The Legend of Korra is a licensed videogame developed by Platinum and published by Activision of the popular TV series of the same name. It revolves around martial arts and using the elements of water, earth, fire and air to beat the loving crap out of anyone who dare stands in the Avatars way (the master of all 4 elements). Long story short your a girl named Korra who beats up people who usually want to destroy the world. Usually.
Really this could have been yet another awful licensed game that nobody would care about but perhaps the biggest thing to note here is that Platinum, the people behind Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising developed this game and boy does it show. Being a Platinum game I will keep this review entirely about it’s combat and how it affects and is affected by the rest of the games mechanics and design choices and lightly touch upon the graphics and story.
The graphics are surprisingly good for a low budget game. On the PS3 Korra looks flawless, super clean and the cel shading works really well to give it the look of the show. The environments are a bit flat, low res and lifeless but they really serve as a backdrop to beat enemies in that changes every now and again as to not feel too much of the same. The change of environments is frequent even within chapters and does a great job of it not feeling the same and the last level in particular looks great. It also stays close to the source material which is a plus.
The story is….lol no. Just no. Think of it like a Naruto filler movie. Don’t even accept it into canon as the story has to conform to videogame tropes to progress and in doing so horribly violates the canon that the Avatar series sets up. You don’t need a story, your the avatar. Deal with it. Platinum is never good when it comes to crafting stories but I feel like they are at their worse when they have to conform to an already existing canon. That said I would have liked to have a story with some effort put into it. I hate to use the word lazy when it comes to game design so I’ll say that this reeks of being rushed and was an afterthought. It’s almost as if the game was finished and then they remembered they needed a story.
I tried to keep this review as short as possible as I hate to read long reviews myself but I felt that I also needed to get the major and minor points across at what Korra gets right and what it gets wrong. I apologize if this is too long for some of you but I go into detail on the combat and design choices and how that affects the overall product as I feel these are the most important to this game. There are no story spoilers, not that it matters since the story is pretty much filler and takes a backseat to the gameplay.
Wow, where do I start? The combat is so well done and incredibly satisfying and deep that it singlehandedly saves the game from falling into the pits of terrible. Behind all the flaws lies simple, yet complex combat. Platinum essentially mastered easy to get into but hard to master combat with Bayonetta and every action game after that has felt like it had it’s own style to add to it such as Metal Gear Rising and Vanquish. Korra is no exception.
If your a fan of character action games then you’ll love the combat Korra has to offer when she has all her bending arts. If your a fan of Avatar then you’ll just plain adore the combat. Just like in Devil May Cry 4 or Metal Gear Rising you can switch between the 4 elements on the fly without hassle, charge your moves, use light and heavy moves attached to two buttons and mix and match your combos between the 4 elements. It all comes together beautifully and feels very visceral, a word I don’t use lightly. Once again Platinum has established themselves as top dog when it comes to combat.
As fans of Avatar you should know that each of the 4 elements are inspired by different types of real life martial arts and this makes for beautiful fights in the show. This is no different in the game, Korra plants her feet firmly in the ground and makes mighty punches when earthbending, breakdances and zips around while airbending, aggressively takes control of territory pacing closer to her foes with firebending and makes majestic arm movements when waterbending. Like in Rising she can also parry with a dedicated button the moment an enemy attacks which usually leads to a one hit K.O. and is far more forgiving than Rising and just like Rising before it the bosses practically demand the mastery of this mechanic. The larger window time to parry makes it more manageable but I can see how inexperienced players can still struggle with it. Fortunately you can get by just fine for most of the game without it.
The animations for the most part are flawless, each bending style has a unique role with animations that nearly match the moves Korra makes on the show. The only problem I have to say is that when on the air Korra will at times look weird, especially her feet. Sometimes she looks like she’s even standing on air in between animations. This is especially noticeable with firebending. I’m willing to chalk this up to being a lower budget title and thus not having the ridiculously gorgeous animations of Platinums predecessors. For the most part it is very well done and true to the show. Even switching between the elements when not fighting has Korra change her stances. Little things like hand movements really make the combat shine.
This is perhaps the biggest mishap of the game. Whereas I can always go back and replay the game with all my bending arts unlocked many would rather have better combat on their first playthrough and not have to wait until they beat the game until they can finally let loose with the combat mechanics have to offer. It’s like saying the game only gets really good *after* you beat it, which in this case isn’t too far from the truth.
How you progress in this game is completely broken and flies against how long it takes to actually beat this game. This game averages at 3 hours with many going under that if they are experienced or playing on easy. The short campaign is fine but it clearly wasn’t balanced with this in mind and treated like a typical 8 hour game. Having to unlock all your bending should be done within the first 2 or 3 chapters of the game or you should already start with all bending arts unlocked. You don’t get Airbending until the second to last chapter and you don’t get the Avatar State (temporary hax powerup that basically makes you unstoppable) until immediately before the final boss.
