Gone but Not Forgotten: Legend of Legaia

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Posted by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

When I was little I did not own many games for my Playstation. I had some sports games from relatives that did not know me well, some THQ-made licensed games from grandparents with the best of intentions, and some RPGs that I bought for myself - those were my favorites. The vast majority of the RPGs I enjoyed were from Squaresoft’s late-90s hit-factory; however, there was one game that I loved as much as the PS1 Final Fantasies: Legend of Legaia. This seemingly forgotten gem was loaned to me by one of my friends in 1999 and he hasn’t seen it since. Now Legend of Legaia’s story is almost purely JRPG genre fare, complete with teenagers trying to rid a doomed world of darkness; but, there was something about its combat system and its magic system that are still compelling to me.

Look at all of that graphic!
Look at all of that graphic!

Legend of Legaia’s combat system was purely turn-based with a unique input system. Rather than simply having a normal menu with options like attack, skills, or magic, Legend of Legaia had ordinary item and magic use with a more complex attack system. Selecting attack took you to a sub menu where you could choose which combination of right/left punches and high/low kicks to form an attack combo. These attack combos could then trigger specific “arts” or special attacks based on the specific combinations; for example, Vahn, the main protagonist, would perform a summersault kick if you entered high/low/high. The lengths of your combos were limited by an attack bar that filled up as you entered commands. This attack bar would vary in length on a per-character basis and it would increase as your characters gained levels, allowing for more and more powerful arts and complex art combos. The number of arts you could perform was limited by an AP or action point meter that prevented you from simply unloading your best attacks every turn. This meter refilled a little by not performing arts on turn, or a lot by defending (the game called it’s defend move “spirit,” but it was essentially the same as defend in most traditional RPGs). On top of refilling your AP meter, defending extended the length of your attack bar for one turn after defending. This balance between attacking, defending, and unloading spirit-boosted super combos made a deeply interesting and re-playable combat system out of what is usually taken for granted in JRPGs.

Rather than creating a bunch of skills that you have to learn as you level up, Legend of Legaia gave you a fighting game-esque combo system and left it up to you how best to use it. Just entering the correct attack commands unlocked new skills, rather than artificially gating a bunch of skills behind a level wall as so many games did. This allowed basic fights to be a place to test out potential combos and discover arts rather than purely repetitive auto-attack-fests. The attack bar also allowed each of the game's three main characters, Vahn, Noa, and Gala, to be defined and unique in combat based purely on the length of their attack bars. Noa was a pure attacker because her bar allowed for long combos. Vahn was in the middle between physical and magical attacks as his bar was in the middle. Gala was best used as a caster because he simply could not unload physical attacks like his companions due to his short attack bar

The game even had romance!
The game even had romance!

The second cool system that Legend of Legaia introduced was its magic system. The vast majority of the spells in the game were unlocked by fighting elemental monsters called Seru, the game’s main source of monster chaos. When fighting a Seru, if a character delivered the killing blow with a physical attack, there was a small chance that the character would absorb the Seru and gain the ability to summon it during a battle. This made every fight with a Seru a constant juggling act to give the last-hit to the character that most needed that Seru’s magic. You could not really auto-attack your way through a fight with a Seru, because doing so could cause your characters to miss out on valuable spells. There were even some early Seru bosses that offered you a one-time early chance to gain insanely powerful magic early in the game. The random chance to gain magic again added variety and thought to what could have been a tedious combat system. Furthermore, magic leveled up as it was used, which incentivized you to use it as often as your MP allowed, rather than hoard your MP for boss fights as so many RPGs require.

Legend of Legaia certainly did not rewrite the book on narrative and setting, but its achievements in combat design are a lesson that should not be forgotten. In a way Legend of Legaia asks the question, “what if every character attacked like Sabin from FF6 and learned magic like a Blue Mage from FF5?” I think that it proved that combining those two designs was one hell of an idea.

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#1 Posted by Slag (8159 posts) -

That's one I never played and now I wish I had.

A good combat system can go a long way in a JRPG, as much as those games are so heavily story driven I'd argue that the combat system is actually more important. You spend so much time fighting that if the combat blows, you'll be miserable no matter how rad the story is.

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#2 Posted by thebunnyhunter (1550 posts) -

All i remember about this game other than the cool combo system was that the game got ridiculously hard for my kid self. Ive always wanted to give it another go but never gave it the time.

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#3 Posted by Waffles13 (622 posts) -

Holy shit. I went through my entire childhood calling this "Legend of Legalia". Like, I knew it was about Gaia and shit, but my friends and I literally never questioned the second "L".

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#4 Edited by Zeik (5221 posts) -

Legend of Legaia was pretty great. I remember I got a standalone demo for it on a disc through PlayStation underground magazine shortly after I got my PS1. I played it so many times before the game actually came out. As I recall it was one of the very first notable games I got for the system.

