An RPG page-turner.
Full, shameful disclosure: The Book of Legends is my first Aldorlea game. Not for lack of interest, but mostly time: the creators of the Millennium and Laxius Force series, Moonchild, and 3 Stars of Destiny are known for their engrossing and lengthy RPGs filled with side quests, secrets, and multi-path stories. The Book of Legends lives up to all of these promises and more, solidifying Aldorlea a spot on the list of developers I must make time for.
Our story begins with the world of Fenirith in danger: the demon Azutura is beginning to awaken, feeding on people’s fear. A council of warriors and rulers from Izuka devise a concoction to put the demon back to sleep before he reaches full strength, to be delivered by the city’s strongest man and our protagonist: Jordan. Of course, not everything is as it seems, and Jordan’s adventure will extend far beyond this initially straightforward task.
Jordan is, by most in-game characters’ accounts, unlikable. His crass demeanor, as well as his open disdain for everything from soldiers to religion, have made him few friends. The first potential party member you encounter rebukes him: “Just because you want to slaughter me doesn’t mean you have to be rude.” Even animals—which he has a special ability to communicate with—tend to avoid him. As an RPG hero, though, Jordan is refreshing and humorous: he speaks his mind, makes frequent jokes, and occasionally breaks the fourth wall when offering commentary, especially on out-of-the-way pots that don’t contain any loot.
And there are a lot of out-of-the-way pots. The Book of Legends successfully channels RPGs of days past, not only in its gorgeous 16-bit-styled sprite graphics, but also in the massive, non-linear exploration required of the player. From the very first location in the game, there are branching paths, maze-like corridors, and dead ends with only a single treasure chest (or nothing at all). You’ll frequently pass locations whose purpose won’t be revealed until later in the game, or are merely optional dungeons for extra looting and leveling up. All of these, though, from the tiniest village to the world map itself, are filled with secrets, searchable items, and even hidden characters for you to seek out and discover—or not, if you so choose.
Whether or not you explore every nook and cranny of the game, you’ll be kept plenty busy with the other bread and butter of the genre: turn-based battles. The Book of Legends utilizes an interesting “step-based” battle system in which you’ll encounter an enemy for every 50 steps (40 on the harder difficulty) you take. This is an appreciated upgrade from truly random encounters, offering a reprieve after battles and encouraging exploration during lulls. Battles themselves are fairly quick and easy on average, especially with certain weapons or accessories (like those that allow two attacks at once), special and innate skills (like Jordan’s auto-Regen at low health), and the right combination of characters.
Collecting and choosing those characters is practically its own adventure, and one that provides the potential for significantly varied replays. Some characters will be introduced along with the story, some must be discovered on your own, and some of each will only be available if you sacrifice another party member. As a mostly spoiler-free example, Melusine will only join your party if you do not have Jasmine (or you agree to dismiss her at Melusine’s request). Choosing to keep Jasmine will shut out Melusine as an option, along with any benefits she brings, such as exploring the castle in Zenna. As both characters and warriors these women are nothing alike, a playthrough with one will unfold quite differently than the other. With 31 different characters available, (many of which can be romanced for even more variation), the number of combinations are impressive—as is the fact that each character takes part in and comments on not only the main story, but even minor events such as the contents of treasure chests. This adds weight to your choice of characters, as it is truly that—and not merely picking which graphical shell to drag around with Jordan.
The Book of Legends has plenty of characters and even more character. Jordan’s fourth-wall asides to the player and commentary on searches make him feel more like a point-and-click adventure protagonist at times than a cut-and-dry RPG hero. His interactions and arguments with NPCs and his own party are almost always entertaining, resulting in an unusual desire to talk to everyone and everything, just to see Jordan’s response. A few favorites: Upon defeating a thief’s battalion of wolves: “Try tigers next time.” In response to a sailor’s proud claim that “I’m thinking of adding a ladder to this dock,” Jordan responds “Seems like this town is on the verge of major and significant expansion.” And while considering a skeleton in a cave: “Seems he died staring at this stalactite.” Jasmine: “That would be a stalagmite.” Jordan: “…Seems he died staring at this stone.”
All of these details come together to create a package that brings back very fond memories of epic-yet-light-hearted RPGs gone by. A few aspects are a little too reminiscent: with such an exploration-heavy game, having no mini-map within locations and a completely static world map makes it easy to forget where you have been and where you are going. And although the game offers many tutorial points with advice on battles and controls, there is little detail (even in the separately purchasable strategy guide) on aspects like status effects—of which there are many, ranging from the commonly expected Poison to harder-to-decipher Dizzy—armor effects, and abilities. On the flip side, there are modern updates included to help keep even the most nostalgic player sane: a quest-tracking system, pass-through dungeons (after they’ve been completed once), and the option to save anywhere (as long as you are willing to spend some skill points).
With the retro frustrations mostly balanced out by modern considerations; a huge world filled with interesting characters; and tons to explore, uncover, and unlock, The Book of Legends is a must-play for any RPG fan. With all of its character choices and variations, for many of us it will be a must-play numerous times. And for Jordan it will be a kind of bothersome—but ultimately rewarding—adventure every time.