Review: Re: Legend
Look, it’s been six years. We don’t need to beat around the bush or hedge any longer. Stardew Valley was a phenomenal game that had an enormous cultural impact on gaming and the indie scene in general.
You might be about to point out that this is not the game I am reviewing today, and you would be right. But just like Dark Souls and Final Fantasy VII and Super Mario Bros. started trends of games trying hard to appeal to audiences captivated by those initial titles, Stardew Valley is a game that has seen no small number of imitators over the years. Nor is this even a problem; while that game was (and is) an excellent title, it has been six years and there’s plenty of space to make a game that capitalizes on what made that title work while improving it even further.
Re: Legend very clearly wants to fall into the same category and appeal to the same kind of audience, and it’s out now on everything from PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch to the PC via good old standby Steam (the version reviewed here). Unfortunately, the proof of these games is all in the pudding, and Re: Legend has an entire subgenre to swim upstream against. And not every game does well when compared to all of its inspirations.
You start the story of Re: Legend by getting shoved off a cliff. Like, immediately. Finish up with the starkly limited character creation and then you are immediately being pushed off a cliff by an unknown entity and waking up on a shore with no memory of who you are or what you were doing before, picked up by Papa Pia, the local fishing penguin-man.
It pains me to have anything less than absolutely overflowing praise for any game where the story starts by introducing a fisher penguin-man.
With no memory of anything beyond your name, the mayor of the seaside village decides to just give you the local abandoned farm, since no one else is using it. As you might expect from many lesser JRPG-style games, what results almost immediately is the town basically handing every problem off to the player character for no discernable reason whatsoever, mostly because you’re there and this stuff needs to get done. Two local groups of monsters are fighting? Let’s send out the local amnesiac who’s been here three days and for all we know has no one’s best interests at heart to take care of the problem! That seems like a smart idea.
I suppose I probably shouldn’t be too harsh on the game in this regard, but it does cause a pretty notable problem wherein you don’t feel like you’re coming into a town full of distinct people with their own lives. Everyone is just waiting for you to do things; if you leave things alone, nothing happens and no forward motion takes place. It’s trying to be a story-driven game in a genre where you are in no small part driven by intrinsic motivation rather than external forces, and that threw me out of the game almost immediately.
It’s perhaps a minor quibble, but it feels like a harbinger of… well, bigger problems. Let’s move on.
One of the things that happens frequently in games that are aping the style of another well-known entry in a small subgenre is that you wind up with games that feel like “inspiration but more.” This is certainly the case for Re: Legend. It has farming! It has fishing! It has logging and mining and combat! It has monster taming! Fish racing! More involved crafting! Bigger minigames! Leveling up! More stuff to do! Aren’t you excited yet?
Unfortunately, the answer is “no,” because most of these systems are… annoying at best, downright tedious at worse. Again, I hate to use a six-year-old pixel art game as the point of comparison, but the fact of the matter is that Re: Legend very clearly wants to ape the style of Stardew Valley. But it does so with a clunky interface and not a whole lot of additional interesting stuff.
An obvious example to focus on is combat, both because the game’s JRPG leanings could be well-served by a good action combat system and because it’s an obvious place to provide a different experience. Unfortunately, combat actually winds up being an unclear morass of clicking and hoping, saddled with a not-terribly-intuitive dodge mechanic meant to get you out of the way of enemy attacks that seems to have an unpredictable lag ahead or behind of each motion. When you level up your combat skill enough you get access to charged abilities, but the combat doesn’t make a good first impression and doesn’t make you eager to learn more.
Fortunately, you can largely clock out by taming one of the Magnus creatures roaming around in the wilderness. Unfortunately, that system relies on one of the game’s minigames, which are confusingly explained in text boxes that do a poor job of outlining what you’re actually supposed to do. They’re also… well… not fun. Crafting requires you to successfully stop a moving bar along four distinct nodes along the way before time runs out, but it’s not clear if there’s an order or how fast the bar is going to move. It feels like you have more steps to crafting, but it does nothing to make crafting itself feel more engaging.
Once you do capture a Magnus, you can bring it along with you to fight things and use it as a mount. This element of the game is reasonably in-depth and functional, but it’s poorly explained and kind of relies on player guidance to make sense of it. And since so much is flung right at the player from the start, it’s hard to really fit into any clear picture of what you’re supposed to be doing and how you need to handle your pets.
The game is full of weird edge cases where controls don’t work the way that they’re supposed to, or you’re told that you can do something that the game doesn’t appear to actually let you do, like how the tutorial box says “you can pet your Magnus with this key” but it does not appear to actually work. Rather than watering a tile, for example, your watering can just starts pouring and you have to move around while it keeps pouring with no real ability to stop it until you run out of water. It’s counterintuitive and pulls you out of the game, and it requires you trying things a few times before you know what you’re doing.
It’s not that every system is broken, it’s just not well-explained, gets thrown at you too quick, and ultimately just feels bloated. I think there’s actually the core of an okay action RPG with monster taming in here, but that makes the crafting and farming feel like afterthoughts. That’s probably not what the designers were going for.
Now it’s time to grouse about graphics. It’s not that Re: Legend looks bad, exactly; it’s got a very distinct cutesy aesthetic, but that’s consistent and well-modeled and works. Nor is it a mismatch of tone with graphical style, for the most part (although it’s very hard to feel menaced by supposedly rampaging monsters given the look). No, the problem is more… interface-related.
See, as near as I can figure, there’s no way to rotate the camera angle. I tried for a while and couldn’t manage it. That means you’re locked into a specific perspective for every single map, which is not good and tends to obscure things. And this would be sort of acceptable if the environment was highly interactive or something, but many of the perspectives chosen make navigating more of a chore.
This is not helped by the fact that the world is hyper-segmented into tiny little areas, which connect in ways that aren’t always clear. You have a map, but the larger map only shows you a drawing of the area, not which sub-zones actually intersect with other sub-zones. And crossing any zone line – literally any one of them – results in a two-to-three second loading screen before the next (tiny) area starts loading. You might think that two-to-three seconds doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t, but when every single objective involves you navigating between at least four or five tiny areas just to get to where you think you’re supposed to go?
And your base walk speed, unless you want to constantly burn stamina, is a very gradual mosey from place to place?
And then finding that the area where you wound up doesn’t even connect to the area you want to go to?
It all adds up. Just like how the game’s tutorials constantly tell you things like “craft this item now” but doesn’t tell you “we actually put the materials you’ll need into this unmarked box next to your character instead of in your inventory, so you need to manually pick those up and then start the crafting process.” It’s not one single horrible problem, it’s a cavalcade of things that make stuff just a little more annoying, tutorials a little slower and less useful, until you just want to go play something else.
The sad reality is that I walked away from Re: Legend more annoyed than anything. It’s not that the game is utterly dire or constantly buggy in my experience, but it was definitely filled with strange quality-of-life improvements that seem to have been never implemented, slow travel and load time, strange edge cases, and the ultimate feeling that this offered nothing more than a six-year-old pixel art game beyond volume. It didn’t make me want to play more of it, it made me want to go play other games that tried for a similar formula and executed it more deftly.
If you’re desperate for another farming life sim and have nothing else to play, or you really like the art style so much that you’re willing to overlook a relatively lackluster play experience, then you’ll get something worthwhile out of the game. I sure hope you do. But for the average player, I just can’t find much to recommend it over a lot of other games. Re: Legend falls far short of being a legendary experience.
Review copy provided by 505 Games for PC. Screenshots courtesy of reviewer and 505 Games.