More noise than signal

Eternal Legacy

Readers of a certain age and predisposition may remember the infancy of videogaming in the home, with unsuspecting “serious computers” such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore VIC-20 being abused into displaying some primitive ancestors of the modern gaming multimedia extravaganzas we take for granted on our Xboxes and Playstations. While Atari might have been a little more strict about intellectual property rights, given that they owned a good chunk of the good arcade games at the time, other formats were the rip-off equivalent of the Wild West.

Cue a massive number of barely, if at all, disguised versions of Pac-man and Space Invaders and the like, often of wildly varying quality. A simpler, more innocent time, where people shared and shared alike, or at least when game companies didn’t have legal teams larger than their development teams.

I’m apparently not the only one nostalgic about this era, or reckless enough to base a company’s release schedule entirely around quite blatant idea theft. Gameloft have been making games for mobile phones for as long as they’ve been capable of running the rudimentary Java-based games that seemed fabulous at the time, and as barbarous as Speccy games in retrospect. The release of the iPhone, however, seems to have turned them into full time rip-off merchants.

You’d have to be incredibly charitable or completely dishonest not to feel that there’s a massive degree of similarity between N.O.V.A and HALO, or the Modern Combat and COD: Modern Warfare games, or Starfront and Starcraft, or as we’re interested in here, between Eternal Legacy and Final Fantasy. In particular, Eternal Legacy draws on the graphical styles of Final Fantasy VIII and the plot of Final Fantasy VII, so I suppose if you’re being astonishingly generous that counts as innovation.

I’d get a little more shirty about Gameloft’s outright clonery were it not for the generally high quality of all of these cover versions. While N.O.V.A and Modern Combat are shadows of their inspirations on the massively more powerful consoles, they’re still very competent, fluid games and arguably as close as anyone’s come to making great FPS’s on the Apple iThingys. Eternal Legacy in some respects one ups the others mentioned, by being a better game than the Final Fantasies it apes.

Of course, this is coming from someone with a very low tolerance for Final Fantasy games, so factor that in your calculations of whatever that’s worth. Astrian, a spiky haired fellow carrying a ridiculously oversized sword in no was resembling FF8’s Squall and his buddy, in no way reminiscent of Zell, are rebels attempting to steal an oppressive government’s shiny crystal trinkets, Varsh Stones, the source of power in this world, which is the first hint that you’re playing a game heavily indebted plotwise to FF7. In fact, I’m going to stop pointing out character similarities to FF8 and plot similarities to FF8, as otherwise we’ll be here all day. Please just assume that any character you play is a barely disguised version of someone from FF8 and most of the plot’s a homage, shall we say, to FF7.

Mechanically, the game also shares elements with the FF series, although by extension it shares elements with pretty much every RPG with turn based combat. There’s the usual combinations of physical attacks, element based attack magic, stat altering buff/debuffs and assorted healing items and spells, which different characters will use to differing levels of effect depending on their abilities. There’s also a rough analogue of Limit Breaks, and a stat/effect boosting system thankfully far less tedious than FF8’s Junctioning, as Varsh Fragments found throughout the game can be attached to the weapons and armour you use, granting either access to spells that could not normally be utilised by the character, extra defence or attack, and so forth.

So far, so familiar, and the overworld sections aren’t going to blow your mind with their originality either. It’s the usual RPG deal of wandering around a town talking to people, either getting a quest or receiving information that involves heading somewhere else and fighting your way their through a variety of whacky enemies and beast that seem to have no particular storyline reason to be getting up in your grill. At least, thankfully, there’s no random encounters, as the enemies are clearly seen wandering around and thus can occasionally be avoided completely, and you can perhaps sneak up on them. Why this isn’t the way all RPGs deal with this is beyond me. I can almost accept it as a limitation on earlier machines, but there’s no excuse for it in the modern age.

So, there’s a brownie point for it, but there’s a number of less successful decisions made in the game. The combat and customisation systems are far simpler than in the games it apes, which to my mind is entirely appropriate and laudable for a game designed to be played on the move. As the iDevice format is more conductive to playing for short bursts as a time filler rather than full-on gaming sessions, shortening the normally interminable 40 hour RPG grind to a more compact 8 or 9 hours fits quite well.

