[Off the grid is a weekly column focusing on titles that may have flown under many people’s radar at the time of release, for whatever reason. Usually the titles have some redeeming quality and weren’t just overlooked because they were horrible games.]
The late ’90s was prime-time for the Final Fantasy franchise. Between 1997 and 2001 four Final Fantasy titles were released. There was so much Final Fantasy goodness hitting our PlayStations that we hardly had time to think of any other RPGs. Those two words were so ingrained in our brains that, to the uninitiated RPG fan, there were no others. But, if you looked beyond those titles, there were some great RPGs to discover, and one of them is The Legend of Dragoon.
It was developed and published by Sony themselves for the PS1 and released in North America in June of 2000. I honestly can’t remember why I decided to try the game out – at the time I wasn’t into reading Internet forums and didn’t have a local GameStop right around the corner. I believe I saw it at Target or Best Buy, read the back and decided to give it a whirl. I’m definitely glad I did.
While the title received mixed reviews at the time – mostly because of the “outdated” graphics and the trigger-finger-required battle system – I greatly enjoyed the title. It was one of the first non-Final Fantasy RPGs I had played in quite some time. It proved one thing to me – there are other great RPGs out there besides the Final Fantasy series.
The Legend of Dragoon followed the exploits of the main character – Dart (I know, right?) – as he goes on a journey of self-discovery. Along the way there is political intrigue and loss, good times and bad, betrayals and unlikely friends. It seems like typical RPG content, but it wasn’t really – at least, not at the time. Most of your characters could transform into dragoons and wield special powers, with flashy graphics and all. One of the criticisms was with the battle system – you had to be on the ball. When you would initiate an attack, targeting squares would appear and “fall” together on the screen, and you had to hit buttons when they were exactly overlapping to increase the power of the attacks. These reflex tests were called Additions, and the more you used them, the stronger they became. Each character learned different and more complex Additions as the game progressed. To be honest, today that would be more well-received than it was ten years ago. Today, everyone is about the “innovation” or actually doing something more during battles than just sitting there watching them play out.
At the time, I was also enamored by certain story elements, most of which seem rather insignificant now, as they have been done much more frequently in the last 10 years or so. The game strongly focused on themes of sacrifice – whether it be sacrificing time and resources, hopes and dreams or even the ultimate sacrifice – giving your life for something you believe in. Granted, in just about every single RPG out there, the main characters do what they do because they believe in a cause of some sort – but the way all the characters were woven together and the relationships they formed gave an extra dose of potency to certain situations in the game. Few titles I’ve played since have produced such an intent focus on underlying themes.
Sure, there were a few things that irked me about the game (32 item inventory limit – who’s idea was that?), but overall, this RPG shouldn’t be missed for fans of the genre. I do hope someday soon we see this game show up on the PSN – I would download it in a heartbeat, if only for nostalgic purposes. A sequel? I’d love Sony to death if they created a sequel – especially if you don’t have to play the first game to get into the story. Perhaps then people will see what a cool concept it was and go back to play the original. I couldn’t think of a better game to launch for the PS3 to show RPG fans that Sony still has them on their radar. How many of you have played this title, and what were your thoughts?