Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch

Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch is the 2nd game in the Legend of Heroes series. At least in the US. In Japan, it's part of a long running PC game series from Falcom. These were remade by Bandai for the PSP, and brought over here.

This game, "A Tear of Vermillion" and "Song of the Ocean" (or "Cagesong of the Ocean") form the Gagharv Trilogy, which are set in the same world, but in 3 different regions divided by natural boundries (Gagharv basically being like the Grand Canyon, but impassable).

Although they are loosely connected, their stories really are not, so you really don't have to play one to enjoy the others. It can be fun to spot the connections between them, though. But it's really more of a bonus.

In any case, the series is from the Golden Age of RPGs, the SNES era. And so pretty much play exactly like those sort of RPGs, but have had a graphics overhaul.


Gameplay is pretty simple, like most old school console RPGs. Basically you simply wander around talking to people. Then generally go to another town or dungeon, fight things, then go back to town and talk to more people. It's pretty much entirely linear, if you try to go where you shouldn't you get a message with directions on where you should go. And important people or objects have a red exclamation point to indicate you should talk to them or go to that area.

You can have up to 4 characters in your party at a time, but that changes according to where you are in the story - characters come and go a lot. There's no class system per se, but some characters are combat orientated, others are magic users. And some melee types use swords, others use something else.

There is a "pet" system, but it's very very minor. Basically a little critter follows you around, and finds potions for you. Occasionally you have to pet it for feed it to keep it happy, but not all that often.

One really nice thing is as you walk around in a place with monsters, you only fight if you run into them. Depending on their strength, they will seek you out or avoid you.

Combat in the US version is turn based. There is some small strategy involved because characters can only move so much a turn, and spells and attacks have limited ranges. But even so, most combats are pretty easy and quick. Perhaps a bit too easy, generally all you have to do to win is have Jurio cast an elemental spell which attacks all enemies. Usually him just doing it once is enough to win most random battles.

The game's interface is slick and polished. For instance, when you use magic to heal your party after a battle, once everyone is healed, the menu will close itself. And it's very easy to get through menus and such. There is also almost no loading whatsoever while you play.


Since the gameplay of these old school RPGs is pretty much all the same, what makes them memorable is the story and characters. This is where I think the game isn't as good as "A Tear of Vermillion".

You play as Jurio (and Chris), two youngsters from the small village of Ragpick. As part of their coming of age ceremony, all Ragpickians have to go on a pilgrimage to 5 different shrines. And it's time for Jurio and Chris to go on their pilgramage, having just hit young adulthood.

There's something of a backstory to this. Basically 20 years ago, there was a young witch who also went from town to town, giving prophecies as she went. So in a way, you follow her path and learn more about her story. Really quite unusual in an RPG plotline.

There is something behind this, something somewhat more traditional (ie, big bad villain is going to destroy the world, Mwhahahahahahaha and all that), but this really doesn't became a major plot point until the very end.

So I liked the story. Definitely not like any other RPG I've played. Very much pretty low key until the end. I especially enjoyed one section that took place on a passenger ship, Jurio and Chris have to work for their passage.

What I didn't really like was the characters. While not cliches, most of the people who Chris and Jurio meet are not very interesting. Some of the characters who join your party I found to be downright annoying - particularly Alf and Lodi. Most the others you just don't know for very long, either. Chris and Jurio are very likeable though. Jurio is a bit of a dork, and Chris is , well, crazy is the only way to describe her, I think.

Also not really much in the way of romance, unlike "A Tear of Vermilion", in which the 2nd half of the game was basically a growing romance between Avin and Rutice.

The translation of this is not very good, either. It's nowhere near as bad as say, Astonishia Story, which is just wacky and incomprehensible in areas. But it's often rather awkward and stilted, far more than "Vermillion" was, I thought.

On the plus side, unlike "Vermillion", there really isn't any backtracking through old areas. You pretty much do a circular lap around the continent, eventually reaching home, but not really going over any old ground. And the length seems about the same. Easily 40+ hours for me, although the game doesn't keep track, it's just a guess.


The graphics are wonderful. Although it emulates the feel of the 16 bit SNES rpgs, everything (but the characters themselves) is in 3D (albeit with a fixed camera). Textures are bright and colorful (where appropriate, anyway) and there are some really nice lighting effects. The water is also very snazzy looking. It really looks like an SNES game on steroids.

The sound is generally good, especially the ambient sounds like water, though it's not a whole lot of sound in the game. There's a lot of nice sounding music as well, which there is a lot of.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed the "A Tear of Vermillion", so perhaps I was doomed to think anything else would be a bit of a let down. But I didn't like this as much, and certain things I overlooked in that now started to bother me. For instance, there really needs to be a memo or note area that keeps track of your objectives. It's very easy to forget what you need to do, although the game never really lets you go too far astray. Combat also seemed a lot more repetitive, with the same creatures over and over, and tactics being very simple.

