Spanning four discs, The Legend of Dragoon is doubtless one of Sony Japan Studio’s most ambitious products. The title’s development began in 1996 and would continue for 3+ years. Though smaller by today’s standards, the 100-person team and budget of $16 million was huge for the ‘90s. It was a gamble that paid off, as sales in the West helped make that money back. Sony had a surprise hit on their hands, albeit with a slow burn. Legend of Dragoon had to compete with legendary titles such as Square’s Final Fantasy IX on the same system and within a few months of its own launch. Final Fantasy was an absolute powerhouse on the PS1, so there was a tangible chance it could fail.
Luckily, word of mouth won out, and Legend of Dragoon became one of Sony Japan’s most loved titles. But how is it today? I loved it as a kid and replayed it about ten years ago, but I’d be lying if I said I remembered it the way I do something like Super Mario RPG. As such, when it hit PS5 earlier this year, I sat down and began playing through it with my wife. Unfortunately, there was a game-breaking bug that would consistently freeze the game when using Dragoon magic, halting progress. It has since received a patch, but that hitch killed what hype there was earlier this year. Now, I’m looking at it with a more critical and media-literate eye. Does it hold up?
I’ll be frank: the story is just what you expect. It’s your typical Hero’s Journey with all the plot beats and clichés you would expect from a ‘90s JRPG. It’s not bad by any means. But when compared to what other games of the time were doing, it’s a bit bland. Skies of Arcadia had a unique setting that still has not been replicated, and Final Fantasy had its transition to more sci-fi elements. So, another world of dragons, gems, and swords felt a little stale. Worse, players in the West were dealing with a low-quality translation. I’m not exaggerating when I say this game has a scene where a crazed prison warden murders a lackey by tossing him into a pit. This is right after a prison guard calls Dart a “silly guy” during a life-and-death battle.
Legend of Dragoon stars Dart as he and his friends travel the world of Endiness and unravel a plot to destroy all of creation. The game starts with Dart returning from an expedition to find his village burned down and his childhood friend captured. Sound familiar? Dart stages a rescue, and a tale of ancient conspiracies, political war, and dragons unfolds. Though formulaic, there’s a real sense of passion behind the story the developers are making. Even then, its world-building lore flashbacks are the most attractive parts of the story. The events set 10,000 years before the main game are something fans have been begging to experience for years. Even the ending drops the ball when introducing a barely telegraphed, lame twist for the final boss.
Legend of Dragoon’s Gameplay
Unlike its contemporaries at the time, Legend of Dragoon had an incredibly innovative system in its battles: the Additions. The game obviously takes inspiration from Super Mario RPG here, as players will get better damage and flashier attacks with proper timing of inputs. Where it differs is in complexity. In Super Mario RPG, you only hit the button once. In Legend of Dragoon, the most difficult additions can have up to six inputs. Enemies will also occasionally counter you, forcing a different action. The only characters who don’t get this system are the bow users, Shana and Miranda. Every other standard attack requires specific inputs for increased damage. Magic attack items make you mash to increase the damage percentage. But Dragoon attacks require perfect timing on a circular minigame to get maximum damage.
Legend of Dragoon is what you’d expect from a PS1 RPG outside combat. You’ll explore pre-rendered environments between trips to the linear world map. Random battles will occur after a while, but you’ll be able to tell when thanks to the color-coded arrow above Dart. There are treasure chests to find and optional, missable sidequests every once in a while. Not to be outdone by FF7, you also can expect a few minigames in a specific town. There’s not much else to say here. If you’ve played even one JRPG from this era, you’ve played the core of them all. Any fan of JRPGs from this era will feel right at home.
The Enduring Legend (of Dragoon)
Legend of Dragoon has maintained a sizable and dedicated following, becoming a cult classic. Fans typically describe it as “Final Fantasy meets Power Rangers.” The Sentai element is hard to deny, from the color-coded outfits to the sick transformations with iconic poses. Despite its flaws, there’s much to love here, and the developers’ passion for this project is unmistakable. I remember a marketing campaign with an alternate-reality element. There was a website that talked about discovering the fossils of Dragoons. For the longest time, I thought it was perhaps something I misremembered. But after weeks of searching, I found a video and some images! Though most of that site has been lost, unique elements like this make the game loved by legions. Sony put a lot into this, so it is shocking for them to totally abandon it.
Fans have asked for a total remake for years, and the most we got are emulated versions. While they get the job done and are cheaper than buying the discs, issues like the one that halted my article sour the revival attempts. Luckily, fans have taken it upon themselves to do a full, native PC port. It’s fully playable for now, but if you have a PS4/5, I suggest buying that version and playing the PC one to show Sony that interest is still there. The fan love was so strong that Dart almost found his way into Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale, Sony’s fumbled Smash Bros. clone. He was modeled, but that’s as far as he got. Since then, Sony has been quiet about anything connected to Legend of Dragoon. Bloodborne fans, take note. Maybe someday, either of these properties will be updated how they deserve.
So, Does Legend of Dragoon Hold Up In 2023?
I’d say yes. The battle system has not been replicated or expanded on since its release. The closest has been the Mario RPG games. Though the translation is stiff and awkward, it has a weird charm. It takes itself very seriously, and then it’ll flip around and hit you with some ridiculous line that has obviously been edited to keep it PG. Even if the story is basic and predictable, it’s hard to find fault in the simplicity. The translation and cheesy voice acting may turn some away, but that was typical for the market back then. If you go in expecting these issues, I think anyone can have a good time. Though I may be a little blinded by nostalgia, I think this is worth experiencing by any JRPG fan.
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