack-heal (or rather attack-revive, a la Berserker in BoF3) loop. There is really nothing to make you think here, nothing particularly complex or groundbreaking.
TAS (Tactical Arts System) is definitely the game's selling point, but all the hoopla is really not commensurate with this system's contribution to gameplay. Yes, you get to pick sequences of four basic kicks and punches, some of which stand for "Arts", some of which can be linked into high-damage combos. You also need to watch your "Art Point" totals, and "charge up" as necessary. There is absolutely nothing tactical or artful about it.
Here's where next-level thinking would've helped immensely. How about tag-team combos? Extra points for representing the battles to-scale, but how about making range matter (like in Grandia)? Perhaps more status attacks (compared to only one)?
As things are, all Arts are basically identical. There is no real difference whether you link three Somersaults or a Pyro Pummel and a Hyper Elbow. Your agility gauge will grow with time, allowing you to enter longer combinations and discover more advanced Arts, but any discoveries will be random and sporadic past the four-move points (I suggest checking a FAQ for the longest Arts). The game does log most Arts, so at least you won't have to memorize them. Despite all, click-click-clicking through endless turns of combat is still a painful reality.
The situation is the same with the magic system, which promises and delivers modest novelty - and nothing more. Spells are acquired by absorbing special monsters - elemental "Seru". Once absorbed, the Seru can be summoned for MP to perform its special attack. With repeated use, Seru level up; their attacks get bonuses - healing Seru learn to treat poison and rot, while creatures of wind lower enemy speed, etc.
Aside from the fact that Seru are notoriously hard to capture, the game-makers made a major error in implementing this system: each Seru only deals a pre-set amount of damage. This means that at any point in the game, your casting choices are limited to the most recent Seru captured - the rest are simply too weak. Most will rarely even see the light of day.
Though I must applaud the developers for the visual and aural aspects of battle. Despite the ugly polygonal graphics (with a few notable exceptions), nuances like paper-dolling are always welcome. It's nice to be able to see your comrades running in every direction around the battlefield, moving with respect to the enemies. The Serus' attacks are colorful and imaginative (though much too long - easily longer than GF summons). Watching Meta level Cort in the final battle is a bit like watching two Weapons collide. The original battle cries ring true in clear Japanese, and add an extra pinch of exoticism (particularly Zora and the Delilases, whose voice acting is perhaps the best on the PSX).
Without these little vagaries, the graphics out of combat seem drab and lifeless by comparison. The dismal character models hearken back to Final Fantasy 7, if not earlier. It's nice to see fully polygonal environments outside of games like Persona 2, but Legaia's towns and villages feel awfully empty and colorless. This indolence culminates in the design of the dungeons, most of which are straight paths stretching through jetty blackness. Puzzles are non-existent, and the only dungeon in the game where the party splits up is proudly prefaced with a warning screen, informing the gamer that this is indeed supposed to happen.
Heck, why not make Legaia a text-based game and forgo graphics altogether to save us from this embarrassment?
And thus, having lambasted LoL from every possible venue of approach, we at last arrive at its story. Few games rely on story to get by. A good game is expected to play well, look nice, and sound pleasant, while the story just sort of happens along the way. Face it, a good story is a creature of myth, while decent writing in a non-Square RPG is almost unheard of. Given this, the plot in Legend of Legaia actually manages not to trip over itself and actually weave a reasonable yarn along the way. It's nothing stellar, there is a lot of anticlimax at the end, but still... I like the spiral city of Sol (and the music therein), and the part late in the game where you see the human beginnings of your adversaries. The scattered bits of Seru lore are fascinating (the gradual understanding of the Serus' mission in this world is as surprising as finding out that your car only turns on because of some hidden motive of its own).
The three heroes themselves are the ultimate setback. Vahn is a traditional young-boy hero who is not only totally mute, but also completely non-descript (unlike Crono and Ryu, who at least have unique appearances). Gala is perhaps the most glum and close-mouthed character in my entire RPG experience, and Noa... Noa was raised by wolves and it shows: she is loud, easily excitable, windmills her arms a lot, and makes big eyes at everything. She has no traces of modesty or politeness (at one point she suggests getting into a shower with a total stranger, remarking that she has a "small butt"). This isn't' funny. This is profoundly irritating.
With the second game in the franchise slated for stateside release this year, one can only pray and hope that Dual Saga takes flight where Legend never quite manages to.