Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Black Legend is a perfectly serviceable strategy game with an interesting theme and aesthetic, but presentation issues and pacing concerns hold this tactics game from truly standing out in the genre.
On the surface, the setting for Black Legend is really unique with its gothic / medieval setting in the city of Grant. A strange fog has rolled it as, creating a sense of mystery and dread. An alchemist named Mephisto has taken control of the city, enforcing his control with a zealot-like cult of guards at his disposal. Black Legend’s overall aesthetic is very reminiscent of Bloodborne, which is a good thing. That was arguably one of my two favorite Souls games, and that was due in large part to the environments.
That being said, the studio doesn’t have the same kind of resources at their disposal and once you get past the initial gothic setting, the visuals and audio come across a little glitchy at times and certainly lack polish. I am fine with a grim, sort of grimy vibe from the visuals, but over time that impression gave way to me feeling like there is a dated ‘sameness’ to everything. Perhaps this is reinforced by the combat, which grows somewhat repetitive over time. It starts off challenging, especially since early on when healing options are somewhat limited (they are expensive, you can’t heal unless you’re in combat, and even just finding healing items can be pretty scarce), but over time the enemy variety is somewhat limited and tactics don’t change a whole lot.
Moving around Grant is intriguing to start. I was excited to learn more about the city itself. Grant is broken up into a variety of districts, though they don’t really feel dramatically different from one another. There is no map, which I think will rub some gamers the wrong way, given the similar aesthetic throughout the game. There are street signs you can read to serve as directional guides, but as smooene who has a somewhat terrible sense of direction in both real-life and video games, I did find myself doing a lot of needless backtracking. There is a light element of stealth / line-of-sight to exploration as you can engage in combat by approaching enemy parties that are patrolling the streets. Once combat begins, there is a familiar grid-based combat that takes place.
These elements are all relatively standard in the genre, with initiative impacting who goes in what order. Characters move around the grid and then use ability points on special or standard attacks. Ranged, flanking, backstabbing and more all play into the damage being dealt. This is all delivered through a turn-based structure boils down to positioning and the best use of action points. You want to deal maximum damage while minimizing incoming damage to your own units.
Where things get more interesting is in the way you can progress your actual characters. Different classes can develop in unique ways. Classes can be swapped out between combat, and some abilities persist across classes and others do not. Growing my character abilities and synergizing the different perks of the classes within a character and across my party of characters was where I found most of my max/min statistical enjoyment. New weapons unlock new classes, and when you start the game you have a trio of options, but later you will have access to over a dozen options. There is also the Humor system (think of these as stacks that can be applied to attacks – and they can yield oodles of damage if you save them for the right moments). This system relies on alchemy and has a somewhat heavy elemental aspect to it that adds some depth to the otherwise somewhat shallow combat. I would say that saving humors for the bigger battles and positioning are what most of the combat hinges on.
Now, one callout I want to make is the boss battles. These are actually quite engaging – very challenging. They certainly are not the same battles as those you have wandering the city streets where you deal with somewhat generic soldiers and dogs. This element added a somewhat Souls-like flavor to the proceedings, as I often lost those fights on the first go-round or two, but then learned how the developers wanted me to engage with those bosses and felt a solid sense of accomplishment upon beating them. Sure, there was some frustrating mixed in there as well, but they were a nice change of pace from the rest of the game’s content.
While the gothic-themed city was interesting to explore, the actual characters lack… well, character really. They are respectably voice acted, but the writing in Black Legend is nothing special. It’s not bad, but the story was less intriguing than the actual sense of exploration, and all four of my party members felt rather generic throughout. Conversations with NPCs were fine, but there was a lack of banter or growth in the characters themselves that left me feeling rather ambivalent towards them outside of their class skills and development.
The technical side also had some rough patches. Playing on my PS4, the game crashed once and froze once. I save pretty frequently, so it didn’t set me back much, but felt worth calling out. The audio could use a little tweaking as there was quite a bit of inconsistency between sound effects, music and voiced dialog, and just a lot of minor visual hiccups along the way as well as some pretty lengthy load times. I also had moments where I felt as though I was fighting the camera as much as my enemies, with some weird pathing popping up as my soldiers moved about the map. There is room for some technical optimization here.