The Legend of Dragoon (PS4)

It feels odd to be writing this, but not TOO odd, after writing about how a remake isn’t happening. In a way, I think it’s appropriate. First off because it’s not a remake, but second of all because it’s a good way to test the waters for whether there’s enough interest for there to eventually be one. Key word, "eventually." Sony is not going to compete against Square Enix on their mutual system seller, but once that cash cow has been milked dry, there will be room again.

I’ve been sitting on this for a bit because of everything else, but let’s examine this.

It’s not about money

The first thing that tells me that this is purely for the sake of testing the waters is because I got it for free. "FREE?" Yes, free. Oh, you’ll pay $10 for it. If you didn’t buy it years ago on PS3. For anyone who did, they’re honoring your decade-old purchase by giving away this version despite the improvements.

Let me be clear about this, I went in on release day fully intending to pay another $10 for it and ended up confused why it wasn’t costing me anything like it should have. Sony didn’t advertise that it would be free for previous buyers; they just did it. Which is even more surprising, because in a way, it tells them who would have been willing to pay money for it on day one before the news hit that something was amiss.

They also didn’t put it behind their PlayStation Plus Premium subscription like most PS1 games, so you know they’re treating it differently, and that speaks volumes. If it was a matter of merely releasing it for the sake of it, nothing would have been amiss for them doing so as crumbs. And while many gaming publications lamented the fact it cheapens the subscription, thinking that there isn’t a good reason for it is daft. People might hesitate to get a premium subscription for one game; that doesn’t tell you anything about interest in the game as much as the subscription. They are very much interested in the game’s individual numbers.

There’s something quite nice to be said about this, because there’s definitely extra effort put in that someone had to be paid for. Hell, Square Enix did more or less the same thing to Chrono Cross and they still charged a budget title price for it. Sony, in honoring the purchases of a completely different version of the game, literally is saying they did not do this as a cash-in.

Why is this significant?

Because Sony has a LONG history of squirreling this game away and not talking about it. After decades of various petitions, fans asking, fans latching onto literally any tease for anything only to cry out their lamentations, Sony finally took notice. Which is to say they have reason to wonder whether a remake isn’t actually commercially viable. I won’t re-hash the entire history, but back on the PS1 it sold enough to seriously consider a sequel, and even though that never happened, it did qualify for a Greatest Hits release. Putting it on PSN had people continue to buy it. And the fanbase for this game has historically been an eternal wellspring of hope even in the face of daunting silence.

To put it this way, back in the day, Sony’s release strategy was more or less "I’m just going to leave this here." They didn’t do a lot of ads. The fact is most people were probably exposed to it via kiosks in game sections as part of demos that were just how things used to operate in your big-box stores. You can still find Nintendo doing a bit of this, but it’s not the standard it used to be. SCEA wasn’t known for sequels or franchises. Silence was pretty much the standard on all their games in general.

But the silence on The Legend of Dragoon was especially deafening. When you look at the various ways they did it, things like never releasing the Dart DLC in PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale individually don’t seem out of the ordinary, sure, why release a DLC for a game that was dead on arrival, but when you start adding it all up, it creates something of a pattern that’s hard to deny. For many years, it felt like Sony really wanted people to stop asking about it, and actively went out of their way to avoid giving anyone reason to do so. But that never stopped the fanbase and the recent excitement about it over recent teases must have been enough to grab someone’s attention.

Doing this now is taking a page out of the Square Enix playbook. This isn’t as unusual as it sounds; the two companies have been in something of an open marriage for many years. Square Enix has long held games they know people want hostage by releasing something else they know would be a sure sell for less effort to test the waters. This isn’t even a bad tactic; maybe one fans moan about the cynicism of, but good business. Final Fantasy VII is going to have a shelf life and with criticism already mounting about some of the changes, and some to be had at Final Fantasy XVI before it’s even out due to charges of racism, the Final Fantasy brand is on shakier ground than anyone could have predicted just a few short years ago. The time for The Legend of Dragoon to be remade is decidedly not now, but if the sales figures of this offering pan out, if they START now, it will be ready pretty much right on time in 5 or so years to give respectful distance and fill a market gap in a world that might be looking for alternatives. They already have the day 1 sales figures and news of the bugfix patch circulated quickly, so hopefully it fixed whatever damage the week 1 numbers suffered.