The combat was pretty neat and I did really like the Seru system, but I've always felt it didn't quite hold up for the length of the game. There's a point roughly 2/3 of the waythrough where I always get tired of inputting commands and start just doing random crap. Although I think the game does drag out a bit long regardless. That last dungeon feels like one too many.

I feel like you're a bit too dismissive of the story though. It's not genre defining, but it's generally interesting and entertaining and it has a pretty likeable cast of characters. The story is as much a reason I have fond memories of it as the gameplay. I also always liked how it kind of defied genre tropes by making the young girl the kickass fighter of the group while the big burly martial artist was actually a way better magic user/healer. You can immediately see the difference the moment you try to play Legaia 2: Duel Saga. That game is so so bad.

Oh yeah, and the way the Ra-Seru grow on your arm as they get stronger is stillone of thecoolest things in a game to date.

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#5 Edited by mason20 (349 posts) -

I remember the day I first saw this game being played. A friend bought this game at the same time I bought Skies Of Arcadia. We started playing the 2 side by side and within 20 mins. we completely tossed Legaia to the side.. Never regretted it because i feel in love with SOA but was always curious what Legaia was about. Seemed like it had an interesting combat system.

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#6 Posted by sparky_buzzsaw (8931 posts) -

I dug the shit out of Legaia. It was really the first difficult JRPG I had played, and I ate it up with a spoon for some reason. I really dug the combat and magic system, and I liked the plot just enough to see it mostly through. I wish I could find this game in my stacks. I'd love to revisit it.

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#7 Edited by thatdudeguy (337 posts) -

Wow! What a flash of nostalgia. I was in high school and had never played a JRPG before. I had bought a Playstation recently to play Resident Evil and Fear Effect, and a friend told me I had to play this game he just finished, Legend of Legaia. Just minutes into the game, I was hooked by the mundane thrill of just wandering around the starting town and having conversations. I loved every moment of this game, and it inspired my deep dive over the next few years into any JRPG I could get my hands on. It also caused me to go down the (dial-up, at the time) rabbit-hole of SNES emulation :)

I had a similar flash of nostalgia a few months ago when I bought the updated FF14 MMO on sale with the sole intention of playing for the free month and quitting. It's (unfortunately, for my tastes) still an MMO at its core, but it has all of the trappings of PSX-era Final Fantasies and was worth a month of play if you can get it on sale.

Thanks for bringing back these memories!

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#8 Posted by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@thatdudeguy: Glad to hear that other people actually played this game!

@sparky_buzzsaw: It is certainly worth at least a partial replay if you can find it!

@zeik: Yeah this game is way longer than it needs to be and it certainly drags in the middle and towards the end. I don't think the story is bad by any means, it is just really cliche for a JRPG.

@thebunnyhunter: I've gone back to it and the game is way easier for me now that I grasp basic JRPG combat and character building. Back when I was a kid I would always get rolled by the bosses.

@slag: I have been hoping that this game would get re-released on psn, but it it looks like it just does not have the following to warrant it. You can get a used disc for pretty cheap, but man I wish I had a digital copy for my Vita.

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#9 Edited by BBOYS2231 (365 posts) -

Oh man I forgot about this game! I remember renting it back in the day and never finished it, but I absolutely loved it. The combat was a bit more engaging than some of the other RPGs around at the time. I'm gonna have to replay this.

Edit: You should do more of these (if you haven't already). Great read!

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#10 Edited by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@bboys2231: I havebeendoingthisforover a yearman! Though this post is definitely about the most obscure game i've covered and it is not as in-depth as I tend to go. But if people want to read more posts like this I would be happy to oblige.

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#11 Posted by BBOYS2231 (365 posts) -

@thatpinguino Sorry man I had no idea. I thoroughly enjoyed the read. I don't mind the quick breakdowns. Definitely do more obscure, great, under the radar games.

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#12 Posted by Zeik (5221 posts) -

@thatpinguino: I mean, sure, I guess it is "cliche", but I've played a whole lot of "really cliche" JRPGs and I would not put Legend of Legaia's story on the same level as them. I guess it's just a matter of execution.

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#13 Posted by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@zeik: I think that it really depends on when you last played Legend of Legaia. When I played it when I was younger I was less familiar with the genre tropes and I did not see that each of the main characters really fit in with Japanese character archetypes (silent protagonist, spunky girl, stoic monk). I also did not see how ubiquitous the world in peril story-line was at the time. There are certainly some unique elements of the story that are unique, like the main character actually having an established girlfriend that is not player chosen nor a throwaway character. The nature of the seru is also interesting once you get to that point. Perhaps it is just that Legend of Legaia is just too dang long to play more than every once in a while, and you really can't shorten the game by simply knowing the systems, like say FF8 or FF7. You need to grind in Legend of Legaia and the game is easily over 40 hours long with a lot of unskippable world-map running with slow movement with random encounters. So I haven't really experienced its story as many times a I have most of my other favorite games.

