"Do you feel it? This is the power of the Dragon...the Dragoon."
At first glance, choosing a video game as my favourite fantasy world may seem odd. Especially since that opens the can of worms of having to scour all the great games that are out there. To say nothing of the fact that books absorb you into the experience of a magical and wondrous setting and story in a way that video games might not. Yet I have to give some kudos to The Legend of Dragoon and its setting, Endiness.
Incidentally, I didn’t dig up the libraries of titles available on every platform and systematically work down a list. It’s tempting. There are so many outstanding video games, with everything from gorgeously rendered characters to powers, beings, and settings that captivate and inspire. So why The Legend of Dragoon?
Part of it is the personal appeal. I love dragons. If you’re new to fantasy, a Dragoon is a dragon knight. Sometimes that’s just a metaphor for the intensity of their training, symbolized by draconic imagery in their armour. Other times -- as in LoD -- they literally have dragon allies or gain their powers from dragons. The Legend of Dragoon also comes with wagon loads of nostalgia. It’s one of the experiences I’ve repeated to the point that it’s comfort food. I play it through the way a fan of Grey’s Anatomy might have the show on in the background for the ump-teenth time.
One of the reasons I find it so relaxing is that -- even for its time -- LoD had extremely few distractions and burdens. There’s none of this nonsense with trophies, required mini-games, annoying challenges to get your best gear or abilities, or even getting lost. There’s straight-up a dotted line you follow from one area of the map to the next, and you can’t get off the road of that line. You just move forward and have fun!
Like many of the most compelling fantasy experiences, you have a motley crew of characters forming unlikely but powerful alliances. A mercenary, suddenly a leader, who really just wants to find his girlfriend and go home. The Moon Child, a person of high destiny. A woman from the ancient past of great magics and flying cities. The last of a race of giants. A woman of a magical race thought extinct, a king, a village elder and martial arts master. Some of them are connected, and everyone has their own goals in addition to what the team is fighting for as a whole. Who wouldn’t be down for that story?
The characters you encounter along the way are equally varied, ranging from an innocent child who just wants his wolf puppy back to mysterious background power brokers to ancient immortal tyrants and the mythical Divine Dragon. The Legend of Dragoon masterfully plays the “less is more” adage, giving us enough to be drawn in but leaving enough unsaid that we feel the world is much more than what we’re seeing.
When I was a teenager, I toyed with the idea of fan fiction, and this is the story I’d settled upon. I regret abandoning the project now. At the time, I could see how much work it would take to continue after the game and build the story I had in mind. I had ideas for the magics, how the different countries would have played out, what kinds of dragons I might create and why they hadn’t shown up in the story before, and (naturally) the characters. But that was an exorbitant amount of work for something that I couldn’t claim as my own intellectual property. Even if people did connect with and enjoy my story, I wouldn’t be able to publish or make money from it.
I should have done it anyway. Not only would I have thrived on the writing of something now, free of the pressure of making something I could live off, but I’d have honed my craft and gotten feedback. If I did well, I might have built a fanbase who could have followed me into the publication of my original material -- once I got to it. If you’re reading this and you have a fanfic you’d like to write, do it. If you love something enough that you want to fanfic, you’ll form friendships and connections over how much you loved the original story and its world. You’ll get a following and you’ll have completed a writing project.
Do it. Do it now.
For the rest of you: why am I talking about LoD? Because it was a labour of love. You could tell the developers were passionate about what they’d created. It’s hard to explain that passion. Much like a book with poor structure and exposition written with deep passion, the game has some roughness around the edges. But you know love when you see it. One of the signs of that was the movement from one set dressing to the next. There were no cookie-cutter towns; every community in the game is its own, unique experience. Every dungeon, country, and sequence was different -- no repeating the same dungeons and enemies in different colour schemes (a palette swap, as gamers call it).
You get to explore some of those flying cities I mentioned earlier. They’re still kicking around since the ancient days, though they’ve all crashed. Some of their magics still work, 11000 years later. There’s a phantom ship where you get sweet loot, fight ghosts, and learn some dark and interesting story details. Volcano with firebird boss? You betcha. The Valley of Corrupted Gravity? Oh, you’re in for a treat. The moon is alive and you go into it to fight a god. You even navigate the legal system of an ancient magical race!
Fan fiction opportunities abound.
The best fantasy worlds ignite the imagination with the potential for more stories and deeper exploration of the setting, its people, and the ways of its magics or technologies. LoD is a great example of that. One of the ways it accomplishes this appeal is how it makes the setting seem realistic. For those of you who’ve played the game, bear with me. It does have a bit of campiness and some hokey B-movie logic, but that’s part of the fun. The real world has a struggle that’s continuously at the centre of how we see things in The Legend of Dragoon: opportunity.
Some people are born into opportunity. Others live in entire communities where poverty is simply the way of things. There’s only so much you can do to create your own opportunities when you have to cobble together whatever you can find just to get through the day. We see slums, modest fishing villages, rustic hermits, majestic kingdoms, conventional cities, pseudo-industrial alchemy, and even Faerie-style dreamworlds. Our team of misfits often creates its own opportunities by bringing together their diverse backgrounds, talents, resources, and connections. And, of course, by beating up monsters and being awesome.
It is a fantasy, after all.
One of the great symbols of opportunity -- and one of the things I loved about the game -- were the Dragoon Spirit stones. When a dragon dies, its magic and raw primal power crystalize into these stones. If that stone acknowledges your worthiness, you can tap into that power to become a Dragoon. You’re not just hoping to be born with something; anyone could find such a rock. Yes, there’s a certain amount of being in the right place at the right time. And being accepted by the Dragoon Spirit can seem odd, as it isn’t a matter of morality. It isn’t necessarily fair. Just as being poor is a lack of cash, not character. There are some harsh realities of life, despite being a magical world.
At any rate, when a character is accepted by a Dragoon Spirit they’ve claimed, they gain the power to transform into a Dragoon. They get a fancy suit of magic armour with working wings (though you can’t fly around in the game, which is something a new release could fix). There are some magic spells and impressive physical attacks. Last but not least, a Dragoon has the ability (story-wise, but not in-game) to control dragons of his or her element.
The battle system plays off of how the Dragoons operate. How much spirit is required to take on Dragoon form, which characters you’ve chosen for the battle, and how the characters normally fight are all factors. Each character has their own set of weapons and combat styles, so you can mix and match to suit your tastes or to handle certain battles more effectively.
One of the fun things about this system is imagining being the various Dragoons. The options your team gets by the end of the game are Fire, Wind, Water, Earth, Darkness, Light, Lightning, and Divine (Non-elemental). Each type looks different, has different abilities, and is suited to only one of the characters of the team. If I could have my choice, I’d go Water. Ice is my favourite element, and it’s included in Water. It has a decent balance of magical and physical ability, and it’s one of the few to have proper healing magics.
The dragons you encounter throughout the world are highly individualized. Which tracks. The traditional image of the dragon is that of an apex predator, or a divine symbol of wisdom. They’re known to be proud, a manifestation of elemental nature, and the embodiment of raw power. Not exactly a cookie-cutter recipe. I can easily imagine forming bonds with dragons I’d encounter in such a world, though the game doesn’t go down that road.
There’s much to explore in the fantasy world of Endiness. Passing through a glacier, exploring major events at a capital merchant city, and even traversing the land of the dead are all on the table in The Legend of Dragoon. It offers myriad fan fiction opportunities, rich and diverse characters with personalities and relationships, some nifty magics and magic systems, and DRAGONS! Dragons are great. The Dragoon design, their mythology, power, history, nature, and symbolic appeal, is just fantastic. 11000/10, would play again.