It took an unfortunately (mis)titled game for me to realize it seems I barely have it in me anymore to play these 25 hour long JRPGs, which is relatively short by genre standards, where most of what you'll experience throughout the entire game is put on display during the first few hours. Well, this time I bring you The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch. Those familiar with Trails in the Sky or Cold Steel games are apparently in luck because this one has nothing to do with those beyond some nostalgic callbacks.
The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch
There are TWO major points that have to be cleared regarding The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch upfront – it's the third The Legend of Heroes game and the first in Gagharv trilogy. Which makes it all the more hilarious that English localization decided to not include either of those points, but instead release it as the second game in the trilogy. It is only through sheer providence that games are apparently unrelated past taking place in the same setting, but geographically separated by a massive rift that is Gagharv making all inhabitants oblivious to other regions. You'll only miss out on save importing feature which is now out of whack and that only fills out some optional historical records.
Now let's get down to it.
We assume roles of our two protagonists Jurio and Chris as they set out to embark from Ragpick village on their a pilgrimage customarily undertaken by young adults. It is quickly learned this tradition has become increasingly rare not only because their own village hasn't had any candidates in the last five years, but also because the custom itself has faded from other places. They are given a ceremonial Silver Dagger and thrust into world of Tirasweel not to return until they've visited all of the five Shrines where a magical mirror is set to give them visions of future as a rite of passage. All of this is rooted in an old tradition established by a wandering young woman people eventually came to refer to as the Moonlight Witch because of her cryptic prophecies which raised even more questions than they answered. As befitting any good JRPG this is merely a jumping off point for our pair's journey as they travel across the world, first notable obstacle being a huge sea monster called Galga wreaking havoc all over the coast as they come across an intrepid warrior called Lodin dead-set on dealing with it...
If that last part in particular reminds you of, shall we say Final Fantasy X, it can only be in reverse because Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch is actually a PSP remake of a game originally released way back in 1994 and never saw English release. I can't exactly testify to original's quality or how much was changed past the visuals, but there's quite a few things to discuss in this particular incarnation.
While we're still in the neighborhood we might as well touch upon the characters and story structure itself. Sadly, none of it really gelled with me and I'm not sure how much that's due to questionable translation effort. Not exactly obvious from the moment you start, in fact I thought the game was pretty charming for the first hour or so as I witnessed Jurio and Chris' antics, but I could swear it gets worse as it goes on. Did the translator simply stop caring or something? As a result you end up with that dreaded “dialog fits all characters” problem when there's no personality present in any of it. Standout for me was definitely the pair of Team Rocket-inspired thieves with incompetence to match, primarily because they made me laugh as they became recurring figures and even playable characters at points. Now that I think about it, there's very little character development in the game even for protagonists – Jurio remains kinda dense anime protagonist and Chris is assertive and annoying throughout. Romance never springs up between these two childhood friends and there are hints of another young girl interested in Jurio, but this never goes anywhere, for example.
Story has similar problems. We're working with chapters here, but there is definite continuity to it so it's not a case of standalone stories. Each still has as an arc it contends with, like how this western kingdom is suddenly building up their army while your quest conveniently takes you there on something far more sinister. Where said issue lies is the fact larger story takes until basically the second half of the game to coalesce so you're no longer just going after Mirrors and get caught up shenanigans. To tie it all with characters my one regret is we don't see or hear more of Gueld, the Moonlight Witch herself. Uncovering bits of that story towards the end of the game I realized it was actually really heartwarming amidst all the realizations of what was coming that she must have known, but the game is content to use it as more-or-less a backdrop until it needs a MacGuffin to save the day.
While map included is helpful for knowing your surroundings game still relies on usual JRPGs heavy-handed guiding.
Rare instance of enemies afraid of and enraged by the player character based on their level difference.
Each chapter of the game is signed off with couple of pages summarizing what happened in case you forgot.
Stepping into gameplay territory situation is somewhat improved if only because it's so basic when compared to what we were getting at the time... although this could be attributed to staying faithful to the original PC version.
Zone exploration is basically something I skip in general because it's a design dead end you can easily imagine, especially in JRPGs, yet I think it's worth noting in Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch due to its own particular brand of hurdles. There is no explorable overworld in the game and still story will take you over the entire continent without resorting to menus. How? By connecting areas of interest with “corridors” of wild areas where you do your combat. Through non-random fights, thank god. What's weird is prevalence of this design choice in the game as you're expected to follow simple road posts, characters conversing which direction they're heading to, etc so you'd expect travel would be this major element of the experience, but it's not. Game will simply refuse to let you go the wrong way as it keeps throwing fetch quests at you the likes of “talk to person X in the next town to advance”. Simple dungeons bereft of chests to loot, until the very last dungeon oddly enough, and low difficulty will make you zoom through all of it. And there's effectively no downside due to VERY generous balancing.
What of combat, my good author? It continues in very much the same approach – exceedingly easy, so much so I was under-leveled for the final boss and still pulled it off with no problems, as the game gives you way too many tools you'll never end up using. Combat runs on characters' speed and those were the only worthwhile Kand spells I used beside attack boosting variety. Healing notwithstanding, of course. Such system is not really enhanced by the fact characters are divided in binary fashion: warriors and casters. Couple of skills unique to characters, Jurio and Chris are mainstays while other two rotate depending on current developments and you can never setup your own party, add little to spice it all up because spells are divided into healing and damage with some odd ones here and there. Warriors rely on equipment much more and you'll be buying it for 95% of the game. Slowdowns in combat also seem to ramp up towards the finale and hampered by enjoyment somewhat as I became more and more aware of the fact. Last boss in particular stood out for this very reason.
Slightly unexpected addition to the game is the pet system. Or A pet, if you will. You get a rabbit before leaving Ragpick village and only thing he's really good for is randomly finding healing items for you. Guaranteeing I never had to buy consumables, though. You occasionally have to feed and pet it, but this is no Pokemon or Tamagotchi. For all of us fossils out there.
Not to come off as a weirdo or to say the PSP remake looks ugly, but I'll always be a sucker for that PC-98 dithering original art style. What jumped at me were parts with visibly jarring differences between 2D and 3D assets, but what surprised me positively was the amount of effort on the other production end of things. There's a cinematic for every Shrine you visit and Jurio's five equivalent “summoning” spells were appropriately screen-filling considering they was just overly long and superimposed images. Soundtrack also likes to rely on handful of songs way too much even though it HAS plenty of tracks to work with. As a result I still hear that damn town theme.