|Not pictured: Frog Prince.|
And then The Legend of Legacy comes along and is like, "YOU WANT DIFFERENT?! I'LL GIVE YOU DIFFERENT!"
-A unique and interesting take on turn-based battles, character growth, and difficulty
-Gorgeous aesthetics, from music, to character, enemy, and environment design
-Highly replayable, customizable, and appreciative of player effort
-A bit too ambiguous for its own good
-Early game difficulty broken(?) by economy
What surprises me to say is that, by all means, The Legend of Legacy is a very simplistic RPG with a ton of complexity just below the surface. During the experience, however, a whole lot of the game doesn't feel straightforward. Indeed, strange growth mechanics that rely on party positioning, skill unlocks being triggered by purposefully dangerous encounters, and a mysterious plotline that has little payoff make everything feel a little lost, or too unstructured to guarantee a solid experience.
But somehow, despite the mystery of how you are supposed to advance to the next portion of the story, or if you have missed a floor in one of the dungeons, or even how you're supposed to combat a giant Griffon should it be unhappy about you trying to nab its eggs, everything falls into place. The momentum of The Legend of Legacy constantly propels you forward, encouraging you to search a little more, or keep using a skill or spell in order to progress. Even if its statistic, skill, and magic systems are a bit RNG-based, the game does an excellent job of remaining exciting, even towards its conclusion.
Case in point- one of the primary mechanics of the game is that, if you run from a battle, you will be sent back to the beginning of the map. This encourages the player to take risky adventures that may or may not pay off, but also allows them quick access to Initium, where you can heal and sell items. This also means that battles are integral to the progression of the game and must be done in order to win- unless you're very good at dodging the quick-moving shadows of foes. Battling is how you improve your statistics and grow your magic and skills, so it makes sense that you would want to keep fighting, but fighting itself can be used as fast-travel. Clearing maps boosts your wealth in order to buy better equipment, so it's a key feature in the game that helps initially, but ultimately enables the Galleon to leave from the port, which kick-starts your economy to even greater levels (and grants you equipment you might use until the very end of the game, but it isn't so game breaking that all difficulty is lost). Though you might be lost, you are doing so to excellent music, lovely art, and a continuous sense of progression.
What does frustrate a bit is The Legend of Legacy's determination to tell you as little as possible, though. The story is light, and many of the methods of progression featured in the game aren't really explicit. After trudging through a map early in the game, I thought it might be best to not go where more of the "gimmick" mobs were because I was tired of having to fight my way through them when I accidentally hit one. Instead, I went to a much more difficult area where I had my collective ass thoroughly kicked for about two hours before getting a hang of spamming high-SP attacks on the first turn and relying on proper guarding to save me while I regained said SP, only to find that I had gone through the third segment of the opening before the second and breezed through that later. In addition, special encounters, exits to new areas, and more may or may not be required as a part of progressing the story, but the game sure won't tell you if that's the case. I spent a good hour or two before the endgame going through what I assumed was the final dungeon (a terrain that cannot be charted, unlike all the other areas in the game) only to find that I had been wasting my time there and had to revisit an area I completed long before again with a new collectible. Again, the game told me none of this.
Going into The Legend of Legacy prepared for the progression is, in my opinion, one of the best ways you can possibly enjoy the game, as its ambiguity leaves a bit too much to be desired. While it is fun to explore, and the mapping/dungeon crawling part of me was very pleased with that aspect, the story and character growth are complete mysteries, and while the game guide and NPCs nudge you in the right direction, it is mostly an RPG that excels in the feeling of being lost. Not-knowing might be fun for a bit, but when you invest too much time in growing a character one way only to find out his affinities were never in the fields your attempted to promote is a aggravating. Losing an hour or so searching everywhere for an exit you might have missed is aggravating. But it doesn't break the game. While your first playthrough may be a bit meandering, the second, third, etc. are much more concentrated and efficient, as you quickly begin to understand the strengths of your party members (and can always switch them out if you feel they don't work), the economy, and the collectible drops, which increase in rarity with continued restarts. Of course, having seven endings, each with their own unique take on the character and sometimes the story, also helps the game.
Is The Legend of Legacy different from any RPG you've played? Well, not exactly. There are some more unique aspects, but for the most part, much of what is on display in The Legend of Legacy can be found in other games. However, if depth and a unique and continuous sense of progression are what you look for in a meaty game, it might be the right choice for you.
Final Verdict: While the mysteries of The Legend of Legacy might remain ever-elusive and sometimes annoying upon a first playthrough, it is the sort of title that grows on you. Beautiful, wonderfully scored, and with a exploitable, yet rewarding battle system, it is one of the better 3DS RPGs, and definitely worth a look.