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Fallen Legion: Sins Of An Empire Review

Sinful game design.

Communication is key in life. If you care about somebody, it’s important that you talk to them, and share how you’re feeling and what’s going on in your head. If you’re working in a team, it’s important that everyone communicates to establish the workload, roles, and deadlines in order to achieve your goal. If you’re an action RPG, it’s important that you communicate all of your systems to the player, and inform them about what items do and how to use them.

As beautiful as Fallen Legion is, it has awful communication skills. If it was in a relationship, it wouldn’t last long. If it were on a team, they’d fall apart. If it were a successful action RPG, it wouldn’t have the major communication problems that are present throughout the entire game.

Fallen Legion, at its core, is a game with high ambitions and a low budget. It’s the first major release from YummyYummyTummy, an indie studio whose prior works are small edutainment games. If you squint, you could mistake Fall Legion for a title like Dragon’s Crown or Grand Kingdom, as a side-scrolling action RPG with beautiful hand-drawn characters and monsters. Although the visuals here aren’t quite as polished as something from a Vanillaware game, they’re still incredibly impressive.

Depending on the platform you play on, you’ll be experiencing two completely different stories. On PS4 with Fallen Legion: Sins of an Empire, you play as Princess Cecille trying to restore order to her crumbling kingdom after the death of her father, the king. On Vita, meanwhile, you play as the tactician Legatus in Fallen Legion: Flames of Rebellion, who defects from Cecille’s kingdom in an attempt to overthrow it after learning the dark secret of the empire. My time with the game was spent on the PS4 with Cecille.

While the story has a lot of promise, the way it’s presented leaves a lot to be desired. You start the game and are immediately tossed into the action with no buildup or exposition. Here’s Cecille, her dad is dead, here’s his talking book, oh, and don’t forget about the rebels, the traitor and the Five Princes! You’re never really told much about the kingdoms, towns, or the state of the world, and the narrative focus never shifts over to another group or location to develop the story. The game sometimes plays you voiced inner-monologue from Cecille, but the acting here is a little rough, almost as if they just stuck with the first read-through and moved along.

One of my biggest issues with the narrative is a major disconnect it has between the story and the gameplay. Early in the story, it is set up that your party is made up of warriors that Cecille essentially conjures from her thoughts; she thinks of a long-dead master swordsman or an archer from a fairy-tale, and they appear before her. Yet, when you recruit further characters in-game, they simply appear out of nowhere as sub-boss fights with no reasoning from the story or dialogue. Why am I fighting the physical manifestation of Mjolnir in the middle of this burning village, when he’s supposed to be a figment of my imagination that I simply summon from my thoughts?

A lot of Fallen Legion is similarly half-baked and the most egregious examples come from the gameplay. Fallen Legion is a bit like Valkyrie Profile or Indivisible crossed with Oregon Trail. You pick a level from a worldmap, and then see your characters run through the stage, encountering random events or enemies. Battles have each of your four characters assigned to a face-button, and let you act at any time, as long as a character has at least one action point. Chaining together attacks and building up to special moves is fun and satisfying, especially when you get good at it and keep your combos going indefinitely.

Unfortunately, the fun is marred by the broken parry system. You have a guard button in Fallen Legion, and can press it at the right time to deflect an enemy attack and restore an action point. Utilizing this mechanic is almost mandatory in the game, as many fights can be impossible without it. In most games with parry features, your block will happen instantly, usually cancelling whatever animation you were in the middle of, and can also be instantly undone so you can continue to attack.

Fallen Legion didn’t get the memo.

Your guard button in Fallen Legion takes a full second to activate, a full second to play the shield-lowering animation, and cannot interrupt your attacks. If you have a character attack, and then immediately notice an enemy prepping their attack, it is too late for you. If you parry one enemy attack and let go of the block button, you’re screwed if another enemy was prepping their attack in that moment. The system is manageable in solo-battles, but against full squads of enemies, the hectic nature of the visuals combined with the dodgy guard button makes it a headache to utilize parrying properly.

Another major headache is, as I outlined earlier, the lack of communication. There are systems and properties in the game that are simply never divulged to the player. Characters learn new special moves, but with no visible XP system I had no clue what triggered the event. You get usable items mid-battle, but have no way to see what the items actually do. You get “tribute” buffs from random events, but I had no clue how to equip them, how long they lasted, or where to see the ones I obtained. And what the hell do different stances do? Fallen Legion features major RPG elements, but never bothers to fully or properly implement them.

The choice system in the game presents with split-second decisions as you play. If a duke is plotting a coup, do you reason with him, jail him, or kill him? The choice you pick will lead to further random events in other levels, but you will also gain a different gameplay buff for each possible choice. This simple fact meant I rarely cared about the morality of the decision I was  making, as I simply read the status buffs and picked the ones that would be most beneficial to me. Later on, this would lead me to encountering random NPCs thanking me for help or cursing me for a betrayal that I never even remembered committing.

Furthermore, the narrative side to these choices are rarely satisfactory or interesting. You aren’t involving yourself in intricate side stories that change depending on your actions, you’re just given a random choice between A, B, or C, and then rewarded with extra health and a couple sentences. It’s choice for the sake of choice, and that’s not the point of decision making in RPGs at all. You want to feel involved in the narrative and given the impression that your actions are affecting the flow of the story, something Fallen Legion fails to pick up on.

What’s Good:

  • Gorgeous visuals
  • Interesting world
  • Fun combat system

What’s Bad:

  • Broken guard button
  • Poorly presented story
  • Shallow choice system
  • Failure of communication

Fallen Legion has a wealth of great ideas, but ultimately crumbles under its ambitions. A fun combat system helps form a strong core, but one that ultimately doesn’t hold together for very long. The saving grace here is the beautiful artwork and smooth animations, which are complimented by some great music. Unfortunately, it’s hard to recommend the game on those traits alone; Fallen Legion is interesting, and promising, but rarely enjoyable.

Score: 4/10

Version tested: PlayStation 4

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