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[Review] Bandle Tale: A League of Legends Story

Posted on March 3, 2024 by in Reviews, Switch eShop

Bandle Tale A League of Legends Story review

System: Switch
Release date: February 21, 2024
Developer: Lazy Bear Games
Publisher: Riot Forge

In the wake of its tenth anniversary Riot Forge Games has taken League of Legends into some interesting places with a variety of single-player games giving us some alternate (and for those of us not into the MOBA, far more palatable) looks at the expansive world of Runeterra and its Champions. Partnering up with Lazy Bear Games, the studio behind the delightfully macabre Graveyard Keeper, now comes Bandle Tale: A League of Legends Story, a life sim that forgoes the frenetic combat synonymous with the IP in favor of a more relaxed and cozy experience. Within the confines of the franchise it is certainly a welcome and refreshing change of pace, but when compared to its peers in the genre there are a few knots that will test your patience if you choose to attempt to untangle them.

Bandle Tale takes a more personal approach than other League of Legends Story titles, thrusting you into a character creator to forge your own identity as a Yordle before the game begins. You have a satisfying variety of colors and small aesthetics to choose from, as well as pronoun options, and these can be changed at any time during the story. Your freshly created Yordle is something of a shut-in, having lost their leg and undergone a 101-year apprenticeship in knitting, and it is as they approach the end of this that your story starts.

Gifted a new leg by their teacher, your character is invited to a party by their friend Clover, the perfect way to break their isolation from the outside world and forge some new friendships. Unfortunately, one of the portals essential to travel between Bandle City and the outside world is disrupted during the party, destroying the entire network and breaking apart the world that you call home. Naturally, it falls to your character to utilize their long-honed knitting skills to literally stitch the world back together by traveling from island to island, resolving the conflicts that have intensified on each as a result of the present circumstances, and restore harmony to the land.

Despite this overarching narrative Bandle Tale feels quite episodic thanks to this setup, with each Yordle community you visit having its own set of NPCs with issues that you will need to resolve to accomplish your greater task. As someone entirely unfamiliar with League of Legends, I found the game’s story to be approachable and easy to understand as a standalone experience. Some of the Champions from the MOBA feature in the game, but they were no more relevant to the narrative than other NPCs making their debut, making their inclusion more of an Easter egg for fans than a major reference that you would otherwise miss out on.

Bandle Tale: A League of Legends Story review

Although Bandle Tale doesn’t have the most original or exciting narrative it never takes itself too seriously, with your delightful companion Righty ever available to offer some very dry commentary on the situation. I was never particularly invested in the emotional plight of the inhabitants of the various Yordle communities in the game, but I did appreciate Righty’s continually sharp tongue and the various pop culture references (both the obvious and the more subtle) sprinkled throughout the dialogue that made it entertaining even when I was impatient to progress with the story and unlock the next set of skills so that I had more to do in the game.

Most life sims will focus on a particular activity or gameplay mechanic and build up around this, and with Bandle Tale that activity is crafting, with almost everything you do revolving around item creation in some form. There is some automation to the process at times, with mass crafting options at the various crafting stations allowing you to take a slightly more hands-off approach (which you will definitely want to do at times as you unlock more complex recipes) and small waiting times as food you’ve prepared cooks, but the process is generally simple, requiring only that you have the materials to hand, the necessary station, and have learned the recipe via the skill tree. It takes an abnormal amount of effort to actually learn the recipes to create items, but once you’ve done so the process is mercifully simple and straightforward.

Your house in Bandle Tale is quite unique for its portability as at any time you can simply pick it up and transport it to another site. There are a limited number of sites to place it, but this still makes the process of gathering and crafting feel much more streamlined, especially as you’ll be constantly returning home to craft, host activities, and acquire skill points. You’ll be given various carpets throughout the story which you can unroll and place facilities on, which is necessary for both crafting recipes and for hosting various activities for the townsfolk of the area. Fortunately, the game remembers your setup each time you pack away, so even though you can’t have every carpet unrolled at any given time the process of swapping between them is effortless.

These carpets open up some key activities that you’ll need to participate in to progress during the story, namely hosting food stalls and throwing parties. During the former you’ll need to cook dishes for residents as they request them, shuttling frantically back and forth to meet their demands before the time runs out. This is quite similar to Overcooked, or the bar minigame in Dave the Diver, and although it isn’t quite as frantic as that it is a slightly faster change of pace. Parties are slightly less interactive, revolving around crafting attractions and placing them on the carpet for residents, and then sitting back and gathering the energy that drops. Whilst food stalls are fairly self-explanatory I found the tutorial for parties to be quite lacking, and never felt that I was doing things as optimally as I may have if more explanation had been provided.

