001 Legend of Korra’s Disappointing Control Scheme

Yesterday, I finished the action game Legend of Korra on PS4; it was an enjoyable and short experience, but flawed. Almost immediately after starting the game, I noticed the peculiar control system. It seemed completely at odds with the Avatar/Legend of Korra lore.

In the lore if this world, the Avatar is the ultimate being, the bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds, and the great equalizer of conflict. The Avatar is born and reborn a new each generation, but always possesses the potential to master the four elements, to help with his/her great responsibilities. The Avatar is about balance; it is strength, movement, reaction, defense, and speed. And learning to use the four elements in concert together is the key to the Avatar’s role in the world.

In the game, though, you must “switch” between specific elemental states (Water, Earth, Fire, or Air) to battle your adversaries. In theory, and often even in practice, this works just fine, and allows you to level up specific elements at different paces, depending on how much you use them. It’s a simple system, and one that only barely transcends the dreaded “button-masher” label.

On PS4, tapping the L1 and R1 buttons cycles you through different elements. It never feels clunky necessarily, but it doesn’t ever feel intuitive either. You’re never quite sure which element you’re going to get next, despite them being displayed in the corner of the screen and always in a consistent order. I shouldn’t be scrambling mid-battle to “find” my fire bending, because I accidentally hit L1 once and R1 twice and still don’t have what I’m looking for. Once you do have to element of your choosing, the game encourages (but certainly doesn’t force) you to keep with that element. From there, the square button does light attacks, and the triangle does heavy. All moves are a combination of pressing these two buttons. Holding down either one of them charges your “chi” gague, which gives you a boost in ability temporarily, but at the sacrifice of being vulnerable while it’s charging.

I think, to be more in line with the feeling and lore of the series, the layout of the control system could be altered. In this revised system, the focus would be on giving each element it’s own dedicated action button, and using other buttons on the controller to modify and alter those actions.

The 4 face buttons of the controller would each correspond to an element. To be literal with the placement, X (at the bottom) would be Earth, Triangle (at the top) would be Air, and Circle and Square would be Water and Fire respectively. When L1 is held down (the smaller, lighter of the triggers), your character is in “light” attacking, and while L2 is held down, the face buttons instead cause “heavy” attacks. R2 would be used to dodge (as it is now in the game), and R1 for block, or vice-versa depending on testing and how it feels.

Although not perfect (and quite honestly, would need extensive testing), I think these adjustments could definitely improve on the gameplay and battle system of the game. It is, however, clear that this adjustment would heavily change the way levels were gained and elements progressed. However, I don’t think these changes would fundamentally alter any systems already in place in the game.

January 1, 2015

#avatar, #game-revision, #legend-of-korra