Untold Legends Review
Games like this are always a means to an end. There's an underlying story, of course, complete with hokey writing and characters that send you on missions to keep you moving back and forth throughout the game's 70+ dungeons, but none of that stuff is really the point. Untold Legends, like most hack-and-slash games, is all about character development, pure and simple. That's where the payoff comes from. You start out by picking a character class (alchemist, druid, knight, or berzerker) and specifying traits such as skin tone and hair color. Every subsequent battle nets you new weapons, clothing, and armor to dress them up with, along with experience points that accumulate to give your character regular level boosts. In turn, these level boosts provide you with points that can be used to enhance your character's attributes (strength, intelligence, dexterity, and stamina) and to teach them new spells or upgrade existing ones. There are even items in the game that you can attach to weapons in order to give them traits like fire, ice, lightning, and wind. When all is said and done, the payoff from wandering dungeons and slaying trolls for many hours is a uniquely original character that you've put together from your own sweat and tears--with its own unique look, its own unique set of skills and attributes, and a unique assortment of clothes and weapons.
Combat is easy and fun, but also very repetitive. The controls are laid out so that melee attacks, special attacks, and potion use can be done at the touch of a button. You'll only have one or two special attacks or spells at your disposal in the early going, but by the time your character is at level 20 you'll be able to manage a half-dozen. Tank-like characters, such as the knight and berzerker, eventually specialize in melee combat, whereas magic users, like the alchemist and druid, ultimately go on to learn spells that can wallop an entire group of monsters. Admittedly, the fighting system itself involves a great deal of button-mashing. Most of the time, cookie-cutter enemies (such as spiders, skeletons, and dragons) will run up in pairs or in groups and you'll end up trading blows, by rapidly tapping the X button, until the room is clear. Occasionally, you'll have to use a potion on the fly, or an enemy will hit you with a freeze or curse attack, so there is at least a little sticking-and-moving going on. Bosses up the ante in terms of sheer power, but the enemy A.I. is by and large aggressive and unintelligent. Once in a blue moon, a skeleton will block an attack or a sorceress will drop back to avoid your melee hits... although the overwhelming majority of enemies will simply run up next to you and attack directly.
Personally, the repetitive combat and level designs didn't annoy me all that much, because the game gives the player a lot of choice over where to go, when to tackle missions, how much time to spend in dungeons, and so forth. Untold Legends is high on flexibility. You don't have to tackle the missions people give you in any particular order and you can return to "old" dungeons anytime you want in order to gain more experience or to simply stockpile more loot. Moving between all of the various regions and dungeons is easy too, thanks to teleport pads located in each "overworld" area that allow you to go to another region at the touch of a button. Getting back to the central town of Aven is easy. You can just pause and select "return to Aven," provided you're not currently engaged in a boss battle. The character interface deserves props for allowing players to create and manage as many characters as they want, limited only by the free space left on the memory stick. Also, you can re-start the story from the beginning at any time whilst keeping your character's levels and loot intact. The game automatically kicks enemies up to the appropriate experience level. Taken together, all of these simple niceties give Untold Legends the kind of "pick up and play" flexibility that a good portable game should have (and that most don't).
On the graphical tip, I'd go so far as to say that Untold Legends looks just as good as any of the hack-and-slash games available on the PlayStation 2, despite the unoriginal medieval art style and a few other typical-for-the-genre nitpicks. Like every other game in the genre, Untold Legends uses a third-person top-down viewpoint to show the action, so you'll see your character, the enemies, and the surrounding environments from a vantage point located directly above your character. The environments are large and nicely detailed. The town of Aven, in particular, looks like a photograph of taken at a renaissance fair. You'll notice all kinds of decorative hills, caves, streams, and chasms while traveling around the outlying areas. Gratuitous weather effects, such as heavy rain and snow, are also put to good use in spots. You'll probably gag in horror when you come across the one or two environments that the developers chose to color in with goo-like shades of gray, green, and black, but overall the game leans toward what most would call lush and realistic. The characters, too, are crisp and detailed. If you zoom-in the camera, you'll notice fine muscle lines and intricate designs on their weapons that aren't possible to see in the normal zoomed-out view. It's also pretty sweet that your character's appearance changes depending on what clothing and weapons you have equipped. Many enemies are of the generic spider, skeleton, and knight variety, although there are a few large and unique beasties in here as well--the giant tree-monsters and armored rhinoceroses in the badlands, just to name a couple. The spell effects are decent and put forth the necessary sparks and smoke trails, although they're tough to be impressed by thanks to the PSP's small screen. In general, there are loads of different environments and dozens of different enemies. The animation is also fairly smooth and everything comes together in that medieval sort of way that good games in the genre tend to. As is true with gameplay, repetition is the main concern here. Once you've seen the same enemies, the same animations, and the same architecture in the umpteenth room of a dungeon, the thrills do tend to turn into tedium. Picky people also won't like the amount of ghosting (a.k.a. motion blur) that occurs while moving around. You get used to it after a while, but it's pretty prevalent.
As for the audio, it's definitely a matter of taste. The soundtrack is about what you'd expect from a game like this. Some will call it renaissance and orchestral. Others would say the soundtrack is stereotypical and unoriginal. Every region and dungeon has its own unique background music, and some of the tracks are pretty weighty, but you've definitely heard tracks like these before in every generic King Arthur movie and hack-and-slash game under the sun. Similarly, the sound effects get the job done, but aren't anything to write home about. There are lots of them at least, ranging from the typical sword clanks and groans that every hack-and-slash needs, to a healthy selection of death cries and boom-booms that give this particular game a little dose of zip.
On the whole, it takes approximately 20 hours to finish the single-player quest, and you can tack another 10 or more hours onto that if you intend to "max out" a character or hunt down a nice matching set of armor and weapons. Beyond that, how much replay value you get out of Untold Legends depends on how much you enjoy leveling characters and whether or not you intend to pursue multiple character classes. There's also a multiplayer mode to dive into, and it's really the best way to squeeze the most bang for your buck out of the game. Connections are limited to local (ad hoc) only, so there's no online play to speak of, but as many as four people can participate. The multiplayer mode uses the same map and dungeons from the single-player mode, which means you have the option of just clearing out dungeons or of walking through the whole story with your friends. Multiplayer games are great fun thanks to the camaraderie involved in tag-teaming monsters and sharing loot with your friends.
Everything you've heard about Untold Legends is true. It's a solid hack-and-slash, but it doesn't really break any new ground. It's also very repetitive. And yet, for the right kind of person, it can turn out to be extremely addictive. Definitely give it a chance, especially if you're not worn out on the genre or happen to know someone willing to buy the game and link-up for multiplayer games with you.
6/7/2005 Frank Provo