Golf is a patient person’s game (or sport, depending on which side of the debate you’re on) as it requires a slow and steady approach to master its subtle ebbs and flows. That’s also the case in RPGolf Legends, the latest offering from KEMCO and ArticNet that translates unpredictable fairways and challenging chip-shots into a charming, but at times frustrating, pixelated romp.
An initial bout of exposition reveals that golf is in existential danger yet again after being previously saved. A malignant spirit has locked all the world’s courses, and true to the game’s occasional meta banter, the narration affirms that a stronger antagonist always has to come along for the sequel. Although Aerin, the witty protagonist whose dialogue is packed with dry humor, isn’t totally interested in saving the world (“I just like golf. And I just wanted to play golf,” she quips), she isn’t alone in her quest as she rescues the spirit of a golf club named Clubby. The etheric driver allows Aerin to unlock all 54 holes so that she (and the occasionally grateful NPC challenging her to a game) can recapture the serenity of life on the greens.
Much like an early morning game on an 18-hole course, RPGolf Legends starts off rather slow as Aerin gets her feet under her and fulfills fetch quests for the characters throughout her hometown of Mulligandale. The slight lull and lack of energy makes the game teeter on boring during its opening stretch, but as Aerin sails across the sea to Merkatia, it gains steam and becomes much more engaging as the possibilities of her world unfold.
To begin saving every hole across the land, Aerin needs to upgrade from a beginner’s set to a standard set. The significant amount of gold coins the standard set costs can be hard to find without narrative direction. While smashing boxes can provide single coins and occasional treasure chests offer larger lump sums, the best option is to go fishing. The minigame is simple yet rewarding as quality catches are worth considerable cash in Merkatia’s general store. Once enough fish are caught and the standard set is equipped, Aerin is ready to take on her formidable challenges, but not without a bit of hacking and slashing to get there. Clubby’s magic meter must be full to employ his spell to unlock a new hole, so nearby enemies need to be defeated to replenish his energy source (unless the player has enough luck to snag energy when they attain par, birdie, or an eagle on the subsequent holes).
The combat starts off a bit basic and at times frustrating as Aerin is noticeably undermatched even against weaker enemies, but it enters a smooth, rewarding groove as she gains new abilities like combos. The true meditative aspect of the game begins to reveal itself as holes are unlocked and Aerin puts her golfing skills to the test. The courses are rather easy to complete at first swing, but the game ramps up the difficulty with obstacles like swamps, sand traps, and out of bounds territory. Bosses, ranging from a talking tree to a mega-sized scorpion, also become prevalent, resulting in a race against time to defeat them while trying to hit par (or birdie for those feeling extra confident). It’s also a treat when Aerin’s golf skills are relevant in dungeon puzzles that require critical thinking as well as a club in hand.
It would be remiss to not mention the nostalgia factor of RPGolf Legends, both in its visual aesthetic and soundtrack. Its pixelated landscapes and characters are consistently appealing, especially when the detailed portraits of Aerin and Clubby appear during dialogue options (ideally, such portraits would also appear for the side characters to breathe further life into them). The music thrives in its simplicity, whether it’s the whimsical flair of the swamp-situated Doku Town or foreboding swells of the desert as Aerin enters exceptionally dangerous territory. It’s classic in its approach without feeling reductive, instead sitting comfortably within the space of Nintendo-esque RPG revivals.
A few of the issues to genuinely write home about in RPGolf Legends are the aforementioned fetch quests and slight repetitiveness of its routine: unlock a hole, play it, acquire dividends or defeat monsters to regain Clubby’s energy, and head toward the next hole with the game’s minimap. Sometimes the next boss feels unnecessarily hidden behind these extensive hurdles, but overall, the game course corrects with notable milestones like entering the wizard’s guild, begrudgingly entering the warrior’s guild because Aerin is content being a wizard, and gaining new abilities with each additional class.
Speaking of Aerin, while she has a distinct personality and periodically levels up her skills and appearance, the story around her is razor thin. It can make her journey while unlocking holes feel aimless at times, without narrative rewards to move the story forward. The game is endearing when it hits colorful beats, but those are less frequent than one would like. It’s also worth noting that a few bugs cropped up throughout the game, one interfering with a late-game boss fight that caused the Nintendo Switch to uncontrollably vibrate and necessitated reloads to surpass it.
While RPGolf Legends doesn’t have a robust story to match the vibrant personality of its protagonist and has to overcome some recurring lulls in gameplay, it’s a simple, charming game with enough allure to make it worth its relatively short run-time. Give it a swing and go for par.