The important thing here is that Sony finally, FINALLY has said something on it after years of trying and failing to keep the fanbase from getting excited. This is a seismic shift in their treatment of it. Fans are still talking "remake," but this is the first indication of any sort that a remake is on the table, some 20+ years after initial release.

But how is it, actually?

If you must know, what little I’ve played is fantastic. It’s the game as it was, no real timing issues, with the NTSC and PAL versions both built in. PAL can be considered an Easy Mode given they further reduced the HP pools of most bosses and there are slight script differences, which are, in a word, surreal from someone who never actually stopped playing the US version. It does show the slower speed of PAL systems, though, so if you’re wondering as a Brit whether it’s authentic, the answer is yes, and in many ways you got the better version, but it is viscerally uncomfortable to me personally given it throws off literally everything I’ve ever known. If this is your first-time experience, I will say to give it a go, though. The 50FPS isn’t a deal-breaker, but this is, in fact, a game that quite frequently runs at a solid 60FPS on NTSC, and even when it targets less, it doesn’t appear the mo-cap has been re-interpolated to account for it. This isn’t a game that has slowdowns or freezes; just a variable framerate and occasional pauses in the action as things load, none of which are offensive, even if they’re noticeable. But going from NTSC to PAL does show things are subtly slowed and vertically stretched and if you know what you’re looking at, you can’t un-see it. This is despite the PAL ROM having obviously done some work to try to compensate the cutscenes, even somewhat fixing the timing on some bad lip sync.

Otherwise, the different visual options are all great. "Default" is more or less what you’d see on any emulator and it feels like certain graphics have been subtly touched up for the textures out the gate, which mind you were already great to begin with, and while it all still conforms to the old PS1 pixel grid, making for some really obvious warping on Dart’s sword especially, that in itself is kind of an acceptable sacrifice. The retro option looks fantastic, basically just like I was playing recently on CRT at distance, even though it’s not pixel perfect to the shadow mask up close, and "Modern," okay, "Modern" has some issues in that it seems to be using some sort of A.I. upscale that also tries to re-interpolate everything to 60FPS and it’s the latter bit that doesn’t quite work. The backgrounds look fine in it, but there are some really weird visual ghosting artifacts whenever the models move and my brain pulls a big "nope" on that. It’s probably part of a standard package, but it’s really not needed here and can really only hurt the experience. It does, however, work splendidly on the opening cutscene, not that it needed it, but that’s really what the technology is intended for. Like, seriously, it was invented for 2D applications like pre-filmed car races; that’s exactly what it’s good at, not cartoon animation where it runs into intentional design decisions it was never intended to address. On the opening cutscene, there’s a little artifacting it can’t deal with at certain points, but otherwise it’s clear, sharp, and smooth. Basically, play however you like; it’s clear that no matter how you do, Sony GETS it and is going to give you the flavor of authentic experience you crave.

As to how it stacks up to Chrono Cross: Radical Dreamers Edition, the answer is quite well. The backgrounds under "Modern" seem to take less of a hit if only because the upscale model used doesn’t have to contend with things it was never trained on, at least not in the early game, so everything looks like what it’s supposed to even on closer scrutiny, not that this might not break down later in the game when there are more fine details. But a rock is a rock and a tree is a tree and the rocks and trees out the gate look fine. Both ended up suffering slowdowns and both have been patched for them as of time of writing, essentially within a week of each other, so what you get here that you don’t get there is a more authentic battle intro that takes a bit of time to show you the arena to help hide the loading and that feels like necessary downtime. Maybe it’s just because this is, in fact, the PS1 ROM run through a fancy emulator, but I feel like there’s actually more to it than that graphically, maybe a more hybrid approach, that has worked out well for it, initial game-breaking bugs aside. Though I also have to question why those bugs existed if it was really just a ROM unless the emulator itself had the issue. I suppose it might at least explain how it was missed; if there wasn’t any QA done and the emulator never had to contend with the situation, well, we all know what happens when you assume.

Will a remake happen?

