I nearly made a very, very stupid mistake with the Legend of Fae. It was a cold winter’s day down here in Australia. I was settling down for the evening and decided to browse the Steam ‘Summer’ sale. My eyes wandered along the games and stopped on the intriguingly titled Legend of Fae. Opening up the page I was disappointed to see what appeared to be a casual Bejewelled clone with some RPG elements thrown in. Dismissing the game, I clicked to return to the store home. Then… something happened. Was it divine intervention? I don’t know, but I clicked ‘back’ on my browser and purchased it. And I’m so glad I did. Legend of Fae is a charming, yet deceptively deep, indie puzzle title supported by some top-notch RPG features.
The story follows Claudia, a young girl who discovers a magical lantern left behind by her uncle. Claudia’s health has never been good, but after her uncle disappears, the timid girl sets out after him anyway. During her journey she is met by four elemental creatures who believe her to be a sorceress, and she is forced to fight magical Fae creatures from another world. The tale progresses slowly to begin with, but becomes more and more intriguing the further you go in and the dramatic ending is particularly engaging. It has a real fairy tale vibe to it and, while far from jaw-dropping, is supported by some interesting characters and solid writing. The setting, featuring magical and mechanical inventions, is enticing too.
As you can see from the screenshots, Legend of Fae’s gameplay is primarily driven by the puzzle grid. Sitting on the lower half of the screen, the primary purpose of the grid is to boost Claudia’s magical powers and the powers of her four elemental friends. By lining up the corresponding gems on the grid, Claudia can call on her elementals and use them to attack her foes. Lining up gems in consecutive combos allows for more powerful and higher level attacks. Of course, these powerful spells must first be unlocked. At the end of each level you are rewarded with a cog that can be used to upgrade Claudia’s spell lantern. You can choose to improve a particular element and, as you level them up, learn all sorts of useful abilities. Water can be upgraded to produce a powerful thunderstorm, while Earth can be used to strangle foes and stun them. Fire can burn foes to a crisp over time and wind can pull airborne enemies earthward. Later on, these spells can even be combined for entirely new effects. Casting spells never gets old.
Battles themselves are fun too. Each level is a linear path that Claudia can walk down by lining up movement gems. At set times during each level, you will encounter a group of foes that you must defeat to progress. Nearly all enemies have an elemental alignment, so working out the corresponding stronger element is vital in taking them down. It may sound like a simple scissors-paper-rock scenario, but, depending on the grid, the right element may not always be available. This is when strategy comes into play: do you hang out and wait for that right element and make safe moves to boost your combo, or do you ruin your combo to try and get the perfect spell? Battles are relatively easy early in the game, but become quite challenging towards the end, even on the easiest difficulty. Later on, using up mana to activate health and defensive buffs prior to battle becomes vital.
Equally challenging are the boss battles that come every five levels or so. These place you in a do-or-die battle against some fiendish, usually large, adversaries. What particularly surprised me was the creativity used to create a different experience with each boss. Early bosses can be finished off easily with an opposing alignment, but later encounters need more thought. Many bosses can create a barrier to protect themselves, which must first be destroyed in the gem grid, while others call in reinforcements or teleport around the field. No battle was frustrating and all were good fun.
To keep you on your toes in battle, enemies frequently fling status ailments. Petrification can freeze certain puzzle gems, poison can deplete your health and spread throughout your grid, freeze can slow the gems’ movements, and blind can obscure your view. These keep battles tense and exciting without ever being game-breaking. Unfortunately, the battle mechanics do have a couple of minor, but irritating issues. Firstly, the air elemental is relied on far too often. No flying enemy can be hit unless first pulled out of the sky, which can force many battles to drag on. Secondly, to attack in battle you must first click on the top half of the screen. Doing so removes your view of the puzzle grid and, after attacking, you have to click on the bottom to switch back. Clicking on and off all the time is tiring in longer battles and seems like an unnecessary hurdle.
Levels take an average of 7-8 minutes to complete and, with 50 in total, the game is a good length of around 10-15 hours. As a bonus, each level has an expert score to clear by finishing the level as quickly as possible and finishing all enemies off with their opposing elemental alignment. If you enjoy the game enough to go for the top scores, then you’ll likely spend another 5 hours with it; not to mention the hard difficulty mode too. If you’re not satisfied with that, then perhaps the magic tome will tickle your fancy. From time to time, defeated enemies drop gems that reveal more about them in the tome. Multiple plays of some levels and earning all the expert scores and required to completely fill it out. There’s even an extended ending for clearing the game on hard.
Legend of Fae is entirely controlled by the mouse, and this works well throughout the whole game. That said, there’s one rather odd problem with the controls in battle: if you click to target a different enemy immediately after firing off an attack, your previous attack changes direction to attack your new target. This can become exceedingly frustrating if you don’t give each attack a few seconds gap. Lag can be another major issue. For most of the game, Legend of Fae functioned without issue. However, on a number of occasions, the FPS dropped to about half and the game seemed to struggle to play the animations. Considering the low system requirements, this struck me as rather odd.
Both the graphics and sound are charming and suit the game well. All characters and enemies are lovely 2D sprites, while backgrounds sport a 2D hand-drawn aesthetic. The interface is stylish, and only the lack of widescreen is a little unfortunate. Some of the sprites look a little rough around the edges, but, overall, they’re of an excellent quality. I was particularly impressed by the variation of enemy sprites. Palette swaps are few and far between (except for the same enemy with a different elemental alignment), and there are a wide variety of foes to encounter across the game. Sound effects are outstanding too, and I never tired of the successful gem line-up chime. The soundtrack is a little less inspired, but still performs amiably.
If you haven’t cottoned on yet, I enjoyed Legend of Fae immensely. It caught me by surprise with its fun, unique and clever game mechanics and kept me hooked right until the end. The varied spells and enemies kept combat interesting and exciting, and the story was intriguing enough to catch my interest. Swapping back and forth between gather and attack mode in battle can be a little tiring, but it’s a small complaint considering how enjoyable the rest of the game is. Legend of Fae is a game you should absolutely find time to play.