Legends of Ethernal Review (Switch)
From the moment I started Legends of Ethernal, I wanted to love it. I was immediately drawn in by the minimalistic, yet beautiful 2D aesthetic. The first hour was cathartic and tranquil even as the story had taken an early turn toward a dark tone. Then, the more difficult enemies came and the colorful presentation wore off to reveal some unfortunate flaws that could’ve been avoided with perhaps a little more time in the oven.
Young Wilfred is out fishing on a beautiful day. As he wraps up his angling adventure, he heads home to discover a nightmare scenario – his house is ransacked, burning, and his parents are missing . Wilfred sets out on a dangerous quest to find his parents, leading him to traversing meadows, caves, and mountains to slowly gather clues.
Wilfred will occasionally meet up with a NPC that will offer clues to what is happening in the world, or the potential whereabouts of his parents. In an attempt to avoid spoilers, suffice to say that the story takes a dark turn rather quickly. I found the entire feel of the game reminding me of the indie classic “Limbo.” Though it may be dark, this is a well-written story that is easy to get caught up in…IF you’re willing to endure some suffering to advance the story.
Legends of Ethernal, like many games, draws influence from The Legend of Zelda by incorporating simple combat with light puzzle elements. While Wilfred will slowly find more weapons along his journey – starting with a mere fishing rod – the mechanics remain the same. The action-oriented melee combat is tied to a dodge ability that will drain Wildred’s stamina, so button spam will not get you anywhere.
The challenge of balancing combat with defense by managing stamina is innocent enough within the first couple of hours of the game, but that all changes right around the first boss encounter. It’s near this point that the mandatory “cool down” time from dodging seems to be infuriatingly equivalent to the spawning of new enemies. When Wilfred can’t dodge, even the less threatening enemies can cause damage from seemingly anywhere, and especially in boss encounters. You will find yourself in “no man’s land” quite a bit as enemies will spawn in the most inopportune spots just as you finish a dodge maneuver. You may have time to attack one only to have another flank you – all while having a boss raining venom on to your head. Brutal.
Legends of Ethernal does attempt to soften the blow with convenient campfire save points. Depending on the color of the fire, Wilfred may recover some HP or gain some ether back. Ether is the substance found throughout the world that grants Wilfred a few different advantages, such as HP recovery or defensive boosts (i.e. The Witcher Series). Unless you choose to play on one of the lower difficulty settings, of which there are 5, it becomes imperative to use ether wisely. Wilfred will face obstacles that require some light puzzle solving to continue. These usually consist of simple tasks that require adding weight to an area to create a lever effect, or moving obstacles in order to allow Wilfred to reach greater heights.
As mentioned earlier, the art of Legends of Ethernal is very enticing. Gorgeous colored backgrounds, coupled with 2D minimalistic shading gives the game a genuinely unique feel. Monster designs are incredibly creative, and even a bit comedic…until you realize how deadly they can be, of course. The aesthetic couples with a toned-down soundtrack produced by William Gough that tends to become more upbeat as danger approaches. The style reminded me of Breath of the Wild in a sense. You’ll hear tribal style drums meld with strings to create atmosphere – it works really well with the game’s art style, in my opinion.
Legends of Ethernal is supposed to be the first of a four game series set in this universe from Lucid Dreams, and it would’ve been an impressive debut with some additional tuning, especially with the combat. Everything just feels a bit “off” – from melee timing, to enemy spawn points and the dodging cooldown. I ultimately found those hindrances to be so inconvenient that I had no shame in dropping the difficulty down just to enjoy the story.
If you want a challenge, Legends of Ethernal will certainly give you that…but more so through questionable design decisions rather than compelling features. The game does enough in terms of worldbuilding to make me curious about what comes next in the world of Arkanys, however. Frustrations aside, Legends of Ethernal is a commendable debut title for studio Lucid Dreams.