Illusion of L’Phalcia is the latest game to arrive on Xbox One from KEMCO, yet again delivering a retro styled, turn based RPG from a long line of retro styled, turn based RPGs. First seeing the light of day on mobile way back in 2014, have the intervening five years been kind, or should this game have stayed back in the past?
The story of Illusion of L’Phalcia is your usual mix of RPG tropes mixed with the utterly bonkers, and sees a rag tag band of heroes who don’t get on, and who may be hiding secrets, unite to try and find the Sword of Amal. The Sword of Amal is a legendary weapon said to be able to grant any wish of its wielder, and as such a lot debate goes on as to who has a proper wish and so on.
And just to add that little bit of spice, one of the trusty band is a talking leopard called Cougar. And when I say talking, I mean it. This is the first KEMCO game I’ve played where there has been any kind of voice acting. It isn’t all the dialogue, and what there is is in Japanese, but it’s pretty cool to hear the characters talking to each other. The switch between spoken dialogue and text based often takes place halfway through a cutscene, which can be a little jarring, but you soon get used to it.
So, the standard bits of a KEMCO game are all here. A misunderstood hero, a feisty female, a possible bad guy, a talking cat, and so on. The graphics are very much out of the big book of leftover KEMCO bits as well, being the standard kind of anime cliches we’ve come to expect. Just to drive home how similar these games look to each other, the wife asked me why I was still playing Illusion of L’Phalcia. When I explained it was a new game I’d just started, she said that it looked identical to the previous one, and even the music sounds the same. And to be fair, the battle music sounds a lot like that from the last KEMCO game I reviewed, and the one before, and so on ad infinitum…
There are, thankfully, some subtle differences; the battle scenes come with a kind of pseudo 3D effect isometric viewpoint, there are Phantom Skills to unlock and utilise, and there is actually a cool magic system to play with. You see, in this game, the type of magic you can use is controlled by runes, and each rune has a different shape. These shapes come into play when the characters try to equip them, as they have a grid of a set number of squares into which to place the runes. Think of the inventory system from Resident Evil 4 and you’ll be in the right ball park. As the characters level up, more squares become unlocked, allowing you to rejig the runes each character has. Should you build a magic based character, a melee build or try to steer a middle course? There are lots of permutations to play with, and all in all the system not only works, but is fun to use.
Gameplay wise, L’Phalcia has gone back to the old skool, eschewing the recent trend for KEMCO games to be almost playable on autopilot. Indeed, I went in with the easy mindset, expecting foes to roll over and give up, and was disabused of this notion when the first boss handed me my ass in no uncertain terms. This is a game where strategy and planning has to play a big part if you want to succeed, and indeed my Tiana became the unofficial healer of the group, as the majority of her turns were spent healing the other members of the team as they attempted to put a dent in some really tough enemies.
Even regular encounters can go very wrong if you don’t pay attention, and boss fights are quite often a case of trial and error as you attempt to find out what is effective offensively, while still maintaining MP levels and keeping everyone topped up on their health. I can’t stress enough how much more enjoyable this steep difficulty curve makes the game. Even just winning a regular battle feels like a victory, and the levelling is also very slow, so getting the team strong enough to survive after the final boss, in the post game arena, is a steep challenge in itself. It never feels like a grind too far though, and even the giant Ice Dragons that appear can’t dampen my enthusiasm.
The standard kind of gripes are present and correct though. The controls have no weight to them, and so trying to control your party in a tight space can be frustrating, with Ryser getting hung on edges that it appears he should clear easily. This lack of control is particularly pronounced in one section, where you have to push statues onto floor plates, and these are almost pad bitingly frustrating, as you either push it too far and have to reset the room, or not far enough, leading to some infuriating nudging at the left stick to get them to move. Again, you learn to walk wide around corners and try to go slowly when needed, so it’s not a game changer.
Another thing that has bugged me is the way the edges of the screen start to glow as you approach a random encounter, which seem to be far too regular. As the screen glows yellow, then red, another fight is brewing, and sometimes it seems too much. Apparently there is an item that causes a fight each time you take a step, but it feels almost like that is in place from the get go!
Illusion of L’Phalcia on Xbox One is a good game, all things considered. The difficulty is the star here, with a stiff challenge to overcome, and a long and fairly engaging story to keep dragging you through. As things stand, this is one of the better KEMCO releases of recent times, and if you are looking for a game to challenge you, and you’re a fan of turn based retro styled RPGs, look no further.