A team of modders have breathed new life into cult PlayStation RPG The Legend of Dragoon, a first-party game for the original console developed by Sony Japan. The game was released in Japan in 1999 but wouldn't reach North America until 2000 and Europe by 2001, and the combination of a mixed critical reception and a new generation of hardware saw it overshadowed.
Some players, however, have always held a candle for this most unusual and somewhat pioneering title. The Legend of Dragoon may have arrived nearer the end of the PlayStation's life cycle, but that meant Sony Japan really knew what it was doing by this point. It produced one of the machine's most visually impressive games, a huge singleplayer adventure, a clever turn-based battle system where characters could turn into the titular Dragoons, and realtime elements (early QTEs), all packaged-up with elaborate and fully voiced cutscenes.
Sony has kept the game available (with a few gaps), and a recent port to PlayStation 4 and 5 even added a few features like quick save, but this is one of those games where you'll always be able to find the die-hards begging for a proper remake or even an actual sequel. Neither seems likely, which may be why a group of modders are going way beyond that and have created an unofficial PC port of The Legend of Dragoon (thanks, DSOGaming), which is currently playable but "in a few months" will add no less than 4K resolution and 60 fps to the 25-year-old game.
The port is called Severed Chains and per lead coder Monoxide is "a reverse-engineered (unofficial) PC port of Legend of Dragoon and a full reconstruction of its game engine [that is] pushing the boundaries of traditional emulation software." Their point is that this "rebuild" is not based on another piece of software mimicking the PlayStation hardware, but standalone and "for that reason the game runs faster, leaner, and has breakout modding capabilities."
"I started by helping moderate and improve the subreddit [in 2016], then I created a Discord server so we could have a place for live chat," says Drew, a Dragoon fan who marshalled the game's fans. "By 2018 I was focusing on archivism, sharing rare concept art and promo images most fans had never seen before. Around 2019 I started our unified website."
Drew's passion for the game and keeping Dragoon alive led to fan events and podcasts, but when Monoxide turned up on the scene things got serious: "we were used to reversing being really intensive and difficult in general," says Drew. "Turns out, [Monoxide] was a senior engineer in real life. In under two years the whole game was decompiled, and he started converting it to Java. We now have additional team members and are making great strides together."
This is, as Drew will tell you, "the wayyyy shortened version." The achievement here is not that something came from nothing, but from years of hard work, dedication, and perhaps some childish love of the very idea of transforming into Dragoons.
Drew's glad that the pair's work is getting some attention and hopes this is "just the beginning" but cautions that the 4K 60FPS and upscaled graphics are "runnable now in our devbuild which can be downloaded, but the stable release will take a few months. For now, we're still on software rendering with RecBuild 2.1. We don't want to mislead anyone."
The project has been available in a beta form but Monoxide reckons the newest build is where they really start cooking, with among other things the music now working. They acknowledge a few minor graphical bugs in combat but, outside of that, "the game is fully beatable with no issues that negatively impact gameplay."
What's seriously impressive is the list of improvements made to the base experience: after all, this is a 32-bit RPG released in 1999, and 25 years is a long time. This version of Legend of Dragoon features instant loading, the option to skip FMVs, max item slots, unlimited save slots, tweaked controller input, mouse support in menus, higher quality audio, and "we’ve even fixed many retail bugs." There are a whole bunch of optional enhancements like text scrolling speed and automating certain regular commands, and then debug options that let you skip around the game's battles and maps at will.
How does this kind of thing happen? Monoxide's partner-in-Dragoon is Drew, who got into the game as a kid "by accident." The game was on a Toys 'R' Us demo kiosk, Drew played it and "apparently I liked it, because the game showed up in my house soon after. The graphics, the story, the music, all of it came together and immersed me."
Things moved on but Drew kept involved with fellow Dragoon fans, even starting a YouTube campaign as a teenager ("I didn't really know what I was doing") before taking a break and returning, much like an irritated librarian, to clean-up. Now, The Legend of Dragoon is there for any PC player even if, as Drew says, this is "the wayyyy shortened version."