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The Legend of Korra is a Good Video Game.
When it was announced, the reactions were rightfully mixed. It's a licensed game...but it is a licensed game based on the best show on (sort-of) television. Activision is publishing...but Platinum Games is developing. Platinum is really good at making games...but they're also split between development of Bayonetta 2.
All of that mood whiplash had me looking like I was just sentenced to death by snu-snu.
But in the end, I trust Platinum to make a Good Video Game. Allow me to make a series of bold, audience alienating statements to state how much I trust them.
They made Bayonetta, the best action game of the PS3/360 generation.
They made Vanquish, the best third-person shooter of the PS3/360 generation.
You should own a copy of The Wonderful 101 if you've even thought about buying a Wii U.
Anarchy Reigns should have been at Evolution 2013.
Most websites cannot be trusted to review character action games because they aren't given enough time to analyze their depth (read this article on why: http://zeboyd.com/2013/09/10/why-games-like-the-wonderful-101-are-a-poor-fit-for-the-gaming-press/)
You get the idea.
You start off The Legend of Korra with no bending and it sucks. The first level is awful after the early Metroid-esque tease where you have every power. You can switch styles which changes your animations but you're not shooting out cool elemental stuff. It looks like someone turned the “special effects” toggle off while editing a film.
In fact, that's one of the biggest negative points of the game. They dole out the elemental powers slowly, and by doing so, lock off the interesting parts of the combat until you've got at least two of them. I can't defend it either. I just wish they started you off with all of the elements, because fighting while switching through them is the best part of the game. I love the show, but this game's story is not satisfying. There's none of the drama, character development or humor from The Legend of Korra. You get the voice actors from the show, a couple animated cutscenes, and some inside jokes in the Achievement list and item descriptions. The combat is why this game exists.
The game SLOWLY gets around to getting your elements. You get waterbending early, but it doesn't get interesting until you get earthbending. Then you can start doing combos where you switch between both elements. That's also when I discovered this video and found out how much fun the combat can be.
When I had two elements, the game significantly improved. If my attacks were too weak, I knew to charge them up to get more damage and powerful secondary attacks. Secondary attacks like MINI TORNADOS swirling around every time I kicked in Airbending style.
I saw that this game kept the Dodge Offset system made famous in Bayonetta. I saw that you can basically cancel every single animation into a guard or dodge roll. If you learn how lenient the cancel windows are, you can easily avoid or counter every attack in the game. You can cancel the Chi charging animations to get huge damage and not leave yourself vulnerable.
The combat in The Legend of Korra is nowhere near as complex as Bayonetta, and the inputs for combos are not lengthy. However, its simplicity begs the player to experiment with it, and the way it lets you cancel seemingly EVERY move with a guard or dodge roll feels more loose and free than other Platinum Games...which allows you to do some goofy stuff.
Want to juggle enemies with infinite looping wind-powered Shoryukens? You can. I practiced the loop on enemies for so long just because it was fun. Up, Up, Heavy, Guard. Up, Up, Heavy, Guard. I never get tired of it.
I played this game on Normal the first time through, and found it mostly manageable outside of a few mini-boss fights. You become obscenely powerful as you level up your bending styles (intuitively done by having each style gain experience as you use it) but your health is low. That's where the shop comes in.
Between levels, ALWAYS VISIT THE SHOP. You can buy Scrolls that unlock new attacks, and I'd recommend it because it keeps the combat fresh. You can also buy Talismans with various effects. The Health Talisman is essential if you are anything less than a god of action games. There are situations on your first playthrough where tough enemies will gang up on you and pummel you. Health pickups are limited. The Health Talisman eases up this somewhat unfair balance by allowing you to fully heal in seconds, if you're willing to run from battle for a bit.
The Talismans also allow you to give Korra a unique loadout, as each offers a buff and a risky drawback. You can get constantly charged Chi for devastating power, but your health will but cut in half. You can get double XP to level up your bending and get stronger quicker, but that also cuts your health in half. There's a lot of Talismans and they're varied enough to fit many different playstyles. The optimum build for Extreme Difficulty is kind of set in stone, but we'll come back to that.
I will admit that a big negative of the game is the low enemy variety, but it's balanced by the number of ways you can kick the crap out of enemies. And the last few levels introduce a new batch of enemies, forcing you to change your tactics and learn new counter timings. These happen to be the best levels in the game, and the final boss battle is completely satisfying and a nice change of pace from fighting the small handful of goons throughout the game.
If you stop playing this game after the credits roll, you're missing the best part. Like every other Platinum game ever and every action game worth playing, New Game+ changes everything. You've got your powers from the start, so you can focus on doing cool things in combat instead of lamenting that you're missing powers. The Extreme difficulty changes the enemy layouts and gives them more health, boosting the challenge significantly. However, you can ease that difficulty with Talismans. On Extreme, I chose a build that gave me fully charged Chi at all times, health regeneration, and armor that prevented stuns and knockback. It would be overpowered on lower difficulties, but is balanced compared to the challenge of Extreme mode.
I don't know what the content of the demo contains, but I fully recommend The Legend of Korra. I know it starts badly, but it improves and hooked me for an immediate second playthrough. Watch that tutorial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIZWM5v89-U) to put the advanced mechanics in the back of your head. If you're dying a lot, get the healing talisman. Switch styles in the middle of combat. Try dodging or countering when you're about to get hit, and it's likely to work. The Legend of Korra rewards you for experimentation and gets better as you play it more to understand how the systems work.
It's not Platinum's best game, but they did what they always do. They made a Good Video Game.