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Review: Has-Been Heroes

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Skeleton Fashion: The Roguelike

Roguelikes are supposed to be addicting pick-up-and-play experiences that have players doing 'just one more run' before realizing they've been playing for hours on end. After over 10 hours, I can't bear to play anymore.

Every time I'm about to start a new run in Has-Been Heroes, I feel how I imagine a dog must feel when it knows it is about to go to the vet because 'Momma got the carrier out.' That is to say filled with anxiety and dread at what I was about to experience.

Has-Been Heroes (Nintendo Switch [reviewed] PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Developer: Frozenbyte
Publisher: GameTrust
Release: March 28, 2017
MSRP: $19.99

Has-Been Heroes is a roguelike with gameplay that combines real-time and turn-based strategy into a lane brawler. It is as complicated as it sounds, but I'll do my best to attempt to describe to you how exactly this plays, as it has a bit of a learning curve.

The player characters each start with unique melee attacks, spells, and stats. There are three classes of characters, of which one of each will always be in the party. The tank-like character will land one attack per turn that does massive damage, a mage-like character can land two attacks of lesser damage, and a rogue-like character can land three strong attacks.

The number of attacks matter because both enemies and characters have stamina points that must be drained by attacks before they can take damage, but enemies' stamina resets after taking damage, unlike player characters. This means strategically hitting enemies in an order that leaves them open to damage from the character of your choice, which entails swapping characters between lanes while others attack, and casting spells at the right time. While the game can be played in real time, a quick press of a button pauses the action to let you strategize and prepare your next action.

It took me at least a few runs before I quite grasped how to play, and even more to form a strategy that worked. But once I did that, I was easily able to reach the boss and complete a run for the first time. It doesn't help that the controls aren't exactly intuitive, as X,Y, and B are used to select the lane a character is in, A is used to attack, R is used to select and cast spells, and L is used to freeze the game time to allow planning your next move.

Swapping characters means selecting one character and attacking, at which point the game will automatically pause time allowing you to select another character to swap into the lane where the other character is currently attacking. It is a bit tedious at first but eventually felt natural, even though I still find myself sometimes repeatedly pressing buttons till my characters swap the way I want them to. The controls have yet to feel natural to me, and I don't think they ever will.

The gameplay loop found here didn't make me want to play more. If anything, it did the opposite. After finishing my first run, I was given a new character to play as, followed by over two minutes of the same sound effect playing over and over while small images popped up of spells, items, locations, and enemies I'd unlocked. I laughed at the absurdity of this reward screen, not only because it was the exact same sound effect, but because the things I was unlocking provided no information other than the tiny picture on the screen.

On top of that, nearly every enemy in the game is just skeletons of varying sizes wearing different outfits, and most of these 'rewards' were images of skeletons wearing different hats. To even find out what these enemies and items do means finding them in a run and buying or slaying them, so all I'd unlocked was a picture and the ability to find said things in the game.

Upon starting another run, which made it clear I'd have to make it through one more area and boss before facing the final boss, I realized how bad a choice it was to have nearly every enemy be a skeleton in a genre that is, by design, repetitive in nature. While the skeletons do have different attacks and stats to deal with, it can sometimes be hard to remember what exactly each of them does considering how similar they can look to each other, because, ya know, they're skeletons. It also made an already repetitive game feel even more repetitive.

After finishing a couple runs and unlocking a couple of new characters, I found myself unable to finish a new run for a while in part due to the random nature of the weapons and spells I'd find, and also due to random difficulty spikes when Has-Been Heroes would decide to drop an obscene amount of enemies on-screen at once. Basically, if you don't have a character with a spell that can stun multiple enemies at a time, you're screwed.

Thankfully, one of the first characters you unlock has this, but even with him, I was getting overwhelmed. Before long I realized the only way to even remotely stand a chance to make it to the end was to deliberately attempt to go into as many battles as possible, thus earning as much gold as possible, which can be spent at various vendors found throughout each map.

Each area is made up of a map with separate paths to take that all lead to a boss fight, and depending on the path taken, may include a lot more battles or items to obtain. Since the game's difficulty spikes after just a few runs, it requires that you attempt to cover as much of the map as possible to have any hopes of seeing the journey to the end unless, of course, it decides to just swamp you with enemies as mentioned before -- which it does a lot. I realize that by nature, roguelikes typically require a bit of grinding in each run, but in a game I found repetitive after just a few completed runs, it feels unnecessary.

Some other nitpicks I have with Has-Been Heroes include the lack of any real story, the entirety of which amounts to "you're old heroes and you've got to escort the king's daughters to school," rather small in-game text -- be it on the big screen or on the Switch itself -- and final boss fights that are an absolute mess. Of the final bosses I fought, all of them required breaking some obstacles in each lane before being able to actually land an attack, while at the same time slaying endless enemies which also get in the way of the aforementioned objects.

Due to the number of enemies and objects on the screen, combined with the effects from spells such as fire or lighting as well as the enemies' stats and damage numbers popping up, it is an absolute clusterfuck. Being able to find the objects is next to impossible at times as enemies overlap them and each other, which can lead to attacking objects when they are in a state that can cause damage to your characters, some of whom have barely any health to begin with. 

If it wasn't clear, I don't think Has-Been Heroes is fun. If anything, it is tedious. The difficulty spikes pretty quickly and only seemingly gets harder as you go on, the unlocks are anything but rewarding, and the gameplay, while functional, often leads to unfair deaths. If you're a completionist, I'm sure you can get a lot of playtime out of this (not that it would be quality time spent). I've only earned around 30% of available unlocks at over 10 hours played, which is the maximum amount I plan to ever get.

As a console game, I can't recommend it, but if you're the type of person who plays your Nintendo Switch on the go, it at least is something you can pick up and play for a bit without much thought. Has-Been Heroes would benefit greatly with touchscreen controls on a mobile device, as the gameplay seems tailor made for it, but alas it doesn't support the Switch's touch capabilities and isn't available on phones. But hey, at least it features HD Rumble, which is easily the most over-hyped and overrated feature of the Switch, so there is that.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]

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Has-Been Heroes reviewed by Jed Whitaker

4.5

BELOW AVERAGE

Has some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst, but difficult to recommend.
How we score:  The Destructoid reviews guide

 
 
 

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Also on Destructoid: Has-Been Heroes   (4)   From our database:

  • Has-Been Heroes has a good premise, I just hope it follows through - Chris Carter
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    Filed under... #Frozenbyte #PC #PS4 #reviews #roguelike #RPG #Switch #Xbox One

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