We're not always asking for triple-A excitement in portable games. Sometimes, something to blissfully slaughter a few hours of our time is just what the doctor ordered. Legend of Heroes isn't going to win any awards or start any revolutions, but it's arguably the best traditional RPG on PlayStation Portable so far.
In almost every respect, Legend of Heroes goes a step above the norm to separate itself from mediocrity. Its story features several points on the RPG plot checklist -- orphaned kids with secret abilities, powerful cults after them, etc. -- but flows at a nice pace. Avin searches for his lost sister, making plenty of both friends and enemies along his quest. He's a likeable main character, and each of his allies adds something new to the mix.
Legend of Heroes' combat alludes to the old Lunar games, in that characters move around a battlefield while taking shots at one another. You have a good deal of choices during fights: use your default attack, cast any number of spells or execute special skills, or just slink into the corner to avoid conflict. Each successful strike builds a power meter, which when full can unleash a deadly attack. Overall, combat in Legend of Heroes is satisfying enough to hold your attention, and is a nice complement to the decent storytelling.
When not hacking down vile monsters with extreme prejudice, there's still plenty to do. Towns are designed with depth and variety, while still being as easy to navigate as in classic role-playing games. NPCs, enemies, and interactive objects all have handy-dandy icons about them to give you information right off the bat. Baddies will tell you how confident they're feeling against you, and important people will be easy to pick out -- which is good, as the population in Legend of Heroes is relatively high. Keeping a pet adds a comforting element, as you praise the little guy for fetching you items or feed him food.
In the graphics department, the game again shows that it's trying to exceed normal expectations. The influence of old-school RPGs is apparent, but eye candy is liberally splashed about the world. Waves ripple in the water and majestic mountains tower over their surroundings. Lighting effects such as sun glare are especially appreciated, and the developers didn't skimp on character animations. The portraits during dialogue are nice and big, too. You won't see your PSP sweat from overexertion, but Legend of Heroes is still darn pretty to look at. Its music, on the other hand, is more cookie-cutter, and won't be anything you'll catch yourself humming later.
Final Fantasy this isn't, but Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion is far from a shabby RPG. There's nothing about it that will annoy you, and it's a solid quest throughout. It compares favorably to Popolocrois and Kingdom of Paradise, though it's conceivable that those two games will have just as many supporters. Consider Legend of Heroes a satisfying snack that will tide you over until a must-have PSP RPG main course is served.