Fallen Legion: Rise To Glory is what happens when a developer grabs a copy of Valkyrie Profile and Dance Dance Revolution and forces them to breed until an incredibly ambitious hybrid toddler is born. Toss in political intrigue and on-the-fly decision making, and, well, you have something worth talking about.
Pottering onto the Switch back in 2018, Fallen Legion: Rise to Glory brought together the series’ previous entries, Flames of Rebellion and Sins of an Empire into one complete package. This means two hefty, interlocked campaigns, a few quality of life changes and even an arse-spankingly brutal One-life mode. Needless to say, this is the definitive edition.
Each campaign runs adjacent to the other. In one campaign you’ll be asserting your empiric dominance over the peasantry and nobility under the watchful eye of Maurice and a soul-snatching, sentient scripture known as the Grimoire. In the other, you’ll be rampaging the nearby countryside stoking the flames of rebellion in an attempt to win some degree of freedom. You might also become a dictator, who knows. Whether you play as Octavia or Laendur, both campaigns are a miniature ocean of narrative depth. It is also well worth experiencing both sides of the debate, so replayability is more than a little bit encouraged.
The plot is told in several, occasionally successful, ways. There’s your traditional canned cutscene, which is to be expected. Less expected is the in-mission decision making you’ll be forced to engage in. As you go about murdering various folk, you will be presented with various political, ethical or martial quandaries. Your decisions have a direct impact on some hidden metrics and will eventually lead to new stages opening up and new conversations being presented. The least impressive aspect of Fallen Legions narrative is its reliance on lore. I felt compelled to read a substantial amount of backstory before I started playing, because the game fails to tell you anything about the world, yet expects you to make decisions on that world. It feels a bit lazy, not going to lie.
Overall, Fallen Legion’s story is great. There will be spanners lobbed at your noggin in droves and it is very prone to twisting and turning along the way. Each campaign has its own unique ending, and there is even a bonus ending for completing New Game+. Needless to say, there is a lot to experience narratively, and as a driving force behind the gameplay, it does its job.
Speaking of gameplay, it’s ambitious, but ultimately a tad naff. Each stage is a linear, auto-running progression of real-time battles. You have control over three Exemplars as well as your commander of choice (campaign dependant). Each Exemplar can prod the nearest enemy with whatever armament is brandishing, and your commander can conjure the odd spell here and there to help out. Attacking is as simple as slapping a face button, with each character being assigned to one of them. Wail on a button enough times and your dude will perform a combo. Attacks are gated by AP management, so you need to bide your time before you commit to cracking an enemy with a stick. This initially feels button-mashy, but the feeling doesn’t last long.
This is because Link Chains, Deathblows and Combos all exist. Links are powerful attacks that can be triggered by hitting a button or through very strict timing between attacking or defending. Deathblows are linked to combos in that you can do them if you have managed to nail enough consecutive hits, without being hit, and are rewarded with an uber-move. Planning who will attack, and when, will determine who gets that saucy Deathblow, and in turn, what effect plays out. These can radically change the course of a battle. Understanding of what your Exemplars can do, and when they should do it, is not only AP efficient but also incredibly satisfying.
Your combo-meter isn’t just about landing those Deathblows, however. Several things impact it, some of which are pretty horrible. If you get slapped in the arse by a randy goblin, you lose your combo and have to start again. To counteract this, you can block. Blocking does little if you don’t time it perfectly, and when you do, the enemy is temporarily stunning, your AP is restored and your combo is retained. Combat suddenly becomes an intricate management dance whereby you AP, positioning, Links, Deathblows, combos, spells, HP and enemy attacks and tells all need to be monitored simultaneously. Heck, throw in bonus effects on your combo-meter, such as critical damage, and you have a lot to do in a very short space of time. It’s intoxicating…when it works.
I wish I could end it here. I really do. Unfortunately, the combat system is far from polished. There are simply too many barriers when trying to execute all of its systems for it to be considered consistently good. For starters, the game feels clunky almost all the time. It’s like there is a viscous layer of input lag permeating from the depths of Fallen Legion’s core. Sometimes hitting the block button won’t do anything. Other times I could be wailing on the attack button and my guy just won’t do a timely combo. Things get frustrating when enemies start getting clumped up and you can’t see who is attacking. This is painful when archers or mages are on the field. Certain enemies have lightning-fast wind-ups and when you can’t see that minuscule tell, it feels cheap when you get slapped around. The game’s balance in the late game is also a joke. Too many stages had heavily defended mages who were packing instant death spells. It broke any enjoyment I had, which, honestly, was quite substantial at times.
If only the negatives ended there, but they don’t. Like my high-school maths teacher, the game does very little to explain what is going on. I was forced to figure out practically everything on my own, which made the opening hours confusing, and the later hours when things got more complex, frustrating. I had the tools to overcome the game’s challenges, but I wasn’t always aware I had them. Sometimes I got through encounters purely through luck and bonehead determination, and it just didn’t feel good.
Vagary continues outside of combat too. As the story progresses, you unlock new Exemplars. From what I can tell, these are tied to main-line progression so you get new dudes on a regular basis. Their progression, however, seems random. Every now and then one of my guys suddenly gained a new Deathblow, or they evolved into something more powerful. I still don’t fully understand how this happened, but I assume the aforementioned hidden metrics have something to do with it. It was awesome unlocking a new form for Exemplars, I just wish I knew why it happened.
There is also a mostly unexplained gem system. Gems enhance your Exemplars, grant new spells and alter the combo-meter. They range in power, but even the weakest gem can drastically change how an Exemplar performs on the field. You only have three slots to work with, so you are limited in your customisation. What gems do isn’t always clear, but for the most part, going to the in-game encyclopedia will clear things up. It’s just a hassle to do so.
What’s immediately apparent, is that Fallen Legion is gorgeous. Every enemy, Exemplar, environment and boss is beautifully hand-drawn. It’s like a moving painting. Animations might seem a bit basic to some, but I loved the almost paper-like movements and they fit right in. The art style is clearly inspired by Vanillaware, and whilst it isn’t as stunningly gorgeous as those titles, it’s a darn good imitation. This is backed by some cracking, if limited, tracks. Every time a boss fight started, I got pumped because the soundtrack hyped me up something rotten. Voice acting is very limited, and pretty poor, in English so I recommend turning on Japanese voices. In this setting, the game is fully voice acted, and to my untrained ear, is top-notch.
Fallen Legion: Rise to Glory is a great concept trapped in a mediocre game. There is so much ambition behind this game, that it pains me to say that it’s just not up to snuff in execution. The game’s mechanics simply aren’t polished enough. I can only hope the upcoming sequel fixes these issues because this series has buckets of potential that I don’t want to see squandered. If you see this game discounted, then consider picking it up, otherwise give it a miss.
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