When I first started playing The Legend of Dragoon, I told myself, "OK, when I write up my review, I won't focus on its similarity to Final Fantasy VII (FF7) like everyone else has." Well, here I am writing my review, and all I can think about is its similarity to FF7, and how stale and unoriginal the whole experience is. This game is such a rip-off of Square's FF7 that I can't believe Sony hasn't been taken to court for copyright infringement. Three years in the making and over 100 brains on the development team—and this is the result? In a year full of copycat RPGs, Dragoon was touted as being a blockbuster game—one of the must-haves. Instead, it's the ultimate example of unimaginative game design—firmly cementing its place as the crown jewel of the many recent mediocre RPGs.
Here we go again with another case of "here we go again." Remember Cloud and Tifa from FF7? They've both gone to video game heaven and have been reincarnated as Dart and Shana in Dragoon. Once again we have two childhood friends—a strong-willed, spikey-haired boy and a cute, timid, dark-haired girl—who have just gone through puberty and now kind of like each other. How many more "epic" games will revolve their plots around such a ridiculous relationship? We think Shana loves Dart, but we never know because the characters aren't mature enough to express the idea, and neither is the game. However, we do know that if Shana does indeed love Dart, she'd have a hard time telling him because he thinks of her as a "little sister." They obviously have some issues to sort through before planning a wedding. It doesn't matter anyway. Dart would rather be chopping up monsters with his big sword than wasting time courting Shana, and that's exactly what he does. Shana tags along because she wants to be where ever Dart is. Is that love? I guess that's as good as it gets in videogames.
Maybe it's a blessing in disguise. Dragoon's definition of love spares us from reading more of its poorly translated dialogue, once again proving that the genre still hasn't evolved past Final Fantasy II is some respects. The characters use the word "bastard" a lot, and there's even a Bastard Sword! I guess the idea of an illegitimate sword is a new one, or does it mean that only bastards can use the sword? That would make Dart the first bastard hero in videogames wouldn't it? Either way, it's the extent to which Dragoon breaks new ground.
But let's not focus solely on the one-dimensional characters and bad writing when there are so many other aspects of Dragoon that follow proven RPG conventions. How about the look of the game, which mirrors FF7 in practically every way imaginable? The graphics are made up of pre-rendered, still images—on top of which the polygonal characters move about. Of course, even when your party grows to as many as six characters, you only see the main character (Dart) walking around. Certain events cause the rest of the crew to magically emerge from Dart's body as if they've been taking up residence in his undergarments. And even though the whole group always travels together, only three of them can fight at once. I guess if you could control more than that during a battle, the game wouldn't be like FF7 anymore, and we can't have that can we?
The battles take place in 3-D, and are randomly—annoyingly—triggered. You'll know when monsters are attacking when the frame suddenly freezes and the colors bleed off the screen. It's a very slow process that's followed by an even slower one—the perspective lazily panning around the battlefield before settling on a fixed viewpoint from which we can watch the fight unfold. For all of this build-up, the actual battles themselves are pretty anti-climatic. The bad guys never attack in groups of more than three, and they're usually composed of small, pesky critters—not the impressive encounters the game makes them out to be. Afterwards, we get a shot of the good guys celebrating their victory by twirling their weapons in the air to triumphant music. In case you're wondering, we experienced the exact same scenario in FF7. If you think you'll get tired of sitting through that after a while, run for the hills, because in Dragoon battles are a constant, and they follow the same format every time.
I should mention that some very, very minor changes were made in the process of ripping off FF7, probably so Sony can say their game is just different enough to justify its existence. Limit Breaks have been replaced in Dragoon by Additions, which require timely button presses during battle to execute more powerful attacks. It's really just a cheap attempt at creating more interest in the boring combat sequences, and it doesn't work. Normal attacks are so weak that Additions must be used regularly in order to inflict any kind of significant damage, and some boss characters even punish you for not getting the button presses right by negating your attack and returning the favor—which actually defeats the whole purpose of the feature to begin with. Furthermore, these special moves don't look very cool when performed, and they have all have dumb names like "Double Slash" and "Double Punch."
Magical item attacks have also been given a certain level of interactivity in that you're forced to jam on the X button to take off more enemy hit points. As a result of this brilliant feature, my fairly new Dual Shock controller now malfunctions on a regular basis. Other variations in gameplay were just thrown in to make the game needlessly difficult—like your party only being able to carry a maximum of 32 items. This makes absolutely no sense when you consider the size to which the good-guy group eventually grows—a group of six should be able to carry at least twice that number. But it's just an arbitrary setting, serving no logical purpose except that it defies the Final Fantasy rules just enough as to not get Sony into legal trouble.
Through all of my Dragoon bashing, I've failed to mention the game's namesake, the Dragoons themselves, who do little more than provide the game with a vehicle to show off some snazzy special effects and allow the characters to cast magic spells. We've seen the word "dragoon" used in other RPGs, but in this instance a Dragoon is a unique person found worthy enough to control the Dragon Spirit, which gives the individual untold power during combat. Of course all of the members of your party eventually acquire this power, leading me to believe that it's not as special as the game would have you believe. In fact, the power stones that give the Dragoons their power are passed around among the characters in the game like so many joints. In the end, the concept of transforming into a Dragoon doesn't affect the gameplay in any major way, simply because all of the characters can do it, and the game is adjusted accordingly.
Dragoon is four discs full of contrived storytelling, repetitious action and RPG cliches. More importantly, it's an effective lesson on how to cash-in on a popular game franchise. Sony was hoping to unleash an RPG milestone on the gaming populace, and ended up embarrassing their entire internal development division with a game that not only refuses to distinguish itself from anything else out there, but steals all of its ideas from an established bestseller. If The Legend of Dragoon is expected to leave any kind of legacy, it will be as Sony's attempt at buying their way into a crowded RPG market.
According to ESRB, this game contains animated blood, animated violence.
Parents should be aware of the game's standard RPG violence, most of which is pretty tame. Of more concern is the sorry excuse for dialogue, which will have your children reading bad writing in no time! And to those who want to teach their kids the word "bastard"—go out and buy The Legend Of Dragoon immediately!
RPG fans who can't get enough of Final Fantasy VII will have a veritable feast with The Legend Of Dragoon. The game achieves perfection in capitalizing on (stealing) everything that made Final Fantasy VII so popular. It's unoriginality taken to the extreme, and it overshadows any good points the game might have had otherwise. That should be enough warning for those of you who value your time, and to even for those who don't.