Introduction and Story
Out of the depths of quarantine comes the first game I’m actually able to complete in recent months (thank a newborn for that). Shalnor Legends: Sacred Lands appealed to me for no particular reason other than it’s $0.99 price tag. Yes, pixel art and yes, Zelda similarities, but that price…
Famously in my own mind, I’ve attempted a game at this price range before and it was quite awful. Thanks Mana Spark. I typically don’t write negative reviews because there’s always at least something worthwhile to focus on, but I have no desire to retread those abysmal steps ever again. Does Shalnor Legends fall into the same chasm of disappointment? No, Mana Spark remains alone in that category, but it’s close.
Shalnor Legends kicks off with your playable character speaking to ‘The Keeper.’ He calls you young, beautiful, and that you shouldn’t be throwing your life away to venture into the Sacred Lands. You of course go there anyway.
Like many other games, the story unfolds piece by piece as you progress. There are also things like books hanging around different locations which, if read, give a bit more insight into what is going on. None of it is really interesting or unique (you won’t be piecing together some grand backstory or lore like item descriptions in Dark Souls) but it’s there if you want to try and immerse yourself further.
Anyone familiar with top-down adventure-RPGs will feel at home. Once you obtain your weapons, ZL trigger will dash you forward sword first, B is your basic sword attack and X fires your bow. You’ll have three bars to manage on the interface which are common as well. Red is your health, blue is your mana which gets used from bow attacks and green is the stamina bar from dashing, so you can’t take advantage of endless bursts of speed.
There are also two different menu screens; the provision bag and general items/collectibles.
The provision bag has eight slots altogether, with two unlocked at the start and holds potions. There are a variety in the game ranging from simple health and mana potions, to others that can do things like increase bow damage.
The items/collectibles screen is where things can get a bit interesting. It’s not a simple setup like your Zelda’s where you receive a bunch of items to use throughout your adventure. Here, you’re more so finding components in the world to create potions and later, upgrade your gear. I enjoyed this aspect a lot more than I was expecting when I started the game.
Later on, I also noticed that your component section has a limit of ten per item. If you reach ten of that item, it no longer drops which seemingly feels like the other items have a higher chance of dropping. When I was upgrading my bow towards the end of the game, it required Beast Pelts. I just maxed out the other items so Beast Pelts were the only items dropping. I don’t know if this is considered a way to target farm certain materials and if I’m giving the game too much credit, but it felt like a strategy that worked.
During your adventure, you’ll also find life and mana stones. Three of each will increase your maximum life or mana. Many of these are found in caves and side areas, but oddly enough, some are just in invisible chests that appear as you walk by them. First time seeing anything like that in a game of this type.
Temples and Bosses
Temples/dungeons and bosses can make a game memorable or just be a continuation of the mediocre. Here, we have the latter. The temples are rough, there’s no other real way to describe them. Each of the five in the game are really just one main room with a bunch of side rooms branching off that center room. The main room will be gated by something like a door that requires 4+ keys to unlock it.
There’s no variety, at all, in these dungeons. In many of them, there’s actually barely any enemies. The only real times you seen enemies are in a large room that spawns a handful, requiring you to kill them all to get one of the many keys to unlock the way to the boss.
The rest of the ‘gameplay’ in these dungeons, are left to traps. The vast, VAST majority of this game includes your character running by spinning blades, shooting fireballs and floors full of spikes to progress. Even the caves in the overworld largely lead to trap mazes for you to run through to get a chest at the end.
The final temple of the game has a main room with a door that requires 16 keys. You branch off into four different doors with four other doors and one by one, complete whatever trap maze or puzzle that awaits you.
I wish bosses were any better, but there’s really only one that felt worthy of enjoyment. Three out of five bosses keep the same exact attack rotation for the duration of the fight, only increasing in speed once you hit certain health numbers. The second boss in particular had a massive health pool which felt out of nowhere. The fight took over eight minutes, not from difficulty, just from necessity in the boss needing a large number of hits to defeat it.
Morning/Night: Oddly, there’s a morning/night mechanic in Shalnor Legends that you can manipulate by sleeping in one of the beds found around the Sacred Lands. The changes just feel strange. There are entire panels of the overworld where I couldn’t notice any changes in enemies or NPCs shifting from morning to night. Others went to an extreme. The first temple is located in the desert. If you go to the desert during the daytime, it’s flooded with giant wasps and wasp nests that continuously spit out wasps as you kill them. It’s awful. If you sleep until night, the wasps disappear and you can traverse the area unhindered. It was nice to see a difference with this mechanic early on, but it fell flat later on and felt unused.
Item Upgrades: Like I had mentioned before, you can find components during your adventure to purchase item upgrades. For weapons, you can get flat increases in damage or something like receiving +1 HP per enemy defeated with a sword. Armor offers flat increases in damage reduction as well as other things. One downside here is that your wallet at the beginning of the game is limited to 250 gold. You will have to find two other size wallets to reach the maximum amount of gold necessary to continue upgrading your gear.
Enemy Variety: Each of the four main areas (and one starting area) only has one enemy type. Outside of the five bosses, I can only count five other enemies in the entire game. I get the feeling that the idea of the ‘Sacred Lands’ was supposed to be something akin to Shadow of the Colossus where it’s fairly barren and meant to make you feel alone. However, enemies are present and uninspired. With that, focus doesn’t seem like it was on boss fights because they are equally uninspired. I don’t really know what the intent was. It doesn’t feel like a fleshed out abandoned land, nor does it feel like a lived in world. It’s just there. At times I just wanted to fight some enemies but it became more of a trap-avoiding-sim instead.
Overall, Shalnor Legends is odd in that I felt the game devolved quite a bit as you got further into the game. The first temple, while not innovative or exciting, didn’t feel terrible. I suspect this is largely due to feeling that this could just be the beginning, and the gameplay will ramp up a bit. That never happens. By the time I reached the third area, experienced the one enemy in that area, then went through the third temple, I just felt done and exhausted. There was nothing better on the way. What you experience in your first twenty minutes is what you get for the duration of the game. Very few enemies, lackluster temples, boring bosses and a bland overworld.
Aside from my grievances with Shalnor Legends, I really do enjoy some aspects of the game. The actual themes of the overworld areas are actually nice. Most games like this will default to your basic earth, water, fire and air themes. Instead, we get a desert, a marsh, a mining area and an overgrown jungle. The areas themselves are largely boring and just the same sprites copy and pasted hundreds of times, but at least the themes felt interesting.
I also enjoy the item collection and upgrading aspect. You do feel that you are increasingly gaining power as you upgrade your gear. There are definitely too many upgrades for how much game there is and in order to acquire them all, you need to extensively farm. That can be forgiven though considering you definitely do not need upgrades to defeat bosses and complete the game.
That being said, although much more enjoyable than Mana Spark, I feel I’m 0/2 in terms of $0.99 Nintendo eShop purchases so far. I have a third that I may get to at some point, but until then, collecting seashells and befriending my villagers in Animal Crossing: New Horizons is where I’ll be for awhile.
If you want to check out reviews for similar games to Shalnor Legends, here you go…
Review: Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King