RPG developers have long struggled over how to make a turn-based battle system that excites on a visceral level. If nothing else, Fallen Legion: Rise to Glory suggests one possible solution to such a conundrum. This side-scrolling role-playing game features a competently written narrative as well as light choose-your-own-adventure elements, but at the heart of it lies a pacy timing-based combat system. It's not exactly an action-RPG in the traditional sense, but Fallen Legion's fights are way more kinetic than your average Final Fantasy wannabe.
At the outset of the game you pick from one of two generals, Princess Cecille or Legatus Laendur, who are vying for the recently vacated throne in the fantasy land of Fenumia. Both protagonists control the battlefield from the back, summoning up to three ghostly champions (known as 'Exemplars') to do their dirty work. Each of these spectral warriors has their own attacking and defensive qualities, and you'll want the toughest to stand at the front to bear the brunt of enemy attacks.
Your minions can be instructed to go on the offensive by pressing the button assigned to them - 'Y', 'B' or 'A' - and sequential attacks can be programmed in by queuing them up in a combo bar. Such combos can be interrupted by any enemy attacks, but these can in turn be blocked with a timed press of 'L'. Special attacks also come into play in various situations, such as when coming straight off a perfectly executed block, or by pressing 'ZR' in conjunction with an attack button when an Exemplar has all three of their attack points available.
If you started to zone out in that last paragraph, or have completely lost the thread of our explanation, don't worry. We had exactly the same reaction while playing the game. Fallen Legion: Rise to Glory is pretty terrible at teaching you the nuances of its systems. Indeed, we spent the first hour or so of our time with the game simply button mashing, which seemed to do the trick.
Soon, though, you'll start to come up against tougher enemies that necessitate a deeper understanding of the combat system. At this point, we're not ashamed to admit that we went online to read up on the ins and outs of the system. Fortunately, as Fallen Legion: Rise to Glory's two campaigns were released as separate games on other platforms around a year ago, we weren't left hanging. But it doesn't speak well to the game's design.
Once you start to grow accustomed to the game's idiosyncratic rhythms - and it does almost feel like a rhythm-action game at times - it's rather satisfying to play. That said, the combat does grow rather repetitive after a time. A large part of that is down to the lack of other things to do. In traditional RPGs you'll have exploration and traversal sections to break up the combat, but here there's nothing of the sort. You pick your next destination from the map, watch a sparse story section comprised of two static drawings and a bunch of a text (with a little accompanying voice acting if you're lucky), and then set off into the combat-filled missions.
The story itself is a little jumbled and tough to pick up on regardless of which criss-crossing campaign you choose to tackle first. It wasn't until we left off the first campaign for a taste of the second part way through our playthrough that we really started to grasp what was happening in the early stages of the game. Still, the dialogue is well written and high on political intrigue, and it doesn't treat the player like an idiot. There's a somewhat cynical, unflinching tone to the writing, and it's not afraid to have its 'heroes' commit questionable acts. Indeed, many of these morally grey situations are presented to you while you're running between battles, and it's up to you to choose from one of three responses.
You may deal with a mutinous citizen by pardoning, interrogating, or executing them, for example, and the outcome of your choice will feed into the overall morale of your people. That's the idea, anyway. In practice, you'll pay more attention to the type of combat bonus each choice will confer on your party. Ultimately, it's always about the combat in Fallen Legion: Rise to Glory - for better and for worse.
Fallen Legion: Rise to Glory is an action-RPG with a snappy, timing-based combat system and well-written dialogue. However, it's a little messy and repetitive in both gameplay and narrative terms, and the game could do a lot more to explain itself.