There’s a lot to like about Legrand Legacy: Tale of the Fatebounds. It comes out swinging with a full-motion video opening that’s both intense and charmingly retro. From there, you’re thrust into a gorgeous world of hand-painted, pre-rendered backgrounds, anime-style character designs, mystical prophecies, and strange monsters. For a game made to capture the spirit of Playstation-era JRPGs, Legrand Legacy certainly looks the part.
Sadly, actually playing the game is another matter entirely, thanks largely to how terribly unbalanced it all is. Right from the start, enemies hit like trucks, and there’s very little you can actually do about it except weather the storm and hope you get to a health-restoring save point before you die simply to attrition.
In that early part of the game, health potions are few, hard to come by, and very ineffectual—they restore 20 percent of a character’s HP, which is less than monsters typically hit for. You can’t simply avoid damage, either, as you might in an action game; in a turn-based game, taking damage is inevitable, but Legrand Legacy doesn’t really give you and tools to deal with that until much later in the game.
There’s also a huge random factor at play. Like most RPGs, combat is driven by hidden dice rolls that determine whether an attack hits or misses (among other things), but characters in Legrand Legacy have frustratingly low accuracy, even on their regular attacks. By my estimation, I’d miss about 30 or 40 percent of the time—in a game where a missed attack can often be the difference between victory and defeat, or at least force you to waste those precious healing items.
One quirk of Legrand Legacy is the order that different attacks resolve: standard attacks all come out at the same time, creating this awkward melee in the middle of the battlefield, and then spells and special attacks come out after that. However, should a character charging up a special attack get hit before the cast is finished, there’s a very high chance that they’ll get interrupted. This adds another annoying dice roll into the game any time you try to cast a spell, because should an enemy choose to attack them, they’ll almost certainly end up with a wasted turn.
That brings me to one of the most frustrating things in the game: the positioning system. You can have up to three people in your party, lined up in two rows—the idea being that tanky characters go up front, and squishies go at the back. Most enemies’ normal attacks can’t hit back-row characters if there’s someone in the front row, so the idea is to have someone up front intercepting those attacks (most likely with liberal use of the Defend command) while the back row characters attack with relative safety, free from interrupted spellcasting and attacks that can potentially kill them in a single blow.
In practice, that isn’t how it works, because almost every enemy has at least one attack that can freely hit the back row, and they throw these out frequently. So you can have your tank up front trying to protect the others, but whether this actually works often just comes down to yet another dice roll.
Finally, there’s the ACT system, which essentially turns every action into a quick-time event. When using almost any ability, a button prompt and a timer pop up; hit the button with perfect timing, and the effect of the action will be greatly increased—a perfect Defend makes you practically invulnerable, Attack gets bonus damage and a big boost in accuracy, and so on. However, getting perfect timing seems very tough, and there were plenty of times when I got the timer smack bang in the middle of the “perfect” zone and I’d still get a mere “good”.
This only adds to the imbalance of the game, because getting perfect ACTs seems to be the only reliable way to dish out or prevent damage. Even with a “good” result, attacks miss incredibly often, and a defending character will still take a lot of damage, and should you get “poor”, well that’s basically a waste of a turn. It also drags every fight out much longer than necessary, because there’s this whole extra step and extra animation for every single action you choose.
All of this builds up to a battle system that is incredibly frustrating, in a game where combat is the major form of interaction. It got to the point where I’d avoid combat as much as possible, which just compounds the problems because then you end up with an under-levelled party in an already poorly-balanced game. Bosses are particularly tiresome, because they add massive health pools to the litany of other problems; 20+ minute endurance tests, where one or two unlucky dice rolls can wipe you out, seem to be standard.
Later on in the game, there are a few minigames of various sorts that mix up the game—things like large-scale tactical battles, fishing, rock paper scissors-style duels, and so on. They’re a welcome break from the tedium of Legrand Legacy‘s core combat, and they’re all enjoyable enough in their own right—especially fishing; I’m a sucker for a good fishing minigame—but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s too little too late when the main game loop is such a chore.
I wish I could say that Legrand Legacy made this slog worthwhile, but I can’t. The story is about as by-the-numbers as you can get, with an age-old prophecy and an unlikely hero chosen by the gods, but it lacks the heart and emotive core that makes such stories so timeless and compelling. The characters all feel like cardboard cutouts put in place to fill a particular narrative role rather than to actually be interesting or engaging in their own right, so you’re left with a bunch of tired cliches in a story that feels entirely too familiar.
It’s sad, because the folks at Semisoft clearly put a lot of love into the game. They set out to create a “a love letter to all time favorite JRPGs”, and, superficially, all the pieces are there. It’s a gorgeous game, too, particularly when it comes to the painterly environment art. They’re the sorts of pre-rendered backgrounds you’d see in a lot of PS1 RPGs, but where those used crisp CG imagery, Legrand Legacy‘s backgrounds all look like they’ve been hand-painted, with all the beauty that comes with that. The character designs are great too, and really come to life during dialogue scenes thanks to Live2D animation.
But what made those “all time favorite JRPGs” the classics they are runs deeper than what’s on the surface, and that’s where Legrand Legacy falls short. Instead of a grand adventure full of unforgettable characters and heartfelt moments, you’ve got a story and cast that seem to just be going through the motions.
Like I said, the inspiration is there. The love is absolutely there. But in execution, Legrand Legacy falls down completely, and serves as a reminder of the classics more in what it lacks than in what it does well.
Legrand Legacy: Tale of the Fatebounds is developed by SEMISOFT and published by Another Indie. It’s available now for PC (reviewed), and due out on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One in 2019.
A press copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.