Has-Been Heroes Review: Holding Out
Kalvin Martinez / May 3rd, 2017 No Comments
We all know the economy hasn’t been great, but it is a real shame when retirees have to rejoin the work force. Worse is when those old timers have to train some greenhorn. No one wants to work their entire career in a life-threatening job only to have to come back to fight an ancient evil.
Has-Been Heroes is an intriguing spin on turn-based combat with plenty of genre bending. It is part tower defense, part turn-based RPG, part strategy, and part roguelite. While the result is compelling at times, it can also be frustrating and demanding.
It is a great honor to be called to service for your kingdom. However, the honor is a bit blunted when you’ve retired. Still, when the king needs you for an important mission — to escort his daughters to school — retirement, bad backs and old bones don’t matter.
Seems like a simple task, right? Take a few princesses to school — but nothing is ever simple when it comes to a king’s request. These has-been heroes also have to deal with a green would-be hero in the form of a female rogue. Oh, there is also the little problem of an ancient evil surfacing to stop the heroes from completing their goal.
Has-Been Heroes’ story is silly and without a lot of meat. The goofy premise forms the spine of the gameplay. Take the girls to school and triumph over the ancient evil to do so. However, it is more complicated than it first appears.
The story and structure become deeper and more complex each time you defeat the ancient evil. It starts out as a simple three level set-up with low level bosses and the big bad at the end. Each successive attempt adds more levels, tougher enemies and bosses, more spells and items, and heroes. Every run you make after each success gets deeper and more arduous. It ensures that you are constantly on your toes and never get too comfortable.
By the Numbers
A major trend that’s been happening in video games recently is post-release updates fixing design flaws to change a game fundamentally. Has-Been Heroes is no different. The game I played prior to release is far different than the game I played the other day.
A few days after its actual release, Has-Been Heroes received an update that drastically changed it. While I was playing the pre-release version, the game was confusing. The tutorial was more of a plot prologue that gave context to the story and the basics of movement, but left the particulars of exploration and combat up to the player to figure out.
There is nothing wrong with discovery, but when you don’t understand any of the game’s systems it can get frustrating and easy to right off. Turns out Frozenbyte got the hint because a few days after release an update added many helpful hints for exploring and a vital clue as to the basics of combat before starting your run.
These simple hints improved the enjoyability of the game tremendously, but didn’t hurt the thrill of discovery. The game still has plenty of secrets to uncover, whether it is maximizing attack distance and lane switching to deal extra damage to enemies or different combinations of items and spells. It is amazing what elegant game design elements can do to change a game for the better.
This can make reviewing the game tough because it’s hard to say when a game has been completed by its developers. Luckily, it is currently in a seemingly complete enough state to get a good handle on what the game is and its mechanics.
It is beneficial when updates are helpful and improve the game, but still leaves questions of why people should risk buying the game on day one.
Updates aside, the core gameplay of Has-Been Heroes is fun. It hits the roguelite erogenous zone extremely well. Building strategies within the random nature of each run is rewarding and helps keep you involved. Once you crack the game, you get to enjoy all the depth it has to offer.
Overcoming the challenges feels satisfying even if a few difficulty spikes can feel cheap. It adds to how dangerous each battle can be, although losing to a mid-level mob is infuriating. The challenge forces you to weigh reward and risk at every turn and makes the decisions you make strategic.
Has-Been Heroes is most exciting and hard to put down when you’re having a good run and making some forward progress. Sadly, it is the most frustrating when you get caught up in a difficulty spiked battle before a boss and lose your progress.
That’s the double-edged sword of being part roguelite. It can result in addictive and compelling gameplay if you’re willing to develop strategies and invest time, but it can get discouraging quickly if you’re not able to devote the proper amount of attention to it.
Has-Been Heroes falls in the middle. It isn’t too impenetrable as to prevent understanding (especially after the numerous updates tweaking balance and adding tutorials), but the balance can be off at times and turn people off. However, for those who stick with the game, there is a lot to like.
Has-Been Heroes was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code for the game provided by the publisher.
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