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#14 Edited by Zeik (5221 posts) -

@thatpinguino: I think it was only a few years ago that I last played it, so I still have a pretty clear image of the game in my mind. I don't think you're necessarily wrong by calling it "cliche", but that can be a pretty pejorative term, and I think a lot of people are instantly dismissive when they see the words "cliche" and "JRPG" in the same sentence. There's nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned world saving adventure story in a JRPG if you do it right.

But maybe I'm a little biased because it's so easy to directly compare it to Legaia 2, which is the epitome of an awful cliched JRPG.

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#15 Posted by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@zeik: There is nothing wrong with cliche, but when I think of games like Lost Odyssey and FF9 that really ask some hard questions about the world I can get a little tired of the cliche. As someone who has enjoyed Anime and JRPGs for years the cliche stuff doesn't even really register emotionally anymore.

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#16 Edited by Zeik (5221 posts) -

@thatpinguino said:

@zeik: There is nothing wrong with cliche, but when I think of games like Lost Odyssey and FF9 that really ask some hard questions about the world I can get a little tired of the cliche. As someone who has enjoyed Anime and JRPGs for years the cliche stuff doesn't even really register emotionally anymore.

I guess "deep" and "emotional" isn't necessarily what I'm looking for in every game. Simply being "entertaining" can be enough. Lost Odyssey had much deeper themes, but I also kind of didn't like the majority of the cast, so ultimately I did not enjoy the story as much. (Although those short stories were really good.)

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#17 Posted by Quid_Pro_Bono (1134 posts) -

I was too young to properly play this game when I had it. My 9 year old self kept getting his ass kicked so I just restarted over and over until I sold everything to buy a PS2. I'd love to give it a real shot now that I'm more accustomed to difficult games, though.

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#18 Edited by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@zeik: Yeah I am a terrible person to watch movies and tv shows with for that exact reason.

@quid_pro_bono: you should try it again now, it isn't really that hard once you understand how to play.

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#19 Posted by GERALTITUDE (5990 posts) -

Legaia is on a long list of games I passed on rental shelves a thousand times, always thinking "next time". Somehow it kept a space in my memory, though I never played it.

The systems sound very, very interesting.

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#20 Posted by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@geraltitude: It is pretty darn unique, and I think a game could take its fighting game input premise and turn it live action if they wanted to. I think it solves some of the repetition issues that turn-based rpgs have.

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#21 Posted by Marino (7555 posts) -

@thatpinguino: Nice work. PlayStation-era RPGs hold a special place with me. And now you've got a promo for this on the front page of the site.

No Caption Provided

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#22 Posted by bobafettjm (2332 posts) -

I absolutely adored this game back when it first came out. It was right in that moment when I was devouring any and all JRPGs I could get my hands on. I remember loving the battle system in it as well.

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#23 Posted by Damodar (2185 posts) -

Yeah, I always liked this game. I was actually playing it not so long ago, still found it fairly enjoyable.

It was cool how you could overlap commands for special attacks, I enjoyed trying to include as many as possible in one turn.

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#24 Posted by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@damodar: The best is when you figure out each character's final arts, which executes almost every one of their individual arts one after another in one long crazy combo. Also Noa's was called Noa's Ark. That is all.

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#25 Posted by NathanXplosion (194 posts) -

This game is one of the first JRGPs I ever played and still one of my favorites.

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#26 Posted by golguin (5469 posts) -

I played the hell out of the demo and maxed everything out that you could do in the starting town. I knew the arts for all the moves, but a lot of them didn't work in the demo (like the dolphin move for Noa). I eventually got the game used and played the hell out of it. I really enjoyed the combat system and how good the characters looked in combat. I didn't know it at the time as I didn't know what anime was, but thinking back on it the game was anime as hell.

I don't know why Western RPGs refuse to use the "rival" concept. Every great character can be complemented by a great rival (Virgil and Dante, Ryu and Ken, Raiden and Sam, Bayonetta and Jeanne, Red and Blue, Asura and Yasha, and the list goes on).

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#27 Posted by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@golguin: The game is even more Anime when you understand what the characters are exclaiming in Japanese as they attack. They sound like a Naruto soundboard.

I like that Legend of Legaia actually had multiple sets of rivals. Gala had Songi and there was an evil twin team of Seru-users that fought the main party in the back half of the game. We need more evil twin teams in games.

