Ruined King: A League of Legends Story is a turn-based RPG from Airship Syndicate that aims to deliver an epic and story-rich experience set in the League of Legends universe. It fails in that aim. It’s still an attractive game with great art direction, and the battle system is a successful evolution of the old Grandia formula. However, in review, Ruined King: A League of Legends Story is handicapped by its uninspired narrative, wonky UI, and a distracting number of technical problems large and small on Nintendo Switch.
This is what a League of Legends RPG looks like
Ruined King makes a great first impression at least. All aspects of the art design are terrific, and aside from frame rate issues, it doesn’t feel like anything was sacrificed in the trip to Switch. Environments make nice use of lighting and color, and master artist Joe Madureira has created beautiful character portraits and hand-drawn cinematics.
Even the story at least begins on a promising note. One of the six playable protagonists, Miss Fortune, coldly executes one of her enemies on screen within the first 10 minutes, which is not something you see very often in games. She and the other main characters are all inherently interesting because they come already established from League of Legends. The problem is that the narrative seldom gives them anything compelling to do.
The plot of Ruined King is essentially that fate brings together six champions in the small port city of Bilgewater to stop the spread of mysterious “black mist.” But in practice, the entire narrative plays out like a generic Dungeons & Dragons campaign, where the party is constantly tracking down MacGuffins or having to wade through a 45-minute dungeon just to power up or purify some trinket you already have. A lot of it just feels like contrived busywork — your ship even shipwrecks at one point just to shoehorn in one more arbitrary dungeon and a sliver of character development at the end.
In fact, despite Airship Syndicate’s completely earnest desire to make a story-rich game, Ruined King largely gives up and becomes another dungeon crawler RPG around halfway into the game. The dungeons vary in quality, with some of them feeling monotonous and some of the traps being obnoxious rather than engaging. There are a few nice puzzles later in the game though.
Occasionally, you must use a character’s unique special skills to progress or obtain optional items. However, the game makes the baffling decision to only let you change your party of three at designated rest spots, so you might sometimes lack the right character to get an optional item. Also, movement speed in the game is somewhat sluggish in general. A silver lining is that you can save anywhere.
Ultimately, Ruined King can be beaten in 30 hours not including completing every sidequest, yet with all the narrative padding it feels too long even at that length — which is not a critique I often have about RPGs.
That being said, hardcore League of Legends fans will still probably enjoy the experience. The actual writing in Ruined King is competent, and the voice acting is terrific. The main characters can engage in myriad optional conversations that build camaraderie and choreograph some slight character development. There are also a hundred little pieces of lore to find in the game world, for the fanatics that will literally take every scrap they can find. It’s just frustrating that the story never adds up to anything even remotely original or thought-provoking. Even the sidequests lean on familiar subject matter, with not a lot to distinguish them.
Ruined King is clunky and buggy, sometimes to the point of frustrating
Structurally, Ruined King: A League of Legends Story is a typical CRPG in every possible way except with its more Japan-inspired turn-based battle system. Incidentally, that makes the UI slow and clunky in a lot of places when playing on Switch because it was probably designed for PC first. It can take several tries to interact with objects, and navigating maps and quest lists can be a slog. Plus, the load times on Switch are rough, with the largest screen transitions taking over 30 seconds.
More seriously, Ruined King has so many little frivolous bugs on Switch that I eventually became desensitized to them. A selection cursor might disappear in combat. The game will keep asking if you want to see tutorials for things you have been using for dozens of hours. Collision detection may not activate when trying to sneak-attack enemies in dungeons. One time, a catastrophic bug stopped me from selecting different targets in battles whatsoever (and it resulted in a death); at first I thought it was some obtuse status effect I couldn’t understand, because even reloading my save data would not get rid of the bug. But turning off the game completely and then reloading finally fixed it.
The game also outright crashed three times, including once immediately after a boss fight. And after another boss fight, the screen suddenly changed colors, becoming so bright that I missed an entire, story-critical cinematic. Taken altogether, the severe lack of polish in Ruined King on Nintendo Switch is unforgivable.
The battle system is the saving grace
Finally, there is the Lane Initiative System, the turn-based combat system that is easily the highlight of Ruined King: A League of Legends Story. All hero and enemy battle actions play out on a visible timeline, Grandia-style, but it expands that traditional timeline by adding parallel “speed” and “power” lanes. If you choose to use a special skill on the speed lane instead of the normal lane, it will activate faster but be weaker — and vice versa for skills used in the power lane.
Airship Syndicate incentivizes you to attack at certain intervals in order to access bonuses or avoid traps that are physically marked on the battle timeline. It ultimately works out quite well and is pretty fun overall. However, the physical timeline itself is impractically small, with all characters appearing tiny on it and often with grayed out portraits, making it much harder to read than it should be. (This is the most significant instance of clunky UI.)
Special attacks cost MP, but there are many ways (such as just using regular attacks) to generate “overcharge,” which is basically free bonus MP that exists for just this battle. As a result, on Normal, I never ran out of MP ever except in the final battle. The game can pack a ton of challenge if you choose to crank up the difficulty, but conversely, Story difficulty allows you to skip all battles altogether and collect experience from those skipped fights anyway. It’s a great concession.
You do have all the tools you need to succeed though. Each character has clear combat roles, like attacking, tanking, and healing, and each special ability can be customized thoroughly for different bonus effects. There are also personalized “rune” power-ups that can customize characters’ stats even further. You can likewise craft enchantments that power up your gear in multifaceted ways. The result is a fantastic amount of control over your party’s growth. You can even re-spec characters at will. I do think Miss Fortune (and Ahri, to a lesser extent) seemed like the most blatantly powerful character though.
Lastly, battle status effects are complex by the typical standards of turn-based battle systems and seem to draw more from western RPGs. Status effects are plentiful, they often seem to have similar effects (namely, to do extra damage), and some of them rely on “stacking” for more effect. It doesn’t help that Ruined King uses esoteric language like “proc” in its ability descriptions, which will mean nothing to someone coming off the street to try this game. The game isn’t very good at explaining its more complex elements in general; you’ll just figure it out as you go. Fortunately, in the long run, it doesn’t detract from the fun.
Ruined King could be better than it is on Switch
In the end, a terrific battle system and great art direction just aren’t enough to save Ruined King: A League of Legends Story from its lackluster narrative, clunky UI, and a wide spectrum of bizarre technical issues on Nintendo Switch. Hardcore League of Legends fans and hardcore RPG mechanics enthusiasts will still enjoy the game, but everyone else is better off playing something else this holiday season.
A Nintendo Switch review code for Ruined King: A League of Legends Story was provided by the publisher.