Tales of Legendia is a JRPG developed and published by Namco on the PS2 in 2005-2006. After Senel and his sister Shirley capsize their boat, they wash ashore on the island-shaped ship known as the Legacy, said to be the remnant of an ancient civilization. Soon afterwards, Shirley gets kidnapped and Senel has to team up with some locals and explore the island in order to get her back.
Coming off Symphonia, Legendia is pretty reserved in scope, both in its world and its gameplay. The game is set on the the Legacy, an island drifting across the oceans which interests various world powers. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the series, as you do not get to explore the whole world at any point. The setup reminds me a lot of an Ys game (especially with the boat accident at the start). So does the chibi art style, which feels like something that belongs much earlier in the life span of the PS2. You could have told me that this was a game released alongside Grandia 2 and I would believe it no problem. The music is pretty baller though, as it's either super upbeat or slow and sombre with a lot of distinct tracks.
This smaller scope affords the game the chance to really build its characters, which it does, but I don't like the way the story is structured and paced. Shirley getting kidnapped to rope Senel into the major plot is fine, but then she gets kidnapped two more times and is barely affored any agency! Not only does this undermine her as a character, but it also keeps the stakes from changing in interesting ways. If you aren't trying to save Shirley, then it won't be long until you resume doing so.
Another thing that's really strange is how the game handles character development. It's split into two distinct halves, with the first half being centered around Senel, Shirley and the main story stuff. Then, after you beat the final boss of the main story, you get to play through each party member's character quest, which is a lengthy chapter of story dedicated to their major personal struggle.
While I like the idea of a dedicated epilogue that shows how the world of the game keeps spinning after the credits, it feels almost contrived to save up the character growth for so long. Not helping matters is the fact that the game drops its voice acting for the character quests, which really makes it a slog to get through the many lengthy cutscenes. The skits are still voiced, but they are so rare that they might as well not exist.
It's a shame that the game ended up like this, as the themes of the character quests are pretty awesome. There's stuff like: Rejecting your terrible past and accepting your self-made family, moving on from revenge for the greater good and learning to accept loss before it happens. Not all of the quests are great (looking at yours, Norma), but when things get rolling, it's some of the strongest stuff I've seen in the franchise. I just wish that this was integrated into the main plot and voice acted. As is, it feels like an afterthought.
Same goes for Senel, who is a bit bland for my tastes, even though there is enough material to make him interesting. If they had developed his teased relationship with the knight Chloe further and integrated her character quest into the main story, I think he could have been salvaged into a better protagonist.
Also, the game caps itself off with one of the blandest "end all suffering" final bosses I have ever seen, which was just terrible. Not even the power of friendship spiel was enough to make me care. And I love that stuff!
Another surprising departure from Symphonia is the return of 2D combat, which might just be its worst incarnation yet, unless some of the Japan-only games released before this had an even wonkier incarnation of this combat engine.
On the surface, it's not far from the combat in Eternia, but something was lost when changing to this engine. Combat is fast, and really disorienting thanks to some changes made to the controls. You have a hefty input buffer, so in trying to keep up with the action, I found myself using Eres (combat artes/skills) twice on accident a lot. Not only that, but I found a lot of skills to have poor kinaesthetics to boot, making it very difficult to do combos consistenly. They just feel off.
You can also pass through enemies now, which does make it easier to hit what you want in a crowded battle, but since you only need to stand against an enemy for a few seconds to pass through them, I did a lot of that on accident when trying to use horizontal attacks. I'd have preferred to make that ability an option or have its own button so it'd be possible to not do it when trying to stay close to an enemy. Same thing for the auto-lock-on, which really annoyed me from time to time.
It's messy all around and becomes really tiring after a while. Not only are random encounters back, but I only found two characters fun to use and most encounters are HP sponges that just refuse to die quickly, even when you are leveled enough to match the area.
There are some cool additions, but not enough to save the whole thing. TP now regens automatically, not matter how much you attack, which effectively gives the casters enough TP while leaving the fighters dry quickly. It's an interesting change, but I'm not sure if it's any better than the old way of recovering TP by fighting. There's a super meter that is about as slow to build up as the one in Symphonia and about as boring tactically. You can either use it to blow off a percentage of something's health (so your stats only matter for normal attacks) or use it to freeze an enemy for free attacks and a chance to recover the party. It's a fine enough system, but I wish you were allowed to use it more often. Senel can also throw downed enemies, which is a bit fun, but in order to do so, you need a skill that's strong enough for their weight class, which can be difficult to discern at a moment's glance.
Skills are divided into two basic types, Iron Eres and Crystal Eres. Iron Eres are learned by leveling and once mastered by continued use can be combined to make Compund Eres. These are supposed to be really strong, but costly to use, but I found them all to be garbage, save for the one that deals critical damage to the final boss. While you cn mix and match a lot of Eres, the results simply aren't diverse or effective enough. Take Senel's Compund Eres for example. They are mostly just his throw skills (which are already redundant enough), except now they deal extra damage to a specific enemy type for about 5-2 times the TP (they all cost 50 TP, so depending on where you are in the game they'll either be insanely costly or just very costly). It's a good idea executed horribly and the game would be better off without it.
The Crystal Eres (magic) are handled better, but aquiring them still irks me, much like how you learn artes in Symphonia. Crystal eres are unlocked by leveling, but to learn them afterwards, you need to collect Eres Stones. These stones are somewhat common drops from enemies with each type of enemy (original version and recolours) that you need a specific amount of before the spell is learned. What bothers me is that the game isn't open enough for you to say, go off the beaten path after dungeon 3, grind for 10 minutes and unlock a spell that'll help you in the next dungeon a bit earlier. Playing the game without much grinding, I got all the vital spells about when I needed them, so I question the need to overcomplicate matters instead of just having them be learned through leveling or after beating bosses. While I like JRPGs having interesting skill systems, I also want them to add something to the experience.
My issues with the story's pacing and the HP sponges you fight during combat encounters are made even worse thanks to the terrible dungeons in the game. I say dungeons, but there's really only one dungeon that pretends to be multiple ones. What I mean by that is that every dungeon follows the same structure of connecting intersecting sets of similar-looking crossroads with next to no verticality at play. As a result of this, it is very difficult to tell where you are and where you're going.
One interesting feature the game uses to try and guide you are the Chaotic Zones, which are small spots shrouded in darkness where you are almost guaranteed to fight a super beefy elite enemy. Defeat it, and the zone will go away and most likely take you to a chest and a dead end. That's an alright idea, but the dungeons are swamped with dead ends, so it quickly becomes tiresome.
They also fail at providing proper guidance, since they despawn and the game has the audacity to make you backtrack without shortcuts out of most dungeons! So if you didn't get lost on the way in, you might get lost on the way out and suffer extra random battles. Nevermind the fact that basically every dungeon gets shamelessly recycled in the character quest section of the game! And you need to backtrack then too, so you basically have to do most dungeons 4 times!
About the only nice thing I can say about the dungeons (besides the music) is that the block puzzles have been cordoned off into their own dimension where there are no random battles. You also have the option to skip them for next to no punishment (you miss a single lackluster title for Senel), which helps the pacing ever so slightly. But if they were smart enough to do that, then why didn't they add teleporters at the end of dungeons and shave off like 5 hours from the whole game?!