solidsnake35's The Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion (PlayStation Portable) review

If persisted with, The Legend of Heroes is a rewarding experience

The Playstation Portable, cherished by some, and hated by many, had never attempted to please fans of RPGs; until now. ‘The Legend of Heroes' is the first role playing game to grace the screens of PSPs across the globe, and while it does it's job, it's far from perfect. The idea of having an epic RPG in your pocket is mouth watering, and although The LoH is just that, it sadly wont impress many. Everything that you would come to expect from an RPG is noticeable within the game, but there are no particular aspects that shine out. There's nothing apparently wrong with anything; from the engaging storyline to the traditional anime characters. Nevertheless, you can be sure that this game wont live long in the memory.

If an RPG is to be remembered many years later, then it must have a deep and immersive storyline. This is common knowledge, and it seems as though Bandai knew this when they developed The LoH. While the story is far from comparable to a Tolkien masterpiece, it's clear the developers have put some thought into it. The story begins with a young boy named Avin, who clearly has a strong bond with his younger sister Eimelle. It is this relationship- a focal point throughout the adventure, which Bandai uses to exploit your emotions. Shortly after this connection is established, Eimelle is separated from her beloved brother. Therein lies the reason why Avin must venture away from his comfortable hometown, and embark on a quest of great danger. As with most RPGs, Avin will be accompanied on his travels by many other unique characters, who will all gain experience points, battle ferocious beasts, and upgrade their equipment. Despite first venturing on a simple rescue mission, Avin soon finds himself swept up in a whirlwind of chaos throughout the world of El Phildin, as the followers of light and darkness prepare to clash.

The LoH plays very similar to most RPGs, and this involves a lot walking from town to town. As a result, it's often very easy to forget the direction you should be travelling in, which will obviously frustrate many people. Thankfully though, the characters in this game don't forget, even if you dozed off during a long conversation about your next mission. This means that when you attempt to go the wrong way, Avin will quickly advise you on the correct path to take. At times this can be a blessing, but it does limit the freedom that you have in this fantasy world.

It's a shame though that you might lose concentration during the dialogue in this game, but even the most perseverant will find their mind wandering. Though it sounds like the story is far from immersive, this is not the problem. The problem is caused by the poor translation of dialogue from the Japanese original to English. This is a something which would have been so easy to put right before the game was released, but because it wasn't, gamers lose out in many ways. If people are expected to love a character, in a way that fans of Metal Gear Solid like Snake, then it's necessary for them to be perceived as realistic as possible. With The LoH, subtle characteristics of Avin's personality are lost during the translations, so even the most determined will fail to appreciate him.

Arguably the most important part of any RPG is the battle system, but before you get that far, Avin and company must first find a monster to attack; or as is the norm, be attacked by. You might be dreading the word ‘random' here, but no. The most refreshing aspect of The LoH is the absence of random battles. Instead, every monster is visible when exploring, and- here's the best bit- they are all avoidable. The monsters aren't going to let you pass that easily though. Depending on your character's levels and statistics, or the monsters own abilities, they will either pursue you or attempt to move out of your way. While it's possible to travel great distances without the need to brandish a sword, your characters will fail to level up. This poses as a critical problem when confronted by a difficult boss battle, and it will be fatal for poor Avin. It's clear that this system cannot be cheated, but it does give you a lot more control over events that could otherwise be wearisome. When you find that you must quickly get from one area to another, it is must better knowing you don't have to fight, instead of being forced into constant random battles. It really does give the you the power over the game, and not the other way around.

If and when you do decide to charge into confrontation with an enemy, then a battle scene will occur. This will be very familiar to any RPG gamer, but the events that follow do have small variations. While the system is still turn based, the battles in El Phildin are slightly more realistic than two sides exchanging blows until victory is won. Each individual character is given the basic freedom of being able to move around, but this adds very little to the gameplay value. The battles throughout are displayed from an aerial viewpoint, and consist of melee attacks, magic and deadly finishers. To begin with you'll find yourself opting for the melee option continuously, since the initial spells are fairly useless and take a long time to cast. Sure, this may sound lazy, but most of the time the battles serve little purpose, except for levelling up, so you'll want to get them over and done with. However, as battles become more challenging, the role of spells becomes much more significant. Every monster is categorised into elements- be it water, fire, wind or earth, and certain spells cause more damage to certain monsters. This hardly qualifies the action as strategic, but it does make the battles more enjoyable, especially when the more decorative, yet deadly, spells become available when the characters increase their levels.

Statistics of characters do play a part when deciding the outcome of a battle, and only the strong will survive, but what is a warrior without his sword? For this reason, it is important that Avin and friends equip themselves with the latest items from the armoury. As the story unfolds, more powerful equipment becomes available, but this comes at a increasing price. There are times when you must pick who gets the newest body armour and who must go without, and this adds to the experience of life travelling perilous lands. Equipping a new item does add to the character's statistics, but it's disappointing to see no visual change during a battle. This would have added a shine to what is already a very well presented game.

Despite lacking the finishing touches which would have made this one of the most visually pleasing games on the PSP, it is still very easy to marvel at. The main appearance follows an attractive style which is a blend of realism and cartoon. Upon hearing this you might think it would look strange, but the anime characters work in harmony with the three dimensional world they are set in. The environments utilise the graphical power of the PSP, and the level of detail is almost faultless. Upon leaving footprints behind in the fresh snow, you'll really appreciate how the much effort has been put into this game's visuals. Combine this with beautifully drawn anime artwork used during conversations, and you have a game that is very pleasing to the eye, which turns out to be important.

The visuals in this game are certainly needed when listening to the sound that comes from the PSP's speakers. There are instances during The LoH where no sound is evident, except for the beeping of newly displayed text. From this you may have worked out that there are no character voices, and during the long conversations it's like reading a poorly translated electronic book. This really spoils what could have been a promising RPG, but even the background music fails to make amends. Despite having its moments, the background tunes are embarrassing at best and should be ignored as much as possible. The music does vaguely match the on screen action, but when something sounds so bad it's hard to notice something so minor. The sound effects are better, although this improvement is only to the point of average. However, as with the graphics, the detail is good to the point where grass rustles when run on, so there are some positives to be taken from this travesty.

Hopefully the audio qualities, or lack of, wont drive many gamers away, since this really is a substantial, portable RPG. As promised on box, this is a very long adventure, even if you try and rush through the dialogue, and the story has just enough twists and turns to keep you interested. Nevertheless, even the story wont be sufficient to convince players into completing this game twice, due to the subdued action throughout. There are no other features other than the main story mode, so the replay value suffers slightly for this, but the lack of a multiplayer mode is evident in most RPGS. If persisted with, The Legend of Heroes is a rewarding experience, but most will lose interest before they can appreciate some of the hidden qualities that this game has to offer.

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