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Forgotten Legions - DSiWare Review

Game Info
Forgotten Legions

DSiWare | Cypronia | 1 Player | Out Now | 500 Nintendo Points
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28th March 2013; By KnucklesSonic8

While it sometimes feels like every imaginative tower defense game that rolls around is joined by a batch of throwaway efforts, it's hard to misjudge Forgotten Legions as outwardly being part of the latter group. On the contrary, there appears to be a commitment to presenting a believable take on tower defense inside a dreary shell. Almost as though it were hoping to create a legacy, the game's unusual characteristics add a welcome spin on the usual fare, instantly distancing itself from other like-natured games that have released on this platform. Alienating casual and first-time players from examining its unwieldy make, nearly every component of the game is dedicated to a hardcore mindset with depth you'd associate with real-time strategy games from long ago. But the issue with giving up its ace-in-the-hole right away is that rather than administering a counter or following this up with swift delivery, it wallows, rather infuriatingly so, under preventable circumstances. Considering its inclinations, Forgotten Legions doesn't stray too far off course. However, there is a looming distaste in its design too unsteady to overcome or contend with.

    Establishing a bleak and gloomy atmosphere, the game's universe brings together ghastly monstrosities and fighters with varying affinities and weapons of choice into a single medieval setting with attached fantasy elements. The game's two-sided story is generally hard to follow, but the premise pits two opposite factions against one another in a bid for supremacy. The average-sized campaign first follows the grisly team led by Merkovius and must be seen to completion before seeing the other, more heroic side of the storyline. I have to question why both sides couldn't be pursued simultaneously at the leisure of the player, as it wasn't long before things started to wear on me and I had a stronger desire to see things from the other perspective. But alas, I suppose it's not going on and on about. Each chapter gradually introduces new territory as far as new allies and opposing units are concerned, so from a progression standpoint, elements are presented in a fashion that is completely anticipated.

    Both factions have nine units at their disposal, with different offensive and defensive stances, as well as distance positions for executing these character-specific moves. What gives an ordinary cast of healers, projectile launchers, weapon bearers and machinery a more restless quality, is that one battalion consists entirely of other-worldly creatures that are major contributors to the air resting overhead and even on the surface. Adopting a six-row grid format with an automatic, side-scrolling mechanic, units are assigned to squares on the field and can be moved in any direction to respond to upcoming hordes. The control system is entirely touch-based, having you mark squares on the conveyor belt-like setup with directional markers that either one unit or the entire group marching along that respective row will react to. By holding the stylus down on a square, a circular control wheel will appear, with each direction offering two settings for movement control (i.e., singular and double arrows). This also includes forward and backward movement, with the former triggering an attack bonus when placed two squares after an enemy's current position. Through a drag-and-release mechanism, the system allows for measured adaptability that is fairly well-executed in its ease.

Knowing which units to use and where can be ascertained by examining the progress bar, where each upcoming unit is presented as a thin bar -- like the kind you'd see after defragmenting your computer, but smaller. Colours on this graph relate to specific types of enemies, providing a means to track and respond to changes in short-range vs. long-range attackers, or foes that require a big unit concentration to defeat. The only thing that can throw you off is that aerial foes can only be attacked by specific enemies, and because of this, even tall enemies will walk through them as if they were invisible. To view the health of all on-screen characters, you can tap on them directly or rest the stylus on the icon in the top-right corner of the Touch Screen. This is in line with the game's overall direction of keeping stats (whether they be remaining health or defense upgrades) out of sight or, when they are visible, not displaying them as numerical values, and this is something I myself appreciated.

    Up to 20 of your own units can be active on the battlefield at a given time, and what dictates the regularity with which you'll assign fresh units are nine energy meters on the top screen -- one for each unit, with their face plastered on it for easy identification and management. While energy is accumulated automatically, this can be sped up with each foe you vanquish. The recharge rate is not shared among all, but energy gained is instead mostly confined to specific entities. Exceptions to this rule are the most basic units, where the energy spills over to other gauges. This organization makes certain that in every battle, you must work your way up from the bottom before being given access to the more effective units. Unfortunately, the whole regeneration process is unusually arduous for some units, taking six or seven large waves before they become active -- which, in perspective, often means about three-quarters of the way, if not near the end -- and this issue becomes more of a hindrance as you move forward, rather than a respectable decision.

    Even while there is this impression that the developers have thought of every possible scenario and change the player will want control over, the system doesn't always see to perfect execution when trying to make row transfers. The first issue is that because units remain on a single path unless told otherwise, they will often remain close together as a result of the movement patterns you initiate, and trying to distinguish one particular unit to go forward while the other stays behind isn't something the system can handle to the player's immediate needs. Also, there are times where in directing units to a different row, they will actually collide with another group and be unable to make the transition, or not make the move at all due to there not being enough room (i.e., more than one free space). These small glitches in the system do put players off, but they are the least of your worries. 

Beyond the sometimes excruciating developments in pace and flow, Forgotten Legions makes critical errors when it comes to its sense of balance and the enemy arrangements it creates. Every match begins with one complementary soldier to get you going, but if this is killed off because the player missed timing by one square (thus limiting their attack window), you'll be unable to quickly bounce back with another unit to take its place because of how the recharge rate works. And seeing as you only have three strikes of enemies making it past the right side of the screen before the battle is called for the opposition, it emphasizes how hopeless things can get if you're not consistent. Now, this is just how these excursions begin, and because this predicament is completely avoidable, it's not the best example of the true state of affairs. But it's the first dent, shall we say, in the game's casing that leads to a crumbling effect as you come face-to-face with waves past this initial calm.

