If Golf Story borrows from EarthBound, RPGolf Legends borrows from Secret of Mana.
Since the Mario sports games on Game Boy brought in a single-player RPG mode more than 20 years ago, a consistent desire has existed for a new sports RPG in that cozy pixelated style. Some may have been satiated by 2017’s Golf Story, but KEMCO and ArticNet are offering another salvo: RPGolf Legends. If Golf Story feels like golf by way of EarthBound, RPGolf Legends feels like golf by way of Square-Enix’s Mana series. This game has some rough edges, but the concept of balancing golf with action-RPG battles is a winning one that is incredibly compelling and fun.
The conceit is that you’re a would-be golfer in a world where all the golf courses have been sealed away. You, of course, have the ability to restore every hole on each course to its former glory. That’s the core quest for the entire game: unlock all 54 holes spread across different regions. Along the way, you come across towns and settlements with oodles of quests that add color to the world through golfing challenges and enemy encounters. A wealth of them are side missions, but in addition to bringing back golf courses, there are other mainline story quests you have to complete to advance the game. This is where some of the friction that mucks with the progression comes into play. The ample array of quests try to fit alongside the journey to get all the golf courses back, but it doesn’t coalesce. Too often, you’re led down a repetitive grind-heavy path.
You don’t level up, but instead have a meter to fill up that makes the next hole playable while also doubling as your magic pool. The meter is filled up in a number of ways, such as killing enemies or getting par or better on a hole and hoping to randomly get the meter filled up again. I had stretches of the game that were glorious, as I bounced between quests and unlocking holes organically. Then I had moments where my progress with other main quests was stunted until I unlocked 10 holes. It was frustrating because I was forced down a path of grinding, and while the combination of golfing and action RPG combat is novel, having to do them without any flavor repeatedly wears thin quickly.
The golf mechanics are in the same vein as your typical three-click arcade golf controls, where you click to start the meter, then again to set the power, and one last time to set the accuracy. It’s roughly on par with the Golf Story mechanics to me, but still falls short of the well-worn gauntlet (polo shirt?) thrown down by Mario Golf. That all being said, the only time the golf mechanics soured me was when I was sent down a path of grinding. The same goes for the combat, which can be summed up as a simplified old-school Mana-style approach. You can whack an enemy with your club, but need to make sure to avoid their attacks. Later on you even get magic abilities and different classes to choose from that add more degrees of complexities. It does a great job of staying fresh but never getting overwhelming.
The transcendental parts are when the golfing and combat are twisted together, like in some boss battles where you need to stun a boss, and then go about your business trying to finish a hole before they become unstunned. While a number of the quests do fall into the rhythm of “kill a specific amount of this enemy,” a handful of them have enjoyable narrative threads and clever twists.
When RPGolf Legends is flowing, it’s incredible and greater than the sum of its parts. I adore how you’re filling in a golf course through various countrysides while also fighting bears and snakes and junk. The boss battles that deftly mix combat and golf are tons of fun. But then you might hit a wall where you just need to grind, whether it’s by pounding down enemies or golfing on loop, and the whole experience suffers. Still, I’m heartened that we live in a world where we have multiple options for retro-ish golf RPGs and they’re both pretty good.