~ THE LEGEND OF HEROES II ~
Falcom / Hudson Soft
Fans of the first Legend of Heroes will feel very comfortable with this followup. Say hello again to a little playfield and littler sprites...
...and reacquaint yourself with an easy-to-use battle system that enables players to get through fights extremely quickly. On an unfortunate note, the enemy designs remain lackluster.
Not everything stayed the same. While the original can easily be conquered in under ten hours, this one might well require thirty your first time through it. That might sound like a good thing, but you have to spend so much of that extra time accumulating money and experience points that the adventure becomes a miserable grind at times. This didn't wreck the game for me, as I'm not one to mind some perfunctory leveling, but you'd better be sure that you won't mind it either before you get going here. Many obligatory, unexciting battles await you.
But the responsibility for maintaining the player's interest for a quest three times as long as the one that precedes it apparently encouraged LoH2's designers to step things up as far as storytelling goes. While LoH indulges in anime-style theatrics only during its opening and closing sequences, its sequel boasts numerous cinematic intermissions. This is mainly conversation-based material, though--nothing particularly exciting or mind blowing...
...and the greatest artistry and the most flair are still to be found at the beginning and end of the quest.
The sequences tell a tale intended to be a few-years-later continuation of the story we experienced the first chapter of in LoH. Since the crafters of this tale didn't want to have you traipse around the same old overworld locations for another full quest, they came up with an alternative primary setting: an incredibly intricate network of underground tunnels. Nope, you won't be retracing many of the steps you took in LoH; instead, you'll spend hours and hours and hours and hours trying to find your way around bleak, dark tunnel mazes. Needless to say, the "environments" are pretty dull.
One potentially enjoyable element of those tunnel journeys is the challenge of evading enemies. In the first LoH, you need to obtain special items to be able to see where hostile creatures are positioned on the map. Here, roving monster groups appear as black blobs without any item-utilizing required, and these blobs are often numerous and sometimes extremely aggressive. Pulling off your best Barry Sanders moves to dodge an undesirable encounter can actually be lots of fun.
Another interesting play element is the magic system. Instead of costing typical MP, each spell has its own "vial" displayed in the character-stats sidebar; a vial empties when the spell it represents is cast, and it gradually refills as you go about your business on the field screen, with certain powerful spells requiring more recharging time than others. It's definitely a neat system, perhaps not preferable when all is said and done to the traditional method but cool and effective enough for a one-game go.
Also effective is the music, which is flat-out exceptional at times. As is the case with the first game's tunes, LoH2's tracks are basically Ys-like arrangements that would be hard-pressed to make the final cut for an Ys adventure. Still, some of these town and cave numbers are absolutely fantastic.
Character design is also an LoH2 strength. You still have to tolerate a precocious blonde kid as the lead, but he has likable allies to travel with and heinous villains to confront.
LoH2 isn't great overall, failing even to measure up to its predecessor. But it boasts many of the solid gameplay elements that the successful first LoH relies on, introduces some cool new ideas, and delivers more good music. As long as you won't mind the tunnel treks and excessive grinding too much, you should find LoH2 to be a PCE RPG worth experiencing.