    To once again make reference to the limitations surrounding introducing new units, Forgotten Legions has a really, really bad habit of not allocating enough resources for players to overcome the dense stretches of enemies players are exposed to, which usually start from the half-way mark but are known to happen earlier in later chapters. As an example, it's not uncommon for you to come against clusters made up of six or more of the most powerful units, all clumped into one huddle. Oftentimes, it is by this very point that you don't have enough energy to divide your efforts evenly, in which case the only option is to take them out one at a time through a concentrated group effort. But this narrow approach to success always leads to more fallen enemies and wasted efforts on your end.

    It's doubly more aggravating when a healer unit is at the very back, giving these menacing foes continuous juice to cancel out or at least minimize your team's attack effectiveness. In such situations, sometimes there's a square that separates them from one another, so it makes it possible to squeeze a fresh unit there and eliminate that safety net. But that all depends on you having enough energy for that action to take place, responding right away when that opening becomes manifest, and then redirecting your attack force appropriately. Chances are, you'll be soft or deprived on either energy supply or units or both, making for a very unpleasant experience.

The worst part is, not when these powerful groups appear right at the end when you can't afford to let anymore enemies escape (as bad as that is), but the realization that this is just one isolated portion! Leading up to this point, you'll have to deal with long lines of enemies where if you don't having enough units to plow through the entire arsenal, you won't have another small window or square to re-enter the fray, locking you out and leaving you completely helpless as you watch enemies flow past without any obstacles in their path. Other times, you'll spend much of your time shuffling things around, only to realize your strategy won't lead to success, resulting in a last-second sacrifice of a fresh unit on the last remaining square before it's in the clear.

    All of this haphazard behaviour calls into question the game's decision to have randomized arrangements -- or so they appear, initially. In actuality, they often maintain similar ideas of having beginning waves spread out a bit at the start, with an overload as you get to the middle (or even before that). Even some of the enemies seen across two seemingly different arrangements on the same level carry similar qualities. For example, two instances of one level may start off with an archer and a spear-bearing soldier, but these may have different starting positions each time you play. So when you get down to it, there is some definition in this area...which gives me valid liberty to say that the game doesn't balance its affair that well. It's not something you can excuse of favouring those who conserve resources, since there isn't anything of that sort to even do or reach. It's just poor design. In theory, it should make victory sweeter, but you don't derive much satisfaction in light of the losses and time wasted over lengthy, slow-moving bouts that only resulted in failed attempts. All that frustration outweighs the one time you were successful.

    Forgotten Legions' presentation serves as the most active demonstration that there was a genuine intention to embolden the universe and all its morsels through the dark vibes that permeate. The biggest evidence of this is the use of decent CG in the creation of short, looping story sequences that portray the ongoing feud with some mystique. Even with that being the case, the game isn't very pleasing in the overall scheme of things. While character designs catch the eye, the modeled representations are less intriguing, with animations on certain enemies appearing either blocky, grainy, or a tad underdeveloped.

    During gameplay, settings are not decorated and don't have much class to them, with moving tiles creating a jagged, screen-tearing effect. The framerate also experiences drastic reductions in quality when waves become as overwhelming as they do. In terms of audio, while one or two tracks decently convey a sense of a castle raid taking place and are accompanied by background sounds such as chapel bells and birds, others are less fitting, with one that seems more appropriate for a basement environment with its monotone, furnace-like sound and dispersed noises. So all in all, while there are some minor strengths, these have been undermined by other loose ends.

When you factor in the length of each gameplay session and the number of chapters available on both sides, the main campaign shouldn't take more than five or six hours to get through. Aside from that and the in-game character encyclopedia, an Endless Mode is also featured, with the option to input generated codes into a web-based leaderboard on Cypronia's website.

    Unless you long to see yourself struggle under unsettling conditions, Forgotten Legions' flaky execution should be an immediate turn-off. Although balance is its foremost issue, its entire model is impacted to a detrimental extent, resulting in a backbone that slouches with continued exposure. The fact is, the game doesn't hold up well when the going gets tough, with players forcibly adopting scatter-brained approaches just to survive. Under that understanding, the game doesn't keep things in check long enough to be considered well-established by any means. It is because of these and other concerns that Forgotten Legions trails significantly behind other games in the genre, and at the end of the day, the dominant frustration surrounding the game's coarse design makes for a near-unlikable offering.

14/30 - Very Poor

Gameplay 4/10 - Control wheel easy to manipulate, haphazard flow and poor balance, unpleasant pacing makes losses aggravating, system design issues
Presentation 5/10 - Grisly universe created through dark vibes, mixed visual and technical execution, quality wanes during battle, framerate upsets
Enjoyment 2/5 - Frustration dominates above satisfaction with increased exposure to flaws, strategy element not well-supported, depth undermined
Extra Content 3/5 - Single-player campaign average in size with two perspectives, moderate length a result of slow-paced sessions, Endless Mode

Equivalent to a score of 47% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Forgotten Legions
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