Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.
“The following is a contributor post by the Mail Order Ninja Mage.”
There are seldom games that I find myself at a loss to explain with an easy genre definition that could at least give you the gist of what the experience might entail.
Fallen Legion: Rise to Glory is one of these types of games.
Originally Fallen Legion: Sins of an Empire was released on the PS4 and Fallen Legion: Flames of Rebellion was released on the Vita. Both were two sides of one large story. This Switch version, Rise to Glory, combines both of those games into a complete whole while adding in additional story content as well as some new playable characters. With the portability of the Switch, this would make this the definitive package of these games and it provides you a lot of game for your dollar.
This is a NIS published game and from initial screenshots one might expect an RPG; I certainly did. However, diving deeper you’ll discover a complex action game that borrows parts of Valkyrie Profile combined with the timing of something like Paper Mario. The game starts with a choice between two playable characters, which completely alters the side of the story you see, albeit using all the same assets from across both games. Each plays similarly, but the game’s choices and characters you interact with will vary slightly.
Typically, I would have a longer introduction to guide you in the review of the game, but I find it impossible to talk in great detail without going into much deeper detail on the actual gameplay of the game. In this unique scenario, I think it is best that we get down into the more nuanced breakdown of our 8-bit Review.
The 8-bit Review
The art of this game is what originally drew me in, as at first I almost thought it was a new Vanillaware game. That company is known for its gorgeous 2D artwork, and Fallen Legion mimics this so close that it toes the line between homage and copycat. This works both for and against the game, as the static images and art are truly spectacular but the animation and the closer details of the characters pale when compared to games like Muramasa and Odin Sphere.
That being said, the main characters and warriors they can summon are really well-designed, as are a good majority of the enemies. Problem is these enemies and fighters stand out against backgrounds that are utterly forgettable in nature, and ultimately bland. It leads to an inconsistent feeling that undermines the art direction of the game.
The user interface is laid out really well, and everything is very thoughtfully represented here. Text can be incredibly small, and when playing on my TV I had to really squint to read everything. When playing handheld, which is how I played a majority of the game, this is somewhat mitigated by how close you are to the screen, but it is definitely something to keep in mind.
Ultimately, this is a very pretty game with some fantastic concept art that fails to do anything interesting with its backgrounds and it pales slightly in comparison to its obvious inspirations.
It is difficult to really grade the audio of this game because nothing truly leaped out as spectacular, track wise, but neither was it bad. Instead, the soundtrack comes off as fantasy game static, with everything you might expect to hear. None of it is bad, not by a long shot, but neither is it exceptional. The main theme I like is “Striding Towards Glory”. You hear it a lot in the game and as I said, it is fantasy static. It could be placed in pretty much any franchise, ever.
There is some voice acting in the game as well from the main characters only, and it is strange that it only happens on a random few lines. The voice acting is mediocre, and I was more focused on figuring out what kind of accent Leandur had than anything they were saying.
Fallen Legion is an action RPG that falls far more in the action side of that camp, and really isn’t comparable to a lot of games out there. You’ll take control of one of two main playable characters who can each summon spectral warriors to do their bidding. You’ll make your way across an overworld map that has one of two stages: story and battle. Story stages are filled with narrative, and don’t amount to more than running across a 2D stage and having conversations with characters, or staying put over a static image, with two pieces of concept art talking with one another.
The bulk of the gameplay happens in the battle stages, naturally, as you run in one direction across a 2D scrolling background, engaging in battles. These are sometimes broken up by moral choices you can make on how to run your army that are represented in three cards. These choices all have gameplay benefits or drawbacks to them as well that will buff your character or provide an item, and so the choices often fall to which benefit you want rather than what story choice you want to make.
Battles themselves play out by assigning one of three combat characters to a face button, the fourth face button being reserved for your main characters. Each of your warriors will have three charges they can expend on an attack, and each attack fills a meter for your main character that allows him to heal them, cast an offensive spell, or bring them back to life.