Still, I did enjoy myself, and unlike the majority of the RPGs I start, I actually finished it, despite it being fairly long. So still a good game. B or 8/10 here.


Pirates! (PSP)

The original "Pirates!" was a 1987 game for the Commodore 64. It was quite popular, and I remember playing it a lot at the time. It was later ported to various other platforms. Then, in the early 90s, it got something of a makeover, and released as "Pirates! Gold" for the PC and I think the Sega Genesis. That was pretty much just a face lift in graphics. Then just a couple years ago, a whole new remake was released for the PC, "Sid Meier's Pirates! Live the Life", which basically brought the game into 3D and added a few more action segments. This was later ported to the Xbox, and now finally in 2007, appears on the PSP.

Since it's basically an old school C-64 game at heart, it's somewhat hard to describe in today's modern genres and terminology. Action-Strategy? A collection of minigames? Something along those lines.

Essentially you control a tiny ship on the screen, and sail around the Carribean, attack other ships, visiting ports (and possibly attacking them), searching for lost cities and buried treasure. The goal in the original game was to just make money and marry a beautiful lady, but revenge has been added to those goals, giving the game a bit more linear and streamlined feel to appeal to modern games.

As you move your little ship around the map, what you do will often launch a little mini-game or action scene. There are ones if you attack a ship, one if you attack a town, another if you search for treasure. Visiting ports is generally easy, but there is sort of a pac-man like game if you want to sneak into an unfriendly town, or a dancing game if you want to court the daughter of the local governor.

Attacking other ships is pretty simple. You control one ship, the computer controls the enemy ship. You move around trying to fire your cannons at the enemy, and they do the same. You have 3 different types of shot you can use, one general purpose shot (which has the longest range), one which knocks out sails, and one that kills the crew. If you simply want to plunder, it's generally best to knock the enemy ship down to 1 crew member, so they surrender as you get close. On the other hand, if you want to capture the ship, you might want to close as quickly as possible, where you will enter a swordfight with the enemy captain. If you win, you can capture the ship in good condition and possibly win over some of his crew members.

The swordfighting is both complex and easy. It's complicated in that there are a number of different moves you can do, but generally speaking, all you need to do is block and attack. In fact, you really generally need to just wait for your opponent to begin to attack, then hit him with a quick thrust (some attacks are slower or faster than others).

Attacking an unfriendly town is a very simple turn based game. It takes place on a medium sized map divided up into squares, not unlike a chess board, only with terrain (trees, rocks, hills, etc) on it in some places. You generally control about 3-4 units, which seems to be your crew total divided up somewhat randomly into Officers (good at melee combat), Buccaneers (guys with guns) and Pirates (who are okay at melee). The more men in the unit, obviously the stronger they are. The defenders of the town basically get the same treatment, only they have a couple more unit types, including Cavalry in some towns.

You get a turn to move your units (you get 2 moves per unit, which can be either move or attack), then the enemy goes. Usually you start fairly close to each other, so the whole combat only lasts about 3-5 turns at most. It's not really hard, the key is to really take advantage of the terrain by putting your guys with guns on a hill, and to have your other guys hide in the woods to attack from a flank when the enemy passes by.

Friendly towns are just navigated by a menu. You can visit a tavern, visit a shipwright, visit a merchant, and visit the governor. In the tavern, you can recruit more sailors (sadly, not by singing a Village People song), talk to a waitress, the bartender, or a mysterious stranger. The former just generally give you information, while the latter will usually try to sell you something that can improve your abilities (either do something better, or live longer). Visiting the governor is how you get promoted, and if you have a high enough rank, you can get invited to the dance by his daughter. Which is another mini game.

Basically you do a ballroom dance which requires you to press the correct button when she gives a hand signal. In the PC version, I found this to be almost impossible, because her signal is hard to notice, but the developers of this made it easier by telling you what button to press. You still don't have much time to do so, but it's definitely doable, unlike the PC version.

You pretty much keep sailing around, doing the same things over, until your character's health deteriorates and you have to retire. This can be somewhat repetitive, but the game generally only lasts maybe 10-15 hours. It's not something you are supposed to play over and over, but something you come back and play whenever you want. There is also a shift in how you play as you career progresses - first off, as you get better, you'll probably start attacking towns rather than ships, which is much more profitable. And secondly, you have a quest of sorts that you have to follow, which has you doing various different tasks

The developers (Full Fat) really did a great job porting it to the PSP from the PC. Not only does it play pretty much exactly the same, with no slowdown, the graphics are quite good. Maybe a little sparse at times, but it runs really well and the loading times are minimal (really only when you visit the governor or go into a swordfight, and even then, it's only about 5-6 seconds).

Still, I think the game suffers from some problems that were intrinsic to the PC version. For instance, you really should have been able to customize your pirate in terms of appearance. Since it apparently uses an in-game engine for the cutscenes and the like, it would only have taken minimal effort to have different faces or skin tones.