Gameloft has made something of a reputation for taking whatever triple A title is the current flavour of the month and producing a toned down version for mobile devices. If you want a Halo clone or an endless runner based around whichever superhero is in the cinema then they’re your one-stop-shop. Eternal Legacy is what happens when they turn their attentions to the JRPG genre.
Eternal Legacy is a shameless Final Fantasy grab. Let’s get that out of the way before we begin. Characters look like Squall, Yuffie, Yuna and more with the game cribbing from a dozen different games to make up its cast of characters and plot elements. It’s telling about the Gameloft ethos that they only crib from games from the Playstation era, ignoring elements of older titles. It’s also something of a premium price tag on digital stores compared to other titles, but it does offer a complete experience that’s free of DLC or in-app purchases for your money.
Graphically the game looks good, especially when you consider that it runs smoothly on the 3Gs from start to finish (though it sapped the battery life of the phone) and that other RPGs on the digital stores at the time were shaky 2D Indy efforts or ports of existing 2D classic titles from SquareEnix (sold at an even larger premium). Character models are the equivalent of a low-end Playstation 2 game and aimed at the slender, spiky haired aesthetic that Final Fantasy VIII tackled. Environments are fully 3D and the camera can be rotated in any direction, whilst each location is unique and has very little repeated assets to be seen. Special mention for the menus here because they are fluid, well placed and function perfectly on the touchscreen, with their own little animations and graceful movements. Many games of this early iStore era were hampered by horrible interfaces or static buttons and this game does its best to be slick and presentable. Visually the game has also been ‘directed’ with a panning camera and each line of dialogue matched to a particular angle of the camera. Comparatively Chaos Rings sticks to hanging back and showing the odd in-game cinematic or hovering above the existing action. These details go a long way to making Eternal Legacy one of the most upstanding graphical RPGs on the mobile market.
Sound is well recorded with sound effects occasionally sounding tinny on smaller devices but ultimately being unique and recognisable from each other. Musically the game is a little underwhelming with a ‘this king of track usually goes here’ vibe that feels a little by the numbers but doesn’t make the game stand out as good or bad. Most lines of dialogue in the game are voiced and this will make or break the experience for some because the cast camp it up to Panto levels. Personally I like a little over-the-top in a mobile title (which I tend to not take as seriously as a console release) but for those looking to uphold a brooding aesthetic it could ruin the experience. Luckily Gameloft have predicted this and there is an option to turn the voices off. Most mobile titles tend to be played silently on the commute anyhow so this doesn’t damage the experience too much.
Unfortunately the story is a little weak, following Astrian and his friend Taric as they attempt a bombing raid on an arena where the nobles compete for fame and glory. They’re a member of a rebellion against the elitist policies of the Empire for reasons unknown. His job is to keep people busy by entering the ring whilst his friend plants the explosives then the pair will escape, but the games primary antagonist puts in an appearance and the whole things goes south, leaving them to flee for the Sky Road where they bump into token healer Lysty and she joins them. The game does somehow manage to tell a complete story, although it ends very abruptly, and it chooses to use stereotypical RPG tropes and leave them only vaguely explained because it knows that you got the gist of what to do through doing them before. Say ‘bombing mission’ and you think of Final Fantasy VII, say escape on a Sky Road and you know you’re in for a linear dungeon to exit rampage, etc. It could be considered sloppy storytelling or it could be reading your target audience a little too well (pandering to those who skip dialogue once they know what to do next) but the experience does sometimes feel streamlined. Characters do bring some interest, if a few of them are out of place with an emo styling among more colourful and cheerful members of the cast, and all of them stand out against the rest as easily recognisable arch-types. For the most part the writing is adequate, if not fantastic, with no translation issues, but occasionally lines seem to fall a little flat. Overall you won’t be playing the game for its rich and original story, though if you go in expecting the worst you will be pleasantly surprised.
Gameplay is actually a highlight of this title with the use of the touch-screen implemented to perfection. Some fixed buttons appear on screen but they do their best not to distract from the action or clutter the screen, whilst the camera is neatly rotated with the right thumb in a realistic emulation of using the Right Analogue stick to pan. This leaves the fingers and other hand free to control the bulk of the action. Exploration has warnings before encounters in the form of monsters visible on the field, but the content of the battle is randomised and areas can be cleared until you leave them to provide safe exploration but facilitate grinding. The aforementioned menus are a dream to work with, and the inner designer in me thrills to see everything so well implemented on this front. There are items to purchase, equipment to be had and special shards to add passive abilities such as increasing elemental resistance or additional attack bonuses, which make chest hunting and NPC conversations a little more interesting. There’s also an airship later in the game to revisit areas without hassle and a dragon (read Chocobo!) to ride in some areas. Combat is where this game breaks away from the pack however, with a system loosely based on that of Final Fantasy XIII but implemented much more successfully. You control your main character at all times and set your allies to one of three pre-determined AIs that switches up healing, attacking and defensive spell casting whilst always being able to queue up the next three moves your character will make. These play out in real time with an ATB system and it can be ignored if you want to select a move at a time for tougher battles or stacked fully for encounters you know inside out. Items can be used and attacks selected through easy to use menus in the battle, and a limit-break like ability charges ready to be added to the queue when you’re ready. Overall it’s a good system that I haven’t seen implemented in anything else before or since with the exception of the Paragon system seen in the FFXIII series, which never worked to its fullest.
Eternal Legacy is one of those rare gems, a game made for your phone that runs perfectly. It’s usually bashed for its price tag and for hitting above its weight, reviewing it as a console RPG because it aspires to be one rather than focusing on what it does right. It doesn’t look like a sequel is ever going to happen, with Gameloft moving on to the Dungeon Hunter series based on a Diablo style and using many IAPs along the way, but as a stand-alone game it’s worth a look. Don’t see it for the things it isn’t, appreciate it for the things it does well and it did first. This 3Gs game still looks and plays better than a lot of the iStore.