The Tales of... series has come a long way. Since its first title way back in 1995, the series has taken many twists and turns and in each game, the battle system becomes slightly altered and more complex than in the previous installment. So if anything, it would be very unexpected for Namco to tear down the building blocks that made the franchise evolve from what it was to what it is now. That foundation being Tales of Phantasia, which heavily focused on purely linear and intense, simplistic gameplay.
But that's just what they've done with Tales of Legendia, the newest American released installment for the PlayStation 2. Namco has gone against what made the series' staple movement of sprites and hand-drawn environments so adored by fans, for an entirely 3D experience.
You assume the role of Senel Coolidge, a young Alliance Marine who gets caught up in a storm along with his sister Shirley who both wash up on the shores of a mysterious island. The island just so happens to be an immense ship called the Legacy. Moments later, Shirley is kidnapped and from there on in, your adventure begins. Legendia omits the usual end-of-the-world storyline we've all come to expect in RPG's and focuses on something as simple as saving your little sister from the clutches of evil. This might bore many players, but it's rather refreshing to see a party urgently dive into adventure without it primarily being related to securing the planet's future.
At first glance, it's very common to feel a tad surprised over Legendia's visual direction. Static sprites from Tales of Rebirth and cel-shaded characters from Symphonia are replaced with 3D toy like figures. But after a few moments, you immediately fall in love with how lush and detailed character models as well as the Legacy truly are. Colorful natural environments, waterfalls flowing through every corner, red coral and rock bursting out of every peak, ice caverns, seashell passageways and waterways. Overall, it's a remarkable visual treat. Towns are also very easy on the eyes as each store, pavement, bridge and fountain is just bleeding in detail. You rarely encounter one location that wasn't designed with every stroke of the rainbow.
The voice acting and soundtrack are both spot on. It's almost surprising to see voice acting this good, since you'll end up heavily enjoying several of the skits interactions (another popular theme most notably seen in Symphonia). Along with the voice acting is Legendia's score, mainly done by Go Shiina. The soundtrack is a slew of orchestrated themes that all come together very nicely. It fits the game just fine and aside one or two very out of place songs, they manage to compliment the game more than hinder it. It really does make you feel as if you were on a mystical island far, far away.
Namco has decided to make battles far simpler by returning the series to its roots with the X-LiMBS (Cross Linear Motion Battle System), setting party members as well as foes on a singular plane. Unlike Symphonia's system, which set many characters on field with a very light incline from each other, Legendia places every figure on the same plane. This level of simplicity makes the learning curve very easy, yet can lead busier battles to become a tad more hectic. Since enemies and party members alike are all set on the same plane, it can get very annoying to see whose who and where from time to time.