This makes it a real slog to go through the game the first time around especially at the beginning where you have no bending. To make matters worse the game is broken up by 2 minigames, the tournament style pro-bending where you can only use waterbending under specific rules and a temple run style Naga run where you get on your polarbeardog and move left or right for an infuriatingly long amount of time for no reason whatsoever.
The Naga ones are the most intrusive as they show up 3 times throughout an already short game and serve no purpose. You aren’t chasing or running away from anyone, so it feels pointless, it lasts way to long so you lose interest and its incredibly easy to mess up so it becomes infuriating. Oh, and there is no fighting whatsoever. The new director should have been aware that Bayonetta was an almost flawless game with its only flaw being the parts where she doesn’t fight, aka the parts where you don’t play to your games strength.
I can imagine the reason Platinum or Activision (or both) chose to break up the game with these is for diversity but the game is only 3 hours long. You barely have time to experiment from the beginning of the game to the end with all 4 bending arts unlocked, let alone get bored by the very rich and deep combat the game has to offer. So to have severely gimped combat on top of non-combat sections sprinkled throughout the game severely dampens the enjoyment of the campaign.
To add to that, you can also unlock moves either by purchasing them or gaining experience. I don’t see why the game could have given you all bending arts from the start and less moves overall and allowed you to naturally obtain new moves throughout the course of the game. It would have improved the pacing of the campaign tenfold and make more sense in the context of the story.
Combat Scenarios & Enemy Variety
This is another big mishap and perhaps the most damaging one longterm as this affects even repeat playthroughs once you have everything unlocked. The enemy variety itself is one I’m wary to complain about. On one hand this game is clearly low budget, on the other hand I felt that they could have removed the mini-games for even 2 more unique enemies and that would be more than enough.
As it stands these are all the types of enemies (no spoilers):
Equalists (no bending, uses technology) The Triad (water/earth/fire benders) Mechas (large tanks with way too much health) Bunny Spirit (Triad clone without bending) Flying Spirit Snake Spirit 4 legged Spirit Giant 4 legged Spirit Final Boss
I’m probably missing one or two spirits as the spirits are pretty diverse. Do you want to know when they show up? In the last 2 chapters (outside of the prologue which can’t be replayed). The game has 8 chapters total for reference and half the enemies are only in the last 2 chapters. The variety for a low budget game is there but the problem is how its used. The beginning relies entirely on equalists because Korra has no bending and up until the very end its just a spam of Equalists and boring triads with mechas increasingly being thrown into the ring more and more.
This again ties back to the progression. Had Korra had all her abilities from the start then there wouldn’t be a need for this. They could have properly spaced out enemies in each chapter. Rather than an over reliance on the Equalists we should have gotten a few led by a triad member of 1 type up until we see the 3 triads together. Even at the very end where its mostly spirits I still see equalists and triad members sneak there way in. By that point I was already tired of them 4 chapters ago. There are plenty of spirits with different enough moves to serve as a buffer between the first 3 enemies.
Because of this on repeat playthroughs there are only 1 or 2 chapters that are any fun and only in certain areas of the chapter. Had the game had more interesting scenarios which is usually backed by having a nice variety of enemies, the campaign would have been way more fun. Fortunately the last few chapters have better combat scenarios and provide a proper challenge but I still feel that we were robbed a few extra enemies for the sake of pro-bending and Naga.
Beating the game also unlocks a pro-bending only mode and even in the show pro-bending has been largely forgotten after season 1. It doesn’t make much sense why anyone would go back to that over something like a bloody palace type unlockable from Devil May Cry where its just you, the enemy and a face full of fire in an arena like mode. After all this game is largely about combat, why not have an unlockable that gives you more of that?
This seems to be Eiro Shirahama's first time directing a game and it shows. At the same time this is also an Activision licensed game and we know how Activision can get when it comes to their licenses. Maybe it was Eiro’s lack of experience as a director or Activisions handling of the game or both but the Legend of Korra is a flawed game. Underneath the bad pacing, limited enemies and annoying mini-games lies a combat system that puts many AAA games to shame, as is Platinum tradition. It almost feels as if all the problems Metal Gear Rising suffered have been greatly embellished in Korra and I wish it just had more time in development to rethink some of the design decisions.
If your a fan of Action games or The Legend of Korra and care more about feeling like the Avatar and messing with combos to see how far you can go then there is definitely fun to be had with this game. I know I had fun with it and I’ll keep replaying it from time to time because some times I just wanna say “I’M THE AVATAR AND YOU GOTTA DEAL WITH IT” and dish out some elements.
If your looking for a good action game with a story that ties itself to the lore of Avatar, has great combat scenarios and an overall solidly paced campaign than I cannot recommend this game.
I hope that the game does well enough to warrant a sequel with Platinum but I also cannot fault anyone who refuses to buy it and call it Platinums lowest quality game yet, because it is. As it stands Korra is for the dedicated few who really love the feel of combat and want to see Korra gracefully “deal with” her opponents.