FALLEN LEGION Review
I had not heard of FALLEN LEGION until a week prior to its release. I can’t really fault myself on this one: this is a JRPG designed by a non-Japanese studio, published by a company that exclusively deals with learning games. FALLEN LEGION was by all means a dark horse, but I was instantly hooked by its trailer. It aimed to scratch multiple itches that I, a connoisseur of obscure niche titles, have accumulated over the years. A beautiful storybook art style that evokes the likes of ODIN SPHERE, a combat system taken right out of VALKYRIE PROFILE, and a narrative that ties player decisions directly into the gameplay are all reasons on their own that would convince me to make an impulse purchase, and all three together makes for my ultimate fantasy RPG. As it turns out, FALLEN LEGION’s promise is exactly that: a fantasy.
FALLEN LEGION is technically two different titles: SINS OF AN EMPIRE for the PS4, and FLAMES OF REBELLION for the VIta. I played SINS, but each game is essentially identical, the only difference being which main character, and side of the conflict, you follow. Things kick off with Princess Cecille/Octavia inheriting the crown to Fenumia after her royal father dies, only for her top general to betray her and lead a coup in hopes of seizing the throne for himself. Cecille/Octavia must return to the capital to save her claim and her people, with only a talking book and some mythical heroes summoned from its pages as her allies.
It’s all pretty standard fantasy fare, and you’re probably more curious about Cecille/Octavia’s bizarre name. Believe me, I am too. The game’s marketing material, as well as the princess’s own character card, list her as Cecille, but every single mention of her in dialogue addresses her as Octavia. I honestly don’t know what to make of this, and it’s not exactly promising as far as first impressions go.
WHO ARE YOU???
It’s a shame, because Cecille/Octavia is actually a rather intriguing character. She’s cold, capable, and calculating, yet also occasionally a petulant brat, far more reminiscent of a few queens from GAME OF THRONES than the anime damsels her design is drawn from. That’s not the only similarity FALLEN LEGION shares with the biggest television sensation in the history of ever, but it is the only good one. The empire of Fenumia is made up of several rival kingdoms, and only the player has the power to make them all get along. Yet FALLEN LEGION spends no time establishing our setting. Decisions are almost immediately thrust upon you to decide the balance of power within the empire, but you must make your choice without any context as to why these bickering lords act they way they do, or why you should side with any of them.
The flip side of these decisions is that they all confer different bonuses to your party for that level, and it’s this more practical application that usually guided my decisions. I don’t know who Lord Michael is, why his new property in the capital is controversial, or what will happen whether I send a guard contingent or a spy to its opening, but I do know that I want that 15 seconds of invulnerability that comes with doing neither, so despite the illusion of options, there’s only one clear course of action to take.
Cecille/Octavia’s apathy and general lack of awareness of what goes on in her domain could be a deliberately biting commentary of the powers that be, but FALLEN LEGION’s refusal to elaborate on anything extends beyond the plot. There are dozens of status effects, power ups, and special moves that are obtained throughout the game, but only in the most rare circumstances are their functions explained to the player. A compendium containing this information does exist, but must be independently researched from the overworld menu, which is not available during gameplay, nor during the (timed) decisions where you are choosing which blessing to bestow upon your team.
What do you mean I can’t whip out my encyclopedia right now?
Combat is its own struggle to comprehend. The basics are easy enough to comprehend, with each member of your party assigned to a single button, but things get dicey in practice. Each character can attack up to three times before needing to rest, but can recharge their stamina instantly if they counter an incoming attack at the right time. Mastering the counter is essential for getting top ranks in missions, let alone basic survival, but to do so is a fool’s errand. Blocking is incredibly unresponsive, and is actually impossible if one of your characters is in the middle of an attack. Since enemies’ stamina gauges aren’t displayed, and their attacks are already hard enough to read in the mayhem of battles, a successful counter is more often than not a matter of luck, not skill.
FALLEN LEGION is pretty to look at and has a surprisingly good soundtrack to boot, but these are the only fully realized aspects of the game. This is a package of excellent ideas, miserably executed. Expansive lore and deep combat mechanics are all present and accounted for, but nobody ever bothered explaining them in way that makes me want to care about any of it. The real shame is that FALLEN LEGION’s problems are so glaring, and so easy to remedy, that it doesn’t deserve to be such a disappointment. I wish it wasn’t the case, but this is one kingdom I don’t mind seeing fall into disarray.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on Vita