Black Legend Review: A Tale Best Left In The Past

There’s a certain type of person that’s going to totally click with Black Legend. I know, because I’m one of them. The problem with Black Legend is that if you’re aren’t in the very narrow band of people that love the 17th century aesthetic, Bloodborne, and low-sim tactics games, you’re simply not going to be willing to put up with all of the frustrating things about Black Legend. If, like me, you really like all three of those things, Black Legend has an interesting way of blending its influences into something that feels fairly original. I desperately want to recommend this game for its innovations, but it has more friction points than the average player will be willing to deal with. If something about Black Legend catches your eye, I wouldn’t discourage you from playing it. But a word of caution: it’s not going to be the smoothest experience.

Black Legend is an alternate history turn-based tactics game in which you control a group of four townspeople on a mission to save the city of Grant from an evil alchemist named Mephisto who has clouded the city in a madness-inducing fog. Your party will need to master an alchemy system based on the old concept of Humorism to defeat groups of enemies in grid-based combat as you make your way back and forth across the city completing quests for the resistance.

While the combat itself isn’t particularly deep, the game finds a tremendous amount of strategic potential in the class customization and Humorism system. Into fairly late in the game, your attacks do very little damage to enemies. However, each attack applies a stack (or two) or a specific Humor. Once an enemy has enough stacks of two different Humors, say red (rubedo) and black (negredo), those stacks can be catalyzed with a special attack that deals massive damage. The strategy, then, comes from creating characters that can apply a wide variety of Humors at different ranges in order to efficiently build stacks on enemies and quickly kill them with combos. It’s an interesting system that helps to spice up an otherwise drab turn-based experience where both you and the enemies are meant to just throw yourselves at each other until one side is completely eliminated. You can mitigate some amount of damage by protecting your back, but otherwise positioning and elevation have really no effect. You can’t even push an enemy or otherwise move them into more favorable positions. Practically all of the strategy in the game comes from the way you build your characters.

The other half of that process is character classes, which Black Legend also puts a unique spin on. Your class is defined by your weapon, while your abilities and armor type are defined by your class. As you use abilities, you will unlock them and make them available to use while specialized in a different class. Each class also has a number of abilities that can be unlocked by using different class-specific weapons. In order to build strong, well-rounded characters, it’s necessary to use a wide variety of weapons and abilities and frequently switch each party member between classes to unlock as much as possible.

I found this system to be flawed in some ways, but ultimately quite engaging. There are 16 different classes each character can be and plenty of overlap and complementary abilities between each one. At first, I intended to make one tank, one ranger, one assassin, and one support, but as I progressed through the game unlocking new weapons and abilities, I found more interesting ways to combine certain skills and more utility by having characters learn certain things that didn’t fit his or her archetype. The downside is that while using certain abilities to unlock them in a character’s primary class, they can be pretty useless on the battlefield. To really lock in the identity of your party members, the game demands a fair amount of grinding. Very few fights are scripted and enemies reset every time you leave an area, so grinding isn’t difficult, but the combat itself isn’t nearly as enjoyable as theorycrafting the builds.

I started making a list of all the irritating things about Black Legend but I gave up at some point when I started enjoying the game. None of these issues are game-breaking (aside from the occasional game-breaking bug that forces a restart), but in a way, they’re actually worse. Most of these problems are menu and navigation issues, which is a big part of the game because you’re constantly changing classes, abilities, and gear for each of your four characters. One of the earliest frustrations presents itself when trying to learn about the classes. A paragraph describing the class and a list of its level scaling is presented in a tiny box as you scroll through the list of classes. The text auto scrolls until it reaches the bottom, then snaps back to the top and scrolls again. Trying to read the class descriptions this way is absolutely maddening, especially when it gets to the bottom and you only have half a second to read and memorize the list until it disappears and you have to wait for it to scroll back down. I found myself reading each entry at least six times before I figured out exactly what the class was.

That’s just one example of a dozen things that feel like decisions made to make me lose my mind. Every time you find a new weapon it will either unlock a new class or new abilities for existing classes. Weapons can usually be used by 2-4 different classes, but when you inspect the weapon in your inventory it doesn’t say which classes it’s for, it just shows the symbols of the classes. Then you have to keep that symbol in mind, select a character, and scroll through the class list until you can figure out which one it is. I have a scratch pad with all of the class names and symbols drawn next to them. That absolutely should not be necessary.

Black Legend feels and looks like it could be at least ten years older than it is. The environments are all nearly identical, almost every attack has the same animation no matter how it’s actually described in the tooltip, the only tutorial is a 15-page menu you read at the start, and there’s an entire adrenaline system that I’m pretty sure is never explained anywhere. To say the game is unpolished would be generous, but I can’t lie, I really liked it. It apes Bloodborne’s atmosphere all the way down to NPCs you can talk to by knocking on doors that have a light on, and I have to admit I’m a total sucker for it. I loved coming up with ways to build a well-rounded party, even if it felt like I could probably breeze through combat without trying nearly as hard as I did. I’m the same guy that put 40 hours into Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics and loved every second of it, and I know I’m not the only one. If you’ve got the same passion for old-school tactics games, and I mean that in every sense of the word, Black Legend is just as infectious as the classics. It’s not for everyone, but the things it does well, it does really well.

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Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.

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