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Review

Legendary Gary Review

Everyday RPG.

You know a game has really got you hooked when it begins to infiltrate your normal life. Those times that you start looking for grind spots when walking around town after a late night playing Tony Hawk’s, moments when you want to change tactics whilst watching football matches after too much FIFA, or even the times that you replay lengthy battles over in your mind while trying to get to sleep after a long session of monster hunting.

Legendary Gary, the solo project of What Remains of Edith Finch gameplay programmer Evan Rogers, takes this idea and runs with it. Feeling like a slacker take on Alice in Wonderland, Legendary Gary sees the titular hero trying to juggle his brain-numbing job at the local Jumbomart with his desire to play games. The blend of Lewis Carroll and Kevin Smith, combined with the hand-drawn art, makes for an original and thought provoking meditation on the ways in which real life and fantasy can become blurred.

Gary is a loser who lives in the basement of his family home. Sharing the house is his apocalypse obsessed mother and the painful memories of his deceased father. His relationship is on the rocks because his girlfriend is sick of his lack of motivation and ambition. All Gary wants to do, however, is play The Legend of the Spear, the tactical RPG that lies at the heart of the game. Unfortunately for Gary, though, the desired escapism doesn’t materialise as the game begins to uncannily mirror the relationships and dilemmas of his everyday life. The characters, events, and conflicts of The Legend of the Spear are pre-empted by the visual novel-esque world of Legendary Gary. Whilst this means that the game could be accused of a lack of true interactivity, the story it is telling is compelling enough to maintain interest.

Alongside the original graphical style, reminiscent of Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butthead, and all hand-drawn by Rogers himself, the game also benefits from a distinctive musical score. The indie-rock soundtrack perfectly suits the feverish world of The Legend of the Spear and continues the connections between The Legendary Gary and slacker movies such as Clerks. The result is an impressively coherent package that really feels like the vision of one developer.

The obvious flipside to this is that the game is focused and somewhat short. Having said that, the length – around 3 to 4 hours – feels about right and the time is nicely split between the two game styles. Whilst the ‘adventure’ aspect mostly revolves around moving Gary between conversations and tending to the garden that imaginatively provides the RPG’s characters’ powers, The Legend of the Spear consists of some genuinely great battle mechanics.

In typical JRPG fashion, Gary meets and recruits other fighters to his cause and the battles that ensue take place in a novel blend of turn based and real-time combat. You select the powers and attacks for your characters and the fight plays out with these moves being carried out in synchronisation. This approach makes each battle feel like a puzzle rather than the grinding that is so prevalent in JRPGs. The puzzle approach is intensified by the fact that you can rewind each move without penalty.

The result is an enjoyable and innovative system that I would love to see fleshed out into a more substantial RPG in its own right. The format of the game means that each section of The Legend of the Spear culminates in one battle before a conversation or puzzle necessitates Gary returning to the real world. This kind of repetition fits the banal life that Gary is trying to negotiate well but does mean that there are a limited number of battles to enjoy.

Alongside the indie aesthetics, well-realised characters and innovative battle system, Legendary Gary benefits from a moving narrative of personal growth and individual responsibility. Taking the motif of the heroic saviour and applying it simultaneously to a world under threat and a depressed loser struggling to find motivation provides a powerful examination of the ways in which we seek to understand the world through stories and mediated narratives.

The ways in which traditional RPG mechanics are reinterpreted in the real world show are particularly impressive. Rather than levels, Gary has a motivation score that dictates what actions he can carry out. There appears to be the possibility of an alternative ending based on your final motivation score, but I was more than satisfied with the narrative pay-off of the one I achieved by falling short of the end target.

What’s Good:

  • Unique style
  • Great soundtrack
  • Fascinating take on games and reality
  • Excellent battle system

What’s Bad:

  • A little short
  • Not enough battles

The Legendary Gary is a difficult game to score, given it is clearly so much more than the sum of its parts. The adventure section is deliberately lo-fi and banal, the RPG is episodic to fit within the remit of the narrative, and the battle system feels a little under-utilised. But, despite all of these apparent limitations, the game as a whole is really interesting and deserves to be experienced. Whether you’ve faced depression, are living a stagnated life, or are just interested in the interaction between real life and the stories we use to try and explain things, Legendary Gary is a fascinating take on the immersive nature of games. It is the very definition of an indie game, and well worth playing.

Score: 7/10

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