System Prisma is a developer closely associated with Nippon Ichi Software, and had handled various ports of games published by N1, such as Disgaea DS and Phantom Brave on Wii. Of course, they also have some internally developed games, most of which are adventure/novel games; but they’re perhaps more known in the West for their two “Classic Dungeon” games—released under the shortened name “ClaDun”.
Their latest game, Legasista, is an RPG that takes place in a world where science and technology have been lost in time, eventually coming to be feared as “magic” and “curses”. A young adventurer named Alto arrives at a large tower which was part of an ancient civilization that fell into ruin a thousand years ago, and is now feared by people as a cursed land. His goal is to find a relic that could return his sister Mari, who was turned into a small crystal, to her original form.
On the tower’s premises, he encounters an automaton in the form of a small girl. She introduces herself as “Ms. Dungeon” (Dungeon-san), the “manager” who maintains the premises, which she explains was an ancient research facility called “Railyard”. With help from her, as well as a local race of sentient bean sprouts, Alto braves through the tower to find what he’s looking for: A feared ancient weapon called “Melize” (which, he believes, can restore Mari).
The Railyard serves as a base camp for Alto’s dungeon adventures. By talking to Ms. Dungeon, you can select an area, then a sub-area to go to. Once you clear it, the next stage is unlocked, you return to the Railyard, as well as unlocking more story events at specific points, presented in visual novel fashion. If you think this sounds like the presentation style of Disgaea games, that’s because it pretty much is the same.
Dungeon crawling can be done by a party of 1-3 characters. Alto starts out alone, but gains more story-related members as he goes on. But pretty early in the game, you get the option to create custom characters. Here’s how the system works: You first pick a job class out of six total for a character to start out as. These include:
- Warrior (direct physical combat)
- Adventurer (all-rounder)
- Pyro (offense magic)
- Cryo (magic + support)
- Thief (fragile hit-and-run)
- War Mage (moderate balance of Pyro and Cryo)
Don’t worry; characters aren’t fixed into one class permanently. You can change to any class anytime out of the dungeons, but to change from a class, you need to be at least Lv. 20 in that class. While the stat growth from each class is independent (i.e: you can’t start a new job all built-up with stats carried over from a previous job), there is something that can be carried over between each job: Job abilities.
Every time a character levels up, they get Job Point (JP) according to their levels, which they can spend for Job abilities. Some of them only apply to their current class (and in some cases, only under specific conditions), but about half of each class’ Ability list apply to that character in general, regardless of which Job they are at the moment. So there are benefits in changing Jobs, because even if you’re not interested in what a different Job has to offer, you can still carry over JP you gain from that job to build up the ones you want.
But Job levels and Abilities can only go so far to prepare your character for the tower’s dungeon floors. You also need reliable equipment. Since there are no shops to buy things from, your only source for items is dungeon loot, from either monsters or chests.
The equipment system itself is… I’ll be honest; it’s confusing at first. In addition to deciding which weapons a character can wield, they have another equipment-related feature: Energy Frames. To put it in simplest terms, imagine a long HP bar divided into several segments, have each of their lengths be decided by the equipment assigned to that part, then assign a point limit on each equipment segment to limit instantly equipping strong equipment, and you have the idea. The loot itself, being randomly-generated, doesn’t help with the confusion either, especially in the late game when you have a pile of items sitting in your cache. When micro-management becomes cumbersome, I just used the function to automatically equip a character with the best items available.
Aside from that, though, the rest of the game is very straightforward to play.
While an obvious comparison to top-down 2D Zelda games could be made, the dungeon system also largely incorporates elements from the “Rogue-like” genre. Aside from story stages which have fixed layouts, the game also has a random dungeon system—not unlike the Item World in Disgaea games—aptly named “Ran-geon”. Ran-geons are accessed by holes dug in the Railyard, and come in four types: Baby-geon, Ran-geon, Hard-geon and Demon-geon, each with their own difficulty level and drop rates. The latter three are long dungeons with 100 consecutive floors each, which takes preparation to clear; Baby-geons serve that purpose by being (relatively) easier and shorter to clear.
But make no mistake: The game can be rather challenging once it lets you out of the handholding stage. The dungeons are not just about killing monsters and looking for the exit; there are several types of trap tiles waiting for unaware adventurers. Most of them are made to hinder you, of course, but with experience and quick wit, it’s quite possible to lure enemies into a trap’s affecting area and use it against them. But that doesn’t mean enemies are gullible dummies either; in fact, their AI can be quite efficient on higher levels, even to the point of being insufferably sly sometimes. Weak enemies may run away from you so that you chase them into a trap, or a group of stronger enemies; if you’re shooting arrows, some enemies will zig-zag or circle around to get close to you; projectile enemies will, in return, use hit-and-run tactics to no end; or just the timeless classic: happily ganging up on you.
To add to the overall challenge, the game also employs a “sight range” system. It’s similar to the fog-of-war system used in strategy games, with several twists: You see further in front of you than your sides or back; you can’t see through walls, which also means around corners; and you can’t see enemies and traps beyond your sight range, but they become increasingly clearer as you approach them.
Overall, there are three things I really loved about Legasista.
The first is the game’s sprite system; specifically, the in-game sprite editor that lets you tweak a custom character’s appearance to your liking—body, hair, limbs, extra hair or coats, and even right down to weapons. You can also animate the weapons if you want. Since the game runs on a very simple 3-frame animation system, it’s not really a big hassle to draw a loop of, say, a flaming sword or a glittering bow. But the most impressive part is the fact that you can export the sprite sheet as a PNG file, transfer that to a PC, edit it there, transfer back and apply. It’s very handy for those who want to work on their personal sprites more seriously, or even those who find the PS3 controller a cumbersome tool to draw with.
What if you’re not good with drawing or with sprites? No worries! There are official sprite sheets for characters from various companies/games that can be downloaded for free. Some of them are even included in the game already. Disgaea fans in particular would enjoy playing as the major characters all the way to Valvatorez and Fuuka. (If there exist any fans of Criminal Girls, the entire roster is there too…) Special mention goes to Gig for having a completely customized sheet (as opposed to Laharl who only have a modified sword sprite).
Secondly, the soundtrack is fantastic. Literally from the moment I started the game, I was drawn in by the opening song, “Grief of the Ancient Machine”. By the time I finished the game, I can’t find a single track that didn’t really care about— although the ones based on the opening song’s tune are my top favorites. I suppose it helps that each of them has a distinct and easily recognizable rhythm and tune. To draw yet another comparison, many tracks remind me of tracks from Atelier and Ar Tonelico series, and occasionally Ys Origin. The way some tracks are used to convey the mood of the story is also very appropriate and gets the intended feeling across very nicely. Speaking of which…
My third favorite is the story. Given the gameplay-heavy nature of Legasista, I admittedly went in without much expectations of a memorable story. And the game changed my mind. It’s a very minimalistic story, but for all its limits, it presented a tidy plot with some mystery to maintain my interest throughout, surprisingly thoughtful dialogue, and some genuinely dramatic moments. I’m not going to spoil anything here, but I’ll at least say that by the time I got to the penultimate climax, I’ve already chalked the story up among my personal favorites. I guess the “26 adventure/visual novel titles” entry in System Prisma’s resumé isn’t just for show.
Food for thought:
1. The game isn’t dubbed in English, and only comes with the original Japanese dub.
2. Legasista is very much a “ClaDun HD” with more features added in. At the same time, it seems to combine several elements of Nippon Ichi’s piror games, which Disgaea fans may find interesting.
3. You can download various collaborative character sprite sheets from NIS’ Japanese website here.