The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean

When the first and second installment of the Legend of Heroes’ Gagharv trilogy came to North America thanks to Namco-Bandai, there arose some confusion in the numbering, with the second entry of the trilogy, A Tear of Vermillion, actually released outside Japan first and not given a Roman numeral, and the first of the trilogy localized under the title The Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch. In 2007, the third entry of the trilogy saw its North American release as The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean, which provides an experience on par with its predecessors.

Like its brethren in the Gagharv trilogy, Song of the Ocean features visible monsters on fields and dungeons between town that will charge the player’s party if their levels are lower than the enemy’s and run away if the player’s levels are higher than the enemy’s. Running into the enemy from behind will result in a surprise attack for the player’s party, although the enemy can do the same if they contact the player’s party from behind.

Combat itself is structurally similar to that in the previous two games, with the player’s four active characters and the enemy facing one another across the battlefield, with the commands to attack (with both sides moving around as they do so), wait (which allows a character to move across the field without executing a command), use MP-consuming magic (with some characters needing to equip Resonance Stones to use magic), use an item, switch with a reserve character (which will eat up the switching character’s turn), or escape, with this option working almost all the time.

Victory for the player’s party results in the acquisition of experience points for every character, active or reserve, even those that end the battle dead, and units that the player can exchange at any shop for money. Defeat of all four of the player’s active characters, however, results in a Game Over and a trip back to the title screen, although given the game’s save anywhere feature inherited from its predecessors, this isn’t too severe of a penalty.

The battle system works well for the most part, although levels seem to rise somewhat slowly, the character-swapping system is a step down from those in other RPGs such as Final Fantasy X, characters can only use limit breaks by interrupting a character or enemy’s turn, and the art of combining magic spells isn’t explained in detail in the game or instruction book, with some late-game fights necessitating the use of combo magic.

The interface is superficially clean with a convenient save-anywhere feature and easy menu system, but there are far too many times when the game gives the player poor direction on how to advance the main storyline and doesn’t keep them on track, not to mention a telling lack of automaps for the more complicated dungeons, a feature present even in 16-bit games such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

The poor direction on how to advance the main storyline is a mark off the narrative itself, which is otherwise fairly generic, focusing on a group of troubadours as they retrieve dozens of MacGuffins hidden around their world. The translation is also generally shoddy, with plenty of visible errors, inexcusable for a company such as Namco-Bandai. In the end, the plot and localization are perhaps the weakest areas of Song of the Ocean.

As is expectant of a game about a group of troubadours, however, the soundtrack definitely shines, with plenty of decent tracks such as one town theme, and a few central themes throughout the game, and the sound effects don’t detract, either; however, there are occasional musicless cutscenes.

The game also looks nice, with decent character and enemy sprites and scenery, although the sprites don’t show much emotion, with the anime portraits during cutscenes doing most of the work.

Finally, the game is longer than its predecessors, taking forty to fifty hours even with a straightforward playthrough, a New Game+ adding significant replayability, along with occasional sidequests that require data from the other two entries of the Gagharv trilogy.

In the end, The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean is a decent conclusion to the Gagharv trilogy, what especially with its simple but solid battle system, excellent soundtrack, and nice visuals, although it does definitely leave room for improvement in areas such as interaction, what in particular with the terrible direction at times on how to advance, not to mention the localization. Those that can look past these flaws and enjoyed the game’s predecessors, however, will likely have a decent experience, with developer Nihon Falcom’s track record being generally above average.

The Good:
+Solid yet simple battle system.
+Good music and graphics.
+Nice replay value.

The Bad:
-Often hard to advance without a guide.
-Narrative is generally weak.
-Localization could have been better.

The Bottom Line:
Decent conclusion to the Gagharv trilogy.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 5/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 4/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: 40-50+ Hours

Overall: 7/10

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