Retro throwbacks are all the rage these days, though they tend to be some sort of first-person shooter or side-scroller paying tribute to games of old. Legends of Amberland, however, is an RPG that emulates ancient titles like Dungeon Master and the Might & Magic series in a faithful and respectful way. For what it is, it’s a solid title, and proves itself approachable for players unaccustomed to the sort.
Your merry band of adventurers must set off to track down the origins of a mysterious crown, said to have belonged to the royal family for centuries. No one seems to know of its existence at first, but it’s quickly revealed that this was due to a powerful amnesia spell that has affected the king and queen. Spooky, eh? Other than these small details, the story-telling aspects of the game take a backseat, so there’s no unnecessarily lengthy dialogue boxes or boring cutscenes to ponder at. And thank goodness for it.
The visuals and music are pretty on-point, in its attempt to replicate the classics that inspired it. Not only is the game vibrant and colourful, but it’s also greeted by a pleasant soundtrack made up of some luscious and dreamy tunes. Neither that or the sound effects are made up of compressed chiptune bleeps, so it’s easy on the ears, at least. Even better, the Switch port is pitch-perfect, running at a smooth rate with almost-nonexistent loading times.
Once you start the game, you’ll have to create your party of adventurers. The amount of customization on offer is very generous, almost to the point of being a tad overwhelming if you’re not familiar with these kinds of games. You can pick from various classes that favour combat, magic and healing, and have a once-per-day special attack. They all affect your stats in some way or another, not to mention how many hit points and the like you’ll get as you level up so many times. After that, you’ll be able to determine their races, which’ll offer even more bonuses or hindrances.
Sounds like a lot, huh? And rightly so, as your band of warriors and spell-slingers are gonna be with you throughout the game, naturally, so there’s no backsies. Still, if all of this is too much of a faff, there’s a random generator that’ll pick out the classes for you. Don’t worry, as it won’t randomly generate six wizards to go with your sole dwarf. It’ll pick out at least one character per class and race, so you’ll be a jack-of-all-trades from the get-go.
Whether you’re exploring the brightly-coloured and fairly sizable overworld, or just plundering caves and castles for loot, you’ll move one square at a time, much like your enemies. Boats can help you traverse through lakes, and eventually you can call for a griffin for your fast-travel needs. Otherwise, exploring isn’t a pain as the map isn’t too bloated. Most of the areas you can explore, while a bit lengthy and often symmetrical in design, are easy enough to traverse through without getting lost. There aren’t any towns to explore in detail, which may disappoint some, but in a title like this, it’d just feel like fodder.
There are plenty of side-quests to work on as you make your way through the game. It’s not one of those RPG-titles where you get multiple choices for doing things, or have to sweet-talk people with pages of dialogue, though this is a good thing – it helps prevent it from being too complicated. Most of the time, it’s as straight-forward as acquiring items and killing a number of enemy types, but the rewards and loot (which are worth keeping, since most of it sells like trash at the merchants’ shops) are all worth it.
Combat is turn-based, and won’t take you long to get the hang of it. Everyone will take turns putting the random number generator to the test with normal attacks and spells. The special moves – often being hard-hitting attacks or team buffs – can be used as well. Having to decide between going on the offense or supporting your allies – who may end up getting poisoned or affected by any other negative effects – does require a bit of tactical thinking. Good thing most of these battles don’t usually take too long.
As you move around tile-by-tile, enemies will start to approach you. If they get up-close, then combat will be initiated with them. Some of their friends can join in mid-battle if there’s enough space on-screen. This means you’ll usually have enough opportunities to spot which enemy you’ll want to take on next, though you won’t know how tough they are until you see their health bar and whether or not they utterly decimate your crew after a few attacks.
Character progression goes at a nominal pace, and it’s very rewarding when you’re able to revisit an area to take on the toughies in a fairer fight. In fact, combat in general feels like a rewarding, and challenging, experience. Although, the fact that levelling up and earning more skill points requires you to backtrack to a trainer (same goes for reviving allies, or purging them of negative effects) is a bit of a faff, much like needing to enter a location to see if it’s been cleared of enemies and important items or not.
Legends of Amberland is a bloomin’ good retro-chique title. It’s fairly easy to get into, and the fact that it avoids overcomplicating most of its gameplay mechanics – those being movement, combat and resource management – is a godsend. Progressing through the game is gratifying enough to excuse the incessant backtracking you’ll end up doing most of the time. The whole thing is a memorable and gladdening homage to classic Western RPGs from the olden days of PC gaming.
Review code supplied by Pineapple Works.