Namco-Bandai's saga of "Tales" games have found homes on a variety of platforms over the years, with almost every entry spinning its own independent story in its own unique world. Tales of Legendia is the newest face in the Tales family, and there's a lot to like about it, from its rich and beautiful environments and easy-to-grasp battle system to its chatty and personable cast. Some blemishes exist, most prominently in the tuning of the encounter rate and how world travel is handled, but genre and series fans will find it easy to like this otherwise well-crafted adventure.
Senel and Shirley find their destiny onboard the mysterious Legacy.
Getting into the story is initially a bit confusing. Senel Coolidge is a white-haired, serious-faced young man protecting his sister, the demure, soft-spoken Shirley. Both of them are on the run from enemies unknown, when their boat is suddenly overtaken by what appears to be a floating continent. The continent is actually a giant ship called the Legacy, an artifact from a civilization called the Kingdom of Terises that existed thousands of years in the past. Once Senel and Shirley board the Legacy, things start to happen very quickly: First, Shirley is exposed as having the ability to breathe underwater and glow mysteriously, marking her as a "Ferines," or one of the "people of the water." Secondly, she's thought by locals to be the "Merines," a legendary being who has the ability to pilot the Legacy. Thirdly, within five minutes of landing she's abducted by bandits, in proper heroine fashion. You'll eventually learn what all these names and races actually are, and why Shirley is so important to the future of the Legacy (and even the world), but you'll have to save her first.
One of Legendia's biggest strengths is its cast of characters, and that's because there's plenty of spoken and text-based interaction between your party members at almost every turn. Story sequences, short skits on the world map, and their constant calls to each other during and after battles all combine to give each character a fairly well-defined sense of self. There's Senel and his single-minded devotion to his sister; Chloe, a knight with a heightened sense of justice who fights to redeem her family name; Norma, a grabby little treasure-hunter and overall pest; and Will, a scholar turned law-enforcement official on the Legacy who fights to keep everyone in line. These and other characters are defined largely by their speaking roles, and the sizeable amount of speech is uniformly excellently done.
Part of what makes Legendia's already somewhat chaotic battles fun, in fact, is all the shouting your party does, chanting spells and naming attacks, in addition to calling to each other about enemy special moves. The battle system is real-time, placing characters and enemies in a straight 2D plane where they can freely move about and whack each other. Typically, you'll only control one character at a time; the other three members of your party have malleable artificial intelligence and settings, to the point where leaving them to their own devices works out just fine. You can even change settings for the leader character to be automatic, but you'll want to be running around and causing mayhem yourself. All your party members use a power called eres, which either grants them melee attacks or powerful magical spells, and which cost tech points to cast. Each character learns a variety of eres as you go along, each new skill even more powerful (and more impressive looking) than the last. However, the hardest-hitting skills aren't necessarily the only ones you'll ever use, thanks to the combo system.
Norma likes saving people the trouble of deciding whether or not to fight for her.
Combos are initiated by striking a single foe multiple times, either by a single character or a number of characters working together. The window for combos isn't overgenerous, as you'll need to strike the enemy in quick succession to keep the combo going, but there are a number of advantages to chaining them as high as you can. You get an experience bonus based on the chain amount and the overall damage you inflict, and you can charge up a "climax" meter, which when full lets you stop time for the enemy and unload damage within a set duration. However, the most important function of combo attacks is that pummeling foes with hits will delay their special attacks and spellcasting, if not cancel them all together. It's key to surviving boss fights, where instead of wanting to dump all your points into single, powerful hits, you'll want to use eres that strike over and over again, to use in concert with your party's similar abilities to extend interrupts as long as possible. In fact, if you can position yourself and a party member on opposite sides of a foe, combo-smashing can completely nullify most any action for extended periods. This is pretty amusing, though once you've figured out how to use combos to your advantage, battles of any sort become much, much easier.