Considering that gaming only really begun to penetrate the mainstream in the mid-to-late 1980s (and would not gain general acceptance for years to follow), the industry has only recently entered its second wave. The developers of the modern day are the players of the past, and they bring with them both an awareness of history and a grasp of the future. Few creators embody this balance between past and present quite so clearly as the director of Fallen Legion +, Spencer Yip. In addition to his work at development studio YummyYummyTummy, Yip is the founder of Siliconera—a gaming news website that focuses on Japanese projects— and that legacy, for better and worse, shines through in this RPG two-pack.
Originally released in the middle of last year as Fallen Legion: Sins of an Empire for PlayStation 4 and Fallen Legion: Flames of Rebellion for PlayStation Vita, Fallen Legion + bundles the titles together for a PC release. Given that the two games are billed as RPGs, their modest playtimes may come as a surprise to genre adherents. Nevertheless, the package still offers decent value, especially considering the inclusion of New Game + and an ultra-difficult One-Life Mode. Taken as a whole, Fallen Legion + can easily offer fans more than 50 hours of entertainment. However, a number of factors hold the games back and prevent them from capturing the same magic as legends of the genre.
Foremost is the story. The two titles tell opposite sides of an overarching narrative about an empire at a crossroads. Decades of expansion have pushed the economic and governance structures to their limits, giving rise to peasant revolts and mass social discontent. Disappointingly, the structure of Fallen Legion prevents the world from coming to life by only allowing players to hear about the troubles rather than seeing them. As such, the dispute about who will fill the vacuum left by the king’s death—his daughter, Princess Cecille, or the rebellious upstart, Legatus Laendur—feels pointless. Each of the two takes a starring role in one of the games, but neither is particularly memorable. Without the grounding of a relatable protagonist, such as Valkyria Chronicles’s Welkin Gunther or Ni no Kuni’s Oliver, the would-be high-stakes narrative fizzles. Nonetheless, YummyYummyTummy’s attempt to invest players in the world of Fenumia, unsuccessful though it is, should be commended.
Taking cues from traditional RPGs, the Fallen Legion games feature an overworld, with the bulk of gameplay taking place on a different plane. However, unlike most genre classics, true exploration is impossible, which contributes to the aforementioned lifelessness. The developers have tried to spruce up the player’s involvement by incorporating a ternary choice system that affects the world state, but the morality system lacks intricacy and implications. As already stated, the distance between the players and the world is a gulf too vast to bridge. Users are forced along a linear path, progressing the plot via extended still-frame cutscenes and combat sequences.
Battles take place on a 2D plane, with players having control over a party of up to four characters. Cecille or Laendur is the magic-wielding commander, but the other three characters are Exemplars: embodiments of ancient warriors summoned thanks to the power of a talking book named Grimoire (who bears a similarly snarky attitude to NieR’s Grimoire Weiss). Combat is based around an active time battle system, though a multitude of mechanics are layered atop this foundation, including mana that replenishes from successful attacks and a turn bar capable of buffing character or giving them access to their special attacks. Each Exemplar is controlled by a single button (alongside a block and parry button), thereby simplifying combat, but the lightning pace of battles, in concert with the complexity of the core systems, ensures players never feel bored. However, despite being billed as an RPG, the character progression mechanics are lacking. Levelling systems are completely absent, and character attributes can only be altered through the application of randomly-dropped Gemstones. Unfortunately, these design decisions rob players of control, meaning that Fallen Legion can, at times, feel unfair. Battles are rarely difficult enough to cause frustration, and the games feature an extremely forgiving replay system. The speed of combat and shortage of fluff gives the games a brisk pace, yet still fails to provide any real sense of progression.
As the maps unfold to provide an ever-wider vision of the kingdom of Fenumia, Fallen Legion fails to grow alongside them. The story marches on and more abilities unlock, but the games never really change and, if anything, proceed onwards in such an expected way that they become pedestrian at best. With the exception of some outstanding bosses, battles do not become demonstrably more difficult, and the world—for all the lore the developers have crafted—struggles to materialise. To be fair, the hand-drawn environments that form the backdrops (whether they be dense forests, rolling plains, or devastated hamlets) are as whimsical and charming as the anime style gets, but the fact that they only ever remain as painted backgrounds means they fail to evoke a sense of place. Similarly, the music, sound effects, and voice acting are often rousing, but also succumb to repetition that results in them descending into blandness.
Bringing together a pair of budget RPGs, Fallen Legion + represents excellent value for money, but that worth is highly conditional. The artwork is truly inspired—sometimes even breathtaking—but serves a world and story that do not deserve it. Adherents of fantasy war tales will likely find enjoyment from the narrative, though a general audience will fail to be enraptured. Aside from the graphics, the battle system is the game’s standout feature, yet even this highlight is let down by the poorly-considered ancillary mechanics that make the Fallen Legion games into anaemic RPGs.