Legasista ReviewJoe Shaffer
I've learned over the years to stop expecting Disgaea from every NIS offering. Despite success in this endeavor, I still find myself disappointed with their published titles. Their latest entry, Legasista, is no exception. With this game, I can't pinpoint any one major flaw. Mostly, it's a collection of moderate issues, each one marring a different key feature that would otherwise be excellently executed.
I'm not speaking of mechanics, of course. Legasista handles wonderfully, featuring fluid animation and tight control response. This not only helps maintain a balanced difficulty, but keeps the action appropriately paced. Ordinarily, I wouldn't pay sturdy mechanics this much service. However, the mechanics here are actually remarkable and add to the action. For example, I recall several tense moments surrounded by enemies, fangs bared and mouths frothing. I would put my trepidation aside and start swinging my sword, hacking in every direction, sometimes burning through all three of my party members. Thanks to solid mechanics, the game moved as fast as I could think, and it made occasions like these some of the best in my playthrough.
There I go, making this game sound amazing, as if intense action is waiting around every corner. Unfortunately scenes like the one described above are few and far between, and mainly appear in the latter half of the game. The first half, by contrast, consists of basic 2D dungeons with little of anything exciting, interesting or challenging. Most of them are straightforward stages with, at most, a whopping four enemies within proximity of one another. Dealing with such underwhelming odds takes only a few strokes of a weak sword and little skill. Your toughest challenge might be the occasional overgrown monster, but nothing that can't be handled with standard attacks. To top it off, most of the early stages are simplistic in design and downright boring. All in all, it makes for a tedious, sleep-inducing experience.
Legasista must have detected my oncoming torpor. Rather than allow me to succumb to slumber, it stepped up its game and gave me a few reasons to continue playing. For instance, challenge increased and level designs became more intricate. Rather than traversing lifeless hallways, I found myself winding around labyrinthine corridors, dancing around tongues of fire belched by flamethrowers, and dodging gigantic blades whilst sliding on ice. Enemies joined the traps, their numbers and levels significantly increased. Rather than one or two lizardmen or a few poisonous mushrooms, I battled whole legions of giant toads, boulder-lobbing minotaurs, and menacing dark knights. While fighting off swarms of these suckers, I'd find a locked door or roadblock obstructing my path, and back I would trudge through the veritable mosh pit of monsters to find a key or a switch. Times like these were some of the best, when creatures were plentiful, challenge was tight, and levels were complex. It's just a shame that the whole game couldn't have been this way.
Around the time that I had grown tired of the game, it introduced randomized side dungeons called Ran-Geons. These puppies were basic dungeons strung together by a randomized code, and housed quite the horde of baddies and hoard goodies. You usually begin a Ran-Geon with a low item drop rate, weak loot, and pathetic enemies. As you advance, you can boost or lower all three factors by going through certain gates. Go through an Angel Gate, for instance, and you can increase drop rates and the appearance of rarer equipment. By contrast, going through a Devil Gate or a Hell Gate can severely lower drop rates and empower opponents, sometimes more than you might wish for them to. You could fight level 2 creatures on one stage, only to battle level 42 creatures on the next.
Gates also gain levels seemingly at random, which super boosts their benefits or hindrances. In other words, you could wind up with drop rates well over 100 points or see enemy levels advance beyond 200. In either case, though, there is a great potential for awesome loot.
Loot is a dungeon crawler's bread and butter, and can make or break a game depending on how it's handled. Somehow, Legasista creates a paradox by both making and breaking itself based on loot, all because of two aspects: there is no item shop and no in-game currency. Stop reading right now and think about the implications of this. Are you done thinking? I will say that yes, it is just as liberating/horrible as it sounds.
It's liberating because you can't stockpile healing potions and essentially purchase your way to victory. This means you cannot rely solely on your potion stock to win battles for you. You can't even farm healing items because they disappear from your inventory after you finish a stage. Only good old skill or level building and intelligent customization will aid you in taking down powerful foes.
At the same time, not having an item shop is damning. Since you can't purchase better pieces of equipment, you're forced to stumble upon them in dungeons. This wouldn't be so bad if drop rates were balanced for all item types, but they aren't. This can lead to long hours spent hunting a particular item. I decided at one point that I needed a new piece of armor, and thus stepped into the Ran-Geon thinking I'd find one in no time. I scoured those dungeons for three days before I found a worthy piece. Three days! Most of my excursions in that time were fruitless, not even begetting a piece of leather armor. Even though I did eventually find something worthwhile, the fact that it took so long is ridiculous. There's no reason I should have to spend three days trying to obtain a basic piece of equipment.
This wasn't the only time I spent long hours pounding through dungeons trying to find a particular item. It happened often enough that at times I considered "shelfing" the game and moving on to better projects. It's not like Legasista didn't already have strikes against it. Between this and lackluster entertainment values, I found giving up a tempting option. Not even the story would have kept me around, as it contains the same archetypes we've seen in every NIS playing out the same melodrama we've seen from every J-RPG since 2001.
My heart was heavy by the time I finished Legasista. It wasn't because I was ending a memorable experience, but because instances of greatness were few in number. Call me greedy, but I wanted more. I had hoped that Legasista would continue to build on the few excellent scenes it showcased and grow into a fully enjoyable and engrossing dungeon crawler, but that never came to pass. Every concept the game had to offer also came with glaring downsides like faulty cogs in a complex machine. With such cogs present, the machine that is Legasista could not function optimally. In the end I was forced to settle for a slightly dysfunctional, albeit occasionally enjoyable, offering from a company who used to consistently please me.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.