I’m completely new to Legend of Heroes, so I’ll be reviewing Sen No Kiseki (SnK) more as an outsider. This episode is the first on PSVita, and the first to be in 3D.
From what I know, Legend of Heroes has always been about war and politics, a bit like Final Fantasy Type-0. It’s clearly the case here : Young student of Thors Military Academy, Rean is chosen to be part of the elite class. Composed of students of different background, «Class 7» will be sent against all odds in missions of National Security, and face ancient dark magic.
Well, that’s in theory. The actual flow of events is not really dynamic. The story alternates between life at the Academy and field training. I found the school part was pretty cool, as the quests are varied and quite fun. But the best thing about it is the general atmosphere of the academy : there are dozens of NPCs, every one of them with their own background and personality. To make a comparison, it feels exactly like Harry Potter.
Let’s go into into the field trips now… Those are very very veeeeeery long sequences, because the story takes an eternity to accelerate a bit. Until the very end of the secnario, the stakes are kinda low and there’s a great deal of small talk which I can’t see as an added value (and in ultra-hard Japanese on the top of that, just imagine the suffering). The game hints at a lot a geopolitical issues (tax, arms race, aristocrats & commoners…) and the world inspired by the 30s is quite fascinating, but the big chunk of the story, the really exhilirating stuff is only in the last stages of the narrative. I’m sure you could cut something like 40% without hurting the understanding of the story, and the flow of the game would be improved. The scenario is not bad in a whole, it does have some good ideas, impressive scenes and plot twists, but those should really have better spread whithin the length of the game (70/80 hours). In those sequences, quests are virtually always the same : I have no problem in looking for lost cats and replacing bulbs. But PLEASE, NOT FOR 50 HOURS!
Fortunately, the game includes a few mini-games to help you unwind a bit : cards, a long fishing sidequest, a theme park or actual school tests about what’s in the library files. It’s cool but the impact on the gameplay in general is nil.
Let’s talk game system now. A lot of objectives will have you look for objects and persons. But all those are marked on your map and it can’t be deactivated. So you spend most of your time going from A to B. That annoys me… let me search, for sh** sake, I WANT TO SEARCH! Add fairly linear FFXIII-like paths and no possibility to visit towns again at the end of the game, and you have a rather old-school progression system.
Battles are already a lot better and it’s definitely one of the major enjoyments of SnK. Combat is extremely strategic and you’ll need your brains to prevail. Even though it’s turn-based, your characters can move freely around the battlefield, and like the Hyperdimension Neptune series, positioning the group wisely is crucial for attack/support. Actions are divided between attack, skill and magic that offer extremely varied effects and possibilities, with a great emphasis on identifying the weaknesses of the enemy. Elemental weaknesses of course, but also a sensitivity more or less acute to certain types of weapons.
If you strike with the right weapon, you have a chance that your partner will deal an additional blow. Like in Fire Emblem Awakening, it grows more efficient and gives more options when the friend level between the characters increases. The battle system is thus excellent, all the more interesting that enemies and bosses have very different behaviors, making every confrontation different from the others. To add even more depth in the battle system, the magic is organised by equipping quartz that have various effects : some just add spells, while others add status effects to normal attacks (instant death, freezing, etc) or status points (HP, DEF, etc). Finally, the turn column on the left add some bonuses such as critical attack or zero MP consumption, or even penalties in hazardous dungeons. It’s kind of a Russian roulette, since friends like foes can evenly benefit/suffer from those.
There are two things that bug me though : WHY, WHY IN THE HELL DOES MY SKILL JAUGE FALL TO ZERO WHEN K.O.? For starters, there is no logic in this, because the magic points are kept. But it’s ultra-annoying since skills are WAY more important than magic to win (special attacks, which are crucial in boss battles, consumes all your skill points). Second thing is that even in normal mode the level of difficulty is punitively high. Bosses inflicts abnormal status all the time, launch powerful zone attacks, are seconded by ever-respawing monsters and your characters hardly have enough turns to heal and counterattack. Fortunately, SnK gives the player a very clever option : when you lose, you can restart with the enemy’s stats reduced by 10%. So it’s generally achievable at the 2nd retry. But still, it hurts…
From a technical point of view, it’s good but not outstanding. While SnK is rather correct for Vita generally speaking, the character modeling is of unequal quality. Alisa is not really satisfying (which bothers me a lot, I would have expected extra care for her), but most of the other characters look quite fine (especially Sarah and Laura).
On the other hand, monsters are surprisingly incredibly detailed and their looks is quite stunning most of the time. Cities and countryside show some great care, there are few examples of recent handheld RPGs that have those kind of environments. I still do lament some stupid little graphical bugs and an agonizing framerate in some towns. Although I really love the art direction & character design, I was disappointed to realize it didn’t get any push in the game, the few artworks not even being in full color.
I’m frustrated by Sen no Kiseki of which I expected a lot. I nearly threw the Vita by the window quite a few times but I still liked it in the end. I enjoyed combat a lot, I like the characters, the atmosphere of the game is really cool when something actually happens and the very end blew me away. However, there are too many hiccups here and there to make SnK the reference I thought it could become. We’ll see next September if Falcom fixes the problems and makes Sen no Kiseki 2 a perfect title.