Where would we be if invading forces came into our planet, negotiated peacefully, had some good ideas and thoughts and, ultimately, we all lived out in harmony? I feel like we’ve seen that in science fiction stories and movies for decades now, but it always has a twist that lets you know aliens secretly want to screw us, either figuratively or literally. We really hate the concept of beings coming from another planet/dimension and eating/enslaving/murdering us. I don’t mind the trope, and most people don’t either: I haven’t met anyone who’s eager for a genocide from beyond the stars. But man, you start to wish the offending parties brought a little something different to the table. Thankfully, it looks like we may have a bit of a wildcard here, but only if you have the patience to get that far.
Fantasy Hero: Unsigned Legacy is an action RPG that comes to us from ArcSystemWorks, who make it their mission to bring some of the most obscure and strange Japanese titles to the West. Not that I’m complaining, but it’s something I noticed. Anyways, the world of Fantasy Hero is beset by evil beings called Decoders, a title that doesn’t really make sense but it does eventually. Kind of. Anyways, Decoders came to this world and immediately slaughtered almost everyone, and a handful of people moved underground. Or at least our heroes did: apparently quite a few others just decided to hang out in villages on the surface and then be surprised when Decoders murdered them like literally everyone else. Anyways, one day, the leader of this pocket of resistance, Gram, returns after a long sabbatical to bring new technology that’ll improve our heroes to the point where they have a fighting chance against the Decoders. She also brings back a Decoder who’s defected, or at least that’s how it seems, and I’m sure he won’t betray anyone or double cross us or have a secret tragedy to be revealed later. So the heroes decide to make a stand and fight back against the Decoders to reclaim the planet, but, as it turns out, the Decoders are also looking for something. Something that may bring a final balance to the powers at play, and, if our heroes can find it first, we may just have a fighting chance.
As a JRPG, the story of Fantasy Hero: Unsigned Legacy is convoluted, messy and strange, but also really interested and satisfying if you can hold on and keep with it for the entirety of the game. It’s also something where you have to understand that the story is essentially written for one character and one character only: the human lead, Acress. If you choose this dude to play through the game, you’re going to get the most amount of cohesion and sense for what’s supposed to be happening. Choosing any of the other characters gives a little bit of variety to what unfolds, but, primarily, everything revolves around Acress. Even the tutorial itself is made for Acress. When I was warming up to the game, I picked the rogue Decoder, Haul, because he was a dope birdman with guns. But the tutorial told me to hit the X button to do my “heavy attack,” which, for Haul, was actually the button to reload my guns. You ever step into the thick of an enemy swarm and then just calmly reload your pistols while they hit you? I looked and felt like a dick. The game supports you being one of five different characters, and, like Earth Wars, makes the rest of the party disappear during combat, so technically you are the hero. I’m just saying, to actually get into the RPG aspect and not feel like a side character, you gotta pick Acress.
As I mentioned before, Fantasy Hero is more of an action RPG, meaning that the combat is live and ever active instead of turn based. The result is a lot of running around and dealing with various enemies on maps that, in some cases, don’t limit the space you can travel and still be engaged in battle. Several boss fights do limit where you can go, which is good because, otherwise, it would feel nonsensical, but the regular encounters aren’t so rigid. I was able to wail on a single enemy and then move far enough back to draw out the others one at a time to take care of them individually. This didn’t work on everyone (certain monsters are affixed to one spot) but it worked a lot, and, with Haul, this made combat incredibly simple. Once I really started powering up my weapons, it was a goddamn cinch to fight even the most monstrous and aggressive beasts as long as they, too, could walk.
Moving the story along revolves around accepting missions, but you have plenty of side missions to take that can help delay moving forward on the main storyline missions. Side missions tend to give smaller rewards but, even still, help give you more experience and gather more supplies to purchase new items and upgrade current ones. For fans of this approach, you can do about three side missions to every one main mission and end up dreadfully overpowered by the time it finally matters, which I kind of like. Again, focusing on the story is more my bread and butter here, and Fantasy Hero is certainly unique in its approach to things. I won’t spoil too much, but, for the price tag, I honestly expected things to come across as, well, a bit more simplified, and that’s not the case.
Also, the characters are fully voiced, and they sound damn good in Japanese. The art style with its heavy outlining of every character makes it feel more like a comic book than anything else, and the dramatic reads only add to this mystique. Everyone’s a trope: the brash muscle man, the slightly whiny male lead, the aloof and cold “smart one,” and the perpetual cheerleader/little sister type. Even Gram, who I expected to be, well, a grandmother, is this bespeckled, purple haired woman who is clearly a bit older than the others but still could be maybed in her 30s, max. And she’s got wisdom and spitfire but is still taken aback by the words and the confidence of her charges. It’s an anime, alright, it’s an anime through and through, and you’ll enjoy it if you like anime. Haul is basically Vincent from Final Fantasy VII meets Piccolo from Dragonball Z, and everyone else has their own character combinations that you’ll figure out if you take the time.
Sadly, the game isn’t particularly long, but the variants of being able to play with other characters and seeing the small story changes based on their command is pretty interesting. I enjoyed using Stout, our muscle dude, because I’ve never been a defensive player, and Acress is, well, vanilla but still good. You have your pick of the litter here for how you want to approach the game, and Fantasy Hero does a decent job of balancing things so that nothing feels too overpowered or weak (though, again, Haul is awesome).
I don’t think Fantasy Hero: Unsigned Legacy is going to convert the non believers to the church of JRPG. There’s a bit of wonky text, some missions feel quite grindy and there’s a handful of “wait what” kind of moments that take you out of the game. But the action is good, the animation is solid and the voice acting is pretty grand. I had fun, and that’s probably the most important thing I can throw down for a game. If you need your protagonists to have blue hair and your moe side characters to ride in robot suits, good news: Fantasy Hero is ready for you.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.