If you’re a fan of strategy RPGs, Black Legend is an easy game to recommend. It’s not a perfect game, and some parts of the experience could have definitely been more polished and fleshed out, but it succeeds in what it sets out to do. Even though it’s not exceptional at any one thing in particular, as a whole, it’s a solid package that fans of the genre shouldn’t skip.
Right off the bat, Black Legend had its hooks in me. Set in the city of Grant, Black Legend immediately shows that it’s seeping with atmosphere. In an age of alchemy and nascent technology, Grant is enveloped in a thick fog that inflicts madness upon its denizens. Large numbers of the decaying city’s population have been forced indoors, and these citizens who are afraid to exit their homes choose to hunker down and shut themselves off from the outside world. Those who walk the streets have to contend with not only the fog, but also with a fanatical cult that wreaks havoc on what remains of the city. You play as a band of mercenaries sent in to rescue civilians, aid the few who resist the cult, and save Grant from the forces that thwart it.
"The story itself isn’t going to knock your socks off – perhaps because it mostly plays second fiddle to the combat and exploration – but the central premise and aesthetic are strong enough to support the entire experience in and of themselves."
It’s a well-realized setting, and works on several levels. The desolate and dying city of Grant is atmospheric, and chancing across the few people still left alive who haven’t lost their minds – whether that’s in a face-to-face encounter or in Bloodborne-esque conversations through locked doors – feels like a significant event. Meanwhile, visually, a 17th century city blanketed with fog while the streets are littered with debris and litter and everything looks like it’s been frozen in a devastating moment in time is just a cool aesthetic. The story itself isn’t going to knock your socks off – perhaps because it mostly plays second fiddle to the combat and exploration – but the central premise and aesthetic are strong enough to support the entire experience in and of themselves.
Exploring Grant is also a lot of fun. The city is, by design, a desolate one, which means you shouldn’t expect to run into a ton of NPCs, but walking through its streets and alleys to unlock shortcuts, uncover valuable new loot, find and tackle different side quests, and chance upon characters that can be recruited into your bands of mercenaries can still be quite a rewarding experience. I also appreciate the fact that the game doesn’t rely on a map or markers for an exploration, instead asking you to read signposts in the world itself for the purposes of navigation. It really grounds you in the world. From a visual perspective, I definitely could have done with a little more variety though- Grant isn’t particularly massive, but it is divided into several districts, though there isn’t an awful lot to distinguish these areas from one another. There are some visually diverse locations, sure – the beaches near the shipyard, for instance, can’t be mistaken for any other part of the city – but I definitely would have liked to see more of that throughout Grant.
The combat, thankfully, is also one of Black Legend’s strong suits, employing a grid-based and turn-based tactics approach that doesn’t take long to come into its own. What helps Black Legend’s combat set itself apart, however, is its alchemy system, which is the primary way of dealing damage to enemies in the game. Different kinds of attacks apply different kinds of humours to enemies, while some of the more powerful attacks can apply more of it than the others, and often multiple kinds as well, and stacking these humours and then hitting enemies with catayzing attacks is how you deal any significant amount of damage. Not all kinds of humours go together, which means you also have to think about which humours you’re applying to enemies for the catalyzing attacks to even have the intended effect. It’s a unique system, and presented in a fairly simple manner. At first, understanding which humours can be combos with each other can be hard to understand and memorize, but it doesn’t take long for that understanding to set in, which is when the combat system really shines.
"Put together, the classes, weapons, and abilities come together to ensure that Black Legend offers legitimately meaningful build variety, allowing you to craft the kind of characters and the kind of party that suits you best."
Black Legend also boasts a varied and flexible class system, which is another area where the game impresses. There are over a dozen classes in the game, and players are encouraged to experiment with as many of them as possible. Classes are unlocked through exploration, side quests, and progress in the story, and you can swap in and out of them whenever you please. Each class specializes with different kinds of weapons, requires the character to don different kinds of armour, and has different attacks of different categories of alchemical humours. Meeting certain criteria (such as attacking enemies with a specific weapon a minimum number of times) allows you to permanently learn an ability from a class, which allows you to equip that ability among your limited slots of cross-class abilities.
The class system offers flexibility and fluidity by design. No single class in and of itself is particularly deep or expansive, and while that would have been a problem if you were expected to select a main class and then stick with it for hours upon hours, Black Legend doesn’t expect you to do that. You are instead encouraged to equip new classes, permanently learn their abilities, and then switch to a new one, mixing and matching to your heart’s content and changing your character’s loadout depending on what situation you’re in. Put together, the classes, weapons, and abilities come together to ensure that Black Legend offers legitimately meaningful build variety, allowing you to craft the kind of characters and the kind of party that suits you best.
Not everything works as well as it should though, even in the role playing department. While the flexibility of the class system is appreciated, other elements feel less fleshed out. Actually leveling up, for instance, doesn’t seem to have the kind of impact that it should, while things such as which passive boost items your characters have equipped doesn’t make all that much of a difference. During combat, the movement and the camera can also feel a bit too stiff- the latter, especially, which doesn’t even let you zoom in and out all that much, let alone tilt the camera to get a better view of the action.
"Black Legend isn’t a particularly expectational game at anything that it does, and there’s room for improvement in a lot of areas. But what it does well, it does really well, and those strong elements come together in a compelling package."
There are a few other niggling issues in the game as well that can hold it back at times. The UI, for instance, is a bit too eccentric for its own good at times, and switching between the characters in your party in a menu or switching our their classes with single taps of face buttons rather than being able to use the d-pad like in any other game definitely takes some getting used to. Voice acting, too, is passable at best, and mediocre at worst, and really dulls the impact of a lot of the dialog. Meanwhile, there’s also some visual glitches here and there, like floating objects or the textures taking too long to load in when you enter a district.
As I said, Black Legend isn’t a particularly expectational game at anything that it does, and there’s room for improvement in a lot of areas. But what it does well, it does really well, and those strong elements come together in a compelling package. The combat is fun, the fluid class system promotes impressive build variety, the exploration is simple and engaging, and the city of Grant is a solid setting that’s brimming with atmosphere. Black Legend might not be an unmissable game, but it’s still one that fans of strategy RPGs should definitely have on their radar.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Well-realized, atmospheric setting; Engaging exploration; Enjoyable combat system; Flexible class system promotes meaningful build variety.
Movement and camera can be stiff during the combat; Some technical issues; Mediocre voice acting; Unintuitive UI.