I’m probably not the only games enthusiast who remembers getting burned by edutainment games as a kid. It felt like biting into a tasty-looking steak only to find that it was well-done. Eww. Mario is Missing, for instance, wasn’t much of a Mario game at all. That’s not to say that edutainment developers can’t redeem themselves for the foul act of disguising learning as a video game, though, as we see with primarily-edutainment-focused developer YummyYummyTummy’s first attempt at a console game: the action-RPG Fallen Legion: Sins of an Empire.
Cecile’s having a bad day. Her father, the Emperor, has been killed, leaving Cecile in charge of the land of Fenumia. It’s not just a political problem, since her rival Laendur is on the march trying to take the Empire for himself. She’s got allies, but the most significant of these is also the most problematic: a magical tome that can speak, cast magic and consume souls. Cecille has to decide how far she’s willing to go to keep the Tome fed and thus keep her empire alive, to say nothing of the battles she must fight and the difficult choices that a ruler has to make.
If you’ve played Valkyrie Profile (or, more recently, Exist Archive) then you’ve got an idea of what Fallen Legion’s going for. You’ve got four characters, each mapped to one of the face buttons, and pressing a button makes its associated character attack. Repeatedly pressing buttons results in combo attacks, and you’re able to have anyone move at any time (so long as they’ve got enough action points, a regenerating resource here) in order to string together massive coordinated assaults. It’s a neat idea that provides a decent amount of control without really abandoning the turn-based concept.
Fallen Legion mixes things up, though, by leaning toward real-time combat rather than turn-based. Unlike Valkyrie Profile, enemies can take their turns at the same time that you’re having your characters attack. This is…well, a questionable decision to say the least. The turn-based focus of Valkyrie Profile was key to making that game’s combat system work smoothly. Now instead of learning your characters’ moves and their properties in order to strategically assemble combos to maximize damage, you’ll periodically have to drop what you’re doing and manually block enemy attacks.
Enemies do a ton of damage, particularly during boss fights and healing is strictly rationed, so failing to block will quickly result in your team getting smashed. Further, a character who’s in the middle of an attack is incapable of blocking at all, so if a baddie decides to take a swing at a hero who’s winding up, sorry, their attack doesn’t go off and you don’t get the AP for it back. At its core, Fallen Legion is a game about learning enemy attack timing so you can use perfect blocks to minimize damage and keep your heroes alive between your own cautious assaults. There’s certainly some enjoyment to be had from this, but it requires you to be willing to adopt a much more passive playstyle.
Between battles you’re faced with choices to make that affect the livelihood of the Empire. Nobles bickering over something? You get to decide who to support. Peasants being oppressed? It’s up to you whether you’ll help them or pile on even more oppression. Each decision you make has both plot consequences and an associated buff for your characters during battle, so at times you might be pressed to make decisions you don’t agree with in order to win fights.
It’s a cute idea that’s stymied somewhat by Fallen Legion’s quick-and-dirty approach to storytelling, flinging a whole bunch of names and characters your way without offering a whole lot of context; the fact that any decisions you make are framed with yet more combat also makes it difficult to properly digest the consequences of what you’re doing. Often I found it easiest to just pick whatever would improve my favorite fighter. Further, there’s a simple character customization system in play as well as a bunch of different heroes to use, but generally speaking I wasn’t enamored enough with Fallen Legion’s combat to do a whole lot of tweaking.
While Fallen Legion’s gameplay might need a little more work, there’s something to be said for the presentation. This one owes more than a little to Vanillaware’s work, Odin Sphere and the like, but I’m not going to ding a game for looking great. Graphics and animation look fantastic all around, and what voice acting exists is passable. My sole issue with Fallen Legion’s aesthetics is a minor one: it seems like certain parts of the game could have used a second or third pass from an editor, as while main story segments are generally nice and clean, other parts of the game are struck with embarrassing typos and grammatical errors.
Fallen Legion: Sins of an Empire isn’t a bad game, honestly, and it’s certainly an impressive first effort from a developer with an irresistibly cute name. On the other hand, it doesn’t live up to its many obvious influences either, and one hopes that YummyYummyTummy decides to take a few more risks with future projects. If you’re hurting for some JRPG goodness, you could do worse than Fallen Legion, so long as you keep your expectations in check.