Hero's Saga: Laevatein Tactics springs from the ranks of classic strategy RPGs, admirably attempting to recreate the punishing war of attrition that was the 16-bit SRPG. For good or ill, the game has shunned most of the improvements in basic user-interface and gameplay mechanics that have gone a long way in evolving the genre.
In this way, Aksys Games implemented only the most universal aspects of the SRPG genre including turn-based combat, isometric maps, arsenals of elemental upgrades called Vaettir Arms, character classes and limit break-style Ehreger Summon attacks. The problem is that the game fails to arrange these elements into anything new or compelling. At best, Hero's Saga feels like a mechanical slog through mission after mission of sparsely and haphazardly populated maps, which favor endurance over strategy. And those are the story-driven missions. The ancillary missions function as little more than repetitive grinding spots to gain levels and upgrades, often requiring two or three play-throughs in order to complete the next story mission.
As you're playing through these missions, there's little sense of peril or speed since Hero's Saga fails to effectively utilize elements like permanent death and turn limits. This is compounded by the woefully predictable AI. For instance, even under the most favorable circumstances, the enemy fails to move in for the kill, opting instead to let you regain your hitpoints (which takes quite a few turns) then dutifully wait for your next assault. All the while, important stats such as Ehreger Summon meters and hitpoints are hidden behind arcane button presses and menu selects, so much so that after a while we were jumping into battles with little regard for enemy strength.
Overarching problems aside, the individual battles are satisfying. The formation system works well by creating stat modifiers based on how your troops are arranged, like huddled in a defensive posture, balls-out charging, or arranged in a phalanx for higher accuracy and evasion. Guessing the right formation against an opponent is an important part of combat when, say, chopping down a squad of pesky casters with a cadre of Axe Warriors. But again, most enemy formation behaviors are predictable.
Like the mechanics, the game's narrative is fairly boiler-plate. It starts with a mysterious girl named Valerie meeting the protagonist Ernesto, a young prince of Valencia, which is a transparent analogue to Spain and its neighbors on the Iberian peninsula. She bestows upon him a magical blade to fight off an impending undead horde. From here the story drags from mission to misson, offering little plot advancement or character development among the reams of perfunctory dialogue.
With so many other notable SRPGs already out for portable consoles, Hero's Saga: Laevatein Tactics fails to emulate the magic of its forebears such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, and also fails to define itself among contemporaries like Rondo of Swords and Jeanne D'Arc. We still love classic SRPGs; it's just that at this point, Hero's Saga feels like a step back.
Nov 2, 2009