It’s A Trap

Hazards can be your friends in the quirky dungeon-crawler Legasista.

By Samantha Nelson • August 27, 2012

The publisher NIS America has brought plenty of bizarre Japanese games to the United States, and its latest title, Legasista, continues that grand tradition. The game jumps right into the surreal tale of Alto, a young man desperate to restore his sister, who’s been transformed into a crystal. His quest leads him to the Ivy Tower, a long-abandoned scientific research facility tended by a robot that asks to be called Ms. Dungeon. Alto delves into the place’s secrets with the help an adoring sentient bean sprout, who volunteers to be devoured (should Alto get hungry) with the fervor of the cow in Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe. The super-advanced AI weapon that could help his sister has amnesia so he must help her regain her programming by gathering data chips, which she greedily eats.

Those insane but charming plot and characters provide a great incentive to keep exploring a dungeon that can be both brutal and tedious. This action role-playing game gives the player control over one character at a time, though you can tag out for teammates depending on the situation, and their magical abilities are available regardless of who’s taking the lead. The dungeons teem with monsters that are typically tougher than your characters unless you’ve been spending an excess of time building up your team’s strength. So victory requires you to determine your foes’ attack patterns, kite them around, and apply some situational strategy by making use of the environment.


The terrain is littered with visible traps that can be used to your advantage with planning. You can trigger a flaming arrow and then get out of the way as it deals a massive blow to a pursuing monster. Sometimes the tradeoff is more challenging, like traps that fire eggs, which henceforth hatch into monsters. Hitting a boss with one of these eggs may strike a fearsome blow, but then you have to deal with minions gunning for you while finishing it off.

Dungeon levels are short, which is a blessing. You lose everything you’ve picked up on a level if you die, so it’s occasionally tempting to avoid conflict and dart for the end if you’ve picked up some especially good kit. You can’t bring consumables like healing items or antitoxins in or out of the dungeon, and the latter presents a big problem since there are a huge number of poisonous maladies you can encounter. If your health runs low, the damage goes to your equipment, quickly rendering your gear useless. It’s easy to end up as a lame duck—not dead yet, but incapable of winning.


Many of the levels can be completed in five to 15 minutes, though, which helps break the game up in a way that softens its flaws. The bad guys often look similar to each other, and while the plant-filled environment means the walls of the boxy dungeons are brightly colored instead of brown or gray, they don’t have much style. The action typically boils down a somewhat aimless wander through darkened halls, smashing monsters and treasure chests until you find the levers, buttons, or keys that let you advance to the next section.

Legasista has a complex character and gear customization system, which is occasionally so baffling that, unless you really like fiddling with such things, you may want to just let the game automatically equip you with the best options. Like the Ivy Tower itself, the promising seeds in Legasista can get a bit overwhelmed by some of its more problematic elements.

Developer: System Prisma
Publisher: NIS America
Platforms: PlayStation 3
Price: $29.99
Rating: T

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626 Responses to “It’s A Trap”

  1. Effigy_Power says:

    Can I just ask a thing to the JRPG people on GS?

    What is it with Crystals? Where does that focus come from?

    (Not complaining, I just generally want to know.)

    • HobbesMkii says:

      You know how sometimes as a child you might get a geode as a gift? And, for you, as a Westerner, it’s initially quite interesting until you realize that someone just gave you what is, in fact, a rock?

      Well, maybe that act of geode-giving a life-changing event in Japan. It’s like when people read Atlas Shrugged or The Catcher in the Rye and change their whole worldview.

    • The_Misanthrope says:

      I imagine the Japanese must also wonder about our fascination with all those Tolkein tropes/archetypes–elves, wizards, dragons, etc–or our emphasis on blank-slate RPG protagonists.

      • HobbesMkii says:

        Blank slate protagonists? What are you talking about? Shepard and the Dovakhiin can be anything I want him/her to be, and it won’t affect the storyline one single bit (outside of some stray bits of dialogue and quest choices)!

        • The_Misanthrope says:

          Perhaps my wording is a little inexact. I suppose they are less of a blank-slate and more of an unformed lump of clay.

        • HobbesMkii says:

           @The_Misanthrope:disqus I’m being facetious, but yes, that is more accurate.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      Most Japanese role-playing tropes actually originated in Dragon Quest or in the Western games that inspired it, but I think this really is a Final Fantasy I thing.

      Also, say crystal like a Japanese person.  It’s super-satisfying.

    • Swadian Knight says:

      They’re easy enough to depict on simpler hardware, they’re filled with cultural connotations of mysticism and high value, they’re a convenient MacGuffin that’s both easy to transport and divisible in as many fragments as the plot calls for, and they’re shiny. I’m surprised more games don’t feature them.

      Honestly, though, this idea may have had western roots: Dragon Quest, which codified JRPG tropes, was supposedly inspired by Ultima and Wizardry, both of which revolved around the search for an evil wizard’s magical jewelry.

  2. GhaleonQ says:

    Yeah!  I’m glad Samantha got to review this.  I’ve caught too little of her/these games here.

    I recommended all of System Prisma’s games last Friday, but Samantha really captured what’s nice about the game.  It promotes a tactical take on dungeon crawling that’s refreshing from the plan-and-grind that’s typical.  Too bad the budget was actually smaller than that of their PSP games’.

    Frankly, I’d be content with the collecting and customizing.  Numbers are my crystals.

    • Aww, thanks Ghaleon. I got married this past weekend and bought a house last weekend so my video game reviewing has taken a sharp decline in the past few months because of all the life change insanity (ironically I was playing Catherine the weekend my now husband proposed). But I’ll be back in the saddle soon and hopefully bringing more of the niche stuff I like to the site.

      • GhaleonQ says:

        Seriously, congratulations on all of that momentous stuff!  I was going to make a horrifically nerdy comment about your life hopefully resembling Farm Story/Harvest Moon more than Catherine, but instead I’ll just wish you the best until you’re back in the rotation.  Spreadsheets are for picking armors to buy, not for budgeting with your new spouse; don’t forget!

  3. Oxperiment says:

    Looks like the plot is the strong point, but I’m still missing something when it comes to the gameplay: is Legasista turn or party based at all? Or is it more top down adventure in the style of Secret of Mana or Link to the Past?

    • GhaleonQ says:

      If you’re not familiar with dungeon crawlers, a lot of them aren’t so much real-time so much as concurrent time.  If you don’t move or act, nothing around you moves or acts.  So, you have as much time to plan your moves as you want; that’s why the actual games are made brutally difficult so often.  This is more of the real-time variety.   It’s party-based, but think of them instead as your player-character having 3 different “forms” that switch out at any time.

      A game I mentioned earlier, Absolute Hero Modeling Project/Z.H.P. is semi-turn-based/tactical while still being a dungeon crawler.