Taking a look back at the year 1996, the tide was beginning to shift. The epitome of 16-bit console RPGs had been reached: Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG had been released by Squaresoft, and many still hail Chrono Trigger as what every RPG should strive toward. The beginnings of what was new began to poke its head out of the ether with games like Wild ARMs, Final Fantasy VII and Fallout on the horizon. The Legend of Heroes wasn’t on many people’s minds in the United States in 1996, but the fourth game in the series was just striking the PC from Nihon Falcom. Fast forward nine years. The PSP has a complete dearth of RPGs when The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion is released. Unfortunately for many US gamers, it’s not what was expected. After all, can someone really expect the best out of a game that has a different spelling on the front of the box when compared to the opening movie?
Is it “The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion” or “The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermilion?” This isn’t one of those unfortunate incidents in an otherwise good translation and localization, however. The Legend of Heroes suffers from coming straight out of 1996, including Bandai’s translation of the title. Dialogue has a very Japanese feel to it. Many sentences, while technically grammatically correct, simply feel wrong to a native English speaker. Unfortunately, there is lots and lots of dialogue to wade through. There are even odd errors that don’t make sense to anyone. Early on, one of the first bookcases you read simply tells you “There is a book here.” and prompts you with Yes/No. While other bookcases do ask if you’d like to read the book, it starts you off on the wrong foot. While some of it is indeed interesting, the oddly translated lines cast a shadow over the rest of the experience. One thing that The Legend of Heroes does have going for it is that the world is deep. You’ll get plenty of lessons in the history of El Phildin and the world that’s evolved over three previous games. One interesting part is the fact that the game allows access to a timeline once events are shown.
The story in the present is that of Avin, a boy who is taken away from a capital city at a young age by a Sage and separated from his sister. When he reaches his destination, a small town of less than twenty, he meets the only person his age, Mile, a level-headed, if excitable boy. Years pass, and on the verge of becoming an adult at the age of 17, Avin ventures out with Mile to find his sister. It’s not simply enough, though, as a conflict is brewing that will engulf the world in the struggle between good and evil. Cliche? Yes. Bad? Not really. There’s nothing much in terms of innovation from The Legend of Heroes, but that’s never been what Falcom is about.
Unfortunately, issues of pacing come about. While The Legend of Heroes’ pace is perfectly fine for a PC game, which it was originally, it’s not easy to play the game in small spurts. Most RPGs built for a portable platform make sidequests completely optional, choosing to make the game more streamlined. With LoH, you’re stuck on fetch quests and odd jobs for much of the early game. It’s also extremely easy to get lost. Early on, you’ll have no idea where to go, especially since the tried-and-true “if all else fails, go up” tactic from other classic RPGs doesn’t always work in LoH. You get a map later in the game, but it can still be extremely confusing trying to find out where to go.
This issue isn’t helped much by the odd control issues and goofy collision detection. It’s not often that you’ll complain about the control scheme of a turn-based RPG, but it’s difficult to talk to NPCs. Because Avin won’t stop for objects or people, but will start to go around them, it’s difficult to get directly in front of a person to start up a conversation. Battles fare a bit better, though, and are menu driven like almost every other RPG.
Battles play out very similarly to those in the first two Lunar titles. Monsters are visible on the world map and can be avoided. There’s a catch, though. Weaker enemies will run from you while stronger enemies tend to be more aggressive. It’s a change of pace from many games, where anything and everything will take a strike at you. Once in battle, up to four characters will start on the battle grid and can move a certain range before they toss out their attacks. It’s not overly strategic, but it adds a bit more than simply going out there and attacking randomly. That’s not to say that characters can move directly, though; you’ll only be able to select a target to head toward. Players will also build up their power bar with every attack. After a few whacks with Avin’s sword or Mile’s boomerang, they’ll be able to toss out a deadly attack. They do change the balance of battle quite a bit; I was able to take out the first boss by simply having my characters at full power and taking two deadly strikes. Despite this, though, the difficulty takes a major hike later in the game.
Another odd part of Legend of Heroes is the pet system. Players will be followed around the entire game by a randomly assigned cat, dog, or rabbit with an active mood. Players are able to feed or scold the pet and the pet will give Avin items if it’s happy. Whatever algorithm is under the skin of that digital mammal, though, I can’t figure out. I’d feed my pet time after time to have him be angry at me, but leave him alone for hours at a time while he happily handed over items upon items.
Visually, LoH is a mixed bag. Like Falcom’s Ys series, there are large, detailed, visually appealing portraits that appear during combat or when a major character is involved in dialogue. Unfortunately, the appearance of the sprites in the field is much the opposite. They are small, undetailed, goofy-looking and super-deformed. That’s not to say it’s all bad, though, as these goofy-looking sprites are able to toss about spell effects that use some polygons. The environments are three-dimensional and made up of polygons, but that doesn’t keep them from being overly boring.
Aurally, the game is not quite sure where it wants to put itself. The music, composed by Sound Team JDK, is good, but not on the level of their other titles like their Ys series. The game also features no voice acting. While this can be expected with the cartridge format, games like Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex have shown us that the UMD format can easily support hours of voice acting.
The Legend of Heroes is the epitome of the ‘Classic Japanese RPG’… or ‘Archaic Japanese RPG,’ depending on what side of the argument you belong to. The Legend of Heroes simply doesn’t cut it for me. It’s not built for a handheld platform, and with its mediocre battle system, nonsensical pet system, and poor translation and dialogue, it simply comes straight out of 1996. If you’re really starving for an old-school RPG on the PSP, go ahead and snag it, but beware that every single piece of the game, good and bad, comes from years past.