Fits well for me, at least. Given that JRPGs these days seem to make their hay based entirely on how ludicrously complex and padded they are, what’s fine for me may not be so good for the intended core audience. The plot’s suffered a little under the baton of time compression, taking a few sharp right turns that could leave you flatfooted if you were hoping to actually care about the storyline or characters. It also presents a novel twist on the ‘early doors unwinnable battle with eventual boss’ trope, as you face off against the game’s main antagonist, kill him with ease, and are immediately taken to a cutscene showing you on prone, defeated and at said antagonist’s mercy. Somehow. Buh?

There’s a few mechanical annoyances that should really have been fixed remaining in the version available as I write. When you equip a new weapon, the Varsh fragments do not automatically transfer over to the new weapon from the old, which means another fiddly trip to the menu system. That I can deal with, but the menu system in combat is a complete pain in the ass when trying to navigate the lengthy item menu. Or at least, it’s lengthy by the end of the game which is about the only time you’ll ever need to use healing items.

You see, the main problem I have with Eternal Legacy is that it presents no challenge whatsoever to anyone with the slightest experience of these sorts of games. I had wondered if there was some sort of bug in the game, as my characters were very quickly levelling up to silly degrees. Turns out that’s a function of the shorter game length, but between the stats boost gained and the free healing gained from levelling up there’s practically no danger of dying, at least until the game pulls one of it’s somewhat frequent dick moves, splitting the party and leaving you without anyone that has a healing spell. At which point we’re often relying on healing items, and the cumbersome menu for selecting them that can take so long to get at that you might be in danger of dying more through menu inefficiency than through lack of tactical nous.

It’s not game-cripplingly unusable, and to be fair I struggle to see how else the menus can be organised. However, even this problem stems from the core problem – a lack of challenge. The menu becomes unwieldy because the game is massively generous with dispatched enemies dropping healing potions. Apart from this meaning you’ve no excuse no to go into each battle in top shape, it also leaves you with a ridiculous number of items in your inventory, making finding particular things more difficult. By the time the game ended, I had something like four hundred spare healing thingys. I could sell most of them to a trader, but in the absence of a “sell all” button that meant tapping ‘sell’ something like four hundred times, and, well, screw that noise. It’s not as if I needed the money for anything, as the few items that the merchants sell were easily affordable from the money dropped during the normal course of the game.

Disappointingly, for a relatively short RPG there’s still a bit of arbitrary gameplay padding as you return to previous locations for pretty poorly laid out reasons. Thankfully, it’s pretty rare, and there’s no need to spend hours in one locations grinding out either level gains or draw spells, mechanics from FF8 that still give me nightmares to this day.

Okay, perhaps it’s a little slapdash in places, and I’m not sure if it’s going to completely satisfy the JRPG / Final Fantasy loving crowd that it’s aimed at. But it’s a reasonable mobile facsimile of familiar concepts, and it certainly kept me coming back to it for those eight to nine-ish hours with only relatively minor complaints. Look at it this way – if you had told the younger version of myself playing that there Pacman rip-off on the Speccy all those years ago that they could play something of this quality and scope on a mobile phone, he’d have been blown away, at least once you had further explained the concept of a mobile phone to him. I am very old, remember.

And all this for a price less, in absolute terms, less than the budget game releases of the day, even before you take inflation into account? Lunacy. However, we’re not judging Eternal Legacy in comparison with Chuckie Egg, we’re judging it amongst its App Store compadres. There are a few more polished RPGs that I’ve seen, but most are either opting for a SNES-y, cartoony, Zelda-y look, or have more in common with the Western, Oblivion-style RPGs. Nothing wrong with either approach, but it’s left a gap in the market for something a little more modern and JRPG-influenced to exist, and Eternal Legacy is a very credible game to fill that gap.

It’s currently £2.99 in the App Store, a trivial amount of cash for such a game on any console, but thanks to the unusual metrics of the system it’s in a more expensive tier than most games. It’s certainly worth that much, but perhaps you may want to wait (as I did) for one of Gameloft’s frequent sales to knock that down a little before taking the plunge. At fifty nine pence, it’s damn near as good value for money for a game as I’ve ever had. There’s also a free demo version, should the prospect of parting with less than the price of a mediocre cup of coffee concern you greatly.