Release Date: December 3, 2019
Reviewed On: Switch
I’ve noticed that games focusing on comedy can easily overstay their welcome. The genre seems to have a tough time balancing the mechanics of gameplay and comedic elements, which can come off as unfocused. However, the charm and features found in the FuRyu developed RPG Heroland had me well engaged for hours of its quirky adventure.
Heroland is a theme park visitors can live out their RPG fantasies. You assume the role of a tour guide who takes visitors through a dungeon filled with villainous monsters who are all played by cast members of the theme park. Each visitor is given prop weapons to defeat cast members and achieve the treasure at the end of each dungeon tour. It’s your job as the tour guide to advise your tourists on the best strategy for each battle. As simple as it might sound, I found this plot surprisingly creative and quite amazed how well with it ties in with gameplay.
Each encounter with cast members brings you to a traditional turn-based battle screen, while you sit in the background coaching your tourists on their next strategy. That might sound similar to Pokémon, but the precise actions of your tourists are up to them. Flags are used to tell a team if they should play offensively, defensively, recklessly, or retreat. However, just like your tourists and cast members, you have to wait for your bar to build before you have your next turn to advise. Lines drawn from characters will tell you who they are focusing on and if they are attacking or healing.
When I first entered combat, I was concerned by the lack of control I had over tourists and their actions as well as the overall battle speed. But like many RPGs, the intro battles are merely training wheels for more challenging battles later on. Even though you are telegraphed every move from opponents and your tourists, it’s really up to you to pay attention, decide what is most vital and use it to your advantage. This can present an interesting obstacle, mainly because the information may seem overkill at times. Still, I liked the chaotic demand to try and respond appropriately with each turn I had.
Although gameplay in Heroland can be frantic, I never found it overly difficult or asking you to grind for unreasonable amounts of time, especially if you take on every side mission given to you. You level up your character by the satisfaction points you receive from tourists on each tour. Three happy faces display over their heads at the end of each round.
By the end of the tour, the more happy faces you have, the more you level up. You can keep them satisfied by keeping their health up, by dealing finishing blows, and by giving them treasures, you obtain on your tour. It’s a unique leveling system and integrates well with the plot. If you aren’t satisfied with how much you have leveled up, you can always repeat main quest missions and side tours to grind to higher levels and gain more treasure.
The overworld of Heroland is where you can buy items that heal and revive characters, but one of the more interesting items are “comic books.” When tourists are given comic books during a battle, they take on the persona of the characters in the comic. They are mostly just stat boosters, but it’s a lot of fun, saying a character has a magic boost because they are inspired by a magical girl comic.
There is also a shop where you can buy summons, your house where you can arrange furniture and plushies, and my personal favorite a staff room where cast members meet to discuss how a tour will go. This is a stage rehearsal where staff will tell you what moves are going to be most effective on a tour and possible treasure drops for tourists.
While I can see some players thinking this may hold your hand a bit too much, I found it to be a super clever way to get the necessary information without taking away the actual challenge of battles. Just because you know a cast member’s character is weak to fire doesn’t assure you a win. And for those that are looking for more of a challenge, the staff meetings are in no way mandatory.
As in-depth as the gameplay is, you will spend just as much time experiencing the story. Fans of The Mother series and Undertale will find themselves at home with the mood and feel of Heroland. Characters and plot are lighthearted and quirky, with plenty of meta-commentary and fourth-wall-breaking gags. Each character’s dialogue is accompanied by nonsensical vocals, which immediately recalls gibberish from games like Animal Crossing and Banjo-Kazooie. Character models are presented as 2D pixel art in a 3D world and move like a child handling a toy. All of this adds a real sense of charm to the presentation.
While I found the overwhelming majority of the dialogue and jokes entertaining, at times, some went on too long, and pacing could be a little off. I can only imagine how tiresome that may be for players who aren’t fans of this kind of humor. Luckily, there is an option to skip through the scenes, so those less than enamored with the story can get straight back to gameplay. There are times when certain enemies come across a little repetitive in battles, and while the in-game characters do call the game out for this, it doesn’t ease that repetition.
And while I appreciated the ease of navigating the overworld, I do feel like some exploration would have enhanced Heroland. Instead, it’s pretty cut and dry with how it’s broken into the plot, shops, and battles. There are some missed opportunities like customizing your house, which seem to be purely cosmetic. It would have been interesting if this somehow played a factor in gameplay instead of a kind of trophy room, but none of the complaints I have hindered my experience too harshly.
I get the sense that Heroland is precisely what the developers wanted to make. There is a tangible sense of fun and enjoyment that rings throughout. While I wished that the game featured a bit more exploration and interaction, it did manage to hold my attention while I entertained the theme parker goers over multiple quests. Heroland’s endearingly silly characters and creative battle system are a real joy to experience.
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