Seasoned gamers occasionally bemoan the lack of difficulty in current triple-A titles, and the popularity of demanding, perhaps even unfair, games like Dark Souls demonstrate the love-hate affection many hold for such exasperating yet satisfying games. Although this style of game may not appeal to everyone, Legionwood 2: Rise of the Eternal’s Realm promises a challenge akin to Final Fantasy III. Will this solo endeavor by D. Robert Grixti live up to this expectation?
Three hundred years after players achieved peace in Legionwood: Tale of the Two Swords by banishing Castoth to another realm, trouble stirs once more as barbarians from Entoban invade the empire of Trevelle. As a guard in the Imperial Capital, the player joins a battalion sent to retake captured towns; one of which your beloved, Clara, resides in. Though I didn’t play the first game, the story fills in the history of Legionwood through conversations and books, expanding on Castoth’s fall into darkness and the eventual salvation of the world. Naturally, the land is troubled once more with aggressive enemies rearing their heads at every turn.
The plot is similar to all “save the world” themes, yet displays a depth and cohesion that’s oft lacking. Dialogues are excellently written, with sympathetic and developed characters. Unlike many of its ilk, there is no clear line between “good” and “bad,” be it for yourself or others. Legionwood 2 offers opportunities to be moral or dishonorable, and all decisions eventually lead to six different endings. Will you choose to forgive those who have wronged you or be caught up in vengeance? Will you put your quest to save the world above the needs of the people? Given the multitude of minute options, even though it is hard to tell how much your choices sway the outcome, the effort laudably complements the continuum between righteousness and evil. As intriguing as the character development and morality progression is, I felt the ending I received was rather anti-climactic and had hoped for a grander finale; perhaps the other five endings are different.
On the battlefield, players can organize a team of up to four people who take turns attacking the enemy. Each party member can specialize in a main and optional sub-class, with slight stat penalties for holding both. Instead of gaining skills when leveling up, players learn abilities from techs found or bought from stores. With eight classes and multiple permutations possible, some are certainly better than others and you will want them.
Saying the game is hard is probably doing Legionwood 2 injustice; its random number generator (RNG) is at times deviously cruel, yet satisfying. For most traditional RPGs, I have a rather strong dislike for random battles — not because they are unavoidable, but because they are unavoidably boring. Mashing attack every five steps for 85% of the game is not my idea of a good time. However, in this aspect, Legionwood 2 breaks the mold. It may seem hyperbolic to claim that the average battle has a much higher chance of devastating your team than a boss fight, but in most games, players are more likely to spend special items and play more cautiously in a boss fight than when facing three nameless meat bags a hundred times. In Legionwood 2, chugging potions is a must, even with dedicated healers on the team. The slightest mistake in battle could be costly, considering revive potions are rare and expensive, and if you are lacking them, you need to return to a town’s church for revival. On top of that, a revive tech isn’t available till very late (perhaps even too late) in the game. Characters don’t heal to full after winning a fight, negative statuses persist outside of battle and occasionally into the next, and depending on the RNG, a character could be K.O.’ed before you even get your first turn. Unfair? Yes. Devastating? Yes. Rage-inducing-I-will-continue-to-play-until-I-defeat-this-ridiculous-game-just-to-show-it-who’s-the-boss? Of course.
Despite what seem like complaints, I haven’t had this much fun with random battles in a long time. Instead of each battle being a tedious long trudge to an awesome boss fight, almost every single battle feels like a mini-boss fight, except that boss fights take much longer. It doesn’t matter that there are few varieties of enemies in each area; even after figuring out the best way to kill each one and getting bored of seeing the same old groups, any miscalculation or dismissive attitude often results in a character fainting. Each battle is a potential victory to savor in the sweet, sweet, vengeance of past K.O.s. The knock out ratio between regular enemies and bosses is fairly close, with the bosses actually being less likely to knock someone out in the first three turns simply because they are programmed for long fights that get progressively harder. In contrast, the random enemies act as if their lives depend on killing at least one person as quickly as possible. Just as they can two-hit your champs, so can you do the same… occasionally. Every new area scales from just this side of “slightly difficult” to “how am I going to survive this,” and none are ever close to being a breeze, even if you have mastered the previous location. However, I never felt the need to grind, and even when a particularly hard area took me by complete surprise, I was eventually able to strategize my way out of it.
One exception for me was a side quest from mid game that I had forgotten about and revisited near the end. (The game does not keep a “quest log,” “event diary,” or “history book,” — it is all dependent on the player’s memory.) In this location, no one got K.O.’ed, I could kill things fairly easily, and though I had to drink a few potions and heal after every battle, it almost felt like cheating due to the level discrepancy. At the same time, the location and boss still required an investment of attention that most games with random battles lack, and that is another plus.
Most areas require puzzle-solving to proceed, and the puzzles mainly fall into three categories: word puzzles that prompt a certain sequence of actions; pick up special items in certain areas and place them on something else; or activate levers and/or move a stone around to unlock mechanisms. This last type becomes a rather predictable pattern of backtracking as it expands to cover multiple floors and extensive dungeons. Delightful but rare, the word puzzles are a welcome break from the mundane navigation of yet another stone/item area. Though the game unfortunately didn’t employ more intricate puzzles, they were at least extensive and more engaging than simply barreling your way from point A to B to fight a boss.
For the world itself, the pixelated graphics paint a picturesque fantasy land ripe for exploration. In spite of its blocky nature, the scenes and characters look vibrant and polished, with each kingdom’s surroundings carefully crafted to be unique. Not only are the dwellings made of different material and architectural design, but even the trees and flowers are completely different. Though most of the enemies are found in only area, a few disappointing color palette swaps exist. Still, the bulk of the game looks appealing, and the graphics render rare dragons and ghostly figures holding lanterns exciting finds.
Unlike the infuriating battles, the music is filled with pleasant yet forgettable atmospheric tunes and sound effects. None of the melodies stick, but at the same time, I can’t recall feeling sick of hearing anything except, well, for the obnoxious “Game Over” notes taunting me. Since there is no voice acting, the tunes simply settle right next to you as a familiar, comforting companion in your crusade to save the world: the nice guy that no one remembers.
As a whole, Legionwood 2: Rise of the Eternal’s Realm is well worth its low cost. A solid game that simultaneously challenges and delivers in both gameplay and story, Legionwood 2 exemplifies the most compelling parts of a traditional RPG. On top of all that, it also includes the holy grail of all random battle games — an equippable item that prevents all random battles from happening while you solve some of the other greater mysteries. What more could you ask for?