Along the bottom of the screen there is a series of circles, and each time you do an attack with a character their portrait will appear there. Various effects can be added to those circles, such as doubling attack strength, and whichever character does an attack correlating to that circle will get that benefit. Filling that series of circles allows whichever character firing off the last shot to do a Deathblow, a powerful attack that usually damages enemies as well as applying a status effect to them.
Thus, each battle becomes a series of choices on which characters do what attacks, while also balancing range to the enemies and blocking. Each of your warriors will be in a front, center, or rear position that you can cycle through at will, though typically you’ll leave your heaviest person up front. Blocking is paramount in the game because all of the more difficult enemies require pinpoint accuracy in order to deflect attacks, you’ll have to hit the blocking button at the perfect time as the attack comes in.
As the game progresses this becomes especially difficult due to the 2D plane you’ll find yourself combating on. It seems like a cool idea on paper, but what happens is that enemies pile up on one another, often overlapping, and with so much to keep track of you’ll often miss the cue for their attack. Your characters can take immense damage from some enemies’ hits, and so it at times feels like you are scrambling for a rhythm more than responding to on-screen cues.
The combat is further hurt because I often felt as if my deliberate strategic actions accomplished near as much as just mashing the buttons, as long as I was paying attention to blocking. This becomes far more problematic later in the game as some of the larger battles experienced horrid slowdown, we are talking down to basically being a fancy slideshow, and then it became luck of the draw if I blocked an attack or didn’t.
As you play through the game, your characters don’t level up in a typical sense. Instead they will receive additional buffs you can get through moral choices, or unlock new deathblows. In addition, you’ll receive gems you can equip to your main character that might buff one character’s defense, or give another an instant critical hit on targets behind the lead target. Ultimately, I didn’t feel like anything I did made any sort of real impact on battles though, and just leaned towards buffing my heavy shield character since blocking is so important.
There is an extremely promising game under all of these unfortunate design decisions, but it is bogged down by a combat system that seems easy to grasp, but eventually amounts to little more than mashing buttons and hoping you time your block correctly.
The narrative of Fallen Legion has quite the strong set up, and the ability to see it from two sides is something we don’t always experience. Usually in video games there are good guys and bad guys, but in reality many times it is a simple matter of perspective. That is the case here as your two protagonists you choose between both fight for the throne of the Emperor, one being Princess Cecille who is the rightful heir and a much beloved general called Legatus Leandur.
In the beginning of the story, Cecille receives a talking grimoire that her father consulted for advice, and learns to summon mystical warriors to her aide. The book also has some fairly opinionated views on how to run the kingdom, which is currently doing very poorly due to being an empire all about conquering. Its citizens are starving, they’ve overextended their boundaries, and their people are not happy about it. Seeing the way the kingdom is being handled and overhearing the grimoire suggest some devious things, Leandur’s people convince him to overthrow Cecille and take the throne in what should be a bloodless coup.
Instead, as these things often do, things turn ugly. Before he can reach her, Princess Cecille flees leaving Leandur seizing power and trying to help people he feels the current empire has ignored. The empire is split in two, with loyalties divided between duty and revolution.
Unfortunately, this set up is the most interesting part of the story. In short order there are so many names, places, and proper nouns tossed at you it becomes hard to keep track. There aren’t many of the characters I could name to you now outside the main ones, and the various playable warriors you learn to summon are just names and a cool piece of art with no real background to speak of.
The more the game went on the less I was interested in keeping up with its convoluted plot points. It doesn’t help that the way these are typically shared is through brief readable chats between characters in between running on a side-scrolling field, or in two static images talking to one another.
During each stage, you will make quick choices that at times will affect the flow of the story, but they do so in an extremely tertiary way that never really has you caring for the outcome. For instance, you might have some mutiny going on in your camp and you can imprison, execute, or bribe the individuals. This leads to a line of dialogue down the road, and maybe a drop in morale, but really you’ll find yourself picking these different moral choices based on the gameplay perks that go alongside them instead of any story reason.
