Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Release Date: March 22, 2005
Untold Legends is a well-intentioned but ultimately dull game that tries to bring the gameplay of the Champions series to the PSP. It’s certainly a good idea for the system’s first RPG, something that’s easy to pick up and full of randomly generated maps and items that will be different each time you play. Unfortunately, a lot of what makes Champions fun didn’t translate well to the PSP in this outing, so the result is a somewhat shallow, sparse gameplay experience.
Untold Legends gestures a bit more aggressively at storytelling than the other games made in the Champions mold, trying to spin a backstory about how a ritual ruler and a ritual bodyguard in the city of Aven suddenly have to play their roles for real. Unfortunately, the story tries just hard enough to make it very obvious that the plot is really just a long series of fetch quests, loosely strung together with brief snippets of dialogue. You’re locked into this basic storyline, and you can’t make even the simplest decisions to alter how the plot develops. The storyline and dialogue is also always the same, no matter what character class you’re playing.
Character creation in Untold Legends follows the Champions mold to the letter, although you don’t have quite as many creation options. You can pick from four character classes, the Knight, Druid, Berserker, and Alchemist. Each model can be nominally customized in a few different ways, although you can’t select what gender your character will have. The Knight and Druid are always male, and the Berserker and Alchemist are always female. Despite the fancy names, each class basically boils down to a time-honored hack n’ slash archetype, and there is little to make playing them feel unique or interesting. This isn’t exactly bad, but it’s very disappointing to realize your Wildling Berserker is really just an EverQuest Barbarian in a funny hat, and that your Alchemist is really just a wizard who gets to wear a wide array of funny hats.
What helps make hack n’ slash an addictive genre in character customization, getting to settle on the build for your character type and scrounging around for different types of weapons. Untold Legends is unfortunately a poorly balanced iteration of the genre, and this detracts massively from the fun of customization. The only real difference between most of the weapon types is their speed and whether or not you can wield a shield with them, and although a wide variety of skills are available to each character class, most of them will not be useful. The way you win in Untold Legends is to rely on melee damage, and only spend on skills that improve your ability to do lots of melee damage without dying. Projectile weapons can be useful in dealing with bosses, or if you happen to get a good bead on a slow-moving enemy, but otherwise you just want to beat the crap out of everything with your weapon of choice. In general, there is a disconcerting feeling of sameness to the gameplay in Untold Legends no matter what you do to your character build, and this makes the gameplay feel more shallow and repetitious.
The interface for Untold Legends lacks the intuitive controls and polish of Champions and its predecessors. A lot of is probably due to making the adjustment to the PSP, whose interface could not be less like the classic Sony Dualshock controller. You have to use the analog nub to move, which is somewhat awkward during long play sessions, while the D-Pad is used to select and assign special abilities to the triangle and circle buttons. The cross button is your default melee attack, and the square button is used for entering locations and picking up item. Using health potions is keyed to the left trigger button, and power potions require holding down the right trigger button while tapping the left trigger button. Many other abilities are keyed to holding down the right trigger button while hitting another one: combine with the circle button to block, with the cross to cycle between your melee and ranged weapon, the square button to cycle through sizes for the mini-map, and the triangle button to center the camera. The abilities that rely on holding down the right trigger button in combination with another are generally very awkward to try and use in the heat of combat, and the entire scheme lacks the intuitive simplicity that helped make Champions so enjoyable.
Much of Untold Legends, like Champions, is geared for multiplayer action. To Untold Legends’ credit, it gives you far more in the way of options. You can use characters created for solo games to join in multiplayer action, and vice versa, which also allows for loot sharing among players. Unfortunately, most players who pick up a copy of Untold Legends will never get to experience the multiplayer unless they happen to have two or three friends who picked up PSPs and play frequently. Sony did not include online multiplayer support for the title, and while you can use tunneling programs like Xlink Kai and XBC to get online, this effectively tethers you to a PC or laptop that has to run the software. Most players who pick up this game will probably have no choice but to go through the game solo, which is a pale experience.
The 3D graphics for Untold Legends are impressive from a purely technical standpoint. The randomly-generating dungeons each have tons of visual details incorporated into their designs, with branching trees for forest areas and lots of statuary in underground areas. Even the character and enemy sprites are reasonably well-detailed, given the limitations of the PSP’s low-resolution screen. Unfortunately, all of this detail often results in on-screen objects and characters being very small, and difficult to make out against the background. In particular, treasure chests and breakable items are often lost behind environmental objects like tree branches or stone arches. In this respect the graphics often make the game maps very difficult to navigate through, and pretty graphics that fail the test of gameplay… well, simply fail. The sounds for the game are extremely limited, mostly grunts for your character and enemy actions. There are atmospheric effects, but they’re incredibly unconvincing things like a ‘burning’ sound that actually seems to be the sound of paper crinkling. The selection of background music is so painfully narrow and completely forgettable that you’ll probably find yourself quickly looking for ways to turn it off.
If anything, Untold Legends is a textbook case in how designing a game for portable play requires a completely different set of priorities than designing a good console game does. Had more thought been put into making the multiplayer options more feasible, the interface more intuitive, and the graphics clearer, then it could’ve been a really nice first RPG for the PSP. Unfortunately, the entire game gives the impression of having been hastily constructed along the most basic lines of the hack n’ slash formula in order to be ready to go for the system launch. As a result, Untold Legends fails even as a mindless time-waster while on the go; the load times are much too long for a session to take less than at least 20 or 30 minutes. If the game’s technical issues could be addressed in a future sequel, I could see that really capturing the PSP’s potential as a portable gaming system. As it is, Untold Legends is mostly just a bitter disappointment.
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