There are some particularly novel ideas that developers of the modern era are able to realize in far greater detail than those of the past. A first-person dungeon crawler was more often used to craft linear, yet labyrinthine locations. As the genre progressed, however, the size of dungeons and their grids expanded, and the need for such rigid movement limitations was abandoned for freer movement and real-time combat. Even so, what took a larger and more ambitious team like New World Computing in 1991 is now more accessible to a single, dedicated individual today. The one-man team at Silver Lemur Games has created Legends of Amberland, a non-linear, first-person RPG in the style of classic dungeon crawlers of a bygone era. For fans of this classic style of gameplay, Legends of Amberland offers as authentic an experience as one could possibly desire. Whether this is your cup of tea, however, is largely based on the information below.
Legends of Amberland begins with a text crawl establishing the premise for the game. There’s a mystery uncovered by the royal wizard, who then enlists the help of a collective of heroes determined to make a name for themselves. You are that collective, operating as one, and the first thing you’ll need to do is determine the composition of your team of seven. That might seem like a daunting number, so if you should grow weary of manually inputting the race, class, and other elements of your playable heroes, you can have them auto-generated for your convenience. The character generator is basic, with pure- and half-blood race combinations for humans, elves, and dwarves- though you can’t be a pure, female dwarf, because dwarves can only be burly men. The pure and half variations of these races have their own perks, such as innate healing and combat skills. Additionally, you can choose one of six classes for each, though the seven party slots mean you’ll repeat at least one if you want to diversify your setup.
With that, you’ll be dropped into the world of Amberland, set to begin a quest that is certain to bring you fame and fortune. Unless you don’t want to do so. You can travel in any direction you please on Amberland’s world map, stopping in taverns, castles, and dungeons to accept quests, loot treasure chests, or simply grind against enemies. Though Amberland claims to be an RPG without the need to grind, this is a vague claim, as there are a finite number of encounters throughout all areas and locations, and you’ll certainly need to defeat a number of enemies in order to access certain areas. Though you might not follow the main narrative closely, you won’t be able to go just anywhere, as you might need to complete certain quests in order to access rafts, or defeat a certain number of enemies in order to be able to take on a particularly tough foe.
If you’re not familiar with the control scheme for traditional dungeon crawlers, Legends of Amberland attempts to make the most of the Switch’s limited buttons for a myriad of tasks. Though this doesn’t always feel player friendly, it is economic. You’ll need to use the shoulder buttons in order to navigate specific commands per character, with a single button being used to call up the input listings for all others. If you simply mash the A button through combat, your characters will simply end up executing their basic attack commands rather than any skills. Since combat and exploration take place in the same area, the inputs are relatively similar across both modes. Combat is also rather skill heavy for certain character builds, so you’ll need to utilize recovery items throughout your playthrough, the most useful being the food option that can be used to rest almost anywhere across Amberland.
Narrative and Aesthetics
Amberland is not necessarily a visually stunning game, but these aesthetics are a deliberate homage to the genre. First-person RPGs can use impressive textures and models similar to Operencia, or they can take a more rudimentary, straightforward approach in Amberland’s case. While the environment and character models are still a far cry in relation to the Might and Magic titles from which Amberland takes inspiration, they do have a sort of simplistic charm that is easy to forgive. Enemy appearances are distinct, at least, and the character portraits possess more detail and clarity. There’s no animation to be found in the game, and transitions from grid space to grid space are instantaneous, with enemy movement occurring simultaneously. Though jarring at first, your eyes and expectations will gradually adjust, with the most effective instances of this effect occuring in dungeons, where constant walls create a far more convincing illusion. Music and sound effects are crisp and weighty, again mimicking a more rudimentary soundscape.
If there’s anything that lends Amberland its greatest degree of charm, it is the whimsical, simplistic dialogue that manages to successfully evoke the feeling of a script that is straightforward without feeling rudimentary. The character dialogue is earnest and detailed while never straying far from traditional fantasy archetypes. In a world where many developers attempt to reinvent the wheel with their fantasy realms, it is nice to see a more genuine and reserved game hearkening back to high fantasy concepts. Though its main narrative is hardly groundbreaking, it is the enjoyable reading that never tends to become particularly grating that steals the show.
Impressions and Conclusion
There is a very specific demographic that Amberland looks to appease with its structure, combat, and narrative stylings, and while I don’t necessarily fit the bill of a classic FPRPG fan, I found the game’s design enjoyable enough. Though it never looks quite as pretty as its title art would lead you to believe, the entire experience is wholesome and traditional, though not without its speed bumps. If you want to get anywhere, you will have to seek out enemy encounters in order to get stronger in the narrative, and if you should only auto-generate a single mage on your team, you make find healing a difficult prospect. Likewise, skills have a fairly heavy cost and are often the strongest moves in your arsenal, there’s little reason not to spam them, aside from the risk of running out of mana on the whole. However, because you can use your recovery items with fairly low risk, this doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. Enemy attacks initiate very quickly after you’ve inputted a party member’s own commands, which can feel jarring and be difficult to keep up with, but it’s hardly a glaring flaw.
The greatest hurdle to overcome throughout the play experience is likely grappling with the control scheme, which does not translate particularly well to the Switch button layout. Amberland’s substantial main quest, around thirty hours, benefits the most from extended play sessions, as the game needs at least a good twenty to the thirty minutes for easing in and making the controls second nature. Aside from this, Amberland uses its FPRPG presentation to deliver not only a fairly standardized narrative in an equally straightforward fantasy world, and therefore the dungeon design of environments is rarely inventive. Choosing to design locations in terms of architectural consistency might seem a bit uninspired, but it is more of a testament to how developer Silver Lemur hoped to evoke a sense of realism and honesty to the world. This is not a world designed around gimmicks, rather authentic writing and a well-realized location.
Legends of Amberland is not a game for everyone- its presentation may seem off-putting, and its mechanics basic. What it manages to do without any sort of technical hiccup or inconsistency is present a pleasantly standard narrative with an impressive amount of character dialogue, lengthy campaign, and large environment. If you are a fan of old-school FPRPGs or even titles that provide an enjoyable reading experience, I would wholly recommend Legends of Amberland. If you feel that the aesthetic is too off-putting, or you aren’t looking to reinvent your play experience with a new control scheme for its price, I think you might find the game a bit less-than enjoyable at the start. This doesn’t necessarily devalue the experience that Legends of Amberland provides, however, which is a delightfully retro first-person experience.