Falcom’s series “Eiyuu Densetsu” (or, “The Legend of Heroes”), has a complicated history. Within the (currently) six-part series were a set that belonged to a trilogy all their own. They were called the Gagharv Trilogy, and they were released as follows: The White Witch (III), A Tear of Vermillion (IV), and A Cagesong of the Ocean (V). Supposedly, IV and V were built off of the success of III, which presented the world of Gagharv to gamers. You see, IV and V were actually prequels, much in the same way that C.S. Lewis wrote his Narnia series out of chronological order. If one were to re-order the games chronologically, it would be as follows: IV is first, V is second, and III is third.
The series originally resided on the PC; but in Japan, Bandai picked up the rights from Falcom to publish the Gagharv Trilogy on PSP, porting the remakes of III and IV and the newly-released V (all released around the year 2000). When Namco Bandai (at the time, just Bandai) made the announcement that they were bringing A Tear of Vermillion to the US, I was simultaneously shocked and overjoyed. Like many hardcore, underdog-RPG-loving gamers, my love for Falcom knew no boundaries.
I assumed that, since they were releasing A Tear of Vermillion first, US fans would be treated to the Gagharv Trilogy in its true chronological order, with V being next and III coming last. I was wrong, however; in a move that made the Legend of Heroes history that much more complicated, Namco Bandai announced “The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch” as the next title. So now IV was I, III was II, and V was III. Confused? You ought to be.
Unfortunately, this sort of inattention to detail would become the norm for the US versions of the games. Namco Bandai Games America destroyed an already hard-to-love RPG (at least in the US market) and has thus incited my wrath.
Most other game-reviewing publications admitted that the translation for Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch wasn’t all it could have been. But then, most of those reviewers probably didn’t get past the first few hours of the game, which (sadly) had the most polished translations that we would see in the title. To say that the translation wasn’t “up to par” is a gross understatement.
I cannot give you many specific examples, as it is difficult to memorize things that are both incorrect and inconsistent. But, to prove my point, I’ll allow you a glimpse at my frustration.
If you call a town one thing at the beginning of the game, but then romanize it at least two other ways throughout the course of the game, what is the name of that town? And, since many towns had names that were close in counterpart to the region (Ghidonel is in Ghidona, for example), how am I to know if you’re even talking about a town? If a sign tells you that your destination is West, but an NPC minutes earlier told you that it was East, who is telling the truth? Is this some sort of backwards puzzle that the game is throwing at me, or is it the work of poor translation?
When a lengthy portion of text (say, a monologue or a selection from a book) is translated once, wouldn’t it be good to use that same translation at all other parts of the game? Apparently not. The game’s written prologue (which can be found verbalized, in English, on a Japanese CD called “Symphonic Fantasy White Witch”), was translated completely differently at different points in the game. Why? Someone didn’t care enough, I suppose.
What is the purpose of punctuation in the English language? And, conversely, how important is punctuation in the Japanese language? To those of you who don’t know, there is a large difference. If a Japanese sentence ends with the character “ne” or “ka,” it is usually fitting for the English translation to use a question mark; the same applies to “yo” and exclamation marks. Namco Bandai America’s staff apparently doesn’t understand this. Statements like “oh. hello. it’s you.” or “how are you doing today.” or “I’m so mad.” were made regularly by the game’s chief characters. Let’s not even get into semicolons, colons, or long dashes. I can do without those, but I do expect normal use of commas, question marks, and exclamation marks!
Finally, the dialogue in and of itself was atrocious. Run-on sentences, sentence fragments, misspelled words, missing words, poor word choice, awkward sentence structure, and a variety of problems with prepositions were so common that I almost went insane. About halfway through the game, I began to look at each phrase, re-phrase it in my mind into something that would sound normal in my head, and then say that to myself aloud so that I could properly digest the game’s plot. But I couldn’t always do that, because there were at least 30 occasions where I simply could not understand what was being said.
With all of these problems, I decided that my true purpose in finishing the game was not to experience the game itself, but rather to watch the end credits so I could pick out the names of the translators and quality assurance staff and call them out for being completely incompetent jack-asses. I achieved my goal, and watched those end credits for the names of my new enemies: but (here’s the funny part) THEY WEREN’T LISTED! This may well confirm my suspicion that the text was run through a rough auto-translate tool and then briefly touched up by the people in marketing. Another possibility was that the people that did the translation were either too ashamed of their work to be listed; or, perhaps Namco Bandai fired these people for their shoddy work but decided to release the game anyway for a quick buck. Who can say for sure what happened?
