"For Fallen Legion, the end result is a joyless slog through ten hours of repetitive battles with little payoff to show for it."
Developer YummyYummyTummy's debut title on home consoles, Fallen Legion, released last year with separate versions for each of its dual protagonists. In Rise to Glory the narrative arcs of Princess Cecille's Sins of an Empire and Legatus Laendur's Flames of Rebellion are combined with new playable characters, levels, and bosses to create the game's definitive version on the Nintendo Switch.
The Fenumian Empire, already in a state of rapidly decreasing influence, arrives at a pivotal crossroads with the untimely death of its emperor. All-out civil war erupts when Cecille, the reluctant heir apparent, is unexpectedly challenged by Laendur after he discovers the dark secret behind the royal family's rule. Will you side with the monarch to restore a kingdom in peril or the rebel to tear it down and purge its rotten core? Rise to Glory allows such a choice, and it's up to the player to choose a side as each races to the capital to lay claim to the Fenumian throne.
The setup makes for quite the intriguing back of the box blurb, but Fallen Legion's story falls flat in just about every way. The game begins in the midst of Laendur's coup without context and with confusing dialogue that does little to acclimate the player to the game world. Opening a story in medias res can be an incredibly powerful narrative tool when done right, but Fallen Legion immediately throws this device out the window by forcing players through the events that took place mere moments before the opening anyway. This completely undercuts the impact of dropping the player in the middle of the action and is but the first sign of trouble for both the plot and pacing of the game.
Fallen Legion's messy opening portends its paper-thin plot, world, and characters while providing little in the way of world-building and setup. The backstory and key concepts are mostly taken from the ancient Roman Empire and include Fenumia's rise to power through military might, a version of the Roman Senate with all of its conspiratorial machinations, and the difficulty it has in maintaining and defending its far-reaching borders. There's nothing new under the sun, of course, but the contrived setting adds little to its Roman-inspired source material beyond altering some terminology. Sprinkle in an entire cast of unlikable characters, nonsensical motivations, and bland dialogue, and the result is an overall narrative experience that even Fallen Legion's attempt at a morally gray and grimdark world view can't salvage. To be fair, plot is clearly and purposefully in service of gameplay in this one. The flawed execution of said gameplay, however, undermines the potential of its interesting set of subsystems.
The player's chosen protagonist marches their way back to the capital by moving from level to level on the world map. Each level consists of several encounters, including battles and interactions with NPCs, with decision points called Diplomacy Decisions that occur in between. These decisions relate to issues involving your personnel, your enemies, and world events. You may choose one of three decisions each time, and each decision nets you a Tribute (character and party buffs) or Relic (powerful items). Larger decisions can lead to unlocking additional levels and characters as well, though I couldn't begin to explain the logic behind which decisions unlock which rewards. The lack of context for most of the issues you're expected to resolve makes it virtually impossible to make an informed decision. What impact does choosing Bryn's side over Antoinette really do, story-wise? Why are they feuding? How can I possibly make a decision on which side to choose with literally zero frame of reference? Who cares?
Tributes and Relics are obtained in Fallen Legion through story events and level completion (as well as some of your decisions...probably), though that's about the limit of predictability with these two mechanics. You see, unlocking them only adds them to the pool of buffs that you may
have a chance to trigger if
they come up as a reward during one of the Diplomacy Decision instances. Hope that important buff is tied to a decision you want to make! You can only use a Relic once per level and only hold one at a time, though, so don't waste them by using them or something crazy like that. I hope I've adequately illustrated how RNG plays an unnecessarily outsized role here, which leads to constant frustration and removes any sense of player control or strategy.
Fallen Legion's battle system is another component bogged down by design choices that detract from what should be its most enjoyable gameplay mechanic. Combat occurs on linear, horizontal planes where each of your party members (up to three Exemplars and your chosen protagonist) are mapped to a single face button. Exemplars, living embodiments of various weapons, use either a melee or ranged weapon while the protagonists use attack/support magic. It's a fairly standard system with some added quirks to liven things up a bit, and in the early stages it seems to work well. Unfortunately, battles descend into chaotic masses of obtrusive attack effects and character model overlap as enemy difficulty increases. The perfect blocking mechanic, which is so vital to surviving Fallen Legion's toughest battles, depends on your ability to time enemy attacks based on their battle animations. This becomes almost impossible when all of the characters are smashed together on the screen. Additionally, many of the battle mechanics (like link attacks) are as poorly explained as most of Fallen Legion's other subsystems.
On a more positive note, Fallen Legion's strong 2D art style and music add some much-needed personality to both the world and the characters. There are plenty of "epic" sounding tracks with aggressive guitar riffs and military drum cadences that play up the urgency of the protagonists' desperate march to the capital. It should also be noted that the game plays well in handheld mode, though I did experience some slowdown and occasional freezing during the most chaotic of battles.
Despite its faults, Fallen Legion introduces some creative twists to a linear combat, action RPG subgenre in need of some fresh ideas. Implementation matters, however, and even the best of intentions fall flat with flawed and uneven execution. For Fallen Legion, the end result is a joyless slog through ten hours of repetitive battles with little payoff to show for it. I clearly did not enjoy my time with the game, but YummyYummyTummy's debut has certainly shown enough promise to merit keeping an eye out for their next project.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.