Reviewed: April 9, 2005
Released: March 23, 2005
Racing, sports, action, platform, the PSP has it all. Oops, did I forget RPG? How could I overlook Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, the single best-selling PSP title to date. Just ask the disappointed gamers who didn’t get their copy on launch day and had to wait a week or more for restock.
Coming to us from venerable online-RPG designer, Sony Online Entertainment, better known as “the EverQuest people”, Untold Legends guarantees that the PSP has all genres covered by delivering a solid RPG title with all the dungeon crawling action of Diablo combined with a cooperative party adventure mode that will have you seeking out friends and even strangers with a PSP and a copy of this game.
When you think of handheld gaming you generally don’t think of games that could take days and even months to complete. With more than 100 levels, 40 quests, 110 monster types, and thousands of items to collect, Untold Legends could be described as ambitious on whatever system it released for, but on the PSP, the only word that comes to mind is “epic”.
Untold Legends starts off just like you would expect, with character selection and the assignment of attribute points. You have four possible character classes to choose from and each influences the gameplay so dramatically that you’ll likely end up playing the game four times just to experience them all.
The Knight is your traditional fighter class with a library of special moves and combos plus the ability to dual-wield weapons. The Alchemist uses magic that borders on science while the Druid conjures up a more naturalistic magic including the ability to summon monsters to join the fight. The final class is the Berserker, basically a fighter who forgot to take his medication. I was mildly disappointed there was no stealth-type character like a thief, rogue, or assassin.
In essence you really only have two types of characters, fighters and magic users, but each class offers enough subtle nuances and diverse spell lists that you will want to experience them all, even if it’s just witnessing them in action in multiplayer adventures.
The customization process for your character is admittedly quite limited by modern day RPG standards, but considering the only time you really see your character in any real detail is in the character sheet, who really cares. The top-down isometric view during gameplay keeps things simple so why sweat the details?
Once you set forth into the game world you will revel in the finely tuned controls. This is one of the few games where the analog pad actually worked well. The rest of the controls are so intuitive you will master them before you level up for the first time. Every button on the PSP has a primary function and when you hold down the R trigger each gets a shifted function, effectively doubling your input with a squeeze of your index finger.
As you explore enchanting outdoor environments and threatening indoor dungeons you will inevitably encounter hordes of nasty creatures, hopefully not all at once. The game typically tosses one or two creatures at you and continually tweaks the threat level according you’re your current status. That way the game remains challenging while offering enough experience opportunity to increase your level. It also discourages you from leveling up in easier areas because the tougher areas will only be that much tougher when you return.
Thankfully, the A.I. often allows for a hasty retreat and monsters will give up pursuit if you put enough distance between you and them. Of course you always run the risk of running into something worse or perhaps in greater numbers. By its very design the game encourages you to maintain a slow and cautious pace. If you rampage through a dungeon swinging your sword and yelling “banzai” you will quickly become a stain on the floor.
Analyzing the enemy, picking your weapon, melee or range, or perhaps using magic or special items is all a part of the varied and intricately detailed gameplay that Untold Legends offers. Most monsters will come right at you and things often turn into a clash of weapons until somebody (hopefully you) emerge victorious. Other enemies can be smarter and will even flee and reinforce their numbers before returning. Bosses and sub-bosses often have unique fighting styles or techniques you will have learn before you can defeat them.
Perhaps the best feature of Untold Legends is its multiplayer component that allows anyone to join in the game at anytime. This is both a blessing and a curse. Rookie adventurers will be playing in a world that is tweaked to the highest level in the party, which means you will often be fighting monsters way out of your league. Of course, if you can manage to hang back and live long enough you can earn loads of XP just by being part of the group. You don’t even need to actively fight.
One nice element of multiplayer is the ability to trade weapons, so if you are sitting on a stash of weapons and a newbie joins the group you can probably unload some of your excess baggage to a most appreciative player.
Multiplayer offers a real sense of group achievement despite the fact the game doesn’t really reconfigure itself for multiplayer. There are no multiplayer puzzles or anything that requires extra party members. It’s just the joy of having somebody along who can complement the party with their own unique skills.
Multiplayer works extremely well on the PSP since everyone has their own screen and is free to move about the level on their own. It’s not nearly as restrictive as other four-player games like Gauntlet where you can’t open a chest until Player #2 moves two-inches to the left. Of course this leave the burden of maintaining party order and working as a team to everyone involved since the game isn’t going to force it on you.
Level design is simple yet elegant. Everything is built from standard square building blocks so on the surface everything might be blocky in construction, but the textures and detailing are intricate enough that it gives the illusion of something more complex. The outdoor levels are a bit more freeform in their design. I was continuously reminded of games like Dungeon Siege and even Diable, both visually and even in gameplay to some extent.
The character models are nicely designed and well animated and the 100+ monsters are all creative and original, some are quite terrifying, even on a 5” screen. Once combat begins you will relish the amazing fight animations, fanciful spellcasting effects complete with lighting and shadows.
There is a lot of great artwork used to wallpaper the lengthy text scrolls for backstory and load screens. The character sheet is nicely organized and items are all represented with large and detailed images.
I’m subtracting several sound points and sending SOE my therapy bill for subjecting me to the torture called the soundtrack in Untold Legends. Honestly, the last five shareware games I have played have all had better quality music and more of it than this game. Think of a John Carpenter soundtrack where he is plinking away at the piano (or in this case a midi keyboard) and gets a few bars down, locks them in and repeats them for 20 hours. Ahhhhhhh!
Nuke the music in favor of the sound effects, which are much more refined and downright haunting. The monsters all have unique sounds and the environments emit their own audible effects. Combat and magical attacks all have their specific sounds that come through crystal clear.
There is no speech during encounters so you get to read everything in the game. Perhaps this is to be expected on the limited resources of a handheld system, but it falls short of what we’ve come to expect from SOE, especially after EQ2 where everyone talks. At least narrate the opening for me.
Expect a good 20 hours of adventure gaming on your first pass through Untold Legends and you’ll eventually play as the other characters with those games lasting 12-15 hours each. And then you have the wonderful multiplayer component.
Oddly enough, SOE didn’t provide for actual online play, but then again, this is a cooperative game and you pretty much have to have everyone in the same room within talking distance for any type of coordinated effort.
Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade succeeds on just as many levels as it fails. It offers stunning visuals contrasted by simplistic design. It offers rich and powerful sound effects while practically demanding you turn the music off. It encourages multiplayer adventures by making it extremely easy and fun to hook-up, but doesn’t reward your efforts by tweaking the gameplay or rewards for the extra members.
But just how demanding can we be for an RPG on a handheld game system, even one as powerful as the PSP. There are very few portable RPG’s out there and none of them come close to this one. While your best RPG experience will always be on the PC, if you want to play a great looking action-RPG with more than a hundred frightening creatures and dazzling special effects, and do it anywhere, anytime, all in the palm of your hand, Untold Legends will deliver untold adventure and limitless fun.