But here is my declaration to Namco Bandai, particularly those responsible for this game’s localization: you have reason to be hated. If you think that you can get away with this and sell poorly localized products to the few fans who wanted this game in English (or the unlucky sap who picked up the game because of its pretty artwork and “reliable” publisher’s logo on the box), know that you cannot. I thought we were past the days of shoddy translation and gaming companies that cared about more than efficiency and profit. Thanks for letting us know where you really stand.
Alright, there’s my rant on the translation. It’s the reason I gave the story such a low score. If I knew Japanese and played the import, or if the game had been adequately translated, the score may have been as high as an 80, maybe even an 85. As it stands, 55% is the failing grade that I hand to Namco Bandai.
The story itself is actually a beautiful, though very cliché, tale of two children from a small village sent on a pilgrimage. They are following a tradition left behind by witches of ages past. The two children, Jurio and Chris, quickly learn that what they are experiencing is no empty ritual. In fact, their particular pilgrimage will have great meaning for the world they know.
The last witch known to appear in the world of Gagharv was a young woman named Gueld. She is the “Moonlight Witch” (from the subtitle), and she left many prophecies in Gagharv. She was last seen twenty years before the events of the present, and as Jurio and Chris wander across Gagharv visiting towns and temples, they realize they are literally following Gueld’s footsteps. She is, from the beginning of the game right to the end, an enigma: she receives little development as a character, but she means a lot to those who believed her. To those who didn’t believe her and to those who feared witches, she was ridiculed and stigmatized.
Jurio and Chris also meet plenty of playable and non-playable characters across the world of Gagharv. They befriend both kings and thieves, young and old, in their quest to travel across Gagharv. They learn that the world is much bigger and complicated than what they knew in their village (no surprises there), and they generally end up becoming local heroes wherever they go by solving others’ problems. Nice kids, right?
Despite being a male-female pair, there isn’t even a hint of romantic interest between the two youth, save for a bit of jealousy shown by Chris when other girls make a pass at Jurio. The lack of romance was strangely refreshing; it meshes nicely with one of the game’s primary messages, which is that the innocence and purity of children is a valuable asset, and a powerful force.
The last few hours of the game are very climactic, and I was able to see why many Japanese fans (and importers) hold the game’s story in high esteem. I, too, did my best to enjoy it, but again, the translation all but ruined it for me.
The standard “positive” features of a Japanese RPG are all present and accounted for. We see beautiful, hand-drawn character portraits during dialogue, nicely rendered 3D landscapes, cutesy super-deformed sprites, and a few FMV cutscenes (surprisingly, it was CG rather than anime). And, though I’m not exactly a PSP enthusiast, I have to say that the clarity and resolution on the PSP screen made the game that much more beautiful.
However, as the game is a port of a pretty old PC release, the graphics are dated. Battle animations (particularly spells) are nothing impressive, occasionally exhibiting some slow-down or a choppy frame rate. The character sprites are not even remotely versatile, and they exhibit almost zero expression. Also, they all look the same if you ignore clothing and hair color.
I enjoyed and appreciated the artwork, but the in-game stuff was clearly dated. Graphics get a 77%.
Falcom’s “Sound Team JDK” is generally known for high-strung rock and synth/techno pop songs, but the one exception in their many franchises goes to this series. All of the Legend of Heroes games put musical stock in traditional instrumentation, orchestral set-up, and peaceful melodies. Among all the games in this series, The Legend of Heroes III has the most celebrated music. It was privy to two OST prints, a synth arrangement (the “JDK Special” albums), two synth-orchestra albums (one of which sounds good enough to pass for live orchestra), and a number of drama CDs which contained vocal tracks of their own. Falcom has released two “Best Of” albums for their various games; one “Best Of” covered Ys I and II. The other was just for The Legend of Heroes III.
The PSP’s soundtrack, luckily, made use of all these various releases. In fact, Lantis released an OST specifically for the PSP version, demonstrating that these different sources were merged into one for the PSP release. The game, obviously, is using streamed (rather than sequenced) music. It made me so very happy. I loved the music so much.
I do have two little nagging complaints. One is that I had hoped to hear Riya’s “Beyond Time” (Toki no Mukou Gawa) somewhere in the game. Unfortunately, the song was only used in Japanese TV ads, and was not placed in the game. My other complaint was that the version of the song “The White Witch Gueld” used was from the Gagharv Trilogy Symphony, rather than the vastly superior “Electric Orchestra” version (which included a lovely vocal part). I guess you can’t win ’em all, though.