Bandle Tale: A League of Legends Story review

If you’ve played Graveyard Keeper, Lazy Bear Games’ earlier life sim, then you’ll be immediately familiar with the skill tree setup that serves as its primary method of character progression in Bandle Tale, and to do anything in the world at all you’ll need to have unlocked the required skill to do it: expect your character to tell you that you need to unlock something to be able to interact with something a lot in the early game, and don’t expect to be able to do this for several hours in the vast majority of cases. Despite not placing any time restrictions on your activities (the game has a day and night cycle, but you won’t collapse from exhaustion if you choose to ignore this entirely, as is often the case in life sims) Bandle Tale is very keen on not allowing you to do things until you have advanced the story, and although skills will tie into story activities, there is no in-character reason for why you couldn’t unlock them before this, making it feel like an artificial restriction rather than a part of natural progression.

The approach the game takes to learning these new skills is also unnecessarily convoluted. First you need to fill up your Emotion Orbs, which is easily done by completing tasks; practically everything you do will net you a small number of smaller orbs that go towards filling the larger ones. You then need to Dream at your house to convert those into skill points. Initially, this means a lot of back-and-forth between your house and wherever you happen to be on the map, as you’ll begin with a very small number of Emotion Orbs and will fill these up quickly, meaning you either Dream immediately to clear them, or gain no additional emotion continuing with activities. More than once I had to cut myself short in the middle of a task to run back home to bank my Emotion Orbs, which was an entirely unnecessary chore.

It’s an inconvenience that lessens the further you progress as you’ll gain additional Emotion Orbs through the Skill Tree, but it nonetheless makes the opening hours of the game far more tedious than they need to be. Further compounding your ability to progress are Badges, which are tied to fulfilling story quests and specific character sidequests. Badges require you to clear multiple tasks, and mostly you’ll be completing a series of fetch quests or passing messages back and forth. The writing is always on-point and highly entertaining, but the tasks themselves quickly become monotonous and, unfortunately, do not vary greatly to match your own developing abilities.

Bandle Tale: A League of Legends Story review

You’ll also often have to do quite a bit of detective work to figure out what it is the game wants you to do in order to progress at times, and I felt like I spent more time checking the various menus for badge requirements, NPC locations, and where the relevant skill I needed to unlock was, than I did actually playing the game. Some additional quest markers or clearer signposting would have made the game feel like far less of a struggle at times and perhaps made those slower moments more bearable.

Herein lies the biggest issue I had with Bandle Tale’s gameplay flow: even by life sim standards it is extremely slow, and this feels more restrictive than it does rewarding. At times it feels like an unnecessary grind, as you need to repeat the same activities constantly to make any kind of progress, with the freedom to take things at your own pace being frustrated by the fact that the majority of skills are locked behind Badges, which are mostly tied to story progression. It is a game that becomes more enjoyable the more that you play it, but offers very little engagement with its gameplay until quite late into the story.

Despite the complaints I have with Bandle Tale’s awkward pacing, one thing I cannot fault is its presentation: the pixel art visuals are absolutely stunning, and on the Switch OLED screen in particular they practically leap off the screen, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring each new area I visited. It’s an aesthetic that perfectly complements the lighthearted and relaxed atmosphere that the game is attempting to convey, and there is a surprising amount of detail that never feels cluttered or obscure. I never had any trouble distinguishing what I could interact with in the environment despite how well it all blends together at times, and the UI and menus are all clean and easy to read, although the map screen can feel a little busy at times with the number of icons on it.

The Verdict

Bandle Tale is an adorable game that is unfortunately weighed down heavily by a lot of restrictive gatekeeping. Its captivating visuals and excellent writing don’t quite do enough to counteract its often agonizingly sedate pacing and lack of variety in its tasks, and the lack of clearer signposting makes the whole thing feel unnecessarily drawn out at times as you have to constantly stop and puzzle out what it is you’re supposed to be doing to progress, which is often a multi-stage process of doing the same tasks over and over, punctuated by the need to return home to bank your skill points so your effort isn’t wasted. Once you’ve unlocked the required skills and figured out what the game wants you to do, Bandle Tale can be a fantastic time filled with humor and charm, but the process of getting there often feels like more trouble than it’s worth.

Bandle Tale: A League of Legends Story copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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