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#28 Posted by arch4non (472 posts) -

One of my favorite things about Legend of Legaia was how it actually changed your character's outfit based on what items they had equipped whereas Final Fantasy and Chrono Cross only changed the weapon.

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#29 Edited by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@arch4non: I also loved that the ra-seru actually grew every time you saved a genesis tree. Making 10 or so arms per character was probably no small task in the PS1 era.

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#30 Edited by Spoonman671 (5874 posts) -

I played through this game so many times. I could probably still input all the advanced combos if you put the entry screen in front of me. I also remember having a crush on Noa, that girl that was raised by wolves or some shit.

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#31 Posted by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@spoonman671: She is a princess who was raised by a wolf who was possessed by a ra-seru. She had a normal childhood.

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#32 Posted by newmarcom (318 posts) -
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Legaia is one of my favourite RPG battle systems and has the oddest commercial to go with

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#33 Edited by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@newmarcom: Really. The mist is what they marketed this game on? Not the story. Not the combat. Not the graphics. The mist. Man I wish I was a marketing person in the 90s, it seems like a fountain of drugs and money.

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#34 Posted by ViciousAnchovy (830 posts) -

I bought (or rather, my Mom) bought Legend of Legaia as a birthday gift for one of my friends back in elementary school. I selected the game based solely on its cover because I was a stupid kid, but once my friend discovered his first art, some kind of backflip kick, he seemed hooked on the game. And even though I saw enough of the game to know I'd like it, I haven't ever tried getting my own copy, even after getting a PS2.. I'll have to rectify that someday.

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#35 Posted by Nasar7 (3224 posts) -

I remember really liking this game as a kid. Don't remember any of the details now though, it's all part of a late 90s JRPG blur.

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#36 Edited by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@nasar7: I didn't get many games in the late 90s so I played the crap out of the few JRPGs I managed to get my hands on.

@viciousanchovy: Good random choice then!

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#37 Posted by GasparNolasco (365 posts) -

Contrarily to most PS1 RPGs I've played, I really don't remember this specific game fondly -- I didn't like the mood of the game back then. Something about the color pallet and soundtrack felt really depressing to me.

I'm pretty sure I've finished this game in my childhood, but I can't remember almost anything from the story itself. All I can gather is the fact that the world is enveloped in some kind of monster summoning mist and that there's a weird girl that joins your party at some point that was raised by wolves... for some reason I also remember keeping an item called "point card" for the whole game without ever using it, because I felt like it should be only used against the last boss.

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#38 Edited by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@gasparnolasco: The point card was a card that stored up points of damage every time you made a purchase in the game. If you used it, it would damage a single enemy based on the number of points stored and then empty. I'm not sure that I ever used the thing.

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#39 Edited by sir_gunblade (162 posts) -

I got this game for free from Sony. My PS1 had to be repaired, and was away for two weeks. Sony offered me a choice of several games for free as compensation, and I picked Legaia. I should play it again one of these days.

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#40 Posted by dancingpolkabear (233 posts) -

Man, this just made me remember how much I loved this game. I got this for Christmas along with a playstation and I loved it. I was only 8 years old and had never played an rpg before and man was this game awesome. The gameplay is still unique to this day.

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#41 Posted by BirthWild (300 posts) -

man, scrolled down and saw Legend of Lagaia picture.

Had to stop by and support love of this game, DUH-ANG, such good times.

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#42 Posted by teekomeeko (792 posts) -

I loved this game quite a bit, and it was actually only like the second or third JRPG I ever played. I also remember it was the very first game I ever bought with my own money. Worth it.

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#43 Posted by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@teekomeeko: @birthwild: @dancingpolkabear: Glad to hear there are other Legend of Legaia fans! This game was one of the first of a series of PS1 mind blowers for a little me. Legaia always felt the most unique though.

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#45 Edited by Sanious (799 posts) -

Don't think I ever finished it but it was a game a Friend and I played when we were younger, we enjoyed what we played quite a bit. My friend used to yell "Tornado Flame" in his house and he sounded exactly like Vahn, it was hilarious and used to piss off his Grandmom. XD

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#46 Posted by brownsfantb (452 posts) -

The first JRPG I ever played. I have plenty of fond memories of playing through this one.

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#47 Posted by thatpinguino (2847 posts) -

@sanious: I used to do the same thing when I was little. The tornado flame seemed like a really good move to try in real life, but it turns out jumping, spinning uppercuts aren't as strong without your hand being on fire.

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#49 Posted by Flexy5 (23 posts) -

I remember I had my dad order this game from some weird catalog solely because it had the double disc case, like FF7 did, so I figured it was an RPG.

I also remember the weird dancing minigame they had for Noa frustrating me to no end as a kid, and how I thought even then it was kinda creepy that she had a swimsuit even though she was like 14. Great game overall though