Remember when games were easy to quantify? This was before the days of mobile, indie, and Kickstarted games. Games were games. There was, and still is occasionally, a disconnect between how games are viewed when someone sits down to review or play them. Now, one of the most important things you can bring to a game is context. A great example is Fantasy Heroes ~Unsigned Legacy~, a game for the Vita that, at first glance, seems like it should be more than it actually is. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and taken in context, the game is actually better than I expected.
Fantasy Heroes is one of the many Japanese RPG’s that have managed to migrate to the Vita, helping to fill out the rather anemic library. Most of these games are niche, and absolutely hit or miss as to quality and content. It is often very difficult to get a read on games like Fantasy Heroes until you’ve invested a great deal of time and start to see the systems develop and the story unfold. Fantasy Heroes takes a different approach by throwing you into the game quickly, and showing its hand early. It is refreshing, and a brilliant strategy for a game that is only on a handheld. Hooking people early is key for portable games, and I’m glad there is a trend towards that approach.
The building blocks of the game are typical fantasy fare; strange enemy creatures, weapons and armor, numerous skill and item upgrades, and a central town you use to rest. Oh! And there are healing potions too. Shocking I know. The story is also pretty generic. Big bad evil that’s driven people to ruin, a band of teens with the power to save the world, and you can fill in the rest. There isn’t any new ground broken here, and honestly, the silly story is largely effervescent. It is simply what we expect.
There are a great many cracks in the game that marred it early on. If you remember the old days of Japanese imports, you’ll remember how horrifying some translations were. Trying to piece together the meaning behind some text, especially in an RPG, could drive a man mad. The past decade or so has seen a marked uptick in the localization of Japanese games (as opposed to translation, which led to aforementioned horrors), but Fantasy Heroes brought me back to the “good ‘ole days” when I couldn’t follow anything, and I had to like it. While hilarious at times, the level of polish on the story part was a disaster. Just bad.
The graphics didn’t help any either. They are amazingly dated, reminding me more of a PS2 game than a current gen one. It’s blocky, occasionally glitchy, and often drops frame rate despite very little actually happening. The limited character customization was also a point of dismay, although that will probably not be a concern for everyone, just those of us that spend too much time trying to make the perfect character.
Where Fantasy Hero succeeds is in the condensed experience it delivers. Part of the appeal of portable games, and, in my opinion, the biggest reason mobile games are so successful, is the pick up and play aspect. The sprawling Vita games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss or Persona 4 Golden (apparently there is a theme for names on the Vita) are amazing and addictive, but most of the time people want small experiences they can play for a short time and put it down until the commute home, or hammer out a mission or two before bed. Fantasy Heroes is perfect for that type of itch. The missions are short, and can be picked up, completed, and then put down until you’re ready to play again. While that process does diminish the ability to tell a compelling story, that isn’t always the point of a game, and not having a complex narrative actually bolsters the ability to just enjoy the hack-and-slash portions that quickly become mindlessly addicting.
To compliment the most simplistic nature of the gameplay, Fantasy Heroes also slims down the upgrade systems. You pick up weapons from time to time, and you can purchase them, but the real meat is successfully using the myriad of materials you gather to upgrade and built your equipment. Keeping your inventory in any semblance of organization can be taxing, and if you’re pathologically organized you will spend a lot more time than you will want keeping it manageable, but it does add a layer of complexity that is sorely needed in an RPG. There isn’t a great deal of explanation on the system, but the trial and error method yielded some fun results.
In the end, what really me with Fantasy Heroes ~Unsigned Legacy~ is the push for a more mobile feeling in a JRPG. You can’t easily pick up a Persona game, or any of the bit budget Vita games for a 5-10 minute bus ride and feel like you accomplished something. Fantasy Heroes is a perfect solution, offering fun and easy combat, a simple but deep upgrade system, and just silly, mindless amusement when you need it. Is it great? No. But it is worth your time to check out.