The last of the Gagharv Trilogy in terms of development, and second from the perspective of the in-game chronological order, “Song of the Ocean” helps to put Falcom on the map in a way we had not previously seen. I thought very little of Namco Bandai’s localization attempts of the first two games, and I wasn’t sure if this one could bring any sort of redemption to the table.
Well, it did. In some small yet valuable way, this game bonds the others of the trilogy together in a way that makes them all more meaningful. And, more importantly, the technical problems and translation errors we saw in the past two installments have been drastically reduced.
But let’s start with the bad news. Of the three games, the “fun factor” has reached an all-time low in Song of the Ocean. The majority of the time spent in this game, when not reading, is in doing fetch quests and/or monotonous event-triggering. Seriously, I would estimate 80% of the 50 hours I put into the game was spent walking from town to town, searching for the right person or object to hit the “X” button near, so I could move on with the game. It’s so bad, so random, and so absurd, I wanted to smack Falcom for designing the game in such a poor manner. The game’s dungeons include some basic puzzle-solving, which was nice, but it didn’t balance out the boredom in the rest of the game.
Combat in Legend of Heroes III is slightly tweaked to be more fun, and more strategic, than its predecessors. The number one change is the way characters’ special abilities are used. In the turn-based combat, after each character has chosen an option, you cannot know for sure who will strike first, or when the enemy will get to attack before you. However, you can prevent an enemy’s turn by hitting the square button while having a character’s status box highlighted, launching that character’s special skill. Of course, this can only be done after the character’s skill meter reaches 100, so using this skill wisely can mean the difference between life and death, particularly in a few of the more grueling boss battles.
But generic combat, the level grind, is average. Fortunately, since there are no random encounters (sprites of the enemies exist, roaming the field), you don’t have to do much fighting.
There exists a special bonus area that allows your party to join up with playable characters from the previous two Legend of Heroes titles; however, you can only grab characters from other games if you have saved data from those games, and you encountered said characters during your travels (i.e. end-game saves have everyone unlocked). It may have no bearing on the story, but if you want to re-live some fun times with all the characters in the world of Gagharv, now’s your chance!
If it weren’t for the nice aesthetic features and a decent storyline, I would’ve dropped this game like a bad habit. My warning to you is that you will probably not have fun playing this game. Reading, looking, hearing, yeah that’s all good; but actually playing? You are bound to be let down.
It was about one thousand years ago that the world was split in three. A huge crater split the northern part of the world into east (Tiraswheel) and west (El Phildin). Also, an enormous mountain range called the “Backbone of the Great Serpent” cut the world into north and south, with the southern world (Weltluna) being the setting for “Song of the Ocean.” The explanation for why these phenomena took place varies in each world, but it seems that the people of Weltluna have the most reliable information on what happened. An ancient people called the “Water Tribe” sealed away an evil force, sometimes called the “Archenemy,” by using advanced technological and mystical powers. All of these powers were based in sound and music, resonance and harmonics. The ironic twist was that the evil force was created because of the Water Tribe using these powers in the first place: a mass of “Negative Notions” built and created this monstrous entity.
Cut to the present day where a young boy named Forte, his grandpa McBain, his dog Jan, and his little lady-friend Una, decide to take a tour of Weltluna. But they are no mere tourists; they wish to go as troubadours, presenting their pleasant musical performances to the world while offering a helping hand to those in need. Grandpa McBain has an ulterior motive for going, though, as he’s recently discovered a magic map that displays the locations of the 24 Resonance Stones, created by musician Leone Frederik Richter. Richter was a genius musician of his time, 50 years prior to the events of this game. He also claimed, in the writings he left behind, that these 24 stones had the power to save the world from catastrophe, should the time ever come. Don’t be surprised, dear reader, when that time does come. This is an RPG we’re talking about here! The world must be threatened!
Okay, so things don’t sound interesting to you yet? They shouldn’t. So what’s up with the high score? It goes to the things I can’t write well about without spoiling. Yes, the first half of the game is slow. Painfully slow. But it’s done that way for a reason. As you gradually begin to learn about the many different characters present in the world of Weltluna, and the complex interaction of the different nations fighting for control, you are actually being led into an extremely rewarding climax and ending with special revelations for those who have played the previous games in the series. In many ways, the game would have worked better as a book and as such, the game’s plot and character development are presented much like a book.
Also, props to Namco Bandai for straightening out the translation problems of the previous games. In particular, Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch was translated either by a computer or by a person who is now fired. And though Song of the Ocean still has plenty of its own problems (the “it’s” vs “that’s” switch-up being the worst), it’s clear that they put time into properly localizing the majority of the game’s text. Thanks for paying attention this time around, Namco Bandai.
Time to play the comparison game. Here’s the low-down: the previous two games in the Gagharv trilogy were first developed in the mid-90s, re-made for PC around the year 2000, and then ported to PSP. Song of the Ocean, however, was first created in 2000, so it has a bit of a graphical edge. Rather than having to be revamped, it was pretty decent from the start.
Unfortunately, the game lacks FMV cut scenes which we did see in the previous games. Falcom makes up for this with some stellar in-game cut scenes and overall visual improvements. In short, the game looks good.
One thing that could have used work was the character art. Not the design of each character in and of themselves, those were great! The various facial expressions and poses, however, were quite lacking. They left much to be desired. The hair, body, and clothes would all stay the same, and the only difference to a change in the character’s expression would be a small shift in eyebrows or an open mouth instead of a closed one. Few characters had versatility in their portraits. It’s a shame, because they could have done a lot with these wonderful characters.
The audio capabilities of the PSP, which were put to use quite well in the other Gagharv Trilogy installments, had some untapped potential in Song of the Ocean. There’s a reason for this. Both of the previous games, having been around for well over a decade, received numerous arrangements from Falcom, including symphonic arrangements and piano solos. “Song of the Ocean,” however, only received a few orchestral arranged tracks on one album, which shared space with the other two Gagharv games’ songs. Some of these songs were found streamed into the PSP version, but most of the music is simply recordings of the sequenced audio from the game’s OST.
The good news, however, is that this is all the bad news I have. Well, that and one more thing- if you were expecting voice acting, don’t. The game doesn’t have any. It’s been the standard for the entire Gagharv Trilogy, and it’s not going to change now.
The soundtrack is a little bland, but there are enough memorable songs to keep audiophiles interested. For a Falcom soundtrack, I thought the battle themes were a little weak. But town and event music was generally above par.
Here are the problems with control: some of the menus are clunky and difficult to navigate, character movement on the field is too slow, and buttons occasionally fail to register. I’m docking ten points for each of those problems. Otherwise, everything works nicely.
If you’re into RPGs for that rush of fun and adventure, avoid this game. Heck, avoid the whole Legend of Heroes series. But, if you’ve stuck it out so far and have enjoyed the storyline created by Falcom, a company respected by many a J-RPG fan, know that this game has a plot that enriches the others even as it proves its own value to the gamers’ imagination. I’m giving The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean a 78%, which is quite high relative to the other games in the series, but only average compared to other RPGs out there, particularly other games from Falcom.