That depends entirely on the downloads, especially week 1 and maybe 2, and having a strong day 1 wouldn’t hurt, either. There are parties interested in a remake project, but there needs to be assurances that it will be financially viable and finding real numbers on that is proving difficult. One of the top Google and Bing results is an April Fool’s joke tossing out a number of 2 million, but I’m not going to link it because the site seems to think the article is clearly humorous and for that they bring me one step closer to inventing Slap Over UDP, because they failed at it and their insistence to the contrary when it almost had me write a Rant based on it as fact is worth a good stream of back and forth until I’m satisfied and if any miss, there are plenty more where it came from. If they can’t even be as funny as ME, there’s a problem.

But when it comes to the game, you have to realize a few things: 1) while almost everyone involved in the production is still alive, including the entire English voice cast to the best of my knowledge, the burden of doing a full production is more than the couple days in a booth the original took; 2) the biggest time and money sink of a modern video game is the art, which is the part people would be most interested in seeing done from the ground up; and 3) there would need to be a full retranslation, because the original’s is Not Good™ and the UK translation somehow managed to break as much as it fixed. How much of it is straight translation vs. localization is also very, unfortunately, debatable, because there is some mix of both. That’s before you get to the possibility of an entirely new script, not that there’s actually any objectionable material of note that would need a "well THAT aged like milk" pass. I mean maybe a little; Haschel is a bit of a dirty old man, but not in a way or volume that would bump the age rating up here in the more enlightened future. Generally speaking, there’s not really the casual sexism or ableism or gay-bashing humor here that was prevalent in the era.

You also have to consider that just making the exact same game again is… well, just not possible. I’ve talked about this before, but the assets they have are not really usable, even if they’re recoverable or can be reverse engineered. Part of that is that while it is full motion capture data, the fidelity of that data is probably not as such that it would pass muster with significant graphical improvements, which means someone is going to have to fix it by hand or else they might just get performers to redo it all from scratch. Which isn’t knocking the 2, count them 2, original motion capture performers, one for the menfolk and another for the ladies, or the way they managed to stitch multiple performances together for cutscenes. They were amazing; I just don’t know if either of them is active anymore or capable of pulling off the same acrobatics 2 decades older. This unfortunately isn’t like Chrono Cross where they can just throw a new coat of paint on it and call it a day; this version more or less can’t coexist with something like that. Anything they do is going to have to get the full treatment, because this IS the partial treatment option.

You have to make decisions on what to keep, what to dump, and what to iterate on, and those conversations are going to have no right answer, because the fact of the matter is if you’re giving it the full treatment, people aren’t going to be satisfied with just modern graphics and voice acting. There’s going to be a push to make it meet modern tastes in the middle somewhere if nothing else and that could spell the end for Additions entirely. Or maybe they might work in real-time combat better than I credit it for, but that means you’re limiting what other party members can do much like FF7R did, and you have to be very careful about how you manage the Additions in relation to monsters sailing through the air with a fork and knife for your butt when it might feel much more efficient to not pause your button-mashing at all if it beats them off of you. All of this needs planning, implementation, revision, play testing, etc. It’s going to be a whole new game. That’s not easy to do. And it’s really a question of how much you think you can get away with with the core audience who showed you there’s a market vs. the lucrative teen crowd that has essentially never lived in a world where turn-based combat wasn’t considered antiquated or where variety wasn’t treated like poison rather than the spice of life. Which is tragic, really, because that’s who Square Enix is chasing and the US audience has already given Square top brass permanent emotional scars over that stuff through the sheer vitriol of it a decade ago when these teens were stuffing crayons up their noses. Everything they know has been a conga line of everything chasing the same audience whenever something new worked and we’re seeing so many remakes and remasters now because live services are dropping like flies and an already unsustainable industry is flailing without anything else that already sold until someone has the bravery to take the next risk that does numbers for everyone to line up behind. A little bravery here might pay off, because it’s clear from Bravely Default having sold better than anyone anticipated that there’s an under-served market for turn-based combat. The only question is whether they came out of the woodwork to say so.

In short, any additional effort is going to be extremely expensive. Because ultimately, that’s the question being asked here.

Is it worth it? You tell them. If you want me to tell you whether this is a buy or a pass, I consider it an easy buy for the price. We’re all voting with our dollar here; I cast mine years ago and they still wanted to make sure it was counted. They had my vote either way, but if I can tell anyone else to cast theirs, I’ll consider it a service to a loyal and dedicated fanbase and really just anyone who’s looking for something different.