Chaos Legion is a 2003 hack-n-slash by Capcom for the PlayStation 2 and PC. Initially (and unfairly) dismissed as a Devil May Cry clone, Chaos Legion is actually a unique game due to its puzzlingly creative enemies and use of monstrous familiars in a beat-em-up setting.
This isn’t Pokémon meets Dynasty Warriors, though. Unlike both of those games, this one requires skill to complete. Hordes of hundreds of enemies will fight you at once, and they’re actually individually dangerous opponents (and it helps that they have fascinating visual designs). It can take dozens of hits to kill even the basic crystalline spider enemies, not to mention solid metal giants, squat fat ogres with gigantic shields, ersatz lizardmen with swords for hands, colossal crocodile-anteaters, flying hives of monstrous hornets, and other fun stuff. H.R. Giger would approve of the monsters’ designs.
The “Legions” you control are mostly named after various negative emotions, attitudes, and adverbs (Arrogance, Guilt, Flawed, Hatred) that have nothing to do with their own character traits, which is probably just a symptom of the faux-Judeo-Christian symbolism that is omnipresent in Japanese culture. But despite their goofy names they are invaluable companions. They can shield you, shoot arrows for you, and even blow themselves up for you. But it comes at a price: your character does less damage with his own attacks while his Legion is out, and the Legions themselves can easily be damaged if you don’t control them properly. It’s also annoying that you can only hold two at one time and you have to select them before starting a level; I frequently found myself lacking the Legions necessary to damage armored foes, forcing me to either restart the level (not happening) or slowly chip away at the quicksilver monsters and their giant health meters. But the proper management of Legions and your own combat abilities is essential to success in Chaos Legion. You’ll be mashing buttons like a noobie at Tekken, sure, but you still need to decide the right situations in which to mash. Sometimes it’s better to take on enemies solo so you can protect your Legions and potentially deal more damage on your own. Sometimes you desperately need your Malice’s arrows to distract an enemy while you circle around them.
The Legions also grant abilities while equipped, some of which can be learned permanently, including more sword techniques and the omnipresent video game double jump. You’ll probably find yourself replaying old levels to grind experience for the Legions, but it never grows dull due to the complex nature of the combat. It never gives you time to be bored.
There is very little exploration and secret-finding; your map is strictly for tracking the locations of enemies. Focus is on the combat above all else, which I find refreshing. There are no half-baked step-on-the-switch puzzles or uninspired collecting of MacGuffin items; your job is to approach monsters and kill them, then move on to the next room full of monsters. It’s not until late in the game that you get the option of trying to reform the overpowered Thanatos Legion, but it requires so much grinding for experience that you could easily beat the game without it anyway.
The monster bosses are absolutely fantastic. This plants and lasers boss is so incredibly creative. The spider thing in stage 8 that spends the whole time attacking you from above was brilliant. Even the more conventional bosses like the quasi-centaur with the big sword in the video above are a blast to play against and definitely require patience and skill. But the humanoid bosses? Not so fun. Especially Delacroix, Sephiroth Clone #67626787, whom you have to fight three times. He gets a couple new moves every time you fight him, but that does little to break the monotony. Give me monsters any day over whining teenagers. Still, even at their worst, Chaos Legion‘s battles are never boring.
There is a single level where you play as Tuff Anime Grrrrl Arcia, who has a completely different play style than the protagonist, using guns and cannons rather than swords and summoned monsters. You can even play through the whole game as her after completing Chaos Legion once, which is a fantastic bonus that I appreciated greatly. I love added post-game content like this. If Chaos Legion had sold more copies, we’d probably be seeing spinoffs starring Arcia.
The plot is some meaningless anime gobbledygook that can be easily laughed at and/or discarded while you spend time on the part that actually matters. And I noticed a minor error late in the game: the final boss speaks in English even if you have the voices set to Japanese (at least in the PlayStation 2 version). Since I don’t care about the plot anyway, this wasn’t a problem.
The visuals are still impressive nine years later. This is a beautiful game that resisted the call of omnipresent grey-n-brown phony-realist boredom to give us lush cityscapes of blues, reds, and whites. It contrasts darkness and brightness in its visuals rather than overloading one or the other. There is some occasional graininess, especially when objects get too close to the camera, but it’s eye-pleasing overall.
The music is all “epic” movie trailer fare with droning strings and ominous gibberish chanting, but it mixes it up with some techno flairs thrown in. It’s not bad at all—a bit repetitive no doubt—but you won’t hear any of it while playing the actual game because it’ll be muffled by the sounds of the chaotic battles on screen.
Chaos Legion is an underrated hack-and-slash game that didn’t get the chance it deserved. If it had been more popular, Capcom would have given us fifteen sequels, two spinoff strategy games, a dating sim, and an animated series already and I wouldn’t have to write this. But you should play Chaos Legion. You can find it gathering dust in a bargain bin near you. Chaos Legion owns.