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They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if that is the case the folks at Square-Enix should be smitten by Eternal Legacy (although their copyright lawyers may think differently.) Gameloft are the masters of releasing titles "inspired" by well known video games on the iPad, although even by their standards they seem to have gone a little too far with Eternal Legacy. After a few minutes of play it is hard to ignore how heavily they have borrowed from the Final Fantasy series in terms of story, character design and gameplay mechanics. It goes well beyond adopting the recurring tropes we see in many a Japanese role playing game. Still who cares. I am not here to pass judgement in the court of digital plagiarism. If Gameloft can emulate the Final Fantasy experience at a budget price you won't hear too many consumers quibbling about the lack of creative ideas.
Eternal Legacy takes place in a world ruled by the oppressive Algoadian government. Astrian and pals, miffed at the status quo, decide to take a stand against the brutal regime by forming a resistance group. When the game begins we see Astrian infiltrate a gladiatorial competition with the aims of causing a distraction so his allies can procure a precious Varsh Stone, which is currently being used to power the Algoadian state's capital city. The plan however goes awry when a mysterious masked man turns up and nabs the crystal from under their noses. Astrian pursues the thief, which eventually sees him and his friends become embroiled in a conspiracy that threatens the entire planet.
On paper this sounds like a promising setup for an adventure, but trust me a few hours into the game you will start to lose interest in proceedings. Due, in no small part, to some poor writing I found the temptation to skim over the story segments too great to resist. If you do the same I would dare say that you won't miss out on much as any experienced role player will note the similarities the plot shares with Final Fantasy 7. The whole deal with the Varsh Stones, a power source which can potentially harm the planet, reminds me of the Materia stones which feature in Square's classic Playstation One game. There's a few other story elements which the two games share, but I best keep tight lipped about them to avoid spoilers.
I have to say that I was deeply impressed by the visuals that greeted my eyes once the game loaded up. The graphics truly are up to the same level of a good looking Playstation 2 game. The character models are impressive for a title that can be run on mobile phones, with impressive textures and backgrounds that give each level a distinctive feel. It's a shame then that all the hard work that must have gone into the stellar appearance gets tarnished by uncreative character designs. The cast of Eternal Legacy seem to be lifted straight from Final Fantasy 10. Astrian the lead character, who brandishes and hefty two handed blade, could pass for a young Auron, his main squeeze Lysty looks like a sluttier version of Yuna, there's a female thief who is a dead ringer for Rikku and even a blue coloured wolf man who is the splitting image of Khimari.
The game's audio doesn't however meet the high standards set by the graphics. I don't have any complaints with the music or sound effects, but the voice acting is another story entirely. A number of the actors involved fail to convey emotion which is especially noticeable during some dramatic scenes. In their defence though I suppose it is hard to sound convincing when delivering dialogue that would make George Lucas blush. Hiring the voice "talent" must have cost Gameloft a pretty penny, given all the speech which is featured in the game, but given the poor end results I cannot help but wonder if they would have been better off saving their money and making players read the text boxes themselves.
CONTROLS & LEVEL DESIGN
As with many modern day RPGs the action is presented from a third person point of view. Players travel through various levels to reach an objective with the occasional turn based fight thrown in whenever you happen to collide with a hostile monster. Touch screen controls can be a little hit and miss, but I am pleased to report that Eternal Legacy's control scheme works like a charm. Touching the left hand side of the screen summons a responsive virtual joystick which handles movement whilst swiping the right hand portion of the tablet display rotates the camera. I have no issues with combat either as executing commands simply requires that the player tap on the relevant action from a menu.
Even though each level is blessed with a unique aesthetic design I was a tad disappointed by the map layouts that comprise Eternal Legacy's stages. For those seeking hidden chests there are a few short detours to reward exploration, but on the whole you are funnelled down fairly linear corridors. It's hard to get lost in the Eternal Legacy mazes, but those with an appalling sense of direction will be relieved to learn that a blue arrow situated at the base of your character conveniently points you in the direction of your currently active quest objective.
The combat system is an area which could have been improved in my eyes. It's your typical turn based affair were you pick a move for your character to perform once the action bar fills up. Due to a lack of challenge or strategy the encounters with monsters get a little boring. To reduce the tedium I would recommend tweaking the game options so you have full control of your team. Should you opt to leave things on the default setting the game practically plays itself as you are restricted to controlling the party leader with your companions being handled by the A.I adopting whatever role you assign to them (healer, damage dealer, buffer etc.) It's a similar system to what Final Fantasy 13 employed, but it doesn't work as well here as the action isn't as fast paced or complex.
As long as your three man party has a dedicated healer it's practically impossible to see the game over screen. I got through the whole story by just selecting healing abilities/items and spamming attack. Although your characters gain special abilities and magic/summons (by combing fragments to equipment) I saw no need to utilise them as regular attacks proved to be most effective. Evidently your team scales too well in comparison to opponents, providing that you don't take the pacifist approach of avoiding conflicts with patrolling monsters, so by the midway point of the game I found that two of my characters were consistently dishing out 9999 points of damage (the most pain you can inflict in a single blow.) This made bosses a cakewalk, which is a pity as steamrolling over everything gets old after a while.
Ultimately Eternal Legacy ends up being a game that fails to live up to its potential. When I first started playing it I thought I had a five star game on my hands, but once my awe of the graphics subsided I began to realise that its beauty was only skin deep. The visuals are so polished, but for some reason Gameloft couldn't pull off the easier task of touching up a story which ends all too suddenly for my liking. Some odd design choices also sour the gameplay experience, such as the inability to cancel commands. You can queue up to three actions, but there is no point in inputting more than one. Selecting three attacks for example is a risky venture as you will be unable to select heals for three rounds of combat should your team unexpectedly sustain injury.
I don't mean to be too harsh though as I did enjoy the game for the eight hours it took me to finish the story and some optional side quests. Despite the high production values Eternal Legacy is at the end of the day a £2.99 title so you cannot hold it up to the same standards of a full priced console game. There are better RPGs out there on Apple's market place, but for fans of role playing games in the style of those released during the PS1 and PS2 era this isn't a bad time waster to play on your travels.