Developed By: Warcave BV
Published By: Warcave
Category: Adventure, Role-Playing, Strategy
Release Date: 03.25.21
Composers: Vadim Krakhmal
Black Legend for the Nintendo Switch is a game that has basically every element I’m looking for in a game. It’s a turn-based strategy RPG, which is my favorite genre. It has an interesting setting, an intriguing, novel combat mechanic that doesn’t wear thin after an hour, and big swords – all must-haves in my ideal gaming experience. Despite all the things it does right, however, Black Legend has too many warts to fully satisfy.
Grant City Limits
For years, the independent city of Grant has been cut off from the world. After a crazy cult led by the mysterious alchemist Mephisto let loose a poisonous fog across the city, few have dared enter the gates – and far fewer have left them. Players take control of a group of mercenaries seeking a pardon from the king. Their task is to rid Grant of the fog so that the king’s army can invade and claim the city and its riches without succumbing to the miasma. Mephisto’s cult seek to hinder you at every turn, but luckily the remaining members of the city’s resistance are here to help.
The story is fairly straightforward, but that doesn’t mean it’s not engaging. Your characters are all generic units, so there isn’t really much in the way of character development. However, exploring the city’s different sections and talking to the few survivors found there fleshes the world out enough to create a decent sense of immersion. The main story may be a little on the shallow side – every quest pretty much consists of “go here, interact with random item, return to base, repeat” – but it’s paced well and has enough depth to maintain player interest throughout.
An Imbalance of Humors
Combat in Black Legend will feel very familiar to fans of strategy RPGs. Battles take place on a square grid battlefield, where players and their AI opponents maneuver into position to make attacks. Characters can use base attacks or class-specific skills with their action points, while using equipped items like potions or grenades uses no action points. You can change your unit’s class and equipment anytime out of combat. Class skills are learned from different equipment, but characters level up independently of their class as well. That’s all fairly standard, but the game does introduce one rather interesting element into its combat.
The game’s most interesting mechanic is the introduction of alchemic humors. There are four colors – red, black, white, and yellow – that can be attached to a unit via an attack. These humors are inflicted by using class skills or attack items. When enough humors are stacked on a unit, using a catalyzing attack (which is just the basic weapon attack) will activate an alchemic combo. These combos do devastating amounts of extra damage, and do even greater damage the more humors you’ve stacked on the target. For instance, if you’ve stacked two red, one yellow, and one black humor on a unit and catalyze it, you’ll get both a red/black and red/yellow combo bonus. Combos always work in pairs, but you can do multiple pairs of the same colors.
Efficient Command Structure
A frequent complaint I have with Switch games ported from the PC is that control schemes are often poorly translated from a mouse and keyboard input to a controller. Despite how much I loved Battle Brothers otherwise, this was especially a problem in that game. Happily, Black Legend does not suffer as greatly from this issue. Instead of using a clumsy, imprecise cursor slowly scrolling across the screen to select icons, Black Legend uses the Z and R buttons in an intuitive way to scroll quickly through action options without clunky menus. Given the limited number of actions available to your units, it’s roughly equivalent to using hotkeys on a keyboard. You still have to use a somewhat clunky cursor to select a target, but it feels more natural and far less annoying combined with the easy action selection.
Movin’ And (Not Exactly) Groovin’
Movement, on the other hand, can be a little trickier. When you’re not in battle, movement is fine enough. You control your main character from a third-person view and both movement and camera controls are relatively smooth. Once you’re spotted by an enemy and combat starts, movement gets a lot more deliberate and, in some cases, inexact. Inputting movement commands is not as well-adapted to a controller as inputting action commands. The game uses a pointer cursor for movement, which works well with a mouse, but is clunky, slow, and imprecise with a controller. You also have to fight the camera a bit if you’re in a space with lots of different elevations.
Finally, movement animations are slow and jerky, especially if the character isn’t moving in a straight line or has to go over an obstacle. Watching your character – or your opponent’s – move three squares forward, stop, deliberately climb a crate, stop, deliberately turn, stop, deliberately climb down a crate, stop, and then move one more square to finish their movement gets pretty old pretty fast. A greater deal of fluidity in the movement animations would go a long way as a quality of life improvement.
In A Fog
I know the Switch isn’t anywhere near as powerful as a most gaming PCs or its console contemporaries, but why the heck do Switch ports so frequently have such a dramatic loss in graphical quality? I’d like to have something nice to say about Black Legend’s use of visual influences from a commonly-overlooked historical era, but I just can’t get over how much crummier the game looks on the Switch compared to gameplay footage from every other console and the PC version. The in-game graphics are blurry and frequently stutter, especially just after entering an area, which I just don’t see happening on gameplay videos anywhere but the Switch. I give the game points for its design ideas, but the performance on the Switch is just poor.
Miscellaneous Notes and Warnings
Eagle-eyed players will look at Black Legend’s menu screen and note that this game isn’t even at version 1.0 yet on the Switch. At publication, the game’s version is listed as 0.1.770. The most common issue I experienced during gameplay was that the plus button was frequently disabled. The plus button opens a menu that includes the option to save or load, so basically you can’t do either if that button is unresponsive. I had this problem pretty much every time I loaded the game up. Sometimes the game would load with the button already inactive. The only way to fix it was to either reload the game entirely or transition back and forth between different areas until it worked again.
This next one isn’t really a bug, but the in-game menu where you change classes and equipment and choose what quests to track is just generally poorly designed. Cycling through characters isn’t done with a cursor, it’s done by a button, which is just an intuitive layout choice. Also, the button to quit the menu altogether is the same as the button to open the class select screen. You have to hit it to quit the menu, but hold it to go to the class select screen. If the game doesn’t read your hold – or if you don’t hold long enough – you just quit the menu, which is aggravating.
Living Up To A Legend Is Harder Than It Looks
Black Legend is a hard game to judge on the Switch – and maybe on consoles in general. The story and setting are interesting, original, and engaging. The gameplay concepts will be familiar to most strategy fans, but still manage to introduce an interesting new wrinkle. In some ways it makes a more graceful transition to a controller input scheme than most games, but it still suffers from a clunky cursor, poor menu design, and that one major bug I mentioned. Finally, the Switch version just looks worse than its counterparts on other consoles. I’d recommend this game to any strategy fan who asked – just not on the Switch.
Digital – $29.99
The Switch Effect was graciously supplied a code for review purposes.