Sunday, July 5, 2009

TEAL: Chaos Legions - We Are Many

I've jumped from one Capcom title to another. After finishing off the Maximo series, which included the short, but highly entertaining Army of Zin, I've moved on to the lesser known Chaos Legion (in-between sessions of Frequency). Like a lot of the games I've been playing recently, I'm constantly intrigued by what it does well or different while constantly frustrated by its difficulty.

Side, Story
For better or worse, the story seems very, very disjoined from the actual game. Based on a Tow Ubukata novel, the narrative talks of a classic friends-turn-enemies rivalry that leads to the possible destruction of humanity. I'm not sure how much of the original story is present in the game, but I doubt that the amount of fighting in the game is proportionate to the amount in the book. It's for the better, more action in a action game is a good thing, but when the game does get to the story, it seems segregated.

Save for the main character, the cutscenes have little connection with the levels. So far, the cutscenes seem like they can be strung together without a loss of cohesion, with little of the plot coming through in the actual stages. Unfortunate because it seems like a waste of source material, but ultimately a lesser concern compared to gameplay.

Summoning, Sickness
Starting off, Sieg Warheit seems pretty weak. Even with the most powerful summon on my side (which is lost at the end of the first level), It took a couple of retries to clear just the first level. This is mostly due to the sorry state Sieg starts off in. There's little more to start off with than a single combo and some basic dodges. Save for that single crest, you have a pretty paltry number of choices in dispatching enemies.

As a result, the Legionnaires become, probably by design, my primary mode of attack. Being faster , stronger, and more resilient than Sieg, I find myself sitting back while I send them to do the dirty work. In a way, each Legion makes Sieg more versatile, granting him the abilities that his own move-set sorely lacks. This makes it all the more devastating when you allow a crest to "break", temporarily robbing you of those attacks. The game feels like more of an exploration of commanding power rather than personal power.

Growing, Pains
Being as weak as you are, the beginning of the game was a bit of a hurdle. Two or three untimely assault from the enemy will easily result in a game over, another reason to rely on the Legionnaires rather than yourself. But this initial difficulty is only made worse by the lack of play direction.

The game is a bit of a complicated one, and its mechanics are only presented through various help screens that pop up from time to time. Most of the important stuff is covered in that first stage, but even then basic controls and combat are things that you pretty much have to grep from the manual. Working from the scattered hints means that I've been restarting from experimentation as much as sloppy playing.

The piecemeal tutorial does work when it's presented after activating new crests, which provide, thankfully, new player abilities. With each level comes another crest and another chance to equip a new move that lessens your reliance on your many minions. It's a pattern of growth that I should recognize from many games, namely your Castlevanias and Metroids. Maybe it's the different presentation, the Level-Boss setup as oppose to freeform exploration, or maybe it's the comparably low level that Sieg starts off at, but I found the power-in-parts formula disorienting and different in this context.

German, Gothic
The overall structure, waves of enemies punctuated by end bosses, recalls another overlooked Capcom game that I personally enjoyed, P.N.03. Similarities don't stop there, as the start-up is also a slow climb from the bottom of the power ladder. The difference is in how your character grows. In Chaos Legion, your growth increases the number of moves in your repertoire, changing your character from a one-combo wonder to a versatile fighter. The new moves are definitely welcomed, but it definitely changes how you play from level to level.

As Vanessa Z. Schneider, your power may increase, but your abilities pretty much stay static. Save for the variations on your Energy Drive (super shot), you can move and shoot the same from beginning to end. The only changes come in how upgrades that improve your shot and your shield. This doesn't really change how you proceed through each level, though, just how long it takes you. The shots may be more potent and the damage less debilitating, but the strategy doesn't change. This leads to refinement of play rather than evolution.

Both are fun in their own way. I enjoyed P.N.03 because I felt like I was improving. The game gave you most of the move-set up front, giving me the whole game to become acquainted with it. By the end, I knew the advantages and limitations of Vanessa and felt secure in my abilities. In Chaos Legion, the joy comes from the reward. Ever new ability is a new chance to expand. It's much like a gift, a new toy to play with once you've gotten bored with the older attacks.

Part of each game's enjoyment comes from how each game is constructed. I need to be familiar with the moves of P.N.03, because each level is constructed in a particular way. Without that practice, it would be (and was, in the beginning) a frustrating exercise in unfamiliarity. In Chaos Legion, each wave of enemies is a erratic assault of relentless enemies, an assault that only requires a quick button press and quicker reflexes. Strategy and practice can help, but it's mostly an X-Button affair.

Chaos Legion definitely offers more than I expected. Each death is met with an immediate retry, regardless of how cheap I find the death, just because I need to see what crest I get next or what ability I can buy. The game might be missing a bit, but I imagine that the blanks will be filled in the farther I go.

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