Over a year after its release, the PSP is finally packed with enough good games that you should be able to painlessly fill most of your travel time. The lingering problem, though, is finding an engrossing fantasy adventure to pack in that nylon case. Just like last year's edition, The Legend of Heroes II just about gets the job done... with very little panache.
In fact, it gets off to an even slower start than the prior game. The story begins with Jurio and Christina, two spunky teens set on a quest to visit a bunch of shrines - because that's just what people do, apparently, in their town. By 2006, the amount of time RPG players have wasted on fictional religious rites is almost comical. Anyway, this quest has a tendency to feel rather pointless at first - but of course, as it rolls onward, you begin to learn about the tragic fate of the world.
Solving this mystery won't be possible without engaging in a slew of turn-based battles. The good news is that they don't occur randomly, and it's plenty easy to avoid the enemies you don't feel like tangling with. The bad news is that they never stop being dull and basic.
Yes, you have four characters with a pile of abilities and spells to draw from, but there's not too much in the way of actual strategy. Every so often a meter charges up that lets you throw out a massive attack. Otherwise, it's whacking enemies with sharp things and magic for the win.
Yeah, it doesn't sound great, and it's mostly not. One the plus side, your wanderings lead you through a world that's one of the most attractive on the PSP. Somehow, the developers have packed in an intense level of detail into these 3D maps, more than most PSP games even attempt, and the tiny characters and enemies have a lot of colorful charm even if they're a bit too wee to see clearly. The screen-filling, appealing character artwork helps make up for that, too.
What lacks is the story. It's so exceedingly slow to build, and so been-there-done-that, that it's hard to get involved. Even if you're completely new to this swords-and-sorcery stuff, the translation from Japanese ranges from adequate to utterly terrible at times, which doesn't help things much. There are glimmers of charm - Chris and Jurio grew up together and trade believable banter - but the storytelling is simply clumsy all around.
In The Legend of Heroes II's favor, though, it's simple enough to play on the go. Lots of PSP games require the kind of single-minded devotion a good console game does; the LOH games are pick-up-and-play, with easy-to-follow battles that stop for input, linear pathways so you can't get lost, and simple dialogue that's easy to follow even if you're conversing with friends. Backhanded compliments, sure, but these actually turn out to be some of its best qualities, even if by accident. That counts for something. It's just not as much as an adventure where you'd be driven to meet the next exciting character or uncover the next mystery.