The world was at peace. Man and animal coexisted in a state of near utopian harmony. That was before the Decoders came. This new threat washed over the planet in a wave of evil and destruction that sent man fleeing to small outposts on the edge of civilization in order to survive. People only leave their dwellings occasionally to scavenge for resources and fight off the monsters lurking in the woods. But recently a new weapon has been discovered that can turn the tide of this war. Now a new group of heroes will boldly march into battle against the hordes of monsters in order to save the world and send the enemy fleeing.
I feel like I’ve heard this story before.
Fantasy Hero ~unsigned legacy~ is a new Japanese action RPG from Arc System Works. If you’ve played any JRPG in the last 20 years, then you probably have a good idea of what to expect. Fantasy Hero takes an established formula and puts a new coat of paint on it. It doesn’t offer anything new or grand to the genre, which is fine. What isn’t fine are the inherent flaws of the game which make it a pain to play and even harder to enjoy.
The story revolves around a group of four heroes who live in a secluded village deep in the forest. Humanity has gone into hiding after the Decoders, a race of animal-like creatures, have come and taken over the world. With the help of a new weapon, these heroes are granted the power to defeat these monsters and uncover the mystery of their origins. It’s a rather straightforward tale that is told through the use of cut-scenes…. many, many cut-scenes. But more on that later.
You get to play as one of the four main characters. You can choose the plucky swordsman Acress Breathbeat who is both young and brash. Or there’s the luchador wrestler Mask the Shout who is a very hands-on type of fighter. Haul Keeling is a bird man Decoder who has defected to the humans and utilizes dual guns to mow down his enemies. And last but not least there is Ashta Little Husky who is obsessed with tinkering and machines, but also gets confused as to what’s going on since she’s “just a girl.”
Each of the characters has their own unique fighting style and upgrade path. I played mainly as Haul since I found the ranged weapons to be most suited to the way I play. After selecting a character and customizing him a bit, the game drops you into a village where you can go to a bulletin board and select which mission you want to play. There’s a choice between the main story missions or side quests that will help you gain XP and help level up your character.
Also available in the town is your home where you can do inventory management and distribute points to upgrade your character. Then there’s the weapon smith who can use the resources you find in the world to make your weapons stronger and more lethal. There’s also a store to buy and sell goods that you collect during your battles. And lastly there is a kiosk to control the multi-player portion of the game.
After selecting a mission, you can venture out into the world where you’ll be faced with a series of different enemies. They can take the form of anything from crawling Jello molds to flying hamburgers with boxing gloves. Different enemies are gradually added to the mix, but after awhile it becomes so monotonous that it just doesn’t matter anymore. There are plenty of them and since they’re not overly difficult to defeat, it becomes apparent very early on that the sole purpose of these encounters is to gain XP and loot. It’s not very satisfying at all.
Also, the world starts off small with very few places to go, but as you progress through the story, things start to open up a bit more. There are chests to find with more loot that will help you get more powerful weapons that allow you to go out and kill more which gives you more loot. You know the drill. It’s a bit boring and a bit monotonous. But it’s all repetitive. Each mission feels exactly like the one before it.
There is some redemption in it though. Grinding out battles in order to collect loot is appealing from time to time. I also had a great time going through my characters skill tree and figuring out which powers I wanted to upgrade or choosing which weapons I wanted to equip. All of that is done really well.
What isn’t done well is most everything else.
First let’s talk about the story for a moment. I won’t even get into the details of the plot because it’s not really important. What is important is how the story is told and how frustrating they make it for the player. Most of the story is played out through extremely long cut-scenes that are very heavy on dialogue (the characters speak in Japanese, but everything is translated into English) which is really hard to read at times. Yes, there are a few times when the translations is flawed and you get funny sentences like “The fog was think…” but what is truly bad is layout of the text.
A space. A simple little space between words would make things so much better. But the words get so mashed together that it can be frustrating at times. One bit of dialogue I remember is when it was asking for someone to “helpAshout.” I kept thinking “help A shout?” What does that mean? Oh, wait. “help Ash out,” I get it. The problem is that the game is so heavily reliant on text that when it’s difficult to read, it’s also difficult to stay engaged with what is going on.
I also think that problem with the text is exasperated even more since so much of the dialogue is unnecessary. I learned long ago that writing dialogue in a story is not as easy as it seems. When a character speaks, there needs to be a purpose for it. Each bit of dialogue has to reveal something about the story or character or else it should be cut. Having a character repeat the same idea over and over and over again gets tiresome fast. I got the point when he said it the first time. He doesn’t need to endlessly repeat it.
Aside from the text layout, there is one other glaring flaw in the presentation of the game. The map that is in the upper corner of the screen and which shows you where to go (and where every enemy and trap are located) takes up way too much real estate. There are too many times when you can’t see the action of the battle because that map is blocking your view. The camera is already pulled in too close to begin with and you always have a limited view of what’s around you, so having even more of it blocked off by a map is irritating. It gets even worse when it gets replaced by a character “calling in” to give you an update on the story. Now you can’t see the battle you’re in, you can’t use the map to locate your enemies, but you’re also supposed to read the compressed text while fighting off monsters. That’s strikes one through three right there.
The most egregious flaw of the game though is the check-point system, or rather the lack of one. Death in a mission is an instant failure and you need to restart from the very beginning. You can grind your way for 15 minutes through the easiest monsters in the world and then suddenly you get hit with a cheap-shot and you die suddenly. It’s back to the beginning for 15 more minutes of easy grinding before you find that one challenge. This caused me to rage-quit on more than one occasion while shouting expletives at the game.
One part of the game that I did actually like was in the multiplayer. One person can host a room while another player can join and they can engage in battles cooperatively. It makes the whole experience a lot more fun, and it works really well. Sadly, it’s ad-hoc only and there is no option for online play. So unless you have a friend in the room with you, it’s not much of a feature (though it does work if you have one on a Vita and the other on a PlayStation TV).
Another aspect that works relatively well are the controls. Things are simple and easy to figure out. Items can be mapped to various buttons which can then be accessed by pressing the Left Shoulder button. The only problem I ran into was reversing of Circle and Cross buttons in menus, which is the Japanese approach. So Circle is used to confirm in menus and Cross is used to cancel. It takes a bit getting used to, and would be nicer if they were reversed, but it’s not a major problem.
As for the look and sound of the game, it’s just adequate. Characters are drawn with a thick black border around them, reminiscent of a cel-shaded style but not as charming. The animations are fine and well done but nothing stood out as being exceptional. And the music is that guitar heavy rock tune that is constantly blaring away and is so common in JRPGs. I could be wrong (and I probably am) but it almost seems like there is a JRPG music bucket where they just grab the same music and use it again and again.
Fantasy Hero ~unsigned legacy~ is a game only for the hardest of the hard core JRPG fans. It uses so many of the established elements from other games that there is a lot of familiar ground here. However, there are so many flaws with major parts of the game that it makes playing it rather difficult. Anything that is fun is quickly washed away after the constant repetition and poor story telling. It gets a lot of the small details right, but too many of the major ones are broken.