I like this game quite a bit now but first impressions were rough. Too much usage of stock RPGMaker stuff. Granted, many of these items are much more attractive than the average indie JRPG's artwork but it still lends an non-organic quality (outside of the CG artworks drawn specifically for the game, which are nice.) The interface also seems to struggle. I understand it's meant to be old-school but even the oldest of RPGs tries to bring something new to the table in terms of some battle interface features, and will complicate the menus as needed for more involved features.
And this game has involved features, that is what keeps me thinking highly of it. What initially drew me to this title is how it boasts as many as 30 recruitable characters, choice-making to branching paths, multiple endings, optional quests, hidden areas. Although I'd imagine a more linear playthrough to be around 30+ hrs, with an additional 15-hour or so run if one wishes to check out alternate paths and mop up the achievements. On the whole, this is one heck of an ambitious game made with high exuberance but sadly limited by lack of resources, polish, and original interface assets to best accommodate all the features.
It's still very easy to enjoy and content-rich. There is so much effort put into nooks and crannies of this game that I feel really make a difference. The arrangement of towns and dungeons is massive and takes a long time to finish combing through. The bosses often have personalities and goofy banter. Loving the numerous optional character interactions and banter that can occur while just talking to NPCs or exploring items strewn about. This was a feature prevalent in some of my favorite JRPG series like Lunar and Grandia.
Dungeons are enormous labyrinths, sometimes containing hidden characters in obscure pathways. Even something like examining a strange-looking wall in a dungeon can lead to some super hard optional fight. All the bosses I've fought so far have had multiple stages and offered up a lot of challenge. The overall difficulty level is affected by which mode you choose, Casual Mode or RPG mode.
RPG mode varies depending on the continent you're on. Toward the end of your time exploring that continent, the game is very easy- then you land on a new continent (new towns/dungeons/monster types) and the difficulty spikes. The encounter rate is about average, may seem higher if you're not used to the rate in old-timey JRPGs. There are a large number of characters that need to be leveled, and it's important to level them since boss fights can utilize multiple groups of characters. Mobs are generally very easy while bosses can wipe out a party in no time. Lots of grinding needed to buy crazy expensive items and clear through waves of dungeons. Reminding me of the old Dragon Quest entries. Options to heal are scarce at the start of this game, stacking a ton of healing items is necessary at least for the first 8 hours or so I've played. Abilities of the characters could be more spread out, it seems the lead, Jordan, has the monopoly on combat, magic, and healing.
The way of battles in general feels comparable to a most basic form of Wizardry and has the same numbingly addictive effect. Battles are fast, quick to start, quickly pulling off each turn, fleeing is usually easy and a "rush" command can make weaker mobs defeatable in seconds. The boss fights are longer than in the average RPG.
The writing is spotty and unexceptional but the game has a pretty entertaining story overall. The protagonist is unusual. An older guy, an anti-hero of sorts who often makes caustic and sarcastic remarks, sometimes he seems to say what the player might be thinking about certain silly RPG conventions and I think many would appreciate the level of self-awareness there. Personally, I prefer the more dashing hero type but it's fresh to have a hero who is very different from the crowd.
There are dips in the writing quality, townies are sadly (but not uncommonly for the genre) bland and while alright overall, there is some occasional exceptionally bad writing (Embarrassing example- Alex calls a hanging kimono a bed sheet. -_-) Thankfully, the main story and cut-scenes escape the worst of that and offer up some amusing and solidly-written interactions.
OVERALL : So do I recommend this game? Yes, definitely, if you're looking for an old-school JRPG with tons of places to explore and particularly enormous dungeons with as many as 8 floors, old-school sensibilities, and some features rare to the NES/SNES JRPGs like excessively large numbers of recruitable characters, branching paths, multiple endings, etc. That said, there is less-than-compelling interface design, stock visuals/audio, and limitations probably due to being an RPGMaker game.
If you haven't already played the classics of this genre I highly recommend doing whatever you can to play those first. I'm thinking of Dragon Quest, Lufia, Final Fantasy I-VI, Lunar, Suikoden, etc. But as for the Steam old-school JRPG selection, if you've already played stuff like Ys, Shining Force, and Phantasy Star there isn't much else to choose from on here and the breadth of content in Book of Legends is pretty impressive.
I will update this later with my spoiler-free opinions on the endings and other game content that emerges.