Legasista: the legacy of a genre, upheaved
The roguelike genre is not an inviting one, the mere mention of it brings up experiences of dungeons, dying, death, some loot, followed by a little more dying. It's a mix of your general RPG elements thrown into a brutal environment where difficulty is something people like to brag about rather than avoid. It's no surprise when you hear that roguelikes are a type of game that rarely receive releases. Most people don't enjoy dying several times over and possibly losing hours of progression, but somehow Legasista made it's way to the west with it's own take on the genre that makes for a wholly unique playing experience.
Legasista is another entry in a long, long line of games published by NIS, a publisher well known for taking tried and true formulas, putting their own spin on the genre, then polishing it several times over with new releases, leaving the players with a more refined experience every time. With Legasista that formula is the old fashioned dungeon crawler, a type of game that was in desperate need for a generational revamp. The roof of the conventional gameplay is immediately blown off by taking what has usually been a turn-based game and having everything occur in real-time. NIS previously had the game "ClaDun" which was the first release to pioneer this formula, and today we receive Legasista which proves to be the deepest and most polished version thus far. You enter dungeons with the intent of not dying, and inside await several floors of enemies, treasure, and traps, so many traps, including traps that activate all other traps to have everything go wrong at once for your convenience. It's on you to step carefully, play it safe and keep the screw-ups to a minimum, which is a lot more fun than it reads.
The plot: Do you need a reason to look for loot?
Learning that this game is published by NIS should give potential players an idea of what they're getting into, things get weird. You take the role of Alto, a red-and-blue haired youth searching for an ancient weapon. This weapon may be able to break a curse upon Alto's sister, Mari, or it may destroy all life in the immediate area, semantics, what's important is that you're on an adventure! From there things only get weirder, you'll need to enlist the help of witches, androids, bean sprouts, and even a possible guest appearance by you. Plot advances occur during and after your dungeon runs, where dialogue exchanges take place between full-sized character portraits that make faces in correspondence to what they're saying, as is so common in anime-centric games. You can burn through the story-based stages in about fifteen hours. Since the plot points are so spread you tend to notice that there are long stretches where the story doesn't advance at all and you're seemingly only doing dungeon runs. The story itself is well written, there are enough twists, hooks, and "what?" moments that make you want to see how everything wraps up.
The Gameplay: The Roguelike has never been this frantic.
The Gameplay in Legasista is straightforward enough for anyone to pick up, despite their experience with dungeon crawlers. The player's method of attack and available spells are determined by their equipped gear, which is then used to destroy everything in sight, it's your basic videogame fare. If the battle system seems simple at a glance, that's because it is. a good anology would be comparing the combat with the game Dark Souls. You have the the tools for success always available at your disposal, you can beat bosses to death with no equipment should you have to resort to that. It's up to you to adapt to the situation you happen to be thrown into, but when you're trying to avoid fireballs from one enemy while three more attempt to box you in, adapting becomes hard. These moments are hectic, they're difficult, but they're undeniably fun when you come out on top. Assuming they didn't break your favorite piece of gear and leave you cursing like a sailor.
Combat Mechanics: There's a lot going on under the hood.
The most unique aspect about the game and how it's mechanics work is that the same gear you equip make up your health bar. Each piece of gear has unique attributes and it's own health, a sword capable of massive damage may provide your character less health than a flimsy pair of boots would, it makes for an interesting give-and-take in balancing your characters survivability and combat effectiveness. When your character takes a beating your gear wears down and becomes less effective. As the dungeon runs grow ever longer and you inevitably start making mistakes your trinkets, armor, and even your weapon, will eventually break, making a bad situation so much worse.
Mechanics Maintenance: Like staring at an engine and not having a clue about what you're looking at.
As is common with RPGs, there are a lot of variables you'll be responsible for managing, there are numbers within numbers that you'll have to tweak to hit that magic number you want, this isn't anything new. But it isn't eloquent, and Legasista's system tends to be a part of the problem rather than the system. The menus are a violent mess to navigate, everything has it's own separate menu you'll have to find to get one specific action done, while navigating, the screen space you are able to work with is only about one half of your screen, the rest of the space is cluttered with random, poorly detailed, and sometimes irrelevant windows of information.
To understand the jargon used in these menus the player is expected to read page-long tutorials detailing all of this. What does it mean when there is an image of a flower next to the letter PH? It means you're invulnerable to physical damage, you would never have put that together by yourself! It's clunky and quite user-unfriendly for something so vital to your success. Since you'll be spending a lot of time customizing your characters through this menu system it will eventually become tolerable, but never enjoyable.
The Epilogue: This rabbit hole goes deeper than you'd think.
It's not every day that games from the east are localized and brought our way, they're usually deemed not worth the trouble for the majority of the audience over here. It's a damn shame when just a few years ago, those types of games were the lifeblood of our childhood consoles. As with most NIS games, you definitely get your money's worth when it comes to playable content, where the story only takes a few hours to get through, there's enough game to outlast even the highest budgeted released through the use of some clever random variables. There are some rough edges, but it's still a roguelike in spirit. It's commendable how these games have essentially reinvented the wheel when it comes to dungeon crawlers in a way that works so well, It's going to be hard to go back to the turn based format that other releases stick to. If you happen to have an itch for some good old dungeon diving Legasista can keep that itch scratched for a long time.
P.S.: About you guest starring in this game.
Legasista sports a character creator, much like the Cladun games, but with much, much more potential to do what you want. The in-game editor provides the simplest editing tools and allows you to edit your character pixel-by-pixel, but a new addition unique to Legasista is the option to export or import a character editing sheet into a flash drive and alter them however you'd like on the editing software of your choice. So if you wanted to make an entire team composed of the cropped faces of the giantbomb crew, more power to you. My version of Jeff Gerustman is a warrior that can breathe fire.