Platforms: Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
Rating: E for Everyone
When Nintendo first announced the year-one releases for its newest console, Has Been Heroes immediately drew my attention. Everyone was going to play Breath of the Wild, but what else could help keep new Switch owners happy? The bright, whimsical visuals made it one to keep on my radar. Have the Has Been Heroes come out of retirement for nothing or are there adventures yet to conquer?
You cast spells throughout the game with varying effects. There are zombies, skeletons, and other dark, nefarious creatures. You essentially collect the souls of your defeated foes as a way to earn new rewards.
There’s some cartoon violence here, but there’s no gore to worry about. This is on par with a Saturday morning cartoon.
The word “d***ed” appears in dialog. Apart from that, the language and humor are, again, on equal footing with Saturday morning cartoons.
There is no sexual content to be concerned with. The characters all dress modestly*.
*As of the publication of this review, only a handful of characters have been unlocked of which there are many. This reviewer has not encountered anything of note in terms of character appearance.
The story’s driving theme is fun. The heroes must escort princesses to school, vanquishing any forces of darkness along the way.
In all honesty, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into with Has Been Heroes. The art style drew me in even before I had my hands on it and I was so excited by the prospect of another game on my Switch that this became a title I had to look further into. It wasn’t until the game was in my hands that I realized Has Been Heroes is a roguelike–lighthearted in tone yet furiously difficult to conquer.
Combat feels like a chaotic, beautiful dance. Each time you leave the castle, you’ll have three heroes, each responsible for a lane. Like Plants vs. Zombies, foes will charge down the lanes and you’ll have to deal with them accordingly. By default, each of your heroes gets a set number of attacks (three stabs for the rogue, two pokes for the mage, and a giant, devastating swing from the warrior) but you’ll have to use intellect and coordination to make them effective. Foes come with varying “stamina” bars and taking them all down perfectly results in a stunned enemy. Attacking a stunned enemy not only reduces their HP, but reduces their stamina meter by one. All of this is made more hectic by the fact that hero attacks are on timers, but each attack freezes the action, letting you swap your heroes’ lanes for maximum effect. On top of that, spells can have a wide variety of effects, from freezing the enemy to making them flee. The result is an addictive, dynamic tango with some intense design.
Like FTL: Faster Than Light, each run drops you into a random map. As you move around the world, you’ll find spells and items to equip on your team, as well as camps, shops, and more. Again, you’ll need to be intentional in planning your movement as backtracking burns a candle (or, if you’re out of candles, kills your party). At the end of each playthrough, you bank orbs from slaughtering foes to unlock new spells and items. It’s the game’s way of letting you feel some progress even when you get wrecked.
And here’s my biggest problem with the game loop: traversing the world, collecting things and fighting hordes of monsters always culminates in a boss battle. The boss battles in this game are almost always unfair slaughters. Not only do you have to have a virtually flawless fight mechanically, but you have to have been lucky in your item and spell drops as well. This can lead to feeling like much of your time is wasted, left to the whims of the RNG deities.
After ten hours with the game, I’d had only one successful run. Even so, that victory opened up a new hero to play as, new enemies and bosses to fight, and new gear and spells to acquire, drastically opening the game up for more replayability. There are 36 hero slots in all to fill, ensuring that completionists will have weeks or months of gameplay ahead of them.
The narrative setup to the game is cute, but seriously weak. The heroes have been called back to duty by the king. Enamored by the stories of the heroes in her youth, the rogue joins them on the road into the castle. Once there, they discover they’ve been assigned the valorous task of…escorting the twin princesses to school. It’s a simple premise, but there are plot holes a mile wide even with this. An evil foe is sending everything he can to stop the heroes in their tracks. Conquering a run will trigger an end cutscene, of which there are several to unlock, but the first fails to resolve the one plot point it began with though: did they successfully get the princesses to school? Clearly not after the first victory, since we reunited with our bard and nothing more. I don’t suppose we can truly get them to school until the whole team is assembled. I just want a little closure.
Has Been Heroes looks and sounds inviting. The cartoon aesthetic excels at creating a sense of whimsy and fantasy. The animation is smooth, colors are bright and vibrant, and all the artwork pops. The sound design and soundtrack are fun and thematically appropriate as well.
Overall, Has Been Heroes is a fun game that feels like it suffers from some flaws. Combat is fun and cerebral, but the worth of your time is dictated by whether luck was with you leading up to the brutal boss encounters. There are a ton of unlockables, including three dozen heroes and eight endings, but only the die-hard fans will ever see most of it. At the end of the day, if you’re looking for something you can consume in a few minutes and plan to come back to time and again, you should look into Has Been Heroes. If you’re aiming for something more progress or story-driven, you may want to give this one a pass.
Review product provided by Zebra Partners
[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B06XK871MM]
The Bottom Line
Has Been Heroes is a fun yet flawed rogue-like. The steady flow of unlockable content and frantic strategy are engaging, but the brutal boss encounters that often rely on luck from pickups can be infuriating.