Thanks to the PSP’s capabilities, we were privy to an excellent remix of the classic soundtrack, and as such, sound gets an 85%.
Though Falcom may have created a game with nice aesthetic features and a memorable plot, one thing I can’t praise them for is the gameplay. They are generally known for their unique and fast-paced Action RPGs (mainly Ys); they don’t do so well with the turn-based stuff.
The game’s battles (which are not random, as enemies appear on the field) are easy and straightforward. Though some NPCs attempt to coach you on the “complex mechanics” of fighting, and that all-out attacks don’t always work, this is apparently not the case. Attacking and healing was pretty much all I did, and I never once stopped to grind levels. Therefore, battles are both dull and easy.
Though turn-based, there is an element of positioning. Everyone within the battle is capable of moving, and all attacks (physical or magical) have a range to them. Should the enemy not fall into that range, you won’t be able to attack them. Very few foes have infinite-range attacks, but Jurio receives powerful magic early in the game that allows him to hit all enemies. It’s a pleasant, if unfair, advantage.
Battle, and even battle preparation (purchasing/organizing equipment, healing between battles), only take up a small portion of gameplay in the Legend of Heroes II. The majority of your time will be spent doing the following things: 1) reading (made almost unbearable thanks to Namco Bandai), 2) navigating simple dungeons, 3) completing extremely tedious fetch quests in towns, and 4) searching for ways to trigger proper events. The latter two of these four things are very, very tedious tasks, and enough to make a person quit playing the game.
All NPCs available for talking have a smily face above their head. Some NPCs, however, will also have a red exclamation mark next to the smily face. This means that they are integral to the plot, and you should probably talk to them to move the plot forward. However, in most towns, moving through the game’s plot will involve talking to one red-exclamation-mark person, and then searching out a variety of other individuals who now have that icon above their heads. Sometimes the dialogue alludes to who these people are, or where they might be, and sometimes it doesn’t. The point is that this is simply no fun and it’s not a good way to design a game.
The really bad news is that this sort of relentless trigger-hunting and fetch-questing doesn’t let up. In fact, things only get more complex the further you go into the game. Some of the last towns (before the enjoyable ending, which includes a fairly complex last dungeon) are the epitome of frustrating, monotonous gameplay.
One much-appreciated positive: save anywhere. All handheld RPGs should make “save anywhere” the default, and this game came through on that point.
With that being said, I still had fun. Not very much fun, mind you, but enough to say that I enjoyed the overall experience. It’s best that Falcom stick to Action RPGs, though. Gameplay earns a 70%.
As editor John McCarroll noted in his review for A Tear of Vermillion, collision detection is terrible. Basically, when you walk up to someone or something to talk/examine it, moments before you think you’ve reached it, the game decides that 1) you hit it and 2) you will now walk either left or right of it in a 90 degree, perpendicular path. As such, this left-or-right turn prevents you from being able to do the talking/examining you planned to do. Now you must move backwards, walk up to it a bit, but not too close (or too far) and hit X again. A reasonable estimate would be to say that I did this at least a hundred times through the course of the game.
Some other problems I noted include the lack of any functions for L and R (which could have been helpful for menu-scrolling), some lagging in menu navigation and confirmation (so you end up having to hit X or O a few times to go into or get out of a submenu), and a general “clunky” feel when walking around the map. I was glad, however, that the D-pad was always functional during the game, so that I was never required to touch that pathetic excuse for an analog stick. The only reason I bring this up is because some other PSP games have been known to make the analog controller the default and disable the D-pad for portions of the game; I was very thankful that this wasn’t the case.
Control needed some serious work in a lot of places, but the main culprit was collision detection. Don’t be shocked: 60%.
What could have been an acceptable port of a decent RPG from a decade past was injured by Bandai’s port in Japan, then beaten and left for dead by Namco Bandai’s English localization. I’m biting my virtual tongue before I rant anymore, but just understand that I am very, very angry about this.
I would have liked to see this game (and the whole Gagharv Trilogy) be a success, particularly for the Western audience, but that didn’t happen. I am being generous with this overall score of 70% by putting weight on the game’s laurels (artwork, music, overall plot) and ignoring its flaws (translation, cliché characters, boring gameplay). My advice to Falcom fans who wanted this game is, seriously, to learn Japanese and import it. Otherwise, don’t bother playing it.