Black Legend is a dark, immersive Turn-Based Strategy RPG. Master tactical combat and the art of 17th-century alchemy to liberate a doomed city from a bloodthirsty cult inspired by the great alchemist Mephisto.
It’s not often that a local game blindsides me in both existence and release date, but Black Legend managed to do both. When they first announced the title back in September 2020, I hadn’t heard anything about it yet, which was a surprise as I usually find out about upcoming Belgian titles early on. Imagine my increased surprise when I learned that it would already be launching in March 2021.
You start the story as a mercenary, enlisted to save the city from the grasp of a cult that follows the teachings of the dark alchemist Mephisto. Black Legend feels like it takes place close to home, with the city of Grant seemingly inspired by old locations in Belgium and The Netherlands. The entire region is blanketed in a layer of poisonous fog that drives anyone mad if they go too long without an antidote.
You recruit a party of four to venture forth and deal with the cult leaders, monsters and heroes turned evil by the fog. Enemies walk the streets and you can either try to avoid them or face them in turn-based combat on a grid. People who know me might already be aware of my love for grid-based tactical RPGs so I’m invested in this from the get-go!
When you start creating your character or when you recruit new ones on the streets, you’ll notice that they don’t really have a big visual appeal with their grey & brown outfits and bland appearance. I found this to be somewhat of a turn-off because none of my characters had any kind of personality to relate to. Furthermore: they’re also silent.
Luckily the voice-acting of the NPCs that drive the story forward is pretty decent, but don’t expect any glorious cutscenes, you’ll experience most of these with a distant camera, looking at them through the same perspective that is used for the rest of the game.
To avoid having any (bad) lip-syncing they also employed several tricks, like the distance or angle of the camera, the use of helmets on important enemies, or talking to a lot of people through doors.
While the graphics don’t look terrible per se, they do look aged and the over-use of a grey & brown colour scheme don’t do the game any favours. I realize this may simply be time-period related and even the fog that is ever-present has a narrative reason to be there. But let’s just say you’re not going to win over any new players by sharing a random gameplay video of Black Legend.
It may not be a pretty game, but it does ooze a certain charm that grew on me after several hours of playing.
For me, I guess it was mostly the use of local lore that charmed me. For instance, at a certain point, the game puts you up against “Nekkers”, which are a type of dog-like demons that, according to legend, drown their victims by dragging them underwater. I recalled a local legend from Mechelen, the city where my grandmother grew up, telling the sinister tale of “Old Red Eyes”, an even larger-than-usual Nekker that used to stalk the region. And sure enough, that bit of urban folklore made its way into the game as a sidequest!
There’s also a general feeling of uneasiness, with all the gloom & doom around. People are dying from the poisonous fog or they are being hunted by the evil cultists who want to drain their blood. The sounds especially contribute to this, with the odd scream echoing through the streets.
So the setting is fine. Then why don’t I like the overall look & feel?
I think what Black Legend could have really benefited from most, is some extra polish:
- Fix the slow-loading textures whenever you change area
- Introduce a few cutscenes to highlight key story moments
- The Font-size is often too small (typical for games made with PC in mind) – (NOTE: Fixed in a patch)
- Have a better kill-cam when attacking enemies (I always loved how Fire Emblem did this) EDIT: You can turn on the kill-cam to always trigger after each attack, not just killing strikes
But that’s not to say it’s all bad, in fact far from it. The start of the game may be a bit rough, but the longer I kept playing, the more hooked I got. What it lacks in presentation, it more than makes up for in deep tactical combat.
The basic gameplay is what you’d expect: Your characters and the enemies have a turn-order depending on their agility, they move across the grid-based world and then they pick an attack to use. Simple right?
Except it isn’t: your default attacks will not get you very far, and you’ll come to rely a lot on using afflictions and stacking “bodily humours” on enemies.
Typically, these special abilities deal less damage, but they can cause an enemy to become poisoned, to start bleeding or to get one of 4 possible humour-stacks. When you then use a regular attack, you catalyze these to deal extra damage. It’s a pretty fun system, but the game does a terrible job of explaining it with tutorials at the beginning, throwing too many keywords at you and expecting you to remember.
If you’re playing on anything but easy though: you’ll better get familiar with all the ins & outs or you’ll be in for a bad time, especially against the bosses.
