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RPGolf Legends review: fairway to middling

I’m not mad caddies, I’m just disappointed caddies

Anecdotally, the first records of modern golf date back to its banning in 15th century Scotland. “Nay Golf,” said parliament. “It’s turning the soldiers into fiendish, turf-snorting club-strokers who’d rather say shit like ‘Triple Bogey’ than batter the English, and we’re no having it.” RPGolf Legends is not set in 15th century Scotland, but it does take place in a world where golf has been banned. Only you - through the power of bare-bones ARPG combat and a fun but limited golf mini-game - can save the noble sport from ostensible nonexistence.

I say ostensible because, in reality, golf is everywhere. Our heroine Aerin’s hometown is called Mulligandale. It has two shops, one of them dedicated entirely to golf. Folk shimmy about in golfwear, talking about golf. Many give out golf-related quests, the rewards for which are usually some form of golfing paraphernalia, often golf balls. The actual golf courses themselves have been sealed off by an ill-defined big villainous, but if you put a translucent barrier around the thing you’re trying to crush and still let the people you’re attempting to terrorise build their entire society as a monument to it, you’re basically asking for a plucky hero to restore the national passtime to glory. Highly questionable bit of villainy, this.

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To save the world from not having any golf in it, Aerin needs to play golf. To play golf, Aerin needs to power up a talking golf club she fished out of a lake. To power up the club, she needs to either defeat enemies or score well on holes she’s already unlocked. So that’s how I found myself clubbing crabs to death on a beach to a delightful panpipe melody, scavenging their innards for an old man in a hut. Not rats, may I add, although it could be argued that crabs are the rats of the sand. Then I realized I’d read the quest wrong. Not just any crab meat would sate this aging killer's insatiable hunger for crustacean flesh. I would have to kill the crab king itself.

This is how I beat the crab king. I pressed the attack button once. The crab king revved up, so I held the block button. An opening presented itself, so I pressed the attack button again, once. The king revved up again. I know this move, I thought. So I held down the block button. Then attacked again, once. I did this until it was dead, then followed up this profoundly unsatisfying spot of decapodian regicide by watching a firework display. I know this move, too, I thought. This is the party before I wave goodbye to my hometown forever and venture off into the wider world.

A female golfer is surrounded by crabs on a beach in RPGolf Legends

This was the first big example of a comfortingly classic tone and structure the game runs with. A bright, optimistic soundtrack plinks along as you murder slimes and imps. While there’s a few overt meta jokes, the writers actually show an admirable amount of restraint here. The game’s humour mostly comes from earnestly leaning into its own premise and embracing the inherent silliness within. A pleasant surprise, for sure.

Aerin travels the world first by boat, then by golf cart, then later on, by airship. Each new area has its own twist on traversal, combat, and the golfing itself. The grass zone is nice and grassy, the poison zone has poison lakes that can swallow the ball, and so on. Optional sidequests have you searching for items and doing the occasional bit of puzzle dungeon-delving, and each area is capped off by a boss/golf course combo.

A big tree with a scary mouth yells, "How dare you!!" at a female golfer on a green in RPGolf Legends

Aerin will beat up, say, a giant evil tree (see right), blocking gusts of razor leaves with her club. Then, when the tree’s exhausted, you get a small window of reprieve to try and complete the golf hole the fight takes place on. Take too long, and the tree gets a second wind. These fights are excellently tense culminations of everything else the game does, and wonderfully novel to boot.

But what of the golf itself? Well, it’s definitely golf. You line up your shot, and the game auto selects whichever club it feels is best for the job. Sometimes, the game is wrong, but fortunately you can always select a different club if you think something else would be better. Then, you do a couple of those ‘stop the rapidly moving blip in the place you want it’ bits to apply power, and swing away. Random weather introduces some slight variables. It’s a pleasant distraction reformed as a core mechanic, but it doesn't stir any strong feelings in me.

A hooded golfer swings their club in a desert in RPGolf Legends

In its finer moment (singular), RPGolf Legends seems to hint at a universal truth, a wry wink at the nature of golf and RPGs both: that the same inherent satisfaction in tapping a ball into a hole also exists in repeatedly whacking pots and shrubbery and watching them shudder out of existence, spewing forth gold coins as they fade into the ether. Primarily, I’d always seen golf as a flex for people with so many leisure hours at their disposal that they can happily spend them doing something only slightly more interesting than watching themselves decompose in real-time. Fools, I’ll chortle smugly, as I happily spent four hours in a dopamine haze, carving up digital monsters for digital bones. And just like that, the single leg I was standing on fades and shudders out of existence like that fucking shubbery.

The alternative is you beat, like, 30 enemies to death in a row, draining each of its paltry offering of life force like some sort of ravenous golf vampire.

However - and here’s the rub - I will not happily spend four hours grinding in RPGolf Legends. Because, boiled down to its frog glue, the game has two mechanics, and neither of them are fun for extended periods. It’s those energy bars. Again, you need full energy to unlock a new hole, and this turns everything else the game does into a joy-sucking funnel of obligatory chores. To get energy from golf holes, you need to at least score par, then do well on a slot machine-style reward vomiter at the end. You might get 100% energy, which means you can move onto the next hole immediately. More likely, you’ll get 25% or 50%, which means grinding the same course. Or, you could just as well get nothing, which means doing the same, only angrier.

A hooded golfer asks where they are in a strange, spooky town in RPGolf Legends

The alternative is you beat, like, 30 enemies to death in a row, draining each of its paltry offering of life force like some sort of ravenous golf vampire. The combat here is serviceable, in small doses, but with no dodge roll - at least not immediately - it just feels stodgy and unsatisfying. A static back and forth. Some of the slimes don’t even care if you block. They just jump on your face and sit there for a while, then steal some health. Absolute parasites. First against the wall, these slimes.

Even so, I can’t quite bring myself to hate it. But I knew that going in. It wins enough on concept to make the execution kind of secondary, and honestly, it’s got much more substance than I expected. So, while I can’t recommend that you part with your cash to experience RPGolf Legends this very second, I can absolutely recommend that the effervescent fountain of sparkling madlads at ArticNet keep doing what they're doing, because the world needs more unshackled visionaries like them. However, with the Lunar Steam Sale on at the moment, you could get What the Golf and the Grandia HD Remaster for less money, alternate between the two, and have a much better time.

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