If you really think about it, all videogame fights are technically supposed to be solved, usually by connecting blades or bullets with enemy faces. And ordinarily, beating the dudes is more than enough for me. But there's something about Legendary Gary's fights that keeps me coming back even after I've won. Sure, I beat the dudes, but can I do it better? Win in fewer turns, take less damage, land flashier finishers? I reckon I could. Better rewind.
Legendary Gary (opens in new tab) is a modern RPG about playing a fantasy RPG. That fantasy RPG is Legend of the Spear, a turn-based strategy game where battles take place on hexagonal grids. The catch is that all the actions of a given turn, both yours and the enemy's, occur simultaneously. So, if you see an enemy about to attack you, you can easily side-step their attack and set up for a counterattack once they've exhausted their stamina points. You can also preview every turn's outcome at anytime, then change your moves until you get the result you want. And if you ever find yourself in a bind due to decisions you made in earlier turns, you can rewind to any previous turn and start over.
This might sound like easy mode, and in a way it is, but that's kind of the point. If you just want to win battles and advance the main story, you can with a little trial and error. But if, like me, you enjoy mastering fights, you're in for a difficult, engrossing treat. It might seem like an odd comparison, but I'm reminded of Opus Magnum (opens in new tab), a puzzle game about building increasingly efficient alchemy machines. I get a similar sense of satisfaction from watching carefully tuned strategies play out in Legendary Gary. Because you have total control over outcomes, winning battles efficiently feels like solving puzzles with logic rather than beating some dudes with tactics. I also adore the post-fight playback where you get to watch all your turns play out in real-time. Why don't more games do that?
Again, Legend of the Spear is only half of Legendary Gary. The other half is Gary's grim, long-overdue coming-of-age story. Gary is a jobless bum in his late 20s who lives in his mother's basement. He's classic loser material, but he's got one thing going for him: he wants to be a better person. Sensing that his family, friends and girlfriend are rapidly getting fed up with his laziness, he decides to make some changes in his life. The result of those changes largely depends on the visual novel-style decisions you make, but even when you act with the best of intentions, sometimes things don't play out how you want.
Where Legend of the Spear is governed by hit points and stamina points, the key metric for Gary's life is motivation points. You start out with very little motivation, but making good choices—like getting a job, doing what your mom asks, and helping friends who come to you for advice—increases your motivation. If you have enough motivation, you can choose different, often better dialogue choices. Of course, you can also lose motivation to bad news and bad decisions. Gary is keenly aware he's just one bad streak from slipping back into his vicious cycle of reckless thrill-seeking, but he presses on, and it's genuinely gratifying to see him grow as a person. That said, the main story is at its best when it overlaps with Legend of the Spear.
Not long after he starts playing, Gary begins to notice uncanny similarities between Legend of the Spear's storyline and the problems he faces in real life. Lessons from the game help Gary in real life, and the names of real people turn out to be solutions to in-game puzzles. It didn't take long for me to start hunting information and clues in the real world that might help me in the game, and vice-versa, which livens up both halves of Legendary Gary. I'll avoid spoiling anything, but suffice it to say Legend of the Spear is more than a slice of escapism. I'm only a few hours in, but it's clear there's some sort of meta-narrative afoot, and between the fun combat and characterful story, I'm eager to see it through.