The abilities you use are learned through the use of certain weapons. Use the abilities a few times and you’ll get to assign it even if you change to another weapon in the same class. It’s a fun mechanic that I’ve always appreciated ever since the first game I played that used it: Final Fantasy IX.
It’s a great way to motivate players to change their gear every now and then, instead of sticking to their guns. It also has the added benefit of padding the game a bit in an interesting way, because you’ll spend more time in menus, checking out not just the stats but also the abilities and what kind of humour-based attacks you’ll be learning.
Now here’s a shameful confession: At the start of the game, I mistakenly thought that opening treasure chests opened up new classes to use.
As it turns out, it was the new weapons that unlocked the option to change classes and when I started experimenting with these, that’s when the game really opened up to me. And at the same time, equipping them with more outlandish gear or the armour dropped by bosses, finally gave my crew some more visual flair.
I was finally beginning to have some real fun at this point, but it soon dawned on me why this was: 2 of my characters were becoming so powerful that they ploughed through the opponents like ripping a wet paper towel. Apparently, the experience they earn is not shared but instead given by succesfully landing attacks.
When I had two duelists in my squad, I noticed that their increased agility meant that they’d get more turns, defeat more enemies and even had other benefits like counter-attacks or increased chances at critical hits and extra bonus turns. The enemies never stood a chance.
There is no visible level cap (both my rogues quickly grew past the normally expected lvl 99 or 100 limit) but there is a physical attack cap of 999 that they already seemed to have reached at around 2/3rd of the game, while my other two characters lagged behind and rarely got an attack in.
Being this overpowered also had some weird side effects, like the optional sidequests where I had to catalyze specific humour stacks, but the enemies kept dying before I hit them with the required attack. I had to intentionally debuff them with worse gear and put some weaker party members in my squad just to get those objectives.
Ironically, all that effort was in vain. I had to run around finding “Male Mad Mercenaries” for one such sidequest, which took me hours (because I was first killing them too quick) and then when I finally reach all the required steps…
There was no new and shiny armour or weapon in my inventory and the achievement didn’t pop. It seems like this is a bug and I hope it gets fixed by the time Black Legend launches on Xbox, because running around for 5-6 hours and not getting anything in return. It left a pretty sour taste in my mouth.
Speaking of running around…
Black Legend has a pretty linear narrative and it’ll take you through several districts in the city of Grant. At first, I promise you’ll get lost in the streets, but eventually, you’ll start unlocking shortcuts and learn to rely on the street signs (which don’t always point you towards the location, but rather to the next sign, so keep that in mind).
Near the end of the game, you’ll unlock the ability to fast travel through the underground tunnels and combined with your painfully acquired know-how of the lay of the land and the option to avoid some of the combat (enemies only attack when they spot you) there is a certain flow that gets better in the final acts.
During my playthrough, besides the achievements and sidequests not working as they should, there were sadly a few other bugs that I hope get sorted by the time Black Legend launches:
- I got stuck behind a box
- I couldn’t attack an enemy because the camera wouldn’t let me move my cursor on the desired tile
- Characters move across certain boxes and other elevated objects multiple times
- An optional boss didn’t disappear after defeating them (NOTE: fixed by a patch)
- Items being highlighted twice, blocking the view to important descriptions
- A female recruitable character switched to a male voice halfway through her dialog
- I fell through the floor in an alleyway (NOTE: fixed by a patch)
- The New Game + gut stuck in a loop during the character creation (NOTE: fixed by a patch)
Luckily most of these could be resolved easily by reloading a checkpoint and I must say that Black Legend has an incredible save system with frequent auto-saves and the option to save yourself at any time (outside of combat).
I’m going to be honest here and say that I was originally expecting to score Black Legend a bit lower, but the gameplay eventually grew on me and when I finally understood the inner workings of the deep tactical gameplay, I was hooked. In the end, I spent around 20 hours beating the game and all optional sidequests.
While Black Legend may not be the prettiest game to look at and there are still quite a few bugs around, the sinister atmosphere, local folklore and deep tactical gameplay made up for a lot. If you’re a fan of turn-based RPGs, you’ll probably have a great time.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on Xbox Series X. Review code provided by the developer.