Expanding on a series that's been around for more than a decade, the Japanese role-playing game Tales Of Legendia isn't some diversion to be entered into lightly, but an obsession in the making, the sort of time-suck that torpedoes report cards and ends relationships. Not to worry: You have a new family now, not to mention a unique alphabet, healing gems and potions, hidden treasures and puzzle rooms, special powers, and cracking recipes for restorative baked goods. That level of minutiae separates good games from great ones, but in Tales Of Legendia, much of the detail pops up in the periphery, which enhances the experience more than it affects the gameplay.
Getting through this immense world does require a little grinding— particularly with the random battle encounters that seem to pop up every few paces—but the immersive environment, strong story, and well-defined characters justify the extra effort. It's one of those rare games that make you want to see what happens next. You are Senel Coolidge, a seafaring adventurer who crashes into a giant ship and washes ashore with his little sister Shirley. You soon discover that you've landed on the Legend, an ancient ship of such vast dimensions that its topography includes villages, mountains, and seas. When the populace discovers that Shirley may be a "Merines," a mythical being capable of steering this ship of fools, various baddies snatch her away for nefarious purposes. This leaves you and a growing team of quirky local heroes—all possessing cool "eres" powers for team battles—to get her back.
Beyond the game: The striking watercolor look comes courtesy of Kazuto Nakazawa, who supervised the animated sequence in Kill Bill, Volume 1, and it's worth sticking around just to witness the worlds within worlds that reveal themselves. It's not the slickest-looking game out there, but few are as artfully conceived.
Worth playing for: The real-time battle sequences are unusual for RPGs, but strategy still comes into play as you decide how best to arrange your team and take advantage of each member's special powers. Drawing up the right plan against a Big Boss can be satisfying, but…
Frustration sets in when: …the learning curve is awfully steep. Most of the battles are ridiculously easy button-mashing jobs, which leaves you completely unprepared to take on a real challenge.
Final judgment: How much free time do you have on your hands?