There are larger choices that do alter more of the game and these are a little more interesting, but ultimately it didn’t change the story enough to compel me to go back and pick anything else. Oddly enough, the most interesting story bits come up during load screens, but often the game loads quickly enough you aren’t able to truly finish reading through it.
Fallen Legion has an exciting set up that is rife with conflict and drama, but they didn’t ever do anything truly compelling with it.
If there is one thing that can be said about Fallen Legion, it is that there really isn’t anything out there like it. The game has a unique combination of a number of influences, from the timing-based combat of Paper Mario to assigning warriors to buttons such as in Valkyrie Profile. It borrows inspiration from a dozen other concepts besides.
All of this combines into a wholly unique experience, one that is perfectly suited for bite-sized chunks of gameplay on the Switch due to the way the stages are set up. It certainly has its fair share of problems, but originality certainly isn’t one of them.
Fallen Legion is not necessarily a hard game. Like I’ve stated previously, if you really wanted to you can get through most of the fights frantically mashing buttons as well as you can with well-thought out strategy. The main issue with the difficulty then becomes a combination of horrible slowdown on flashy bosses and an overly demanding blocking mechanism that lives and dies because of the 2D nature of the game.
This often leads to fighting bosses that will one shot some of your characters, as you frantically attempt perfect blocks and sneak small attacks in hoping to build that meter up enough you can get off a heal or a revive. Most of the time that I died it simply wasn’t my fault, as slowdown or enemies piled up on each other making the battlefield too hard to read. In my opinion that is absolutely unacceptable in a game based on action inputs and timing, and really hurt my overall feeling about the game.
For the most part, Fallen Legion does a good job of describing how you are supposed to accomplish the things it asks of you. This is often helped by a fantastically designed UI that just fits the screen naturally, and draws the eye to where it needs to go. The challenge then becomes a myriad of systems and mechanics that are unique to this game and that begin stacking to an insane degree.
Often I was confused as to how my characters were leveling or how to top off a certain damage meter when fighting bosses. I only ever pulled it off the first boss fight it was asked of me, effortlessly, but rarely could after that. In this way the game fluctuates between insanely hardcore menus and difficult to understand mechanics, and well-placed UI and intuitive controller interface.
I gave the game with no explanation to my brother, and though he had no idea what he was doing, he blasted through two battle levels with ease. Ultimately, all you really need to know is how to mash the buttons to earn success, and in that way the game is extremely accessible. However, if you want to go any deeper then that it starts to become a little harder to understand, with nothing in the game subtly designed to gate progress until you learn the mechanics.
My Personal Grade: 4/10
If you had asked me for my review two hours into this game, I would have likely given you a far different story. The game presents well, with a great art style and UI, and the combat seemed fast and fluid up front.
The more I played the less I cared about the story, the more repetitious the game became, and the more irritated I became with the blocking mechanic. Once I started hitting some of the worst slowdown of the game, partnered with stacking enemies making blocking near impossible, the game really started to show its cracks.
It makes me wonder who this game is for. It isn’t for strategic players, because button mashing often gives you the same results as well-thought out combat. Then again, it isn’t for action gamers either, as there are far too many systems that you juggle to make it purely skill-based. The narrative ultimately is convoluted and uninteresting, and the characters that you control are bland cookie cutters, so it isn’t for the story buffs, either.
There is a game under all of this that can be enjoyable for the right person, and that is why I’m giving this the rating of a substandard under Well-Red’s scale. However there are so many more quality games out there that I can’t heartily recommend this to anyone, no matter how pretty the art is.
We’d like to thank NIS America for furnishing us with a copy of their game for this critique!
Aggregated Score: 5.8
The Mail Order Ninja Mage loves video games across every console: an assassin of fanboy nonsense. He also really loves martial arts and pizza, though that is of no consequence here. To read more of his random word soup, or to view daily(ish) photo mode screenshots from his favorite games, visit him at Home Button.
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