10th March 2023
Hello! Welcome back to our regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we've found ourselves playing over the last few days. This time: disappointing RPGs, brilliant RPGs, and a handheld Metroid.
If you fancy catching up on some of the older editions of What We've Been Playing, here's our archive.
The Legend of Dragoon, PS5
It's harsh to compare The Legend of Dragoon to the Final Fantasy series, but it's almost impossible not to. Reviewers did the same on its release back at the turn of the millennium and history has not been kind on the cult classic PS1 RPG, which has finally just received its digital debut in Europe.
It's clear that Japan Studio developed The Legend of Dragoon in response to the success of Square's Final Fantasy 7. And it's a solid - if derivative - game, what with its spiky-haired blonde hero, turn-based battles, and pre-rendered backgrounds. But there's so much more to Final Fantasy than that, something Japan Studio seemingly failed to realise. Square's series is about likeable characters, unique worlds, memorable and dramatic music, and innovative battle systems.
By comparison, The Legend of Dragoon is a basic fantasy tale with repetitive music, mindless battles of attack-swapping and too few options, and misogynistic writing that tells its female characters to get back in the kitchen. I always wanted to play this game as a young wide-eyed RPG wannabe fan but I never owned a PS1. Perhaps at that naive age, I would've enjoyed this far more. But without the lens of nostalgia, I can't help but feel disappointed in this release. Perhaps it should've remained just a legend in my mind.
Meg's Monster, Switch
Meg's Monster is a total delight. It's an RPG with turn-based battles and exploration and all that jazz, but it's also a character piece. I've never played anything quite like it.
It's almost, but not quite an escort mission. In fact, it's sort of a study of escort missions, focusing on the stuff other games gloss over. The game follows a monster who must protect a human child as they both explore a dangerous landscape filled with threats. The monster's extremely powerful, but each battle hinges on managing the fear level of the child they're protecting. It's a fascinating piece of design that leaves you powerful and vulnerable all at once.
The real fun, though, comes from the story, as the child, whose screams might destroy the entire world, settles into a makeshift family with the monster and a bunch of intriguing secondary characters. This is an ingenious game, I think, taking an established genre and making it do something weird and deeply charming.
Metroid Fusion, Switch
I am a serial starter of Metroid games. I love the atmosphere, the slow gathering of familiar weapons, and the intricacy of the map that unfolds around me. But after a while the memory tax just becomes too high. I'll find something new that means I need to remember an opportunity I filed away three miles in the other direction. Gah, it's a bit beyond me these days.
But hooray, after the brilliant Metroid Prime remaster game me a chance to restart that all-time classic, here's a new old Metroid on Switch, in the form of Metroid Fusion for the GBA. I fired it up last night and played through the brisk opening hour, in which Samus narrowly escapes a deadly genetic infection and then finds herself on another cavernous space hulk, moving from room to room and getting more powerful as she goes.
Metroid Fusion is wonderful, offering all the stuff I love from the series while moving at a clip as handheld Metroids are allowed to. I think the things I love most about this series are the way that safe areas are spread out amongst the horrors. It's like interval running - here's a scary corridor and a mini-boss, but the next door's a navigation room or a save room.
That's the greatness of Metroid, I think - intricacy but also a wonderful kind of pacing. Hopefully I can stick with this and see it, oh, at least halfway before I lose my bearings.