Nippon Ichi Software-owned developer System Prisma, best known for their retro-inspired ClaDun and ClaDun X2, has finally made the jump to HD home consoles with the release of Legasista. As the spiritual successor to the rougelike-esque ClaDun series of dungeon crawlers, Legasista streamlines some of ClaDun’s more convoluted systems in order to be more accessible for newcomers, in addition to the inclusion of a fully-formed narrative. The result, however, is a mixed bag that would have felt more at home on a handheld system.
Looking beyond anime tropes
While the ClaDun titles took pride in having the barest threads of a narrative that served little purpose other than to throw the player into dungeon upon dungeon, Legasista tries its hand at having a fleshed-out story, told in cutscenes featuring 2D character models and Japanese voiceovers that will be familiar to fans of Disgaea or visual novels such as Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. The story follows the antics of young Alto, an adventurer with two major problems: his sister has been turned into a crystal and half his shirt appears to be missing. Though only one of these has any direct impact on the story, Alto’s lack of proper clothing serves to illustrate the wide range of stereotypical anime oddities rampant in Legasista. The narrative won’t win any awards, but it injects a level of humor and intrigue that may push those unaccustomed to dense dungeon crawlers to keep playing, as long as they can stand the characters.
Legasista may have a strange title, but just as it can be broken down into “legacy” and “sister,” so too can its gameplay components be better understood by their parts. Combat takes place in real time, and System Prisma has done away with the Magic Circles of ClaDun in favor of separate characters, who can be switched to at any time, even in the heart of battle. The top-down dungeons are fairly straight-forward, containing enemies that circle in preset routes and floor traps that are activated when walked over that shoot anything from arrows to health bubbles that must be destroyed to receive their healing effects (don’t ask how many times I got hit by a health trap instead of being healed by it). While the bite-sized dungeons can be completed fairly easily with some well-timed sword slinging during the first few hours, they soon ramp up in difficulty, requiring players to make wise use of equipped spells and items scattered throughout the levels.
Customize this, customize that
In contrast to Legasista’s relatively intuitive dungeons, the hub world presents a variety of party customization options that will intimidate all but the most dedicated dungeon crawling fans. Text-heavy menus must be navigated for equipping weapons, stat-boosting items, spells, and, most importantly, job-specific Energy Frames, which are unlocked as characters level up. These Energy Frames determine everything your characters can equip, down to weapon type and number of item slots. In addition to regular health bars, all equipment has a durability meter, which will decrease when attacked in a dungeon. If an item reaches 0 durability, the character it’s equipped to will no longer receive its benefits, adding an additional level of strategy to both preparing to venture out into battle and actually negotiating combat on the field.
Though players will end up spending just as much time wading through their inventory as they will in the dungeons themselves, partially due to the fact that loot is everywhere and there are no shops to be found, meaning there’s no buying or selling of goods, System Prisma has included another feature sure to claim many hours of players’ lives: a character creation system. This allows players to fashion their party members into whoever whatever they desire by determining where to place and what to color every single pixel of the character models. And, for the artistically inclined, Legasista even allows you to import image files into the game, with templates provided by NIS America allowing for easy character crafting.
Legasista’s main campaign will only take approximately 15 hours to complete, but the randomly-generated dungeons, or Ran-geons, offer limitless replayability for the loot-obsessed. Ran-geons feature 100 levels of varying difficulty, much like was seen in ClaDun, with gates at the end of each floor forcing players to make the difficult choice of whether to increase the level of the enemies for increasingly rare loot and more experience, or head back to the hub with any already-accumulated treasures. But though fans of stat-maxing will be happy to spend countless hours racing through Ran-geons in search of the rarest drops, all the while pushing their characters towards the level cap of 999, a limited number of palette-swapped enemies (taken straight from ClaDun) and recycled terrain will likely scream “budget title” to the more casual crowd.
Legasita’s greatest flaw, however, lies in its platform. While the visuals certainly benefit from the HD treatment, with dungeons seeing smoother sprites and vibrant character portraits gracing dialogue sequences, the bite-sized nature of the levels themselves is far more suited to portable gaming. Every time I sat down on my couch to play Legasista, I couldn’t help but wish I had it on the PS Vita’s bright OELD screen instead. The ClaDun series made a happy niche for itself on the PSP, but the breadth and quality of dungeon crawlers on the PSN, such as recent indie title Rainbow Moon, means that Legasista will likely be overshadowed by more standout home console offerings.
This doesn’t mean that Legasista isn’t a quality title –- fans of the genre will find much to like here, and those familiar with ClaDun will feel right at home. Though the move away from some of the more complex systems might alienate some ClaDun veterans, the addition of a serviceable story and more streamlined character customization provides a more accessible experience to those unfamiliar with the loot grind. It’s just a shame that System Prisma turned their efforts toward the big screen when it worked so well on a little one.
- Release date: August 21st, 2012 (NA)
- Genre: RPG
- Platform: PlayStation 3 (PSN download)
- Developer: System Prisma, Nippon Ichi Software, Inc.
- Publisher: NIS America
- Rating: T
- MSRP: $29.99
Our score: 3/5
Review statement: A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.