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ups: Unique battle system; good translation.
downs: Typical storyline; stale graphics and map design; difficulty level varies throughout the game.

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Legaia 2: Duel Saga Review
game: Legaia 2: Duel Saga
three star
posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: Eidos Interactive / Fresh Games
developer: Contrail
date posted: 09:10 AM Sun Dec 22nd, 2002
last revision: 03:48 PM Sun Oct 23rd, 2005

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by Colin K. Yu

A growing storyline + leveling up + enemy encounters + customizable equipment + massive exploration + minigames = the key ingredients to creating a Role Playing Game (RPG). It has been a tried-and-true recipe, and many developers have been victorious in creating a successful RPG. And while Fresh Games gets the recipe right with Legaia 2: Duel Saga, the quality of the game leaves little more than a bit of a stale taste.

The Legaia series began on the Playstation One as The Legend of Legaia. The game had a fantastic unique battle system which allowed players to attack specific areas on the enemy. But one of the main factors that held back the success of Legaia was its somewhat predictable and banal storyline. The story was too slow-paced, and it wasn\'t intense enough to hold the interest of players. Unfortunately, this factor is the same one that plagues the second game of the series, Legaia 2: Duel Saga.

Duel Saga begins as the typical, \"Hero tries to save the world from impending doom\" story, and barely goes beyond that. The main character, Lang, sets off on a journey to recover a stolen Water Crystal, the very item that his town survives on. The thief of the Crystal is heard to have tremendous powers, and he intends to do very bad things with the Crystal. Hmm, maybe let\'s say, wipe out the entire human race? Along his adventure, Lang discovers that he is a Mystic, a rare breed of human that possesses God-given powers called Origins. With these new-found powers, along with a cast of other Mystics, they plan to find the culprit and prevent the abolition of the human race.

That\'s about it. The story tries to throw in some twists and turns but it never strays from its predictable inevitability. The sense of adventure is dulled down by the fact that it becomes a cat-and-mouse chase; the characters travel from town to town and dungeon to dungeon in search of the main enemy. The characters\' development themselves is a bit lacking, leaving the gaming experience a little to remember it by.

While there are interesting elements in the games such as gardening and cooking, if anything, the battle system is Duel Saga\'s element that should be savored. Just like its predecessor, the game uses a unique approach to battle system in RPGs. While the Origins (similar to summoning) are an integral part of the system, it\'s the Tactical Arts System that deserves the attention. The Tactic Arts System is a command-based operation. Each character has an amount of command blocks in which a directional command can be assigned to it. Each of these commands attack the enemy a certain way. The compelling aspect of the system lies within the Arts abilities. With a specific sets of directional commands comprised together, it unleashes a more powerful combo than an ordinary sets of attacks. There are different levels of Art attacks, and with more blocks made available from leveling up, massive damage can be dealt with each blow. The Art techniques are hidden, and one way to unlock them is to find scrolls in the game to reveal them. But the more compelling method is by the player discovering them by using different commands during battle, giving the player motivation to experiment with different attacks.

With a great battle system, it would be reasonable to use it frequently. But compared to the continuous flock of battles in the first Legaia, Duel Saga is like a walk in the park. Literally. Enemy encounters happen at a slow rate, giving more opportunity to travel farther without being bombarded each step of the way. What\'s also unfortunate is there is little to no variation in enemies in a particular area. Typically, there are only three different types of enemies, and each enemy attacks in a pack of the same breed. For example, let\'s say in a dungeon, you run into a pack of dogs, a pack of cats, and a pack of mice along the way. You can expect to run into same dogs, cats, and mice again, in the same attack formation no less. And once you discover the enemy\'s patterns, battle becomes a repetition of the same attacks on both sides.

And believe me when I say it\'ll be a repetition of battles. The difficulty level starts off from the get-go, and it remains constant throughout the game. The first battle area of the game is a forest, mainly a primer for battles and such. By the completion of the forest, an average player can expect to be around Level 5. By the end of the second battle area, there is a boss that you\'ll be hard pressed to defeat without being at Level 10. So the only way to pass this section is to level up, but add in the fact that battles are distant from each other, and each battle contains the same enemies, and it equals to a boring experience. I spent more time running around in circles looking for battles, than the time it took to win the battles.

Being that a lot of the play time is looking for battles, it would have been generous of the developers to add some dynamics to the areas. Similar to the storyline, the towns and dungeons are very linear. On the path from A to B, there is usually nothing in the environment to catch the eye, no levels of depths to stare at in awe. The exploration camera is static in Duel Saga, but it felt more like a hindrance in this game compared to any other RPG. Unlike a typical Squaresoft game that includes detailed, colorful atmospheres, in Duel Saga I always had this urge to move the camera around as if I could find some hidden state of utopia right around the corner.

One factor that does positively separate Duel Saga from other RPGs is its translation. Unlike other Japanese-born games which have horrible English translations, such as bombing bases and other sorts, Duel Saga manages to produce a legible story. The text rarely felt awkward, and that\'s always a good thing. One of the components that I loved most about Duel Saga was how the player can frequently choose his or her response in a conversation. It\'s never anything that derails the story off its linear path, but it\'s something I believe is worth appreciating. It is a shame that even with its strong translation and its speech interactivity, it gets belittled by the constant fact that the story is unimpressive.

That\'s what it boils down to. If only Fresh Games could have given Duel Saga a kick of energy in its storyline, a shot of impressive graphics, and an overall dose of excitement, it could have stood a chance with the big boys of RPGs. Fresh Games need to spend as much concentration and ingenuity with the overall game package, as they do with the unique battle systems. Because in the end, it the lack of that innovation that holds the Legaia series from flying off the shelves. So if you\'re not looking for a stellar, memorable storyline, and are more interested in the gameplay that will last you many hours, I would first suggest giving it a chance from the rental shelf.

Colin K. Yu (12/22/2002)