Finally, I completed the Gagharv trilogy with Song of the Ocean! I must say, that was a strong conclusion to a truly epic trilogy that definitely needs more love. The Gagharv trilogy may be plagued with a unsatisfactory translation and slow and boring battle system, but I just can’t label them as bad. It’s interesting, really. There are many objectively well-designed games that I feel nothing towards, yet I like this flawed trilogy so much. Dammit Falcom, never stop making games.
A long time ago, a disaster caused by the overuse of magic created the Gagharv, dividing the world into three lands that ceased contact with each other. In A Tear of Vermillion, we saw Avin and Mile as they journeyed through the land of El Phildin to reunite a pair of torn-apart siblings while solving the conflict between the two gods. In Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch, we witnessed childhood friends Jurio and Chris journeying across Tirasweel to complete their coming-of-age pilgrimage and end a coming disaster predicted by the silver-haired witch who travelled the land 20 years ago. Vermillion took place in year 936 of the Gagharv calendar, and Moonlight several decades later in the year 992. Song of the Ocean is the finale that ties the two previous games together in a wittily-connected history.
Taking place in the year 943 of the Gagharv calendar, Song of the Ocean brings us across the third continent in the world divided by the Gagharv: the land of Weltluna. Forte is a young musician living in Racos Palma with his parents, his childhood friend Una, and his famed grandpa McBain. McBain decided that before he dies of old age, he wants to go on a journey across Weltluna to collect the Resonance Stones hidden by the famous musician Leone, and play Leone’s Water Melody that is written on the stones. Forte and Una decide to tage along with grandpa McBain, and together they form a performing group and travel from city to city as troubadours while collecting Resonance Stones and inevitably meet the conspiring Numeros army.
The battle system is largely the same as previous games, so they’re slow, boring, and easy. I’ll say the same thing as I did in reviews of previous games: if you are only looking for fun, challenging, or strategic combat, turn around and go away. The Gagharv trilogy has the kind of battle system that you’re better off experiencing while watching TV, unless you actually enjoy seeing unimpressive and painfully slow spell animations.
Gameplay outside of battle has improved, however. Song of the Ocean is like a collector’s dream, or nightmare, depending on how easily frustrated you are. There are over 300 orbs to collect, and orbs basically unlock a character portrait in the albums. You have characters from all 3 games and all their facial expressions to collect, and they are very easily missable. There is also the special scenarios, where you can fight some major bosses from A Tear of Vermillion, and you can use various characters from Vermillion and Moonlight only in the special scenarios. Having Moonlight/Vermillion characters in your party while completing special scenarios will get you some Moonlight/Vermillion orbs respectively. The special scenarios are a pleasant surprise for fans of previous games, but entirely optional.
In El Phildin, nearly everybody and their grandpas knew some sort of magic. In Tirasweel, only a select few could use spells. Here in Weltluna, magic is unusable to locals with the exception of Resonance Spells. Forte, Una, and McBain can equip up to four Resonance Stones each, which will grant them various different spells they can use. There are 24 stones in all, which allow for some customization in magic amongst the characters. Finishing moves are also a little different–instead of selecting from a menu, you press square (or circle, depending on your button configurations) in the middle of battle to unleash your finishing move (a bit like the Kiseki games). You can use your finishing move to interrupt enemy turns, which makes the game easier than it already would be. The final boss would actually be quite challenging since it throws like 6 body parts at you at the same time each with their own turn, except for a certain broken Resonance Spell.
I found Ocean’s story the most interesting of the 3 Gagharv games. It starts off slow, with an old man and two kids travelling as troubadours. However, it gets really good at the last two or three chapters, and more than makes up for the slow beginning. Ocean also serves as the link between Vermillion and Moonlight, revealing much of the hidden history of the world. The way the history connects and how everything is planned out is really quite something–everything is cleverly stringed together and nothing feels like an asspull. Nearly everything has an explanation. If you enjoyed either of the previous games, Song of the Ocean is a must play. You have to see it from beginning to end to truly appreciate the trilogy, even if each game works as a standalone story.
We have quite the memorable cast, although my favorite character is none other than Grandpa McBain. Not only is he a cool old guy who crushes down walls like Dogi the wall-crusher, he is also the one who makes the awesome speeches, takes on tasks, and beats up guards when needed. McBain is the one who drives the story forward, despite the main character being Forte. Forte himself is in his grandpa’s shadow, and he only shines towards the end as he begins to grow more independent. It makes sense though, as Forte is a kid who grew up without any particular hardships and actually acts his age. Una should’ve had more presence as the main heroine. Of the heroines, Una is definitely the weakest in terms of development and plot involvement. I still think Vermillion had the best developed hero and heroine, but Ocean has the most awesome old guy. Instead of the experienced old man joining the kids’ journey, it felt like the journey belonged to the old man and the kids tagged along.
Some characters from A Tear of Vermillion join you towards the end too. And they contribute a whole lot to the plot. No wonder I liked Ocean so much. There’s also references to characters that will appear in Moonlight.
The exact same engine as previous games, so expect similar graphics. Character designs are of a similar feel too: not too flashy, practical-looking outfits. Graphics were never the series’ strong point, and still isn’t.
The battle music is great! This battle music is the Falcom that I fell in love with. I especially liked the regular battle theme near the end. Town music is decent, but not the best.
Song of the Ocean completes the Gagharv trilogy on a strong note (pun not intended), revealing the complex intertwining of the history of the world of Gagharv. A fitting conclusion to a wonderful trilogy of RPGs, definitely play this last to get maximum enjoyment out of the series. I recommend the entire trilogy to anyone who doesn’t mind combat taking a backseat, lackluster translations, and slow starts because the end is worth it. The interesting tales of the world of Gagharv shine through despite its flaws.